November 11, 2009
The Hunt for the Most Interesting Team in the World is the Dagger's 2009-10 countdown preview series. Check out the overriding principles here.
Last year's record: 24-10, 11-7 Big Ten
2009-10's toughest games: Utah, Gonzaga, at Michigan State, at Purdue
Primary attraction: Two years after Bruce Weber's worst season, the Illini are packed with young talent and guards to spare. Can this team win the Big Ten?
Three items of undeniable interest:
1. So maybe Bruce Weber can recruit. The prevailing Illini-fan complaint about Bruce Weber -- which reached its zenith after Weber lost star Eric Gordon, Jr. to Kelvin Sampson in 2007-08 -- is that Weber can't recruit. It's true that Weber's best season came in large part thanks to the skills of players recruited by predecessor Bill Self, and it's true that Weber has let a lot of Illinois's best talent escape the state. (For example, Duke guard Jon Scheyer was coached at Glenbrook North High School in suburban Chicago by Weber's brother Dave; how Bruce failed to get his hooks in Scheyer remains a mystery.) But Weber changed that with his 2009 recruiting class, second only to Indiana's in the Big Ten and ranked No. 14 in the country overall. In particular, Weber nabbed two guards -- Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson -- who not only have the benefit of being from Illinois but, more importantly, can anchor Weber's backcourt for years to come. (For what it's worth, Richardson has already turned in a fantastic performance, scoring 23 points 9-of-13 shooting and 5-of-8 from beyond the arc in Illinois's final exhibition game. That sound you hear is Pavlov-like floods of saliva emanating from downstate Illinois.)
2. Is it possible to have too many guards? Jeff Jordan certainly seemed to think so; before returning (and suffering a two-game suspension for his indecision), Jordan likely saw the batch of backcourt recruits in combination with Weber's current glut of guards, including Demetri McCamey, Illinois' best player for the past two years, and Alex Legion, a Kentucky transfer Weber nicknamed "Kobe." Jordan saw the writing on the wall, which is that Illinois will be able to play lots and lots of short-three-guard lineups this year -- Weber loves interchangeable three-guard lineups -- and never have to worry about giving so many minutes to someone as inefficient as Chester Frazier. Weber is a master at coaching defense. With the offensive talent already in place, Illinois should be a complete team with plenty of time to make a late-season run at the Big Ten title.
3. The Orange Krush. Disclosure: I went to Indiana. So you know this is hard for me to admit: I envy the Orange Krush. Sure, I find their little pregame flyers lame, and sure, the arena in which they congregate more accurately resembles a spaceship (and feels just as clinical and cold once you're inside). But what the Orange Krush does every game -- which includes seat-decisive fundraising efforts at the beginning of the year; this seems much more organized and beneficial than sleeping in a tent for a week -- is amazing. Bad team or no, the Krush gives Illinois an insane, inexplicable home-court advantage, making every game there Illinois' to win. There's a reason Bruce Weber's home record is so impressive. He has the Krush to thank.
Bonus: Official Bruce Weber-related Dagger protip of the day:
The Internet is a magical and wondrous place, but we must learn to harness its power for good. Which is why when you run a Google search for Bruce Weber, beware. There is more than one Bruce Weber in the world. And the one with the top result on Google just so happens to be a freelance photographer whose Web site claims specializes in "the beauty of male nude photography." (I'm not going to link that, even though it currently appears to be safe for work. Google at your own risk.) Mr. Weber also does some very impressive stuff, like shooting the oh-so-hunky Robert Pattinson for Vanity Fair this month.
Protip: Do not confuse this with Bruce Weber, basketball coach. They are two different people, if you can believe it. The more you know. (Ba da da dummmm.)