Territory folks should stick together,
Territory folks should all be pals,
Cowboys dance with the farmer's daughters,
Farmers dance with ranchers' gals
CHAMPAIGN — The musical "Oklahoma" offers good but obviously unheeded advice. It's old-fashioned. In today's world, we just can't get along.
Illinois and Michigan State fought like demons to a 42-41 result Tuesday that set back basketball to World War II. I received a concussion just watching. Then the real battle began. Were the Illini deserving of this triumph against a Top 10 team? Should Illini Nation rejoice in winning ugly? Or was it simply not worthy?
One fan called for a dog collar on Meyers Leonard in order to give him an electric charge when he shoots from the perimeter. And, by the way, why didn't Tyler Griffey play? And why did Sam Maniscalco play so much? And does Brandon Paul practice his free throws?
To which I ask: What kind of people are we? Can we do anything other than complain?
Look around. Check your buddies and tell me whether Illini Nation has gone over the edge. It was bad enough that stalwart followers wanted Illinois to lose football games in order that Ron Zook be fired. Now, with Zook gone, there are those who can't enjoy a basketball victory for the similar reasons related to Bruce Weber.
We live in a world gone crazy. Check the campus of this great university. We forced out one university president (B. Joseph White) over an admissions scandal in which he had little or no involvement, and the new president has been here just long enough to receive a unanimous — emphasize unanimous — Senate sanction for "lack of leadership."
We labeled Chancellor Nancy Cantor the diversity queen on her way out the door, dumped Richard Herman at the height of the enrollment scandal, and now we wonder: How long will it take to put Phyllis Wise in the crosshairs?
Check Springfield. Best quip to come out of the Capitol was the idea that governors should start serving their jail time as soon as they're elected. If Pat Quinn did something right, nobody would acknowledge it.
Let me count the ways
That is the modus operandi of Ugly America. Each of us is right, and anyone who disagrees is wrong. And we hate them for it.
Our mistakes are colossal. We lost thousands of men/women and broke the bank in initiating a costly war to kill Saddam Hussein without adequate intelligence whether or not Iraq could deliver weapons of mass destruction.
We watch a daily duel for the Republican nomination in which the country's unsustainable entitlement issues are overlooked while Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich attempt to personally destroy each other. Romney's advertising expenditures in Florida were breathtaking, and I ask, "Would anyone actually base his vote on an ad?" And the answer is, to our shame, "Yes."
More people approve of porn than Congress, where the ratings were last noted at below 10 percent. Republicans have signed a binding and ridiculous pledge not to raise taxes, which kills any possibility of compromise on critical economic issues. It's a logjam leading straight to bankruptcy. And Barack Obama is so bent on wealth distribution that his policies limit the small businesses that make the country purr.
These facts are obvious even to a half-witted sports columnist.
And how are we doing in race relations? Whether it's Jesse Jackson, Charlie Rangel or Donna Brazile, their every comment is tinged by race-colored glasses. Locally, Champaign police must answer to the black community for each of the too-frequent arrests of black youths. And the UI athletic department still is reeling from the decision of two black trustees to vote "no" on football coach Tim Beckman's contract because Beckman wasn't black.
The only sane person I've run across lately is Al Nudo, who had the brains to pull out of politics before his head got bashed in by the kind of distortions that accompany every race.
On the basketball front, the basic fan problem stems from an entitlement mentality that, regardless of anything, the Illini deserve to be better than Michigan State, Ohio State, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan and Purdue, not to mention Missouri and everyone else in basketball. It is our right as Illinoisans.
Most complaints originate with that belief. That's OK. It's good to set the bar high. But Michigan State, Ohio State, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan and Purdue also set the bar high. They have no fewer resources, facilities and access to talent. They probably spend more for recruiting than the UI does.
Obviously, Tom Izzo's base is stronger because of his success. Thad Matta's background in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio gives him the same recruiting advantages that Bob Knight developed at Indiana. And remember, for all-out rivals, it is always open season in Chicago.
As to Weber's future, the sensible approach — there's a novel idea — is to show a little patience until the season is concluded and weigh the pertinent factors: (1) this season's record, (2) the nine-year audit, (3) returning talent, (4) the status of recruiting and (5) attendance and fan base. And don't forget finances. AD Mike Thomas already is straining the athletic budget with his football decision.
With Zook, the decision was obvious. Attendance and recruiting were in a tailspin, the multiyear performance was erratic and the Big Ten record was 2-6.
The jury is still out on Weber even as the fandom is splintering. He has been stuck in a 50-50 Big Ten mode since 2006, and it continues. It seems as though every game goes to the wire, not just for Illinois but for nearly everyone in the conference.
Suggestions that Weber can't coach are nonsense. More to the point, he hit a recruiting dead spot after 2005, was derailed by Eric Gordon and had bad luck with two special athletes, Jereme Richmond and Crandall Head, who might have been difference-makers.
As for recent games, it may be an oversimplification to say the team isn't hitting, but it's true. Except for the Ohio State game, decent shooters are missing too many open looks. And all this fuss about getting the ball deep to Leonard overlooks the facts that (1) he lacks a strong base for holding his ground inside and (2) his teammates are weak passers.
For now, a 9-9 Big Ten record should be good enough to get Illinois in the NCAA tournament. And if it's 9-9 — sure, it could go either way — would that be good enough for Thomas to give Weber another year?
And if there is no other use for the dog collar, can we put it around the necks of the crazies who complain about victories?
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Illinois already has two wins against Top 10 teams this season, beating No. 5 Ohio State and No. 9 Michigan State at the Assembly Hall. In the last 25 seasons, the Illini have accomplished that feat only five times. The rundown:
1988-89 (5 wins)
No. 10 Missouri, 87-84
No. 6 Michigan, 96-84
No. 3 Indiana, 70-67
No. 8 Michigan, 89-73
No. 7 Syracuse, 89-86
— Michigan was ranked 10th when it beat Illinois in the teams’ third meeting.
2000-01 (4 WINS)
No. 6 Maryland, 90-80
No. 7 Seton Hall, 87-79
No. 7 Arizona, 81-73
No. 4 Michigan State, 77-66
— Illini lost to No. 5 Arizona in the Elite Eight
2004-05 (3 WINS)
No. 1 Wake Forest, 91-73
No. 9 Arizona, 90-89
No. 4 Louisville, 72-57
— Illini moved to No. 1 after beating Demon Deacons and stayed there until title-game loss to No. 2 North Carolina.
1989-90 (2 WINS)
No. 4 Missouri, 101-93
No. 9 Purdue, 90-78
— Lou Henson’s team could get to 42 points in a hurry, scoring 118 in a rout of Iowa.
1987-88 (2 WINS)
No. 7 Kansas, 81-75
No. 10 Michigan, 85-74
— Illini played six games against Top 10 teams in loaded Big Ten.