This one is going to be pretty straight forward folks. This is going to be a Terrence Shannon, Jr. appreciation post.

I will, of course, acknowledge the delightful beat down of Mizzou in what was essentially a parallel universe outcome from last season. Last year, the Tigers raced out to a 20 point lead in the first half, and extended that lead to 30 in the second half before eventually winning 93-71.

This year the Illini followed the exact same script. 20 point first half lead. 30 point second half lead. 97-73 final. Quincy Guerrier and his rediscovered three point stroke was fantastic with 28 points and 8 rebounds. Coleman Hawkins might have played his best game of the season in his final Braggin' Rights appearance and finished with 15 and 7. Ty Rodgers handled the Mizzou pressure admirably and was a demon on the offensive glass. The only thing preventing us from 100-balling them was an off shooting night from Marcus Domask. Afterwards Mizzou Head Coach Dennis Gates compared this Illini group to the Flying Illini. Yeah, it was a Holly Jolly night for sure.

But let's be real here - the story of the night was once again Terrence ("TJ") Shannon, Jr. As Brad Underwood stated without prompting in the post game press conference: "Is there any doubt who was the best player on the floor?"

30 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and 1 apology to the entire Illini cheerleading squad for tumbling into them along the baseline.

I'm running out of superlatives for this dude. And he is a dude. He is HIM as they say. And yet as high as he flies - I feel like he is somehow still flying under the radar.

I want to expand a bit on this bullet point I wrote in my post-Colgate game article:

Maybe I'm misreading the room, but I'm not sure that Illini fans are fully appreciating just how good Terrence Shannon, Jr. is playing this year. This dude is on track for the best single season performance in an Illinois uniform since 2005 Dee Brown. (And no, I did not forget 2020-21 Ayo Dosunmu or 2021-22 Kofi Cockburn) If there wasn't a 7'4" dude wrecking everything over in West Lafayette, TJ would probably be the POY in college basketball thus far.

I see this strange disconnect in which the national college basketball media has been driving the Terrence Shannon bandwagon while many casual Illini fans have kind of just shrugged their shoulders. Then again, with a performance like tonight on a stage as bright as Braggin' Rights - he's starting to make himself pretty dang hard to ignore.

I mean I get it, the college basketball landscape right now is weird. With NIL and the COVID transfer rules essentially establishing free agency in college basketball over the past several years I think fans have been reluctant to grow attached to individual players and fully invest in teams. At least that's the vibe I get when I talk with both casual Illini fans and fans of other teams.

And yes, Shannon will only be at Illinois for two seasons. At first blush, that may not seem like enough time to endear oneself historically to Illini Nation, until you remember that two all time Illini favorites - Kenny Battle and Nick Anderson - each only played two seasons for Illinois. Why are those two so beloved while Shannon feels like an afterthought?

Well, sure it's the wins, of course. Team success carries a lot of weight, and while Nick and KB went to the Final Four, Shannon is 0-1 in the NCAA Tournament.

Of course, there is still pretty much an entire Big Ten regular season and an NCAA Tournament ahead to provide Shannon the opportunity to grow his legacy, but even without a team banner worthy end to this season, his jersey is going to hang from the SFC rafters folks.

In case you were wondering, here are the criteria for jersey hanging status:

1) National Player of the Year

2) Enshrined in the National Basketball Hall of Fame

3) Big Ten Player of the Year

4) Consensus First- or Second-Team All-American

5) Illinois All-Century Team Member

Barring injury he is a lock to achieve consensus All-American. In fact if it weren't for Zach Edey he'd be the easy front runner for Big Ten POY and a leading candidate for National POY as well. As it is he is running third in the KenPom kPOY metric.

He is the Illini leader in points, steals, assists, blocks, and max effort. His chase down defensive prowess is close to becoming iconic. He routinely turns off the water to the best offensive players on opposing teams. He is both MVP and glue guy. But even more than that, he's been the spearhead behind the sea change in this Illini team's maturity and togetherness compared to last season. He is the classic personification of "speak softly and carry a big stick".

And still, I just can't shake the feeling that a large portion of Illini fandom is missing out. Of course, I'd be thrilled to be dead wrong on this. In fact, please tell me I'm wrong on this, because otherwise it makes me sad to think that there are Illini fans out there who aren't appreciating and marveling over the special type of season Shannon is orchestrating.

Hop on board folks, the fun is just beginning.