Bruce Weber has been at Illinois since 2004, but he probably will not be there much longer. Illinois was a highly ranked team when he first arrived, taking over for Bill Self. They reached the Sweet 16 in 2004 as a #5 seed, then went to the National Championship Game the next year with the team that featured Deron Williams, Dee Brown, and Luther Head. Illinois made the tournament again the following season as a #4 seed, but since 2007, the Illini have made the tournament three times, missed it two others, and have only one win, in a #8/#9 matchup last season.
Now, they are in serious risk of missing the tournament for the third time in six years. Even if they make it, they will again be a lower seed. Illinois has lost 7 of 8 games (the only win was 42-41 versus Michigan State), and after a 10-0 start, sits at 16-10.
The latest loss was last night, at home against Purdue. After the game, Bruce Weber provided some very interesting comments that seem like a man who knows he is on the way out.
He praised opposing players, and harped on his own. “Instead of creating toughness and developing a team, I coached not to lose all year. And that’s really sad.” He lamented about not sitting 7-foot center Meyers Leonard or Brandon Paul, the team’s two leading scorers, earlier in the season.
He also professed his love, a day late, of Purdue’s Robbie Hummel:
“Tonight, he played unbelievable. Made the plays when it counted. And you know him, Draymond Green [of Michigan State], Craft [Aaron Craft of Ohio State], those are three guys that you wish you could coach, ’cause they really, truly care about the team and winning and that’s all, that’s the most important thing for them.”
“If you’re a player, you’re a player. Robbie Hummel’s a player, Byrd [D.J. Byrd of Purdue]’s a player, they go make plays. Lewis Jackson makes plays. So . . . that’s my fault.”
. . .
“Not good. We don’t have great basketball savvy. Some of that comes from maturity and age. Some of that’s just natural, some kids have a good feel, others don’t.”
He also dropped a “Mollycoddling” reference, and later channeled his inner Ricky Nelson. “You’re trying to please everyone instead of please yourself. That’s my fault. Hindsight.”
Illinois still has road games at Ohio State and Wisconsin, and a home game against Michigan in their last 5 games. They are probably right on that bubble today, after looking like they would be in the tournament easily three weeks ago. At 5-8 in conference, they would need to get to at least 8-10 in the Big Ten to get in, and not have a bad loss in the conference tournament.
Of course, whether or not they barely get in or continue to falter, change is very possible after this run of losses and Weber’s comments. You have to wonder how tolerant Illinois will be about a coach who talks about not creating a culture of winning. This is year nine in Champaign, Illinois. You probably should have figured out how to create that culture and recruit and train those basketball players that are so praise worthy on other teams.
[photo via US Presswire]