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Current blueprint for Illini, Weber not working

Bruce Weber’s voice lowered a few decibels when he answered the question, like you do when switching from everyday jabber to life-altering discussion.

The Illinois coach is not yet at a career crossroads. But with his Illini (14-7, 4-4 Big Ten) entering tonight’s 8 p.m. tipoff with Penn State (12-8, 5-4) a few mistakes away from possible missing the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years, Weber is teetering on tenuous times – evidence by his opening statement at Monday’s press conference.

“I don’t feel very well,” Weber said. “Our team isn’t shooting well. The weather’s not very well. But I guess on a positive note, we didn’t lose this weekend.”

Weber is answering more serious questions today than most would have envisioned for the coach of a preseason top-16 team.

Like, if he considers making drastic changes to his underachieving team.

“It’s been talked about,” Weber said. “I don’t know if we’ll do anything or not, but it has been talked about, there’s no doubt, among our staff.”

Weber’s group thrives by its four seniors. But the Illini (14-7) also dies by its four seniors.

Demetri McCamey, Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis have been mainstays in the starting lineup the last three years, while Bill Cole has evolved into a useful role player.

The Class of 2007 – not a highly touted group out of high school – has driven the program for three years. But since guards Chester Frazier and Trent Meacham graduated in 2009, the end product (a 33-21 record) just hasn’t been good enough.

Following the latest struggles (four losses in five games) and with just 10 games left to improve the NCAA tournament resume, it may be time for Weber to thrust freshman Jereme Richmond and sophomore Brandon Paul into starring roles.

But Weber worries about the consequences.

“It’s that fine line,” Weber said. “Are we going to go destroy somebody, just blow it all up, (and) now can we recover from it? I don’t know. Sometimes, it’s a crapshoot on that.”

While that apprehension may keep Weber from making drastic changes to the lineup, one senior may lose his starting spot to an underclassman.

Richmond asked Weber to keep him out of the starting lineup at Indiana, but the 6-foot-7 versatile freshman may not have a choice after averaging 13.7 points and 8.7 rebounds in three games since sitting out against Wisconsin on Jan. 15 for undisclosed personal reasons.

“That was last week,” Weber said. “We haven’t made any decisions about this week what we’ll do.”

After four years, the seniors are what they are. Why not see what the recent recruiting successes can bring to the floor?

We already know that the current blueprint designs a mediocre Big Ten bunch. We have almost two years of too-serious Bruce Weber press conferences to prove it.

Jeremy Werner is the co-host of the “Tay and J Show,” which airs on 93.5, 95.3 ConnectFM and on www.myconnectfm.com. Post your comments below or e-mail Jeremy at jeremy@myconnectfm.com.

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