Its hard to believe that a team having lost six of their last seven games had their season take a turn for the worse, but that is precisely what happened to Illinois on Wednesday night as they lost to Purdue in Champaign 67-62.
It was the seventh loss in the last eight games for the Illini, and if Brandon Paul hadn’t gone for 43 points against Ohio State in a 79-74 Illinois win and if Draymond Green hadn’t played terribly before missing the final four minutes in a 42-41 Michigan State loss, Illinois would be looking at a nine game losing streak square in the face.
Their bubble aspirations are all but gone now.
They are sitting at 16-10 overall and 5-8 in the Big Ten with five games remaining, including road trips to Ohio State and Wisconsin and a home date with Michigan. Anything short of a sweep and Illinois will likely end up on the outside looking in. And for Illinois, that is simply unacceptable given the amount of talent in their program. In the past three years, he’s brought in nine players from the state of Illinois that were ranked in the top 100 nationally. Eight of them are still in the program, and the only one that left — Jereme Richmond — was enough of a head case that his departure probably behooved the program.
In other words, the reason that Illinois is losing has nothing to do with how good the players are, because they are good enough to be winning these games. It also probably doesn’t have anything to do with how good the coaching is, because Weber was a good enough coach to lead Illinois to the national title game in 2005 and to get Southern Illinois into back-to-back NCAA Tournaments.
You don’t lose that ability as a coach.
What you lose is the connection with your team. Right now, there is something missing in this Illinois program. For whatever reason, the players aren’t playing hard. They aren’t buying in completely. And whether the blame lies with Weber or with the athletes, the bottom line is that a change needs to be made. I’m not one to call for a coach’s head, I don’t think its my place to say that another man doesn’t deserve his job, but I will make mention of the fact that, at least on the surface, Bruce Weber and this Illinois team appear to have irrevocable differences.
At some point, isn’t it better to cut your losses and part ways? Based on some of Weber’s post game comments, it seems like he has resigned himself to that fact.
“Instead of creating toughness and developing a team, I coached not to lose all year, and that’s really sad to be honest,” he said. “You have to develop a culture and the last 3 years all I did was worry about winning instead of developing a culture. That’s my fault.”
This is the third straight season where the Illini’s performance simply is not up to the level of their potential. That’s not exactly a glowing recommendation for a head coach.
UPDATE: Here’s video of Weber’s press conference:
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.