Illini Teetering Precariously

…or, like Wile E. Coyote, have they already gone over the cliff but have yet to realize it?  Since our last entry on the topic, Bruce Weber’s Illini have dropped three straight.  Three straight close games, two of which came down to the final play of regulation and included some pretty terrible calls by the officials.  But that’s three losses, which drops them out of any aspirations for the conference title and begins to put NCAA tourney hopes on thin ice.  Realistically you wanted to win two out of the last three if you’re for real.

But these Illini are what they are – a pretty tough defensive team (though not elite) prone to long futile offensive lapses.  They have some good athletes and good role-players, but at certain positions lack enough skill or talent to put them into contention for the Big 10 and deep tourney runs.  This has been the case for the majority of Bruce Weber’s tenure.  According to Illini beat writer Paul Klee, in the years AD (After Dee) the Illini are .500 in conference play: 48-48.

That’s not good enough for Illini fans.

My brother (sometimes known as the Rube) posted a couple of long rants on the last blog entry.  They are quite entertaining and offer a good deal of insight.  The Rube was a member of the Rebounders’ Club for years until quite recently, attended practices and interacted with players and coaches more than most fans.  He opines what most of us believe:  Coach Weber works as hard as any coach in the nation, runs a clean program, cares for his players intensely, and is a good and decent man.  But his teams have not executed well enough and won enough.  After several long and heated discussions, here are our three main points:

  1.  Too Stubborn – Coach Weber has stayed true to the Gene Keady philosophy of tough, hard-nosed basketball.  No problems there.  But his refusal to adapt the motion system of offense, to incorporate other defenses, to play up-tempo, to use his bench when thought to be a strength.  All of these factors indicate a Coach too set in his ways to adapt to his players’ strengths and weaknesses.  Every coach should believe in their system, but a great coach can adjust and improvise when needed.  The Illini have become so predictable that they’re the easiest team in the Big 10 to prepare for, the easiest to gameplan against.
  2. Bad Offense – Unless Deron Williams is running the point with Dee and Luther on the wings, you have a consistently poor offensive team.  This goes back to the Keady system of defense, defense, defense first, and Coach Weber proudly proclaiming they spend 60-70% of their time working on defense.  Beemsville has railed against the motion offense for years – how predictable it becomes in the late stages of the season, how dependent it is on jump-shooting, how it does not foster post play and driving lanes and offensive rebounds.  The fact is, these Illini teams would like to play at somewhere between 45-60 points and grind you down.  But bad offense allows inferior teams (Penn State, St. Bonnie, Illinois State, Maryland) to stay with you and make a game of it.  Because Coach is too stubborn, he does not work enough on offense in practice, young players get confused and lose confidence, and the Illini seem to always be on the verge of clinching up with the shot clock running down.  There’s no variation, no transition game, and now Dee Brown, I mean – Demetri McCamey, I mean – Brandon Paul is taking a contested off-balance 3…
  3. Recruiting – This isn’t all Bruce’s fault, going back to the whole EJ Gordon fiasco, which screwed the program for years, and we also recognize that the Chicago Hype Machine makes certain players out to be better on paper than reality.  It’s also a fact that the AAU and all-star scene churns out players who can dunk and shoot 3s, but can’t box out or pass it to the post.  But with the exceptions of Jereme Richmond and Brandon Paul, Coach Weber’s staff has missed on the top Chicago-land players year in and out – even with the help of Jerrance Howard.  We understand that you just can’t get some of these guys due to the dirt and grime, but you still have to do better.  Additionally, the Illini have seemed unable to fill key positions at key times, such as right now with the point guard position.  At this point, with Weber’s refusal to make even minor changes to his staff, offensive system, etc., major changes on the recruiting front seem unlikely.

So now we watch this slogging offense and unchanging system attempt to grind out 6-7 more wins and make it to the tourney, hoping to avoid a bad matchup and somehow make it past the first weekend.  In all actuality, this was our prediction for the team before the season even began.  These were reasonable expectations:  finish in the top half of the conference, look dangerous in March, and win some tourney games.  All of this could still happen.  But the team could just as well go the other direction.  And this is the same situation Illinois has found itself in for years.  A seeming inability to get over the hump is why many are ready for a change.

