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Bruce Weber: The SIU Years


We all know the numbers for Bruce Weber at Illinois don't exactly paint a positive picture of KSU's new head coach.

Essentially, he reached his peak with the national championship appearance in year 2 (an impressive accomplishment, regardless of whose recruits he had) and then dropped fairly steadily right up until this year, ending with this 17-15 disaster that left Weber candidly ruing his mistakes in postgame press conferences.

Fortunately, though, there's a lot more to Weber's career. He got the job at Illinois because of his five-year stint as coach at Southern Illinois, or more specifically the seasons where he took the Salukis to the Sweet 16 for just the second time in school history, then followed it up with another at-large bid.

Anyone who thinks the KSU job is more like SIU than it is like Illinois is just an idiot or someone who hates K-State, but it's not wrong to say there are some similar challenges.

The Wildcats aren't the biggest fish in the pond, and while recruiting to Manhattan will be a lot easier than recruiting to Carbondale, it's probably going to be a little tougher than convincing kids to go to the flagship basketball school in the country's fifth-most populous state.

Interestingly, SIU basketball Division I basketball started in 1967 under a head coach named Jack Hartman, but fortunately for K-State fans he didn't stick around long, and the Salukis had just one NCAA appearance and victory prior to 1993.

That year, they won their first of three consecutive MVC tournament titles, but they followed that with three consecutive losing seasons, and Rich Herrin was asked to step down.

The man they chose to replace him was an up-and-coming assistant from Purdue named Bruce Weber.

He took over a team loaded with upperclassmen, but not a whole lot of talent. SIU turned in just a 15-12 in his first year, then Weber hit the recruiting trail and landed Kent Williams, who would go on to become SIU’s second all-time leading scorer as well as the MVC Scholar-Athlete of the Year in his senior season.

That class also included Jermaine Dearman, another player who would be a crucial part of the team the next four years. He came off the bench and averaged 6.2 points to go with 4.1 rebounds his first season, and by the time he was a senior he was a Second Team All-MVC player averaging 14.6 and 6.4.*

*This paragraph was accidentally omitted from the first draft of this post. It should make more sense now.

They were both fairly decent recruits out of high school, as far as I can tell (Williams was runner-up for Mr. Basketball in Illinois behind Illini forward Brian Cook), but their statistics leave little doubt that they improved throughout their careers under Weber.

Those two represent the best argument I've seen against the "Weber can't develop talent" claim, and they were undoubtedly a big reason the Salukis achieved new levels of success.

It took a little while, and Weber never won the league's automatic bid, but SIU did win the regular season title twice, earning an at-large bid both years. As a quick reminder, let's look back at Weber's record and postseason results during his five-year tenure.

Year Overall record MVC record MVC tourney Postseason
1998-99 15-12 10-8 (5th) Lost 62-59 to Bradley (1st round) None
1999-00 20-13 12-6 (3rd) Lost 67-56 to Missouri St. (semis) Reached NIT, beat Colorado 94-92, lost to BYU 82-57
2000-01 16-14 10-8 (5th) Lost 67-64 to Indiana St. (1st round) None
2001-02 28-8 14-4 (1st) Lost 84-76 to Creighton (final) Reached NCAA, beat (6) Texas Tech 76-68, beat (3) Georgia 77-75, lost to (2) UConn 71-59
2002-03 24-7 16-2 (1st) Lost 80-56 to Creighton Reached NCAA, lost 72-71 to (6) Missouri

Other than Weber's dominance against Big 12 teams, what really stands out here is the big jump from his third season to his fourth, when SIU really took its temporary place among the MVC's elite.

Due in no small part, I'm sure, to a quick freshman point guard named Darren Brooks and a junior forward named Brad Korn, the Salukis became a much more efficient offensive team.

In fact, while record-wise you could perhaps say that Weber's SIU didn't quite improve each and every year, it's clear that as he got the kind of players he wanted, they began to run his offense better.

Just take a look at the points per game and field-goal percentage numbers from his five seasons, along with opposing points per game, just to try to give a better idea of tempo and the relative dominance of each team.

Year FG% PPG Opponent PPG
1998-99 40% 64.7 62.8
1999-00 42% 71.1 67.7
2000-01 43.9% 73.0 72.2
2001-02 46.1% 75.5 67.4
2002-03 47% 74.4 68.2

These numbers show that Weber's teams could score, when he was able to get the right players for his offense.

Considering the trend was basically the opposite at Illinois and the 2004-05 was the only one to average better than 74 points per game (they scored 77 per game while holding opponents to 61), it could even be argued that Weber does better with teams that score more (not necessarily as obvious as it sounds).

I'm not sure if this bodes well for a K-State team that doesn't really have any great scorers and can sometimes struggle in the halfcourt offense, but you'd like to think that as long as he can convince them to keep up the defensive intensity, that will create some points.

Plus, if he can keep Angel Rodriguez at the point, the offense has a lot more options.

One other thing worth noting here is that while Weber left the same year that Williams and Dearman graduated, he certainly didn't leave the cupboard bare.

Korn and Brooks were still around, and the Salukis had enough talent that Matt Painter guided them to a 25-5 record in a season that would have been better than any of Weber's if Alabama's Antoine Pettway hadn't hit a jumper with 5 seconds left to knock No. 9 seed SIU out in the first round.

While most of this is certainly encouraging, it also leaves us with a lot of questions I'm really not sure how to answer. On the plus side, I am now willing to assume that Weber can do a decent job with the experienced and talented group Kansas State has now.

The future, I think we would all agree, is a bit blurrier. Weber took a bad team and steadily improved it with good recruits and player development at SIU, then took a great team and steadily got worse with (some) higher quality recruits and what looks like poor player development.

Why did things go so terribly wrong at Illinois? Does that mean he can't handle the "elite" players? Which Weber can we expect to see at K-State, if he can even get the same quality of recruits to come to Manhattan?

Perhaps John Currie has some extra insight into these queries. And perhaps Bill Snyder will come to his senses and take the word "Family" out of the name of his football stadium.