5 huge observations from the Illinois basketball win over Iowa State

The wait to get back to the Elite 8 is finally over, as the Illinois basketball team managed to hold on against No. 2 seed Iowa State on Thursday night.
Illinois v Iowa State
Illinois v Iowa State / Michael Reaves/GettyImages
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I feel like I am dreaming. The Illinois basketball team just had a huge win and advanced to the Elite 8 in the 2024 NCAA tournament.

If you had asked me if this was possible this time last year, I would have said you were crazy. The Illini were in disarray back in March 2023. But the past year has been incredible.

All of the great recruiting and development led to what we saw on Thursday night. No. 2 Iowa State was tough defensively, but they didn't have the juice on offense. When the Cyclones would go on a run, Illinois always had an answer to their momentum.

The Illini took a 10-point lead into the halftime locker room. Iowa State was not going to bow out, though. The Cyclones stormed back in the second half, but Illinois was always able to keep them at arm's length. While the 10-point halftime lead dwindled, the Illini were still able to beat Iowa State, 72-69.

Here are 5 huge observations from the Illinois basketball win over Iowa State

1. Illinois had a culture win against Iowa State

I can confidently sit here and say, Illinois basketball just advanced to the Elite 8 and we didn’t play our best basketball. If I had to grade what I saw on Thursday night, I would give us a grade of B or B+.

But do you know what makes this team special? We don’t have to win by scoring 90+ points in a game. We can go out there and snag a gritty win regardless of what is going on with the offense.

I believe what we saw on Thursday night against the Cyclones was a culture win. Brad Underwood had a major overhaul of the roster after the 2022-23 season, and the replacement players helped build the culture we see today.

The slogan, “Everyday Guys” has meaning. It is not just something that is printed on a t-shirt or on a graphic posted by the program. This saying holds true for every single one of the players out there on the court donning an Illinois jersey.

Did Illinois play well? I would honestly say no. But did we get the win? Yes, and that is all that matters at the end of the day. I remember back on February 5, Illinois snuck by Nebraska in overtime. I mentioned that this was a gritty win, and some commenter said, “…but #grit will not get us to the second weekend.”

Well, I guess that commenter was right in a way. Grit didn’t get Illinois to the second weekend. Grit got us into the Elite 8. Egg on my face…

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