The team flew home from Florida relieved to be done with 1987, and anxious to get started with ’88. Surely the new year would be better than the old one. The season-ending loss at Michigan, the NCAA tournament loss to Florida, the academic ineligibility, the injuries, the recruiting frustrations, the adjustment to a new style of play, the quest for leadership … two wins in Florida seemed to shift all that to the past tense.
There wouldn’t be much time to rejoice, however. Just as it had opened the season earlier than usual with the NIT, it also would play the first Big Ten game of the season, at Illinois, on Jan. 4, for the benefit of ESPN’s national television audience.