I got my chuckle from reading a commentary published in the Chicago Sun-Times bemoaning the fact that Illinois may not get any representation in the NCAA basketball tourney when the 65 qualifying Division I schools are announced this weekend.
Now I will agree with the point that many of the top high school ballplayers seem to be leaving the state when it comes to wanting to play college ball. It most likely is due to the fact that this state's college basketball programs are largely mediocre (DePaul University’s Final Four appearance of ’79 was such an aberration). I have a nephew who plays high school ball, and while I have heard him about wanting to play the game at higher levels, I have never heard him talk of thinking that being an SIU Saluki or a UI-Chicago Flame is anything special.
BUT I FIND it ridiculous that Illinois people have nobody from our state to root for. For I have been paying attention to the NCAA Division III for the past two weekends. Because that tourney doesn’t draw the big bucks from television ratings, officials are more concerned with playing the games as quickly as possible.
So as of Saturday, they’re already down to their Elite Eight. And I’m getting a kick out of my own collegiate alma mater, Illinois Wesleyan University, being among those 8 schools. Particularly after learning about their 77-72 victory Friday night over Carthage College (maybe that will shut up all those Redmen fans in Kenosha, Wis., because their team won the CCIW conference tourney and IWU qualified through an at-large bid).
One more victory, and IWU will be in the Final Four, with a chance to play for the national title in “scenic” Salem, Va. – although if one wants to think about it seriously, what makes Indianapolis, Ind. (the site of the Division I Final Four), any more luxurious?
So technically, we could all be rooting for the Titans of Bloomington (which the last time I looked at their roster included one Chicago kid and nine others from the suburbs) if we wanted some Illinois connection.
AS FOR THOSE of you who are about to get snotty with me and send me some sort of note proclaiming the inferiority of the lower classifications of college sports, I’d say the big difference is that you don’t get too many of the 7-footers, and you get the occasional kid who spent his life practicing his ball-handling skills, but whose growth spurt topped out at about 5-foot, 6-inches.
It’s still entertaining, and you do get the occasional NBA-quality player passing through (IWU fans still celebrate the 13-season career of Jack Sikma, mostly with the Seattle Supersonics), even though the one IWU game I made it to this season, I saw them play so sloppily when they lost 68-60 to the University of Chicago Maroons that they weren't worthy of any Sikma association that night.
It’s definitely a quality of ball good enough for people wishing to root for a home-state team. And does anyone really think that fans of the Chicago State Cougars basketball program have anything more to cheer about, just because their college’s enrollment is big enough to be classified Division I?
So for those of you who want to whine about there being nobody local to cheer for (and let’s be honest, even if the University of Illinois Fighting Illini do manage to qualify, they’ll probably be knocked out in the first round), I say, "Get real!"
THERE IS STILL somebody from this state to cheer for, although a part of my “joy” was dampened upon learning while writing this commentary that the IWU women’s basketball team lost 77-76 to the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, thereby bringing an end to the season for a team that was actually a favorite to win their tourney.
So while the rest of you will be bemoaning the lack of an Illinois or a Bradley in the college basketball tournaments, I’ll be the one anxiously following some quality games. Which means I’ll be the happy one in these days before the coming of the baseball season.
EDITOR’S NOTES: Why am I having fun from college basketball while many fans in this area are feeling nothing (http://www.suntimes.com/sports/2099019,illinois-schools-ncaa-12.article) but sorrow.
When local basketball fans get excited at the thought of playing in the NIT tourney (http://www.pantagraph.com/sports/college/illinois-state/article_17099d54-2d6c-11df-b688-001cc4c03286.html), you know it is a weak year.
I only hope that the IWU Titan season (http://www.d3hoops.com/) does not come crashing (http://www.iwusports.com/index.aspx?tab=basketball&path=mbball) to a halt Saturday night.