Another day, another $42,000. That's about how much Bruce Weber earns per game, win or lose.
But with each loss, and perhaps even with wins like this one, fan disapproval forges another chink in the armor of Weber's job security. Lowly Cornell, 4-and-5 on the year, led for most of the game, at one point by double-digits. On the season, Illinois is now 7 and 4. They've played seven games that people could stand to watch, and four that drove fans crazy.
The natives are restless. But I feel compelled to write that, at least Monday night, it wasn't the coach frustrating them. As the Illini's 6-man rotation shrank to its starting five, Illinois stopped running motion and set plays. All five began standing the old Statue of Liberty play, which requires at least one cutter.
Even peppy Sam Maniscalco drew heckles for inactivity, specifically when he failed to follow his own shot and three Cornell guys converged on the long rebound.
Bruce Weber's huge salary requires a lot of side work that you'll never know about. His main task is to find three guys who can hit a seven foot target with a 30-inch sphere from 21 feet. It's proved nearly impossible so far.
Maybe that's because the 5th man in that scheme, the fullback, is not clearing a hole for his ball carrier.
I never thought I'd target Ibrahima Djimde as the key to this team, especially not the key to this team's offensive scheme. But Djimde is the Sweeper. He's a soccer player; great on defensive positioning. And that's what Illinois needs on offense. A guy who sees the floor, puts a body on people, and clears a path. (Tyler Griffey's a natural three, as was Mike Tisdale.)
We knew the annual "deep bench, up-tempo" recitation held as much promise as any New Year's resolution. The only difference is that you're not being paid $1.5 million dollars to lose ten pounds and watch less TV.
Bruce Weber is a smart guy, and hyper aware. He registers every bit of criticism, despite claiming to avoid newspapers, etc. He's probably coming to realize that winning games is not the sole end to his purpose. If the crowd hates watching the style of play, if it continues to stay away by the thousands, Weber will be back on the market. Mike and Jeni Thomas were in the house to see the four thousand empty seats and hear the jeers.
This time, the non-offense worked. Desperation heaves found the basket. DJ Richardson and Brandon Paul made shots when it really counted, and that shouldn't be overlooked. But the outcome was a victory only in the sense that it was a win, and that's not good enough.
A FAMILIAR FACE IN THE CROWD
Bill Cole is in America for a week. Playing pro-ball in England, Bill's home court looks like a high school gym. But he likes it because he's the go-to guy on the team.
Games must be scheduled carefully to avoid religious conflicts. Although Britons are stereotyped as more freethinking than Americans, they're caught in the grip of an obsession which Bill's team, if it hopes to gain a popular following, must avoid.
So no games on Spellbound Saturdays. Ensorcelled Englishmen cannot be distracted from their reverie. Over there, it's a way of life, but in America we call it "soccer."