There will be no champagne in Champaign.
There was a point earlier this year when Illinois was 15-3 (4-1) and was coming off a win over Ohio State. Its only three losses were to UNLV, Missouri, and Purdue and all were away from home. The Illini had wins against Gonzaga, St. Bonaventure, Minnesota, and Northwestern. They were rolling. They were gearing up to be a high NCAA Tournament seed. But then, as Illini teams usually do, they faltered.
Illinois has lost eight of its past nine games and of late, they haven’t been close (See: Nebraska, 23-point loss). Check out Bruce Weber’s résumé and Illinois has actually lost steam as the season has continued in each season since its 2005 championship run. The Illini finished 6-8 in their final 15 regular season games last year, 1-5 to finish 2010, and it doesn’t get much better as you keep going back. And that’s why it’s time for Weber to go.
This year, it is pretty blatant that coaching has something to do with the way this team is playing. It’s impossible to tell how much, but something is horribly wrong. The Illini seem to have completely lost fire, passion, and any sort of will to win. Opponents are hitting the deck faster than them, closing out on defenders faster than them, and hustling back on defense faster than them.
Against a completely uncompetitive Nebraska team that was 3-10 in conference and had lost four straight games, the Illini looked like they just didn’t want to be there. They took a 24-16 lead with 7:35 left in the first half, but then the uncompetitive Cornhuskers became competitive. They closed the game on a 64-33 run that should’ve humiliated the Illini. That’s a 93-49 pace over 40 minutes.
Weber looked depressed in his postgame presser. He was clearly resigned to the fact that he will have to, well, resign at the end of the season. He knows he’ll be forced out and he seems to be coming to terms with that. Let the job hunt begin.
Of course, Illinois doesn’t make it into this week’s HoopSpeakU Top 25. Here is the rest of the best…
1. Kentucky, 26-1 (12-0), Last Week: 1 – The Wildcats lead the nation in defensive two point percentage (38.1%) and are 27th in the nation in offensive two point percentage (52.6%). You’re not going to lose many games with those numbers.
2. Syracuse, 27-1 (14-1), Last Week: 2 – It’s amazing how well the Orange have been taking care of the ball of late. Syracuse is averaging a mere 8.6 turnovers per game in its seven wins since losing at Notre Dame and is only turning it over on 15.7% of its possessions for the season.
3. Missouri, 25-2 (12-2), Last Week: 3 – This is a big week for the Tigers. First, Missouri gets to seek revenge for its loss at Kansas State earlier this year. Then, it’s time for Border War: Round Two.
4. Kansas, 22-5 (12-2), Last Week: 5 – Saturday’s game against Missouri might be the last time the Tigers and Jayhawks meet for a while, but Kansas has to give in eventually, right?
5. Duke, 23-4 (10-2), Last Week: 6 – The Blue Devils were down 20 to NC State in the second half, but once they took the lead, there was really no doubt they were losing that one.
6. Michigan State, 22-5 (11-3), Last Week: 7 – Keith Appling has to start to refine his shot selection. The sophomore is incredibly efficient inside the arc (51.3% on two pointers) and is strong at getting to the line. He is only shooting 25.7% from three, but he just keeps throwing them up (74 three point attempts).
7. North Carolina, 23-4 (10-2), Last Week: 8 – There are two potential upset alerts this week when the Tar Heels travel to NC State and Virginia. At no point this year has North Carolina dominated a team on the road and those are two tough places to play.
8. Ohio State, 22-5 (10-4), Last Week: 4 – Luckily for the Buckeyes, they get Bruce Weber’s struggling Illini next. That’s the slump buster you want.
9. Georgetown, 20-5 (10-4), Last Week: 10 – Otto Porter is starting to figure it out. The freshman is averaging 9.8 points per game on 64.5% shooting over his past six games.
10. Marquette, 22-5 (11-3), Last Week: 12 – Everyone seems to have already anointed Kevin Jones as Big East player of the year, but Darius Johnson-Odom is giving him a run for his money. He has been dominant all season and is leading a team that no one in the country plays harder than.
11. Florida, 21-6 (9-3), Last Week: 13 – This Gator team is a confusing one. Florida has been inconsistent all season, but last week was one of their good ones and it included a 30-point win over an Arkansas team that was previously undefeated at home.
12. Baylor, 22-5 (9-5), Last Week: 9 – Perry Jones III is one of the biggest disappointments in the college game. So much talent, but he just seems to vanish when his team needs him most.
13. Michigan, 20-7 (10-4), Last Week: 17 – Trey Burke is just a freshman, but there aren’t many better point guards in the country. He played 37 minutes and had 17 points in Michigan’s five point win against Ohio State over the weekend.
14. Wisconsin, 20-7 (9-5), Last Week: 18 – The Badgers are starting to turn it on at the right time. Wisconsin has won eight of its past 10 games with the only two losses coming to Ohio State and Michigan State over that stretch.
15. Wichita State, 24-4 (14-2), Last Week: 20 – Since its loss to Drake, the Shockers have been rolling over opponents. Wichita State has now won its past four games by an average of 17 points.
16. Florida State, 19-7 (10-2), Last Week: 21 – The Seminoles go to Duke on Thursday, when they will have a chance to take sole possession of first place in the ACC.
17. Virginia, 20-6 (7-5), Last Week: 15 – The Cavaliers have a couple more chances to bolster their résumé before the ACC Tournament begins. First up is North Carolina on Saturday.
18. Murray State, 26-1 (13-1), Last Week: 24 – If the Racers win out, that one loss to Tennessee State won’t mean much, especially after a 14-point win over St. Mary’s.
19. Notre Dame, 19-8 (11-3), Last Week: 22 – Call it the luck of the Irish, but fortune really seems to be on Notre Dame’s side this season. That team didn’t really have any business winning at Villanova with the way they played over the weekend, but Mike Brey just keeps working his magic.
20. New Mexico, 22-4 (8-2), Last Week: NR – The Lobos are now sitting pretty in the driver’s seat of the Mountain West. New Mexico is up two games on San Diego State and UNLV, both of whom they beat last week.
21. Louisville, 21-6 (9-5), Last Week: 23 – Rick Pitino’s teams always seem to play better in February straight into March. This year is no exception as the Cardinals have won seven of their past eight.
22. Indiana, 20-7 (8-7), Last Week: 19 – The Hoosiers could easily be that five or six seed that looses to the 12 or 11. Indiana has consistently struggled away from home all year.
23. UNLV, 22-6 (6-4), Last Week: 11 – Las Vegas was a Final Four sleeper a week and a half ago. Now, after losing three of their last four, the Rebels are going in the wrong direction.
24. San Diego State, 20-6 (6-4), Last Week: 16 – San Diego State and UNLV have essentially mirrored each other all season, all the way down to trading two-point home victories. So of course, the Aztecs are spiraling downward also, having lost three straight.
25. St. Mary’s, 23-5 (12-2), Last Week: 14 – The Gaels’ biggest weakness is defending the three. Murray State shot 9-17 in its Bracket Buster win over St. Mary’s and Gaels’ opponents are shooting 38.2% from long-range on the season.
Added – New Mexico (20)
Dropped – Gonzaga (25)
Big East – 5
Big Ten – 5
ACC – 4
Big 12 – 3
MWC – 3
SEC – 2
MVC – 1
OVC – 1
WCC – 1