If you hate yourself, or team basketball, you watched Illinois slog through a hideous home game against Michigan State that somehow managed to make a win over a top ten team feel dirty and wrong. While it certainly improved the tournament resume of a skidding team, it also was a 40-minute case study in a program that is just not working. Zero offensive creativity. An almost phobic fear of the fast break. A refusal or inability to listen to the coaching staff (“Hey, why don’t we attack the sick guy with four fouls? No? Nobody wants to do that?”). Moreover, an Assembly Hall that is just sick and tired of watching these excruciating exercises in “How to play basketball without taking a chance or improvising.”
Would love to see the kids play with just a little more confidence, especially at home. They should feel like giants in that building. #ILL
— Robert Archibald (@RobertArchibald) February 1, 2012
Well said, Arch. I honestly can’t remember the last time an Illinois team had swagger, let alone confidence. I’ve said this before, but we used to be the closest you could be to invincible at home. Now, we can only beat top-tier opposition by riding a historic individual performance or having the other team’s best player battling exhaustion due to sickness. Throw in an overinflated ball for good measure (Seriously? I thought using a women’s ball was just a bizarre aberration, but apparently the ineptitude at the Hall is not limited to what’s happening on the court.)
Am I asking too much? Doug Gottlieb thinks so. In that clip, he basically says that Illinois fans place themselves a little too highly on the basketball totem pole, intimating that we may not be able to attract a good replacement if Bruce Weber – a top 20ish coach in his opinion – were to be fired. I disagree. And in this piece, ESPN’s Scott Powers backs me up:
Illinois should be a top-16 program.Illinois has been one of the most consistent programs in the country since 1980. From the 1980-1981 season to last season, Illinois won 691 games, made 24 NCAA tournament appearances and reached the Sweet 16 or better eight times. By comparison, Kentucky won 795 games, made 26 NCAA tournament appearances and reached the Sweet 16 or better 16 times. UCLA won 677 games, made 23 NCAA tournament appearances and reached the Sweet 16 or better 11 times. Indiana won 645 games, made 24 NCAA tournament appearances and reached the Sweet 16 or better 10 times.
Yet here we are – two tournament wins since a run to the Final Four, not a sniff of the top ten since Dee Brown wore orange. If you remove the years impacted by NCAA probation, this six year stretch since 2006 is the worst we’ve had in about 30 years, spanning four coaches. Maybe you think Bruce Weber has been the recipient of some tough breaks (I disagree, all coaches have to deal with Jereme Richmond-style incidents), and maybe you think he needs more time (again, I disagree – if you haven’t seen what you need to see the last three years, you’re not going to see it next year). I guess that’s fine, and that’s your prerogative. But what you can’t do is bury your head in the sand in the belief that we were playing with house money for most of the last decade and are due for spending a few years as Iowa. We aren’t. Unless we choose to.