Thursday, February 16, 2012

Illinois Loses "Must Win" Game to Purdue, End of Bruce Weber Era Now In Sight

Illinois entered last night's game with Purdue in desperate need of a win. And frankly, that's quite the understatement. A more accurate portrayal of the pressure cooker that the Fighting Illini and their embattled head coach, Bruce Weber, entered when they stepped onto the court at Illinois' legendary Assembly Hall would include the following disclaimer: if the Illini had any hopes of getting off the proverbial "schneid;" of salvaging the 2011-2012 season; or of remaining in contention for an NCAA Tournament berth and preventing the eventual off-season firing of their head coach, they simply could not lose at home to Purdue.

But lose at home to Purdue they did, 67-62 to be exact.

And now the wheels have officially come off the Bruce Weber era at Illinois.

With a first-year Athletic Director now calling the shots in the Illinois athletic department (and fresh off of firing football head coach Ron Zook), Bruce Weber came into the season knowing that he had almost no room for error. First year Athletic Directors lick their chops at the prospect hiring their own coaches; any coach who ends up working under new a A.D. knows that he's got a giant target on his back. The only way a coach in that situation usually keeps his job is by winning so much that it's impossible for the A.D. to pull the trigger.

So with the team in a tailspin, and with the knowledge that both the 2011-2012 season and their coach's job were hanging in the balance, Illinois went into last night's game with no other recourse than to win.

But they didn't.

So their NCAA Tournament hopes are all but over and the noose has officially been hung around their head coach's neck.

And clearly, he knows it:

Bruce Weber's post-game press conference is depressing. He appears to be completely defeated. Weber is a good coach, and he's had some great successes at Illinois. But he knows that he's a dead man walking.

Weber's post-game press conference might as well have been his post-firing farewell. He laments having "mollycoddled" his players this season in attempt to win a few more games, rather than having instilled discipline and an overall culture of winning. Interestingly (though not surprisingly to anyone who's been paying attention), Weber's lamentations confirm what Drive and Dish suspected were problems plaguing Weber's program way back in 2008.

A little background:

In his second season as head coach at Illinois, Bruce Weber's Illini steamrolled their way to the 2005 Final Four, where they eventually lost to North Carolina in the NCAA Championship game. But it took Weber several years to break through with Chicago area recruiting circles, and recruiting hit a four year rough patch following the '05 Final Four.

By the time the key players from Weber's 2005 Final Four team had all moved on -- Deron Williams and Luther Head ended up being NBA first round draft picks in '05; Dee Brown and James Augustine graduated in 2006 -- it had become apparent to anyone who had eyes that the cupboard was bare in Champaign-Urbana.

That didn't prevent Illini fans' expectations from being raised higher than Mt. Everest though. And Weber's early success only made his recruiting misses -- and the attendant drop-off in talent -- that much harder for Illini fans to swallow.

By 2009, Weber was finally starting to attract some decent players to his program, but his earlier lean recruiting years left his teams with a perpetual dearth of talented upperclassmen. Unfortunately, that forced the otherwise conservative Weber to rely heavily on the contributions of freshmen and sophomores, many of whom were thrown into the fire before they were truly ready.

So things were up and down following Bruce Weber's early glory years (2004-06). Drive and Dish never expected the 2007 Illini to play in the post season. We thought that Illinois' talent level was so low that year that the team would need a near-miracle season just to get into the N.I.T. But somehow, the team that probably had the least talent of any team in the Weber era managed to grind and muck its way to the NCAA Tournament -- even if it was accomplished by the heavy use smoke and mirrors.

Many Illini fans started to lose confidence in Weber that year (he'd been considered a genius by most Illini fans in 2005 and 2006), but we were impressed that he managed to do so much with so little ... though it certainly wasn't pretty, or fun to watch.

The 2008 season turned out to be a disaster for Weber's Illini, though. When they were in desperate need of a win to get off the NCAA Tournament "bubble," they got the Jamar Smith DUI/car crash fiasco instead. The fact that Smith and teammates went out and got s**t-faced drunk -- Smith's blood alcohol content was measured at over 2.0 -- the night before a "must win" game probably says as much about the state of the program at that time as anything that happened on the court. After Smith incident, the 2008 team tanked, and ultimately missed the post season altogether.

