By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) Want to stir up an orange-and-blue hornet’s nest?
Write a column about Bruce Weber.
I did that on Wednesday when I took a deeper look at the controversial comments that the former Illini basketball coach made last week on ESPN radio, referring to his tenure at Illinois as “probably one of the best runs, if not the best nine-year run, in the history of the school.”
What my examination mostly wrought was more controversy.
On Facebook, a friend told me, “I dislike Bruce Weber, and have since I first heard of him.” Via Twitter, another lllini fan went so far as to say that Illinois’ former coach is “absolutely a villain. Weber did more damage to the Illini bball program than Bruce Pearl.” Others also vented angrily about Weber (although not quite that outlandishly), while a couple of Illinois fans even unfollowed me on Twitter mainly because I didn’t call for Bruce’s head on a pike.
Hey, now they’re probably out there calling for mine.
Throughout all the brimstone, my mind kept sparking back to a thought that’s been in my head for weeks: The Fighting Illni and Weber’s Kansas State Wildcats have no business meeting in the NCAA Tournament this season. And here’s to hoping that they don’t.
The Illinois fan base isn’t anywhere near ready for that.
The wounds from Weber’s last few seasons are still far too fresh. The emotions surrounding his firing a year ago are still far too raw. And the timing for such a game is still far too soon.
Two years ago when Weber’s Illini met Bill Self’s Kansas Jayhawks in the second round of the 2011 NCAA Tourney, seven years had passed since Self had left Champaign. No Illini fans had forgotten how he’d jilted Illinois for KU, and many still hadn’t forgiven him for it. But they also were no longer livid about the whole thing.
My take on Weber is that I’m happy he’s doing well in Manhattan and equally happy that he’s no longer in Champaign. It was best for both parties. I’d love to see more Illini fans feel the same way, but if Wednesday’s reaction to my Weber column is any indication – and it is – many don’t feel that way at all.
They’re still livid.
As a result, I don’t think an Illinois vs. K-State game would be much fun for anyone. Not Illini fans. Not Weber, who recruited this Illini roster. And least of all, the Illini players themselves, who shouldn’t be forced to square off on the NCAA stage against their old coach just 12 months after he was fired.
We’ll find out in today’s Big Ten Tourney opener vs. Minnesota if the Illini are ready for the postseason. But I don’t think that the postseason Illini – or their passionate fans – are ready for Illinois vs. K-State. That’s a hornet’s nest that just doesn’t need to be kicked.
Not this season, at least.
So, may the bracket gods be wise. Not wise guys.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.