Let's be honest: Illinois' 54-52 loss to a lousy Penn State team Thursday night was disgusting, frustrating and downright hard to watch.
When I'm angry about a loss, I try not to blog about it immediately afterwards -- because nothing worthwhile tends to get written when I'm all pissed off. Now that I've had 24 hours to reflect, here are my thoughts on the state of Illinois basketball:
It's really a shame the Illini failed to maintain the positive momentum generated from their upset win over then-No. 5 Ohio State last week. Truthfully, things would have been easier for me to stomach if Illinois had lost that game against Ohio State and beaten Penn State last night. When you lose a game you're supposed to lose, then win a game you're supposed to win, you accept that as the natural order of things and just get ready for the next game.
But when you have a big win -- a surprising win -- like the Illini had last week, then follow it up with a turd of a performance like we saw last night, it somehow feels worse -- even though it's still one win and one loss at the end of the day. It feels as though a golden opportunity to take a step forward has been squandered.
Right now, everything feels worse than it actually is with Illinois basketball. And that's the problem for head coach Bruce Weber.
I have no reason to be angry about Illinois' record. The Illini stand at 15-4 overall, 4-2 in the Big Ten Conference. There is nothing wrong with that record. Nothing at all. My preseason prediction was 22-9, and the team is pretty much on track to finish in that ballpark. Weber's seat is hot, and it isn't because of his record. His seat is hot because of the way Illinois has gotten to this point. It's not so much whether the Illini win or lose, it's how they've won and lost.
This is a team that has scored 60 points or fewer in four of its six conference games. Yes, they won two of those four games, but it was hard to stay awake watching this slow-paced style of ball.
People are tired of watching games where the final score is in the 50s. People are tired of watching games where Illinois endures a seven- or eight-minute scoring drought, such as the one the Illini had last night in Unhappy Valley. I'm tired of watching a team that refuses to push the ball, even against athletically-inferior teams like Penn State. Illinois' two best wins this year came in uptempo games against Gonzaga and Ohio State, yet most nights they seem content to walk the ball up and slug it out in the halfcourt with opponents they should be running right off the floor.
Because of the bland and boring style of play, people are just not excited about Illinois basketball. There is a negative atmosphere around the program. Most fans are ready for a coaching change. There isn't a feeling that good things are around the corner. There is a feeling the team is underachieving for the third straight year. Nobody feels like the team is poised to contend for a Big Ten title, despite the 4-2 record. While the Illini are likely to make the NCAA tournament this year, a deep run in postseason play seems improbable.
That's why Bruce Weber is on the hot seat. It's not that 15-4 record. I think as fans and alumni, we all would have taken that in November. Unfortunately, that 15-4 record feels a lot more like 11-8 right now. Even after Illinois wins, you typically don't feel good about what you just watched. That stinks, and that's why a change at the top is quite possible at the end of this season.