If you are one of those writhing in anguish, Mike Thomas understands. He is a quick learner. For a new guy, he reads the Illini Nation pulse better than you might imagine.
So you can fire at him from 360 degrees with the consuming Illini basketball question, and he is prepared. His answer will be the same as it was Saturday.
He will "filter out the emotion" and make a levelheaded, season-ending evaluation of coach Bruce Weber based on the overall body of work, the current trend, attendance and recruiting, with compliance and academics thrown in ... just as he did in football ... just as he will for all sports.
Back when Ron Zook's Illini opened 6-0 in football, Thomas was pressured to give him a contract extension. He declined, preferring to let the season play out. It turned out differently.
"We're about championships," he emphasized. "You don't use mediocrity and championships in the same sentence. My expectation is that Illinois be relevant for Big Ten championships.
"Is that realistic for all sports every year? Not likely. But we want to be part of the discussion. We want that kind of excitement. It is important to be relevant at the highest level."
Thomas said he wants the fans asking where the basketball team will be seeded, not whether. As of Sunday's showdown at Michigan, the Illini are in danger of falling two games under .500 in the Big Ten race. The question of "whether" is growing, much as it has been in recent NCAA "bubble" seasons.
It seems counterintuitive, but if you want to win basketball games, go small.
Bigs look nice warming up and in carrying the coach off the floor. But speed and playmaking lead to better shot opportunities. Shorties are producing victories against bigger teams from coast to coast.
Missouri turned to four guards and is everybody's favorite. Ohio State's power forward is 6-foot-7 Deshaun Thomas, a catlike deadeye. As we saw in consecutive losses to Northwestern and Indiana, the Illini broke out of a shooting slump by topping 50 percent in both games but lost. They couldn't defend either of them. The Illini scored 70 and 71 points and were soundly beaten.
Here's the bad news. Michigan "went small" at midseason a year ago and turned a 1-6 Big Ten start into a 10-5 season finish that included two Big Ten tourney wins (60-55 against Illinois) and a 30-point demolition of Tennessee in the NCAA. Beware! The Wolverines are doing it again.
Wolverines coach John Beilein has replaced 6-9 sophomore Evan Smotrycz with 6-3 senior Stu Douglass in a lineup that still features 6-4 trey shooter Zack Novak at the 4-spot. The Wolverines host Illinois on Sunday with a lineup bubbling with penetrators (Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway) and three-point shooters. Michigan's only Big Ten losses since mid-January were at Ohio State and Michigan State, and the Wolverines remain unbeaten in refurbished Crisler Center.
"Everyone is playing small ball these days," Weber said. "Indiana spread the floor on us and attacked the basket and got us in foul trouble (30 fouls and three foul-outs). They shot 42 free throws."
The refs were calling them close, and the Illini didn't or couldn't adjust. Dribble penetration has been an Illini bugaboo.
"We made fouls that we didn't need to make. We've tended to do that all season," Weber said.
"Michigan spreads the floor, and Jordan Morgan is shooting 65 percent on the inside. Burke (freshman from Columbus, Ohio) is the key because he runs the team, gets the ball to the shooters and is a scorer himself.
"Defensively, they pack the lane. Their man-to-man defense is a good staple, and they also use 1-3-1 and 2-3 zones."
Illinois needs a rapid reversal of form to avoid another difficult afternoon.
Having a (foot)ball
The Leaders Division of the Big Ten Conference does not include Michigan.
Otherwise a modern version of the "Big Two and Little Eight" (or whatever number) could be developing in future years. The recently completed football recruiting season by the Wolverines and Ohio State put the conference on notice. They brought in more top players than the rest of the conference combined.
Ohio State did so well on short notice that new coach Urban Meyer had to deal with cries of cheating because his staff influenced eight new Buckeyes to decommit from other schools.
You might not see the pending dominance of Ohio State next year because the Buckeyes are barred from postseason play. They can't participate in the Big Ten title game. That clears the way for Wisconsin to repeat against badly damaged Penn State and the trio of Illinois, Indiana and Purdue.
But only an ostrich would be oblivious to the enormous drawing power of Michigan and Ohio State as they swamped the field in the quest for elite football talent. It is amazing how quickly a disastrous coaching change at Michigan (Rich Rodriguez) and NCAA sanctions at Ohio State could be set right. The Wolverines, with former Illini Jeff Hecklinski as recruiting coordinator, picked off seven of the state's top-10 prospects and padded the line with nine huskies, two of whom have five-star ratings.
Meanwhile, Illinois, in desperate need of defensive line depth and with an offense that faltered chiefly due to line shortcomings, managed to attract just two offensive and two defensive linemen, and no four-star players on the entire list.
Before you tell me that "stars" don't matter, which class is more likely to be successful: the UI signees or those headed for Michigan and/or Ohio State?
— Illini Sam Maniscalco conferred with his former Bradley coach after Jim Les won his first game against a Division I opponent at UC-Davis. With 20 losses, Davis was the lowest of 344 teams in the Rating Percentage Index last week.
— Joe Gilbert and Ron West were two of the unhappiest and outspoken Illini football aides when they left to take jobs at Alabama-Birmingham and New Mexico, respectively. Now, guess what? Gilbert has accepted an offer from the Indianapolis Colts, and West will move to Arizona State as co-defensive coordinator. Privately, these coaches don't feel a need to be loyal because they can be arbitrarily fired at any time.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.