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updated: 2/12/2012 7:58 PM

It's just not working for Weber, Illini

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  • Illinois coach Bruce Weber might just be in danger of squandering what not long ago looked like a certain NCAA Tournament bid.

      Illinois coach Bruce Weber might just be in danger of squandering what not long ago looked like a certain NCAA Tournament bid.
    Associated Press

 
 

Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber has a way of making smart basketball people sound dumb.

The problem is they want him to do well so he can keep being nice to them. They want to think that nice guys don't finish last or even in the middle of the Big Ten.

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That would be great if Weber earned their support with a string of upset victories.

Instead Weber had CBS-TV analyst Bill Raftery saying Sunday during Illinois' 70-61 loss at Michigan, "Bruce has his club hanging really tough."

In other words, Illinois was doing well to stay close to Michigan. Is staying close what Illini basketball has come to, like the Washington Generals staying close to the Harlem Globetrotters?

It was seven agonizing years ago that Weber scored points by coaching Bill Self-recruited players to second place in the NCAA Tournament.

Since then don't ask.

Illinois is at the point where fans have only one reason to follow college basketball the rest of this regular season.

No, it isn't to evaluate candidates for player of the year or study teams for the upcoming NCAA Tournament office pool.

It's to scout potential replacements for Weber, especially if the Illini remain on the road to nowhere instead of to the NCAAs.

New Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas has to fire Weber sooner than later, doesn't he? Uh, not really.

What has me waking up in a cold sweat is that instead, Thomas might spare Weber but order him to replace his entire staff of assistants.

Regardless, something dramatic has to be done.

The loss at Ann Arbor was just another uninspired performance by the Illini. If Weber coached them at all leading up to the game, the players weren't listening to him.

Now Illinois is 16-9 overall and 5-7 in the Big Ten after 3 straight losses and 6 in the last seven games.

The Illini are in danger of squandering what not long ago looked like -- and which always should look like for this program -- a certain NCAA Tournament bid.

Weber used to look like he was recruiting poorly but coaching well. Now it looks like he's doing neither well enough to survive in the nation's top-ranked conference.

Good players aren't developing into great players. Guys such as Meyers Leonard, Brandon Paul and Joseph Bertrand should be making more progress, and the whole roster is at least good enough to be moving forward at an accelerated pace.

Neither Weber's offense nor defense looks effective. The losing streak didn't lead to a lack of confidence. A lack of confidence led to the losing streak, which happens when teams aren't prepared or don't respect the coach's methods.

There doesn't seem to be any there there, which is a coaching problem.

So I'm scouting for the next Illinois coach, one with energy, a presence and a plan.

Brad Stevens is on people's minds after leading Butler to two straight national runners-up, but he doesn't project enough pizazz for me.

Kansas assistant Danny Manning has been called the nation's best coach of big men, but Illinois might not want someone off Self's staff.

That takes me back to where I was a year ago: Shaka Smart, who coached Virginia Commonwealth into the 2011 Final Four.

Dancing in my head is the video of Smart diving on the floor after a loose ball during a VCU practice.

If a Smart hire doesn't make any sense, I'm just a dumb babbler that Bruce Weber has rendered even dumber.

mimrem@dailyherald.com

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