What happened to the Fighting Illini? Whatever it is, it’s pretty certain that Bruce Weber will not be there next year.
Illinois has now lost six straight games (and nine out of 10) in conference, falling to 5-10 in the Big Ten. This was a team with high hopes to finish in the top third of the conference, and that looked like a good bet after wins against not only Ohio State, but Michigan State as well. They are one of two teams in the nation (Michigan being the other) to beat those two Big Ten powerhouses.
Right before their big win against MSU back on Jan. 31, the Fighting Illini had lost three games by single digits coming off of the OSU win. Instead of that big win over the Spartans giving them confidence, it appeared to do just the opposite. In their current six-game losing streak, they have lost three of the games by double figures, including an 83-67 loss to the Buckeyes back on Tuesday. The defense has been especially bad during this stretch, as they have given up 80+ points three times. We knew the ‘S’ was silent in ‘Illinois’, apparently the ‘D’ is too.
There is still time for them to get on track, with games against Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin to end the year. The bubble has burst for this squad, but winning a couple of those games, most notably the latter two against ranked competition, could give them the momentum they need going into the tournament.
But no matter if they make a run in the conference tournament, Illinois will likely not be going to the NCAA’s, meaning Weber should be gone. Since Weber brought the 2005 Fighting Illini to the NCAA Championship game, he has failed to get his team past the first weekend in the NCAA Tournament. Simply put, they have choked. Also, they are just 60-56 in the Big Ten since that year — definitely unacceptable for Illinois.
Following a loss last week, Weber publicly said he has “coached not to lose all year.” The frustration is there from Weber, and that has carried over to his players.
Let’s not forget that Illinois has a new Athletic Director in Mike Thomas, who fired football coach Ron Zook soon after he was hired. Thomas appears to want to start fresh.
Weber did amazing things at Southern Illinois before he came to Champaign, maybe he’s just better at the mid-major level. He’s a class-act guy, but it’s time for him to pack up.