Bruce Weber and the Kansas State Wildcats ended a great tournament run on Saturday night after a blow out loss to Loyola Chicago. Kansas State finished 4th in the Big 12 and was able to make it to the elite 8 of the tournament after beating Kentucky in the sweet sixteen. In retrospect, did Illinois make the wrong decision on firing Bruce Weber back in 2010?
In 2010, the Fighting Illini finished 5th in the Big Ten conference and made it to the conference semifinals only to be left out of the NCAA tournament as one of the last four out. Since 2010, Illinois has only been back to the NCAA tournament once while Kansas State under Bruce Weber has been back four times and has four tournament wins, including this year (one win was a first four win against Wake Forrest).
Weber made the tournament at Illinois every year in his tenure except for 2010 and 2008. In 2008, Illinois was a five seed, but was upset by Western Kentucky in the first round. Weber got to the sweet sixteen in 2004, the final four in 2005, and second round in 2006. Yes, most of his accomplishments came with Self’s recruits, but Illinois’ lone tournament appearance came off his 2009 recruiting class lead by Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson. Since Weber’s departure there have now been two coaches at Illinois and with the exception of 2010, the team has not even contended for a tournament appearance.
Illinois could have the right guy now in Frank Underwood who has an impressive resume and was able to recruit Ayo Dosunmu the number prospect for the state of Illinois. However, that is not enough to save an Illinois roster lacking talent. Underwood’s style of basketball requires up tempo passing and fast breaks, where Weber’s style could grind out wins in a Big Ten conference. Even in down years, Weber’s teams would compete.
Looking back at the last six years, Illinois basketball probably would be a contender in the Big Ten had they held on to Weber. If not, at the very least they would be in the NCAA tournament year after year. As March comes to an end and fans and athletic department frustrations mount, remember that sometimes your solutions are internal and not external.