The Assembly Hall crowd in Champaign called for Bruce Weber’s head. Illini fans in B Section screamed “pack your bags” and “I can draw up a better offense.” This has gone on for years, except this time there was one major difference- No one in the orange and blue crowd stuck up for Bruce.
And this happened during one of this year’s signature wins, a victory over a top ten Michigan State team. Illini Nation seems to be totally fed up with Weber. He’s about as well liked as point guard Sam Maniscalco, who acts like a black hole in the offense. His field goal and three-point percentages are so low that on those rare occasions he hits a shot, it seems like a miracle has occurred.
Down at courtside on this night you could hear Weber screaming “MOVE MOVE MOVE!” Because there’s just no motion in his motion offense; a system that has produced only a .500 record in conference since the Champaign Campaign national runner-up year of 2005. And Mansicalco is a big example of what’s wrong with Weber’s decision making: giving more playing time to grindy, hustle players instead of the talented ones.
And a lot of these players sit the bench because they come off as severe head cases. The senior trio that just graduated: Demetri McCamey, Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis resembled a group that genuinely feared success. The Mikes peaked their sophomore year and McCamey regressed massively in the middle of his senior year. Illini fans found these guys to be head cases, and some of what Weber would say in press conferences conformed to this script. The team itself fell way short of preseason expectations, and that killed Weber’s popularity.
The original knock on Weber was that he couldn’t recruit, but with time he got Jerrance Howard working for him on that front and Weber landed a few high profile prospects…who flamed out. Three top flight recruits: Alex Legion, Jereme Richmond, and Crandall Head, stayed for barely a season, if that. And their time on campus produced little to nothing. In Weber’s defense, Legion changed schools like 47 times during the wasted potential that was his joke of a college career.
Richmond, the only McDonald’s All-American recruited in Weber’s 8 years at Illinois turned out to be a psychopath/sociopath. And Head’s stats from his Illini career were so substandard, he made us forget that he was a top 100 national recruit/brother of Luther Head. These trends make you have to ask- why aren’t you recruiting better, more well-adjusted prospects with fewer mental and academic issues? Maybe the problem is with Weber? Maybe certain players with egos just can’t fit his system?
Illinois is among the top 15 all time in McDonald’s All-American recruits, and the state’s high schools are top ten all time in producing them. Yet it looks certain that Weber will not land any more of them nor improve his poor record in recruiting the Chicago Public League’s top tier prospects. This is just unacceptable.
An excerpt from a must read column by Herb Gould of the Chicago Sun-Times
The clamor for change is apparent Downstate, where Illinois has had only one sellout, and in Chicago, where serious boosters and other alumni have been restless for quite a while. Mix in the Illini’s checkered record the last six seasons, and the case for change is apparent.
Weber got off to a marvelous start in Champaign, riding the Deron Williams-Dee Brown-James Augustine era to eight NCAA tournament victories, including a Final Four; two Big Ten championships; and an 89-16 record, including 39-9 in the Big Ten.
In the five-plus seasons since Brown and Augustine left, Illinois has won one NCAA tournament game, missed the tournament twice, finished higher than fourth in the Big Ten only once and compiled a 120-77 record, including 48-48 in the Big Ten.
For a school with the Illini’s proud basketball tradition, that’s not hitting the mark. That 48-48 conference record is especially telling in light of athletic director Mike Thomas’ reference to competing for Big Ten titles when he fired Zook.
It’s true, mediocrity is tolerated for college football in Champaign; because the only real tradition with the program is from the Red Grange era, and slightly before. There’s been quite a few lean decades in there. In college basketball, this type of behavior is not tolerated at UI. And the fact that when Weber does win, it’s in such an ugly fashion that he makes no friends with his results. The 42-41 win over Michigan State was the fewest points scored in an Illini win since 1946. Dude, that’s a long time ago!
The fact that I’ve written a column on how much this team has in common with the 1998-99 team, which set a school record for single season losses (since broken on Weber’s watch in 2008), is alarming. And now you can add the rare home loss to their usual subordinate Northwestern to the list of similarities between the two teams. And this hard-to-watch basketball has hurt attendance. The Illini are 4th in the league in this category, but they’ve only sold out one game all year. I’m sure the A.D. doesn’t like that stat.
But check out that first comment on that “play offense like it’s 1999” piece. I can’t quote it directly because I’m not going to speculate on the position of the board of trustees unless it was on the record. But the commenter “U of I” accurately reflects the rumors and anti-Weber sentiment I keep hearing from numerous sources. His numbers are worth a look too. We can’t say for certain if/when Weber will be replaced, but we can safely assume this- money will not be any object if the board decides that’s the way it wants to go.
Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, an official Google News site generating millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports
A Fulbright scholar and MBA, Banks has appeared on live radio all over the world; and he’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America, U.S. Basketball Writers Association, and Society of Professional Journalists. The President of the United States follows him on Twitter (@Paul_M_BanksTSB) You should too.
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