Let me start out by saying I have no emotional attachment to Fighting Illini basketball. I guess you could call me a neutral observer.
I spent my college years at a small Division III school in upstate New York—far removed from the bright lights and lofty expectations of the Big Ten. Our school was pretty good for what it was—a bunch of marginal college athletes playing for meal money and an occasional mention in the school newspaper.
A school like Michigan would have blown us out by at least 50 points—at least.
As they should.
After watching the Fighting Illini tonight lose a must-win game to the Wolverines I think my alma mater could have given them a run for their money—at least in the effort department.
So, what exactly is wrong with the Fighting Illini?
I can mention a few things from just watching the game. They showed no heart, no drive and no leadership. Their coach, the much maligned Bruce Weber, has as much personality as a telephone book.
Your season is on the line for Pete's sake!
Throw a chair, kick a basketball, jump on the scorers table—do something! Apparently, Weber has already accepted the fact he will not be returning to Champaign, Ill., next season.
He has given up—and his players sense it.
I don't want to blame Weber for this entirely. Most of his players don't seem to care as well—at least from what I saw tonight. The fans don't seem to care, either.
Will the Illini make the NCAA Tournament?
I have experienced this same phenomenon with football. I went down to Champaign, Ill., two seasons ago for an Ohio State-Illini game. A big game as the Buckeyes were ranked second in the nation at the time.You'd think having the hated Buckeyes in town would conjure up some sort of emotion.
Instead, there seemed to be this weird malaise permeating throughout the crowd at Memorial Stadium. Although the Fighting Illini were in the game right until the end—no one seemed to care. Illinois wound up losing the game 24-13. I almost equate that feeling to what I witnessed at Assembly Hall on ESPN.
The thing is that I know there are plenty of passionate Fighting Illini fans out there who want nothing more than a national championship. I also know that Illinois has the talent to succeed. Meyers Leonard is a talented big man.
He was the only player on the court in that game who seemed to appreciate the importance of the game. It seemed like everyone else was just lallygagging.
How can Illinois redeem themselves?
They can start by putting together a strong showing against Wisconsin on Sunday. If they can play with a sense of urgency and abandon the chuck-the-three-ball-up-with-reckless-abandon mentality, maybe they could finish the season on a positive note.
I guess we'll just have to wait and see!