Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.

Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.
The rebuild of the Illinois football program continues as they drop a tough 34-31 loss in overtime to Purdue.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

And, so the freefall continues. It has now been a week since the now infamous Bruce Weber press conference, where he essentially let everything out about his feelings, calling out a few of the players on the Illini team in the process. During that span, the Illini dropped a home game to Purdue (the game that brought on Weber's rant), got blown out at Nebraska by 23 points, and then went to Ohio State and promptly got drilled on national television. These are certainly not good days around the Illinois basketball program, and there is plenty of blame to go around. You have to blame Weber for a lot of this, throwing his players under the bus with those comments, and emotions coming to the forefront as a result. During Saturday's loss at Nebraska, center Meyers Leonard was shown on camera crying on the bench, being consoled by freshman Myke Henry and assistant coach Wayne McClain. You could also blame the players, because after all, they are the ones out on the floor giving the effort, or in the case of the past couple of weeks, not giving the effort. You see guys like Leonard, whom the NBA scouts have deemed a mid to late first round draft pick, trying out there, but the mental composure of Leonard the other night may be a concern to people wanting him to succeed at the next level. After all, these are 19-22 year old kids that we are talking about. Weber has said before that one of the problems is that Tracy Abrams has become the leader, and he is a freshman. A FRESHMAN! Nobody seems to want to step up in the locker room and take ownership of this current downfall, but Abrams has. That takes guts. Another person that you can place the blame on is former athletic director Ron Guenther. After all, it was Guenther who extended these contracts of not only Weber, but former football coach Ron Zook, as well as women's basketball coach Jolette Law. You could very well see a scenario at the end of the basketball season where the football coach, and both the men's and women's basketball coaches will be fired in the same calendar year. I am not sure that there is another instance of this anywhere in recent memory in Division I, maybe not ever. The buyouts alone for these three coaches are staggering, with Zook's totaling $2.6 million for the remainder of his contract, Weber's will be somewhere around $3.5 million, if he is indeed let go at the end of the season, and Law's is not as much, at around $310,000. You just look at those figures and wonder just what Guenther was thinking about when he made those deals.

A little over a month ago, the Illini were riding high, on top of the conference standings, and sporting a 15-3 overall record after just defeating Ohio State, who was ranked in the top 10 at the time. Since that time, the Illini have gone just 1-9, the only win coming against Michigan State, who ironically, was also a top 10 team when the Illini beat them. Now, the Illini are 16-12 overall, and near the bottom of the Big Ten at 5-10. Coming into this season, it was unfathomable to think that the basketball team could trump the disastrous slide that the football team achieved, but it has happened. Playing their way off the proverbial NCAA "bubble", and now fighting for a NIT bid, the "Slidin' Illini" have 3 games left in the regular season to salvage something before the Big Ten Tournament. Believe it or not, if the Illini win their last 2 games at home, and somehow, some way, find their game at Wisconsin in the final game of the season, they will STILL have an outside chance to make the Big Dance. This scenario is very unlikely given the recent struggles of this team, but if the players decide to finally put it together, anything is possible. The first chance comes on Sunday when Iowa comes to the Assembly Hall (5:00 pm, BTN). I'm not saying that this is even a possibility, it is just food for thought. It is hard to fathom a team that lost as bad as they did at Nebraska even having a remote chance to redeem themselves, but first things first, they need to beat Iowa. However, it is probably too late for Weber, regardless.

The Illini women's basketball team wraps up the regular season this weekend when they travel to Madison, Wisconsin to battle the Badgers. Even though their record is not good (11-17 overall, 5-10 in the Big Ten), they have at least been respectable recently, unlike their male counterparts. Given the past history for the women, they tend to play their best basketball at the end of the season, and with their Big Ten Tournament next weekend at Bankers' Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, they could make some noise. However, it is probably too late for Law, as the record has not indicated that she should stay around. Athletic Director Mike Thomas has repeatedly stated that he will evaluate all coaches at the end of the season and look at "the full body of work", and the lack of NCAA Tournament appearances may be all he needs to see. Hmmm. Sounds like a familiar trend to me.

Finally, even though it feels like football weather outside, Tim Beckman won't have his team take the field for nearly 5 months, but ticket prices for the upcoming season were announced on Wednesday, and the prices have actually come down since last season. Sideline season seats average about $33 per ticket, while single-game tickets for Big Ten games will be $50 (non-conference games are half of that at $25). Seems like the athletic department wants fans to come out to games, and are afraid that a lackluster home schedule will prevent them from doing so. Spring practices begin in March, so it is not that far off.

1 comment:

rknil said...


You are right, especially about Guenther's contract extensions.

Interesting how you are saying this, but the News-Gazette sidesteps it.