Illinois: A sorry state of basketball
Somebody had to finally say it, so give Illinois-Chicago Howard Moore credit for stepping up to the microphone.
Following a 61-59 victory over city/Horizon League rival Loyola on Jan. 16 at the UIC Pavilion, Moore addressed the ongoing absence of a powerful men's basketball program in the city.
"The biggest thing to understand is the city of Chicago is dying for some good college basketball," Moore said.
Had he chosen, Moore could have thrown in the rest of Illinois as well. Quite frankly, it's a sorry state.
Last year not a single program from the Land of Lincoln made the NCAA Tournament.
In 2011, the Fighting Illini were the lone March Madness representatives.
In 2010, nada.
In 2009, Illinois was again the only entry.
What in the name of Alfredrick Hughes is going on in this state? Where have you gone, Mark Aguirre?
Outside of the Fighting Illini, DePaul last made the NCAA Tournament in 2004. With Aguirre on the floor from 1978-81, the Blue Demons were a combined 79-10 while making three straight NCAAs, including a Final Four appearance in 1979 that resulted in a 2-point loss to Larry Bird and Indiana State.
Northwestern has, gulp, never qualified.
Loyola hasn't made the NCAA Tournament since 1985, when Hughes carried the Ramblers to the Sweet Sixteen.
UIC last participated in March Madness in 2004, and Northern Illinois hasn't made an appearance since 1996.
From DeKalb to Carbondale and all points between, it has been a brutal stretch of college basketball in Illinois. And, unfortunately, this year does not look much better.
We'll keep it local while trying to figure out why the state's Division I programs have slipped so badly.
For starters, just look at this past weekend's performance.
Illinois continued to slide in the Big Ten, losing 74-60 Sunday to a loaded Michigan team that now ranks No. 1 in the nation.
DePaul traveled to Pittsburgh on Saturday and was hammered 93-55, dropping the Demons to 6-72 in Big East games since the 2008-09 season.
Playing one of the Big Ten's worst team Saturday, Northwestern was blown out 64-49 at Nebraska.
That was nothing compared to Northern Illinois' weekend showing. Playing at Eastern Michigan on Saturday, the Huskies shattered their own dubious NCAA record by scoring just 4 points in the first half of an embarrassing 42-25 loss.
Loyola continued to fade in the Horizon League with a 75-63 loss to Detroit, while UIC was the only weekend winner — a 55-49 decision over Wright State.
Add it all up, and at best you could be looking at an NIT bid or two for Illinois college basketball schools this season.
Let's take a closer look:
Record: 15-6 (2-5 in the Big Ten)
The good: Wins over ranked opponents Butler, Gonzaga and Ohio State.
The bad: That conference record, which includes 3 straight blowout losses to Minnesota, Northwestern and Michigan.
Best player: Brandon Paul. The former Warren High School all-stater is averaging 17.9 points per game.
Biggest disappointment: Joseph Bertran. The junior guard from Sterling got off to a great start, but he only has scored 11 total points in the last three games.
The future: New coach John Groce landed a solid recruit in Simeon guard Kendrick Nunn.
Record: 10-9 (1-5 in the Big East)
The good: Road wins at Auburn and Arizona State earlier in the season.
The bad: A 6-72 record in the Big East since 2008-09? Ouch.
Best player: Cleveland Melvin. Despite getting double- and triple-teamed every game, the Baltimore native still is usually smooth inside while averaging 17.1 points.
Biggest disappointment: Moses Morgan. The son of former Indiana star Winston Morgan, Moses lit it up from behind the 3-point line as a sophomore last season. This year he's shooting only 31 percent from long range and averaging 6.9 ppg.
The future: Morgan Park H.S. guard Billy Garret Jr., son of Blue Demons assistant Billy Garrett, is a potential NBA player and one of DePaul's best recruits in years.
Record: 12-9 (3-5 in the Big Ten)
The good: Conference wins over ranked opponents Illinois and Minnesota.
The bad: Telling losses vs. subpar teams such as UIC, Iowa and Nebraska.
Best player: Let's split it between junior guard Reggie Hearn and sophomore guard Dave Sobolewski, the former Benet Academy star. The backcourt duo is averaging a combined 28 ppg.
Biggest disappointment: Senior guard and Naperville Central H.S. product Drew Crawford going down for the season in early December with a shoulder injury.
The future: Even if NU falls short of the NCAA Tournament again and classy coach Bill Carmody loses his job, the Wildcats still can look forward to adding guard Jaren Sina, a big-time recruit from New Jersey.
Record: 13-8 (4-4 in the Horizon League)
The good: A 9-1 start, featuring wins over Northwestern and a good Colorado State team.
The bad: A 1-6 stretch between Dec. 18 and Jan. 12.
Best player: Gary Talton. The senior guard from Dallas is the Flames' leading scorer at 13.3 ppg.
Biggest disappointment: Center Josh Crittle, an Oregon transfer, has been way too foul prone, and his scoring and rebounding have been AWOL as of late.
The future: Bartlett High School's Lance Whitaker signed with UIC, and he should step right in and contribute as a freshman.
Record: 12-8 (2-5 in the Horizon League)
The good: A 69-61 win over DePaul at the Allstate Arena on Dec. 29.
The bad: A 3-5 record since the convincing decision over the Blue Demons.
Best player: Ben Averkamp. The steady senior forward from Germantown, Wis., leads the Ramblers in scoring (15.2 ppg) and rebounding (6.5).
Biggest disappointment: Cully Payne. The former Schaumburg H.S. star finally has found a home with the Ramblers, but he has faded a bit since dropping in 24 points against DePaul.
Record: 4-14 (2-4 in the Mid-American Conference)
The good: Niles North H.S. sophomore forward Abdel Nader is the only Huskie averaging double figures in scoring (13.1 ppg).
The bad: NIU is averaging 55.8 points per game, which ranks 342 out of 347 qualified Division 1 schools.
Best player: Nader.
Biggest disappointment: QB Jordan Lynch and the Huskies football team don't play again until Aug. 31, at Iowa.
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