Smile Politely

Tourney bid awakens Mike Davis

Mike Davis was jolted awake by a tectonic shift in Illini basketball topography. Literally asleep during the NCAA Selection Show, Mike awoke to find himself thrust, by forces beyond his control, to Tulsa, Oklahoma.

An hour later, still waking up in the Memorial Stadium press box, Mike shared his typically candid thoughts about the tourney bid.

If you’re a completist, you’ll watch the full 18 minute clip. If you’re not a completist, you’ll spend an hour and 18 minutes skipping through it.


The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee propped the Illini all the way up to a 9-seed just so they could face ex-coach Lon Kruger’s UNLV squad, with a chance to face ex-coach Bill Self’s Kansas Jayhawks as the prize.

Thus is set forth a fantasy tale. Granny Weatherwax would not approve. But as long as you’re willing to remain optimistic about Illini basketball, go a head and believe.

For the second time in his career, Bruce Weber has the opportunity to attain Immortal Legend status by winning two games over a three-day weekend.

There are, right now, a lot of people who believe Weber invented Saluki basketball in Carbondale. He gets a lot of credit for “building” or “rebuilding” a program that achieved three consecutive NCAA appearances in the mid-90s, just before Weber arrived to “fix” things.

Rich Herrin is the guy who led SIU in the early to mid-90s. I choose to avoid the mistake of myriad basketball writers who fail to ever type the words “Rich Herrin” in the Bruce Weber/SIU narrative. Perhaps I’m among the few who ever watched a Rich Herrin team at SIU Arena. Marcus Timmons and Tyrone Bell were good. Ashraf Amaya was great. Chris Carr was awesome.

At SIU, Weber made the tourney twice. It took only five years to get there.

Weber’s Salukis won two games in 2002. The first win came against Booby Knight and Texas Tech. The second victory, which advanced SIU to the Sweet 16, was handed to Weber in the form of an unusual intentional foul call; yes, the same thing that Weber bemoaned in this year’s Braggin’ Rights loss sealed his legend in Jackson County.

(The bemoaning even sounded similar. The opponent was Jim Harrick’s Georgia Bulldogs. “I’ve seen that happen at least 15 times this year, and I’ve never seen an intentional foul called,” Harrick said of strategic fouls. “It bothers me when it’s so inconsistent at a time like this.”)

Weber and SIU lost in the first round in 2003.


All that sound like Weber-bashing, yes? Fine.

The committee has handed Bruce Weber the quill. He gets to write his own storyline. If the tale ends happily, it will be impossible for Weber-agnostics to refrain from celebrating him.

Bill Cole already prefers Bruce Weber to Self or Kruger.

Having begun my Illini reporting career Weber-neutral, and having developed (through first-hand experience) a skepticism unchallenged by results, I feel unperturbed to declaim that two victories this weekend will solidify Bruce Weber at the helm, just as his 2005 season bought him five years of mediocrity.

If he does win those two games, I say congratulations to him.

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