Let's start with the obvious. For any fan or reporter to question, "Is current Head Coach Bruce Weber the guy for the job?" should stop right there and never pick up a pen or sit at a computer again. Don't misunderstand me. He's not perfect, but I would venture to guess that about 50 other D-I schools would love to have him run their program.
Injuries - everyone likes to downplay them, but common sense tells us you can't. Weber stated in his post game interview that this year's team had one individual, Brian Randle, who misses well over 50 hours of practice time, not including games. Chester Frazier, who I will get to later, was so hurt at times he wasn't able to finish practice the past couple weeks of the season. Coach Weber doesn't like to use "excuses" when it comes to the media because they criticize him for it by saying other schools have them and other schools are just as tired. Fact is - not all teams have major injuries and lose two of their top 9 players and keep playing like nothing ever happened. Call it an excuse if you want, but losing Jamar Smith and Brian Carlwell hurt. More so Smith than Carlwell because, let's face it, this was one of the worst shooting/scoring teams in Illini recent memory. The experience Carlwell would have received would have been good for the upcoming years. Note: if you're hurt it does affect your play.
This year's group didn't have one player on its roster that could "get" his own shot or create one for others. The most glaring candidate was clearly Brian Randle, but the fact is what we have seen from Randle may be just what you will get next year. Don't play the foul situation because when he was on the floor, not a lot of good things happened for him on the offensive end of the floor. Not that I'm a confidence doctor, but this kid appears to have no confidence whatsoever. Why is it important to be able to create your own scoring opportunity? During a timeout Coach Weber drew up a play for senior Rich McBride to come off a screen for a jump shot. Virginia Tech closed out and took it away from him, and McBride couldn't or didn't feel confident enough in his skills to put the ball on the floor and score for his teammates. Actually, the Hokies closed out on McBride for the last 10 minutes of the game, so therefore he was a non-factor. Sunday in the Chicago Tribune Weber was quoted as saying, "We needed more guys that could create for themselves." This is bad to bring this up, but to prove my point - we know in 2005 Illinois had a great group of guards and all three (Deron Williams, Luther Head and Dee Brown) could shoot. But the one thing they did better than any other group in the nation that year was taking it to the rack, finish, or get to the foul line and make them. Williams and Head both shot over 70% that year. With current sophomore Frazier and McBride you never knew what you were going to get. Then you add guys like Randle and Pruitt and getting to the line was like getting a root canal. So many games this year were lost because of these reasons.
Next year everyone will be holding their breathe because one or two of the newcomers will have to be special and the most obvious choices are Demetri McCamey from Westchester (IL) and Mike Tisdale of Riverton (IL). Understand - it's a lot to ask of freshmen, but for the sake of the program these two players have to be good enough to challenge for a starting position. If that happens then you will know they're legit prospects. Frazier is a decent guard but not starting Big Ten material; at least not for a team like Illinois if they want to contend for Big Ten titles. Looking at Ohio State's Mike Conley - not only was he a freshman this year but really… he's one of the best guards in all of college basketball today. Those are the kind of players Illinois must add to their program if they want to reach elite status again.
For now, trust Weber. He knows what got him to Illinois and what got him to the national title game in 2005. Now it's just if he's able to go out and sell what he and the university have to offer.