After Brandon Paul scored 43 points on January 10 to beat Ohio State, Illinois was sitting at 4-1 in the conference. A lot of people thought that they would probably lose a few games and finish in the top half of the conference. Not too many people expected them to compete for the conference title, but it was a possibility. I can say for a fact that absolutely no one was predicting that Illinois would win only one of their next nine games (and that win was against a great Michigan State squad).
Illini Head Coach Bruce Weber was not widely beloved before the season started, and now it seems like a certainty that his days are numbered. After the Purdue loss, Weber spoke frankly about his players and what he thinks his mistakes have been the past few seasons. There has been a lot already written about this (check here and here to get up to speed), so I'm not going to rehash it here.
It was interesting to see how the players would respond to Weber's comments. Last night, facing a must-win game, Illinois lost to eleventh-place Nebraska by 23 points. It is now basically a foregone conclusion that Weber will be fired at the end of the season, unless something crazy happens.
So let's ask the question: what would it take for Bruce Weber to be back at Illinois next season?
The only answer I can come up with is a Big Ten Tournament Championship followed by a run to the Final Four. That would buy Weber at least another year. Anything less wouldn't be enough for a fanbase that was already on the fence about Weber before the season.
What are the odds of such a thing happening? Very slim, but crazy things have happened in the tournaments the past couple of years. UCONN went on a run last year that ended in a Big East Tournament and National Championship.
I'm not sure why I spent a whole paragraph discussing UCONN's run last year, because Illinois isn't capable of that this season (obviously). UCONN had Kemba Walker, who was an All-American who took over games in crunch time. UI has Brandon Paul, who's near-perfect performance against Ohio State looks like an aberration. During the conference season, UCONN lost nine games, but their worst stretch was losing four out of five. They never had anywhere near the swoon that Illinois is experiencing.
The following is obvious and sad to me as somewhat of a Bruce Weber fan: barring a miracle Illinois will not make the tournament and Bruce Weber will not be their coach next season.