51-39, 8:35 to go.
Time to start to feel good if you are an Illini fan. A chance to lock up a place in the dance if Bruce Weber's squad can play decent ball for the final quarter of the game.
Little did anyone know that the Illini would only score one more basket the rest of the game. Mike Davis was the Illini that would score the lone basket and make two free throws. While the Illini forgot how to play the game, Darius Morris scored eight of his 17 points in the final eight minutes to lead the Wolverine's to a 60-55 win in the Big Ten quarterfinals.
The late game collapse may have two major ramifications: the Illini's postseason hopes and Bruce Weber's future.
The Illini entered the day with the No. 38 RPI and ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi had the Illini as a No. 9 seed. All of that is generous when you look at the collapse the Illini have put on the second half of the season.
After a 13-3 start, the Illini have lost their way as they struggled to a 6-10 finish in the second half. This team has not looked like a senior-laden team that was to have taken the next step following last season's mediocre effort.
The Illini put their chances to make the dance in the hands of the selection committee last season and they were sent packing to the NIT. This year's team comes in with a comparable resume and may face the same fate if things don't break their way.
For starters, they need fellow middle-of-the-packers Michigan State and Penn State to lose. Those teams have started looking better as they've progressed, both going 5-3 in their last eight versus 3-5 for the Illini, in addition to splitting with Illinois this year.
The fact that their RPI is high and that they travel well may factor into the Illini making the dance, but their play says they should be NIT bound.
Bruce Weber's Future
Weber was the toast of Champaign when he led the Illini to the National Championship Game back in 2005. Since then, the Illini have only won one game in three NCAA appearances. The Illini were 112-28 in Weber's first four years, and have fallen off to 80-57 in the past four years.
While the fans of the Illini and the university administration have accepted mediocre play out of their football program, most fans expect that the basketball team be a contender. Even this past month, Ron Guenther, the Illinois Athletic Director, pointed out that there were challenges that needed to be addressed. Since that point,the Illini have limped to 2-2, winning only against conference cellar dwellers Iowa and Indiana.
If Weber cannot win with a team that has had expectations of success the past four years, will he be able to do so with a less seasoned squad next year?
This weekend and upcoming weeks will give us the answers to the state of the program and its coach. Regardless of what happens, the Illini fans deserve to have success and not wanting to chant how they feel, I-L-L.
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