Even with Loyola out, March Madness still has a local rooting interest
On the first weekend, the hearts of Illini fans were broken. On the second, the dreams of Loyola fans evaporated, too.
So much for the state's entries into NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.
But whether your brackets were busted or cling to hope, here in the suburbs, there still is reason to give in to the Madness.
One of them is Justin Smith of Buffalo Grove. Twice the Daily Herald's Lake County Player of the Year when he played at Stevenson High School, Smith is a 6-7 forward now with Arkansas, which goes up against Baylor tonight on CBS for a chance to go to the Final Four.
He's no mere role player. He average 13.8 points per game as a senior this year, and he helped the Razorbacks survive in Saturday's 72-70 win over Oral Roberts with 11 offensive rebounds and 12 points.
Meanwhile, late Sunday night, Drew Peterson, a one-time All-Stater with Libertyville High School where he averaged 26.1 ppg as a senior, helped the University of Southern California make it into the Elite Eight with an 82-68 win over Oregon. Peterson averaged 9.8 ppg this year as a 6-8 junior guard after transferring from Rice.
To make it to the Final Four, he and USC will have to get past top-seeded and undefeated Gonzaga Tuesday night on TBS.
Meanwhile, Michigan continued avoiding the Big Ten curse Sunday, easily making it to the Elite Eight with a 76-58 win over Florida State.
And they did that with the help of Mike Smith, a 5-11 guard from Burr Ridge who played his high school ball at Fenwick while being mentored by onetime Bull Jimmy Butler.
Smith and the Wolverines will get their chance Tuesday night to make it to the Final Four against UCLA, who beat Alabama 88-78 Sunday.