Illinois basketball rebounded in 2009, however, and what had originally looked to be a rag-tag assembly of "try-hard" overachieving upperclassman perimeter players and underfed, reed-thin underclassman big men, turned out to be the surprise upstart of the Big Ten. Illinois' nails-tough senior guards led the Illini back into the upper reaches of the Big Ten and back to the NCAA Tournament.

Predictably, after the surprisingly good 2009 effort, expectations were once again high for Bruce Weber and Illinois for the 2009-10 season.

But Bruce Weber had loosened the reins following the gruelingly ugly of campaigns of 2007-08, and with the absence of the toughness and leadership that senior guards Trent Meacham and Chester Frazier had provided in 2009, the 2009-10 Illini lacked -- you guessed it! -- toughness, discipline and leadership.

They ended up missing the NCAA Tournament and losing at home to Dayton in the N.I.T.

In 2010-2011, Illinois added the most heralded recruiting class of the Bruce Weber era to the returning upperclassmen who had so underachieved in 2010. Illini probably fans should have waited to see how the team would come together before they allowed their expectations to get out of control, but the Illini Nation was just so giddy over the fact that they finally had a big time recruiting class that it was virtually impossible to for cooler heads to prevail. Things really got wild after Illinois ran highly-rated North Carolina off the Assembly Hall court after Thanksgiving in the ACC - Big Ten Challenge. But predictably, as the season wore on, the Illini failed to live up to their fans' lofty expectations (unrealistic though those expectations may have been).

Illinois had more ups and downs than a bipolar manic depressive in 2011, and the senior-laden team spent much of the season in a familiar place -- the NCAA Tournament bubble. The Illini stumbled into the NCAA Tournament, but once there, they dismantled former Illini coach Lon Kruger's UNLV squad in the first round ... before being dismantled themselves by Kansas in the next round (Kansas, of course, was coached by Kruger's successor and Weber's predecessor at Illinois, Bill Self).

As the roller coaster 2011 season wore on, a significant percentage of Illini fans turned on Bruce Weber. By the time the season ended, most fans were happy to move on to 2012. The seniors who graduated in 2011 had comprised the core of two famously underachieving Illini teams. Bruce Weber had spent 2011 on the hot seat, but there was a feeling in much of Illini land that things might be better in 2012, if only through the process of addition by subtraction (of the departed underachieving seniors).

But the Illini 2011-2012 would return only two players who had played significant minutes in 2011, and there was absolutely no evidence to suggest that Weber's young and inexperienced team would fare particularly well in a league as stacked from top to bottom as the Big Ten.

After the graduation of four key seniors from the 2011 team (disappointing though that team may have ultimately been), and with the infusion of six freshmen and a senior transfer (that's seven new players!), it should have been clear to everyone that 2011-12 was going to be a rebuilding year for Bruce Weber's Illini. There were probably even residents at the Chicago Lighthouse For the Blind who could see as much.

Interestingly, many Illini fans did not have unrealistically high expectations at the beginning of the 2011-2012 season (for once). Illini fans were generally eager to see how all the new, young faces would fare once they took the court, and if you asked them, most fans would probably have told you that they just hoped that their young Illini would be competitive, and would improve as the season progressed .

But that changed pretty quickly: the Illini got off to a fast non-conference start, and 7'1" sophomore center Meyers Leonard blew up after dominating Gonzaga's Robert Sacre in front of a national television audience in December. So once again, expectations soared to the heavens.

Predictably, Big Ten conference play brought the rebuilding Illini back to Earth (although the Illini did upset two teams ranked in the Top Ten, Ohio State and Michigan State).

Anyone with a shred of knowledge about college basketball should have expected the young 2012 Illini to be a perpetual work in progress. Young teams like Illinois are usually "up and down": they usually win some games that they probably shouldn't win, and lose some games that they probably shouldn't lose.

