Big Ten Champs Still Standing

<p>Let's face it. This year has been a roller coster ride for Bruce Weber and the Illini, but Weber stuck to his program and now he's still standing.

At the first media day there was talk about Dee Brown transferring, Deron Williams not happy with the new change and then all the off-court issues with Luther Head, Rich McBride and Aaron Spears. Many times during the weekly press conferences Weber appeared to be frustrated with all the questions about his players, his system and his recruiting. He would answer it and then it would be asked again 15 seconds later.

Weber has answered all those questions and more this season. Not only has Brown bought in to Weber's system, he's been the "main" reason the Illini won the Big Ten title out-right this season and kept this inferno going. "We believe in coach Weber and his system," said Brown. "The offense is designed to fit the guards this year. Motion offense works to fit the strength of your team," said Weber. Weber knows guards like Dee and Deron must be the focal point in order for this team to win this season. Don't think for one minute that it's just about Dee and Deron though. The entire team has bought into playing defense. They make it very tough for opposing teams to get good looks at the basket.

Up next is Duke. This should make for an interesting week for the Illini fans; and Duke, if you think the trash talking was bad in the Cincinnati game wait to see what could happen between the fans here the next two days. Why? Maybe because former recruit Shaun Livingston chose to play for Duke next year instead of staying home and keeping that Peoria pipeline rolling to Champaign. The most recent slam from the Duke faithful toward the Illini was maybe the Duke players should wear a Brian Cook jersey to school the day before the game on Friday. History lesson for those who don't remember - the day before Livingston made his college choice he decided to wear a Cook jersey to school, which really upset the fans once he picked to play in ACC country. During that entire process Reggie Livingston, Shaun's father, and I talked a few times. He called me that day and said, "Kedric, I'm not happy that Shaun wore that to school today. I told him it was in bad taste and not fair, so please don't get too excited about it."

Duke has a history of coming into the state of Illinois and getting its pick of players. That too has stirred the pot a little for this Nation. For all those who follow recruiting, there's a sophomore that could make for another heated rivalry between Duke and Illinois in the upcoming months.

Illini fans you don't need the so-called experts to tell you who is going to win this game on Friday, because if you listen to them the Illini will lose by 30 points, and hear all about the best coach to ever coach a college sport, and why Weber is in over his head.

But all that will not matter when the ball is in play. Just ask Kentucky, Stanford, Mississippi State or Wisconsin.

This is a one game tournament and you only have to be better than any school for one night, so reaching the magic level that Coach Weber has talked about is still possible. For now the Illini must enjoy what's been a great ride this season. I must admit when Weber was hired I was a little worried about the long-term outlook of the program. He's put all the doubters to shame: he's recruiting well, winning and doing it with confidence. Weber has taken all the Illini record books and now he's putting his name on them. With all the records the Illini have broken this year, nothing would make Illini Nation happier than to beat Duke. In my opinion, Weber is proving why he's the Big Ten coach of the year.

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