Thursday, January 11, 2007

State of Illinois Basketball - Division I

The state has seen better years when it comes to college basketball. Illinois will be lucky to have one team make the tournament in 2007 as the top teams all look pretty mediocre. None look like a top 25 team. Here are my rankings of the state's division I programs:

1. Southern Illinois (12-4 overall, 1-1 in-state) The Salukis have been the most consistent team in the state although their resume is not that impressive. Their best win came against Virginia Tech (RPI 44) and they have lost to the other four top 50 RPI teams they have played (Arkansas, Indiana, Bradley, Northern Iowa). All four loses have been road/neutral games. The Salukis are experienced and play great defense which makes them the most likely team from the state to make the NCAA tournament.

2. Illinois (13-5, 2-0 in state) The Illini suffered injuries and shooting slumps during the non-conference slate and did not pick up a signature win. Wins over Bradley and Missouri are nice but will not get them in the tourney come judgment day.

Weber has taken his lumps for a couple of poor recruiting classes, but the most disappointing players on this team were from Self’s last class: Randle, McBride and Carter. McBride and Carter, seniors, seem destined to leave Illinois without fulfilling their potential.

I’m more optimistic regarding Randle. He had his groin surgery less than two months ago, and understandably looked tentative his first few games back. But he showed the explosiveness fans have come to expect from him in Illinois’ victory over Iowa.

I’m less sanguine about the prospects for the team as a whole this year. They have the potential to make a run in conference play. If Randle continues to make progress coming back from his groin injury, if Carter doesn’t disappear in games, if they can get the ball to Pruitt down low, if Frazier can stay healthy, if McBride and Jamar Smith can consistently hit the outside shot, they can be good. But that’s a lot ifs and an 8-8 conference record and NIT invite wouldn’t surprise me.

3. Bradley (11-6, 4-1 in state) The Braves are the most surprising team in the state as they lost Patrick O’Bryant and Marcellus Sommerville from last year's Sweet Sixteen squad. The Braves lead the nation in 3-point shooting at 45% and have beaten Iowa State, Southern Ill., DePaul, Loyola, UIC and Rutgers. They only have one bad loss (Tennessee Tech, RPI 190) but are still a long shot to make the tourney. Probably NIT bound.

4. DePaul (9-7, 2-2 in state) DePaul has the best scalps of any team in the state, Kansas at home and Villanova on the road. So then how does this team lose to Northwestern and St. John’s? DePaul is not consistent enough to do great things in conference play, so unless they win their conference tourney, they are looking at an NIT bid.

DePaul is easily the most disappointing team in the state right now. Wainwright appears to be a better recruiter than coach. I thought the opposite was true when they hired him.

5. Loyola (11-6, 0-1 in state) My alma mater. This was supposed to be the year we made it back to the tournament. The preseason favorites out of the Horizon league are not living up to their lofty expectations. Their biggest win to date is against Northern Iowa. Butler’s great start means the Ramblers are no longer expected to win the Horizon and with UIC’s upset of Butler on Wednesday, it’s questionable if they are the best Horizon team in the state.

6. Illinois State (9-7, 1-1 in-state) Best win over Northern Iowa. Beat UIC. NIT is the goal for this team.

7. UIC (8-9, 1-3 in state) The Flames are playing better with Jimmy Collins on an indefinite leave. They did beat Butler last night in overtime, but I actually don’t think they will do much in the Horizon as they do not have a win on the road and have five losses to teams with a RPI of +100.

The rest:
8. Chicago State (7-14, 0-1) No conference, few home games, just trying to survive division. At least they’re doing better then the teams below them. Didn’t Kanye West drop-out of Chicago State? Why doesn’t he help the Cougars out? Maybe he doesn’t care….

9. Northern Illinois (4-10, 0-1) They are going to need a great coach to compete in the MAC. The Big Ten, Big East, ACC, Big 12 and SEC heavily recruit the state’s best players. Those who feel snubbed are likely to try and catch on with a MVC team. Where does that leave Northern?

10. Eastern Illinois (5-12, 1-1) Bad. Only team they have beaten in the past month is Western.

11. Western Illinois (4-12, 0-1) Very bad. Only two wins against Division I schools.