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2 thoughts on “Illini Teetering Precariously

  1. Next two games are winnable. though the two after (Indiana and Mich road games) will probably be dropped to bring them back down. Unfortunately, the likelihood of winning just a few more games is very real. I’m emotionally detached at this point, so, come what may…

  2. OK The Rube has been awaiting this for awhile….Heck he’s even posted twice in the last entry about Illini “B”-Ball…(B for BORING)!!!

    1. OK I’m gonna have to go ahead and….disagree with you herer (In The Rubes best Bill Lumburgh voice)….Yeah…..The Rube doesn’t think it has ANYTHING at all to do with being stubborn. It has to do with Weber and the rest of the clown car not knowing HOW to teach anything else. Everyone remembers or had a teacher in school who taught a certain way who had been there for about 10 years too long. These are the same teachers that talked about walking uphill both ways in a snowstorm to their one room school house out in the middle of Bum Fudge Egypt. Times passed them by and they don’t change…not because they are stubborn, but because their method was INGRAINED in them by coaching away for 17 years under Gene Keady and they NEVER had to learn anything else….Stubborness….meh not buying it….Weber is too good of a man to not change just because….he’d change in a heart beat if he could…he just can’t because he doesn’t know anything else.

    2. First The Motion ISN’T an offense….its a PLAY! You couldn’t run something so intricate as a main offense because too much has to go right for it to work properly. So, you say to yourself, well the more you run it…the better you’ll get at it. Unfortunately in basketball just like in other sports that isn’t always the case. Because, the defenses you’re playing against aren’t the same. Sure Minny plays man to man just like MSU, but after watching this game tonight ask yourself if you just watched “the same” defense. So…what happens is, the Motion Play looks different against even the “same” defense because the defenders all play it differently. In addition to all that, we’ve run the same damn play what would you guess 75% of our posessions for the last 8 years….In an average game a college team gets 68 posessions. During Webers tenure he’s coached 144 B1G games. If we think CONSERVATIVELY that the Illini have run the Motion play say 60% of the time….thats 5,875 times that they’ve run that play in the last 8 years….so thats probably 5,870 times MORE than a coach like Tom Izzo, Painter, Crean, Tubby Smith (insert your B1G coaches name here) needs to effectively scout that 1 particular play (which again is 60% of your offense conservatively). So again if we keep running it and teams have seen it almost 6,000 times (its actually closer to 11,500 times if you take ALL games Weber has been at the helm) and a team takes away that plays effectiveness say 75% of the time you now have 38 posessions to score on vs. the other teams 68….hmmmm do we see a problem here? Its even worse if we use the aforementioned and probably more accurate number of 75% of our posessions are the motion play…then we’ve been cut down to about 30 or so poseesions to again 68 for the opponents. And we haven’t even taken out turnovers yet!!! Sheeeesh.

    3. Recruiting is what it is and the Gordon Fiasco and the Reggie Rose deal (No not Derrick he had no say in where he was going) was and still is tough to swallow. That said the kids the Weber’s ’05 team REALLY made the impression are the kids that were in 6th-8th grade back in 2005….those kids are now anywhere from a Jr. in High school to a missed the boat Sophmore in College already. These are the kids that were in awe of Dee, Deron and Luther and who began bleeding Orange and Blue! These are also the kids whove watched Illinois toil in the middle of the B1G for the last several seasons, make 2 NCAA tourneys and put NOBODY into the NBA….ooops….

    Its time for Weber to go. I know that scares folks, but I urge you to think about what you’re losing….see below….

    It isn’t like replacing Coach K, or Roy Williams or Tom Izzo or someone who has become and institution in and of himself at his post. We have a coach here who is .500 in conference over the last 6 seasons (and some of those seasons were down years for the B1G), won only 62% or roughly 6 ourt of 10 of his games overall in the last 6 years, who has missed the NCAA twice in the last 4 seasons, who posted the 2nd worst season record wise since The Rube was born in 1974 (thats over 3 and a half decades) who hasn’t coached a player from start to finish (recruitment to graduation) who has had more than a cup of coffee in the NBA…if that….what would we be losing that you’re afraid of? Sure he also coached us to the best season this University has EVER seen…but how much mileage does a guy get off that….how long a rope do we give him….and why should we be afraid of what MIGHT happen when we KNOW what we have now isn’t cutting it? If your still on the fence ask yourself this…if this team continues to struggle this year and finishes 8-10 or 7-11 in conference and miss the dance that would be a sub .500 record in the B1G over a 7 year span and going dancing 2 of 5 years….is that good enough for you????

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