And that's exactly what happened. But once the fans let their expectations start running wild, everybody seemed to forget that 2012 was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Thus, with each close win and with each disappointing loss, the Illini Nation turned their increasing ire to Bruce Weber (as many had done last year). And by the time the Illini hit their February losing skid, the overwhelming majority of the Illini Nation was pining for Weber's scalp.

Bruce Weber has spent the latter half of the 2011-12 season with the prospect of a coaching change hanging over his head like the Sword of Damocles.

Now the sword has broken free, and it's about to take a good man out.


Sparco Spartan said...

How about adapting that song to this:
Sh-Sh-Sh, Sh-Sh-Sh Shaka Smart!

That song is great, one that never leaves your head.

Shaka Smart could also be like a cereal. Count Shakula. How about Shakey Charms. Just imagine the possibilities.

Sh-Sh-Sh, Sh-Sh-Sh Shaka Smart!

Sister Therese said...

Dear Mr. T.S., Mr. Buckets, and the Children of Drive and Dish,

This Saturday we are having a Day in the snow at St. Cletus Parish! We will share Bible Stories, go sledding, and enjoy some hot cocoa. Th event will begin in the Parish Commons at 9:00 a.m. It will be a hoot. You will need a signed permission slip from your parents.


Sister Therese

Sister Therese said...

Dear Mr. T.S. and Mr. Buckets,

Can you please write an article teaching us how to dribble a basketball. I want to teach the children at the Parish Recreation Center how to dribble and double-dribble. That would be a hoot.


Sister Therese

Wrigleyville Ilini said...

Seeya Brucie!!!!!!! Been nice knowin ya (not)!!!!!!!!! Don't let the door hit ya on the way out!!!!!!!! I mean, you wouldn't want to let the swinging door trip up your stride as you high tail it back to some back bench assistant coaching job at Purdue. Your clown shoes might get scruffed up. haha.

I can't wait until the day you get fired and have to face the media and finally admit that your the broken down, out of touch, in over your head, loser ass failure that you are. I might even go to one of your last games and sit by the tunnel that leads to the locker room just so I can dump my beer on your head. I might even hawk a fat loogie on ya, Coach Clown Shoes.

Hell, now that I'm thinking of it, I might even hang around outside the arena and jump your sorry ass when you head to your car. Nothing would make me happier than to take out 5 years of frustration on your loser ass.

Seeya Brucie Loserface.

Can't wait til Shaka Smart patrols our sidelines. Were gonna get all the athletic studs from Chicago and were gonna win championships like UNC and Kentucky!!!!!!!!!!

Shaka is gonna walk into the projects in Chicago with swagga, and a ghetto fake limp, wearing a green pimp suit, carrying a rhinestone encrusted walking cane and smiling real big to show off that gold grill full of big ass, sparkeling diamonds!!!!!!!!! Keep Jerrance Snacks on the staff and it's gonna be bananas!!!!!! Superstar ballers from the city are gonna love Shaka (especially combined with Jerrance). They're gonna be lining up to play for us!!!!!! And we are gonna out recruit Calipari and Roy Williams for every stud from the Chi that we want!!!!!!!

Book it!!!!!!!!!

Shaka!!!!!!!! Shaka!!!!!!!!! Shaka!!!!!!! Shaka!!!!!!!!!!

Fire Weber (obviously as good as done)!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hire Shaka Smart (as good as done)!!!!!!!!!!!!

Gotta keep Jerrance as assistant head coach (get him a green pimp suit too)!!!!!!!!!!!!

And BRING BACK the Chief!!!!!!!!!!

Lincoln Railsplitter Illini said...

im with wrigleyville illini........bout time weber gets whats comin to him. i was one of the biggest Weber supporters around for a long time. But no more. i jumped ship after the northwestern game.

lets go get shaka smart. hes black so he can get them chicago kids that couldnt relate to a old school white guy like weber. go out and jive it up and play rap at our games and do whatever it takes to them black studs from chicago to come play here.

we need to be cool. weber just aint cool enuff to recruit black atheletes. go get em shaka!!!

drunk idiot said...

