CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The virtual nationwide shutdown has impacted pretty much every American's life over the past few days.
Of course there are bigger concerns right now than sports, as experts and officials do their best to curtail the spread of COVID-19, but that doesn't mean we can't lament the things we're missing out on during this time.
This is usually the greatest sports time of the year. The NHL and NBA are entering the playoff push, baseball is starting back up, the MLS is in full gear, the NFL draft is right around the corner and we start dreaming about how we could fill out a perfect bracket in our March Madness pool.
Well, there's no bracket this year. Teams will not be dancing on courts across the country.
One of those teams is Illinois, who was in the midst of their best season in nearly a decade and primed for a March run. There's no doubt, this Illini team could've been fun in the tournament.
Illinois finished their season with a 21-10 record and a solidified spot in the NCAA Tournament, no matter what would've happened in the Big Ten tourney. It would've been their first NCAA Tournament appearance in seven years.
But now, we can only wonder, "what if"?
What if key seniors Andres Feliz and Kipper Nichols had the chance to go out on top?
What if star sophomore Ayo Dosunmu blossomed into a March legend before he inevitably leaves for the NBA after this season?
What if break out freshman Kofi Cockburn became a household name in the tournament?
What if head coach Brad Underwood finally delivered March success to a hungry fan base?
It's disappointing to know we won't get answers to those questions.
What's even more disappointing is that Illinois was projected to play in St. Louis, in front of a huge fan base in the first round. ESPN's last "Bracketology" had Illinois as a No. 7 seed taking on tenth seeded USC in the first round in St. Louis, with a match up against No. 2 Creighton looming.
That was a winnable path to the Sweet 16. Can you imagine the scene in St. Louis if that would've happened?
Yes, Illinois should still be good next year even with the losses of Nichols, Feliz and presumably Dosunmu. But this looked like their year. Their starting five alone could match up with any team in the country, and their role players off the bench knew how to fit in.
On Wednesday, the AP released its final top 25 poll. Illinois was ranked number 21. It was the first time they had cracked the top 25 to end a season since the 2005-06 campaign.
It didn't end like anyone wanted it to, but the Illini still have a lot to be proud of. And thanks to some great minds in their creative media department, they even got a taste of what that "One Shining Moment" might have felt like.