For all the good high school basketball talent we produce in this state, you would think we would have a few good Division I college programs around here.
Alas, we do not. The Land of Lincoln was shut out of the NCAA tournament last season. Unfortunately, we may be headed down the same road again. As we get ready to turn the calendar to February, I don't see a single team in this state worthy of a tournament bid.
Among the 13 Division I programs in Illinois, only three are over .500 (Illinois, Northwestern, Loyola). There isn't a single team with a better than .500 record in its conference through Thursday. Illinois sits at 4-4 in the Big Ten. Northern Illinois is 3-3 in the MAC. Everyone else has a losing record.
It's enough to make you not want to bother filling out a tournament bracket this year. I'm obviously an Illini first and foremost, but I'd have no problem cheering for any of the mid-majors in this state if any of them were worth a damn. I was happy for Southern Illinois when it had that nice little run from 2002-07. I was happy for Bradley when it made the Sweet Sixteen in 2006.
Don't count on seeing anything like that this year. Everyone stinks. Don't believe me? Just take a look at the tale of woe in the team-by-team capsules below:
1. Illinois (14-7, 4-4 Big Ten) -- After a promising 10-1 start to the year, the Illini are dutifully pissing their season away with bad losses. Like this one. And this one. And this one Thursday night. It's embarrassing that Illinois scored only 54 points in a game against UIC, which is 0-9 in Horizon League play. It's embarrassing that Illinois scored only 49 points against Indiana, which had just given up 91 points to lowly Iowa in its previous game. The Illini can't score, and they are on a slippery slope toward the NIT. Every Illinois fan has the right to expect more from this basketball program.
2. Northwestern (13-7, 3-6 Big Ten) -- It's been the same old deal at Northwestern this year. Coach Bill Carmody schedules a bunch of cupcakes like Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Texas-Pan American and SIU-Edwardsville during non-conference play. Those games serve to pad Carmody's win total, but they do not prepare the Wildcats for conference play. Can't win on the road, can't play with the big boys, can't make the NCAA tournament that way.
3. DePaul (6-14, 0-8 Big East) -- I still have no idea why DePaul joined the Big East. The Demons are simply overmatched and they've got the 21-game conference losing streak to prove it. DePaul doesn't have the facilities or the exposure to compete in the Big East. The glory days for this program are long gone and will likely never return. DePaul basketball is an afterthought on the Chicago sports scene. What a shame.
4. Southern Illinois (10-11, 4-6 MVC) -- Given that the Salukis were picked to finish ninth in the MVC at the start of the season, I guess their seventh-place standing in the conference really isn't that bad. But this is a program that has made the Sweet Sixteen twice in the last decade. Remember when Chris Lowery was one of the hot coaching names nationally? Not anymore.
5. Illinois State (10-11, 2-8 MVC) -- The Redbirds recently snapped an eight-game losing streak. Ten of the 15 guys on the roster are either freshmen or sophomores, but it's still not pretty this year. Coach Tim Jankovich has some rebuilding to do, and we'll see where he's at in a couple years. On the bright side, the Kansas trolls have stopped suggesting that Illinois fire Bruce Weber and replace him with Jankovich.
6. Bradley (6-15, 0-10 MVC) -- Senior guard Andrew Warren is having a nice year for the Braves. He's the only one. This team is gun-in-your-mouth bad and you could see it coming after an exhibition loss to Division III Quincy in November. Coach Jim Les is fighting for his job. Fortunately for him, he's a legend at that school and he'll probably be able to survive.
7. Loyola (13-8, 4-6 Horizon) -- This team's best player, Geoff McCammon, is coming off the bench. Go figure. At least Loyola is over .500, but that's a product of a weak schedule. That eighth-place standing in the Horizon League doesn't bode well for a team that will obviously have to win its conference tournament to have a crack at the NCAAs.
8. UIC (5-16, 0-9 Horizon) -- The Flames upset the Illini on Dec. 18 at the United Center. They haven't won a single game since. Nine losses in a row. If you're a UIC fan, you might as well just shoot yourself. If you're an Illini fan, you've probably already shot yourself because your team lost to these chumps.
9. Chicago State (5-16) -- No conference affiliation. Only nine home games. No fan base. No interest. No hope.
10. Eastern Illinois (8-12, 4-6 OVC) -- The Panthers pulled off a shocker about a week ago when they won at Murray State, which is annually at the top of the Ohio Valley Conference. The euphoria didn't last, as the upset victory was followed up with lackluster losses to Tennessee-Martin and Tennessee Tech. Back to life, back to reality.
11. Northern Illinois (7-11, 3-3 MAC) -- I don't think much of Ricardo Patton as a coach, so the Huskies are actually having a decent year by the low standards I set for a Patton-coached team. Xavier Silas is a good player for NIU. He's averaging almost 25 points per game. But he's not good enough to carry his less gifted teammates very far come postseason play.
12. Western Illinois (7-13, 2-7 Summit) -- Only the top eight teams in the Summit make the conference tournament. Right now, the Leathernecks are on the outside looking in. This program has been bad for years and years. Thank goodness Centenary is on the schedule twice.
13. SIU Edwardsville (5-18) -- These guys are Division I?
There you have it. Illinois teams are a collective 109-159. It's not pretty this year. Very disappointing.