Guess whose drunk again!!!!!!! Lol!!!!!! Itz ya boy!!!!! Got my drank on. Got my pantz saggin low. Got all dem shawteez wantn me 2 dickem up. All deez illini fans crazy as fu@@ lol. My badgerz went in there house and put da smakdown on dem FIB's. Jordan Taylor's da truth!!!!! Same thing with my boy Brusowitz. Badgers gonna git in the final 4 dis year. Me and my boyz gonna b their lit up like itz marty graw. Lol. I keep typin diz ish so deez shawteez at da bar see me lookin bizzy. Gonna tellem I been textn my booty callz. Makem jellis. Lol!!!!

i can't get enuff said...

Parlay Larry is gay!

Wrigleyville Illini said...

Please make it stop!!!!!! Never, ever, ever in the history of the
world have things been this bad.

We. Got. Freakin. Beat. By. 30. At. Freakin. Nebraska!!!!!!

Let that sink in. Ne friggin Braska!!!

This team completely crapped the bed and there's only 1 reason why........Frikken Clown Shoes Bruce Weber.

I've never seen a team completely quit on a coach like today. Complete and total meltdown. Today we saw what a total player mutiny looked like.

Fire Weber NOW!!!!!! NOW. NOW. NOW!!! Not at the end of teh season. NOW!!!!!!!


Do. Not. Let. Clown. Shoes. Coach. At. Bucky. On. Tuesdaay.

This team totally quit on Brucie Loserface. That's 9 L's of our last 10 games. I mean, let that sink in. Think about it, lose 1 more game and were out of the Tournament for good and Weber's toast for sure. Our back was totally against the wall today. I'm talking about "Do or Die" here. Nebraska was the most important game of the year. So what do we do? We don't even show up.

Weber totally screwed the pooch when he threw his players under the bus after the PUrdue loss. We got the best talent in the B1G, but Weber has ruined each one of his players confidence so much that we crap teh bed against a Purdue team made up of a bunch of slow white guys. We've got the best talent in the league and we can't even hang with Hummel and Larry Byrd's inbred redneck nephew. The reason we couldn't guard those slow stiffs was because Weber ruined this team's confidence. OUr guys used to be superior athletic freaks, but now they're slower then Purdue!!!!! That's on Weber!!!!! He made our guys slow by ruining their confidence.

So after our guys get assraped by Purdue because Weber ruined their confidence so much they can't even keep up with a bunch of hillbilly white guys from Indiana that can't run and jump, Weber throws his best players under the bus in the post game press conf.

No wonder we don't show up at Nebby today. Everybody's like, fu&& you Bruce. We're gonna quit so that you get fired.

Can't say I blame em.

If I don't wake up on Sunday and here that Weber got fired overnite, I'm going to break something or set something on fire!!!!!!!

Fire Weber now!!!! Better yet, take him out back and pop a cap in his ass.

Make Jerrance intern coach and then Hire Shaka when the season's over!!!!!!!!!!

Fire Weber.

Hire Shaka.

Keep Jerrance.

Bring Back Chief Illiniwek!!!!!!!!

Wrigleyville Illini said...

Shaka. Boom Shaka Shaka. Booom Shaka Shaka.

Hire SHaka, give him a suitcase full of cash and a Lamborghini and send him into the projects to pull the best players out of Chi Town. Shaka's got the swagga. He's gonna cruise through the hood bumpin Young Jeezy on his system, with the driver's seat lowered all the way down, and with his head waaaaay back and low, and with that gangsta lean goin' on. Then he's gonna stop and pop those suicide doors open on the Lambo and get outta that whip real slow, wearing a green pimp suit with a giant brimmed green hat. Then he's gonna walk through the streets on the south side of Chicago with all that swagga, and a fake gangsta limp, carrying a cane with a diamond encrusted handle. He's gonna have a $250,000 diamond in each ear and he's gonna be rockin a teardrop tattoo on his face. Then he's gonna limp into those recruits living rooms bumping Lil Wayne on his SkullKandy headphones and spark up a fat blunt and pass it around.

And Jerrance is going to be there holding the bottom of Shaka's pimp cape, just to make sure it doesn't get dirty from touching the ground.

