As yet another NCAA Tournament dawns in full this morning, the state of Illinois — court for court one of America’s best basketball states — faces its third straight year without any school based in the Land of Lincoln competing in the glory that is March Madness.
March Madness was born in Illinois but in recent years each institution of higher learning — private and public, Catholic and secular, broke and …more broke — has gone about their business as if they are completely immune to that phenomenon that causes the filling out of multiple brackets and mysterious “illnesses” which make many leave work and school in time for their alma mater’s tip-off.
With no Illini, Redbirds, Huskies or the like having to worry about clocking out early, you’d be best to devote some time and stretch out your tournament pool chances with the team in the video above — Dayton, a No. 7 seed in the Midwest regional (more on that in a minute).
The Flyers’ home court traditionally holds the “First Four” games of the tournament, in which the amount of teams is paired down from 68 to 64 during the Tuesday and Wednesday of the first week (see this year’s First Four results here and here). Dayton is also the temporary home of four Illinois-bred basketball players, more than any other school in this years tournament; and there are plenty carrying reps from the Ill state — in all 51 Illinois players came into the tournament and 50 are still alive, covering teams from every major and most mid-major conference in America.
Being that they are in the Midwest regional, Dayton’s foursome — Kyle Davis, Kendall Pollard, Josh Cunningham and Bobby Wehrli — has a unique chance to return home if they go as far as the Sweet 16. Chicago and the United Center will host the semifinals and finals (Elite Eight) of the regional the weekend following this one, so our basketball-crazy area won’t be completely devoid of high-end college action this season.
Let it be remembered what happened last time the Chicago area hosted an NCAA regional — the most memorable Illinois-based tournament moment in recent memory.
There may be at least 51 reasons why Illinois schools have struggled so much to break back into the postseason (at least the one that matters, we’re not even bothering to look up who may or may not be in the NIT or CIT or any other alphabet soup tourney).
Many say the coaches from each school are failing to connect with the kids in the state, in particular those from the rich talent base in and around Chicago, others say its been too long since real success last rose for most the schools (ex. – DePaul, Loyola, or in the case of Northwestern, success never having risen) hurts in drawing not only the top-line talent born in Illinois that have used blue-blood college programs like Duke, Kentucky and Kansas to sling-shot into the NBA within a year (Jahlil Okafor, Jabari Parker, Anthony Davis) but even those next in line with NBA possibilities who stay in school a year or two longer to develop their game.
Among those latter-developing players running in the tourney this year you can count explosive guards like Jalen Brunson and Tyler Ulis, cagey big men like Roosevelt Jones and James Farr and a two-time conference player of the year in Fred VanVleet who has already taken his Wichita State Shockers to the Final Four once in his time at school.
Anyone who’s seen the likes of these guys tear up things in March over the last couple years would think that any collection of them and some others in the list you see below could make a big difference in Champaign, Carbondale or Lincoln Park, among other campuses, but who knows? Maybe they knew better than us all along.
Meanwhile, we can all just keep wishing, hoping that some combination of coach charisma, correctly bouncing balls and sympathetic-yet-transcendent ballplayers can make some March sometime soon something we can once again call our own in the Land where Madness makes the most sense.
Illinois Prep Players In NCAA Tournament
*= eliminated in “First Four” games
- Jalen Brunson, Villanova (Stevenson)
- Jevon Carter, West Virginia (Proviso East)
- James Farr, Xavier (Evanston)
- Ethan Happ, Wisconsin (Rockridge)
- Roosevelt Jones, Butler (O’Fallon)
- Abdel Nader, Iowa State (Niles North)
- Tyler Ulis, Kentucky (Marian Catholic)
- Fred VanVleet, Wichita State (Rockford Auburn)
- Larry Austin, Xavier (Springfield Lanphier)
- Max Bielfeldt, Indiana (Peoria Notre Dame)
- Myles Carter, Seton Hall (St. Rita)
- Kyle Davis, Dayton (Morgan Park)
- Alvin Ellis, Michigan State (De La Salle)
- Johnny Hill, Purdue (Glenbard East)
- Charles Matthews, Kentucky (St. Rita)
- Sean O’Mara, Xavier (Benet)
- Kendall Pollard, Dayton (Simeon)
- Gavin Schilling, Michigan State (De La Salle)
- Kendall Stephens, Purdue (St. Charles East)
- Jamari Traylor, Kansas (Julian)
- Joe Toye, Vanderbilt (Whitney Young)*
- Christian Williams, Iowa (St. Teresa)
- Nick Zeisloft, Indiana (Lyons)
- Quinton Chievous, Hampton (Notre Dame)
- Willie Conner, Buffalo (Crane)
- Sam Downey, Yale (Lake Forest)
- Kalin Fisher, Hampton (Proviso East)
- Aldonis Foote, Middle Tennessee (Peoria Central)
- Brian Greene Jr., Florida Gulf Coast (Thornton)
- Marius Hill, Arkansas-Little Rock (Homewood-Flossmoor)
- Reginald Johnson Jr., Hampton (St. Joseph)
- Tevin King, South Dakota State (Providence-St. Mel)
- George Marshall, South Dakota State (Brooks)
- Rayshaun McGrew, Stony Brook (Vocational)
- Khalil Small, Green Bay (Providence-St. Mel)
- Peyton Allen, Wichita State (Chatham Glenwood)
- Jackson Bax, Wisconsin (Lincoln-Way East)
- Brennan Besser, Duke (Latin School)
- Kevin Coker, Xavier (Plainfield South)
- Josh Cunningham, Dayton (Morgan Park)
- Michael Dowdy Jr., Seton Hall (U-High)
- Dylan Ennis, Oregon (Lake Forest Academy)
- Cole Gentry, South Dakota State, (St. Charles East)
- Brandon Hutton, Iowa (De La Salle)
- Kurt Karis, USC (Glenbrook North)
- Robert Knar, Northern Iowa (Mundelein)
- Isaiah Moss, Iowa (Simeon)
- Stuart Nezlek, Iowa State (Fenwick)
- Harrison Niego, Indiana (Lyons)
- Tom Planek, Providence (Fenwick)
- Bobby Wehrli, Dayton (Benet)
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