Those Chicago kids are gonna line up to play for Shaka. And were going to be an elite, top 2 or 3 program again. Shaka. Shaka. Shaka. Shaaakkka!!!!!!


Fire Weber.

Hire Shaka.

Bring BAck the Chief!!!!!!!!

Dr. Rockso said...

Aww maaan, Dr. Rockso just heard about that Day in the snow thing that C-C-C-Twisted Sister, C-C-C-I mean Sister Christian, C-C-C-I mean Sister Theresa put up here. Rockso don't know nothin' bout no sleddin' baby, but Rockso knows all bout c-c-c-spendin' the day in the snow. Dr. Rockso spends EVERY DAY in the snow, baby!!!

When that party gonna be goin' down Sista? Rockso gunna be there...... c-c-c-right in the middle of all that snow, baby! Saturday??? What day is it today??? Dr. Rockso can't never never tell c-c-c-what day it is, cuz the days all c-c-c-run into each other when you c-c-c-don't get no sleep. And lemme tell ya somethin' right here Sista......Dr. Rockso don't never sleep, baby!!!

Take a guess c-c-c-why Rockso don't never sleep.

You guessed it, baby.....COCAINE!!!

I'm Dr. Rockso, the Rock 'n' Roll Clown!!!


Wrigleyville Illini said...

OMG!!!!! Iowa freaking pounded the IU Loosiers tonite. Even the freaking Squakeyes can put a beatdown on Indiana. How effen pathetic is Bruce Weber if lowly Iowa can kick Loosier ass, but our thoroughbreads can't even hang within 10 points of a team full of slow white rednecks from Indiana?! That shows just how gawdawful Clown Shoes Brucie Markerface really is.

I mean, we have more talent then anybody in teh B1G, but were the worst team by far b/c our retard coach does something to make sure that our studs crap the bed every game. Thank you coach Clown Shoes.

Fire Weber.

Hire Shaka.

Promote Jerrance to Assistant Head Coach and give him a 100% raise.

Bring back the Chief!!!!!!

Lifetime Achievement Award said...

This years Lifetime Achievement Award goes to a very special recipient. Lets give a round of applause to:

Lincoln Railsplitter Illini

Since the middle of the past decade Lincoln Railsplitter Illini has enthralled with insightful commentary at the most poignant moments. Drive and Dish would not be where it is with out Lincoln Railsplitter Illini. This individual exudes remarkable thoughts in concise formats bedazzling the readers in awe. Thus individual has led a life of example and has kept their focus on basketball. Many individuals throughout the world in places including Bulgaria, Morocco, and South Africa routinely check their computers to check if Lincoln Railsplitter Illini has posted a comment. In your finest hour, we salute you Lincoln Railsplitter Illini!

Rookie of the Year Award said...

This years Rookie of the Year Award goes to a very special recipient. Lets give a round of applause to:

Bard of Boogers

Over the past year Drive and Dish has become privy to fresh new commentary by Bard of Boogers. Using unorthodox techniques to explain College Basketball to ESPN Reporters and 2nd graders in the sandlot, Bard of Boogers captivates their audience like no other. Bard of Boogers has come a long way since the beginning of providing commentary to Drive and Dish and will only improve in the year to come. We look forward to watching this growth and the inspiration oozing out of Bard of Boogers. We salute you Bard of Boogers

Comeback Player of the Year Award said...

This years Comeback Player of the Year Award goes to a very special recipient. Lets give a round of applause to:


Drive and Dish has always relished the opportunity to hear uncanny perspectives from Roy>Jesus. This individual has redefined their role in reflecting on college basketball in an unprecedented way. In the beginning Roy>Jesus played the hockey enforcer against certain Duke fans and writers. As Drive and Dish underwent downsizing, Roy>Jesus went into meditation to find their inner bravado and came out swinging for the fences. Much like a junior ice-hockey player who burgeons from an enforcer to a goal-scorer or a caterpillar who metamorphisizes into a butterfly, Roy>Jesus redefined their role as a contributor to Drive and Dish. We salute you Roy>Jesus!

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