If you’re a college basketball fan in this state, these numbers are sobering, even a bit depressing.
The overall record of the 13 Division I college basketball programs in Illinois over the last three years …
But it gets uglier when you consider the following …
■ Last season there were only two teams with an overall winning record (Illinois at 20-15 and Illinois State at 18-16) and not a single team that finished with a winning conference record.
■ The overall conference record of the 13 Division I programs in Illinois this past season was 80-142, a whopping 62 games under .500.
■ In the past three years, the combined conference record of the 13 Division I programs is a ghastly 219-435.
■ In the past three years, only one program has made a NCAA Tournament –– Illinois during the 2012-2013 season.
■ In the past three seasons, with 13 Division I teams playing out 39 schedules during that time, only four teams have won 20-plus games in a season: Illinois (23 wins in 2012-2013 and 20 wins in 2013-2014), Illinois State (21 wins in 2011-2012) and Western Illinois (22 wins in 2012-2013).
■ Amazingly, there has only been one program in the past three seasons that’s finished above .500 in conference play: Western Illinois in 2012-2013.
Now, all you local and true college basketball fans out there that love your winter buckets on campuses instead of NBA arenas, you were just reminded of what you already knew: college basketball in Illinois has never experienced anything like this before. Ever.
As the casual fan reads this they may be thinking, “I knew it was bad with no one to follow in March, but I didn’t know it was that bad.”
When looking at college basketball programs as a whole, across the board, throughout Illinois, there isn’t anyone in this state who wants the college basketball programs in Illinois to succeed and flourish more than I do. It’s possible someone wants them to succeed as much, but no one more.
First, every single one subscribes to the City/Suburban Hoops Report recruiting service, so it’s a group of coaches I pull for, want to help and would become an advocate and ambassador when needed.
Second, the rosters of these programs are always dominated with players from Illinois. And these are the ones the Hoops Report watches at an early age. You see them mature and improve as players, you get to know them and some of their families and coaches over their high school careers and you continue to root for them in college.
Third, combine the two –– prep talent from around Illinois and the in-state college basketball programs –– and it’s a direct representation of this state’s basketball. And it’s a state that, over the decades, has typically been a proud, “look at us!” basketball state.
It’s exciting when Illinois is ranked, a top 25 program and contending for Big Ten titles. The day Northwestern makes its first NCAA Tournament appearance will be monumental and will shine a huge national spotlight on the Chicago area and Illinois. The thought of DePaul coming even close to reclaiming its glory days of the 1970s and 1980s would be a breath of fresh air.
The idea of ISU, SIU, Bradley and Loyola rising up and fighting it out for a Missouri Valley Conference championship on a regular basis would be a fun, exciting couple of months in the dead of winter for basketball fans in this state. And UIC becoming the new “IT’ team in the Horizon League would add some juice to college hoops in the city.
Or why can’t a Northern Illinois, Eastern Illinois, SIUE or Western Illinois emerge as an Akron or Ohio, a Belmont or Eastern Kentucky, or a South Dakota State or North Dakota State, all of which have made NCAA Tournament appearances in the past few years?
While there are some programs still trying to pick themselves up off the floor and rebuild –– many times from the mess the current coaching staff inherited from the previous staff it took over for when hired –– there are definitely some programs on the uptick.
Illinois’ recruiting, while missing on some program-changing recruits the past two years, has picked up considerably. When you start stacking one solid class after another, the fortunes begin to change. Combine that with an influx of a few valuable transfers and coach John Groce is positioned for bigger and better things this year and in the future.
Northwestern is a tough job. Any program without a tournament appearance in its history will obviously have tall challenges. But it’s climbing. Chris Collins and his staff have infused young talent with a culture change. Yes, I know, “culture change” is used repetitively with coaching changes, but I believe it’s very true and sincere in this case.
I also think Illinois State, which returns several key players and welcomes some highly-regarded newcomers who sat out last season, could be a sleeper in the Missouri Valley Conference and a real mid-major surprise nationally.
And there are certainly other programs around the state with some true positives going forward, whether it be young personnel (Loyola), a significant impact recruit (Bradley with Josh Cunningham), a fresh, new coach in charge (Western Illinois with Billy Wright) or any number of areas within a program that could include academic success or improved facilities.
There is a lot that goes into building and maintaining a program, including stability within the basketball program, resources, facilities and the right coach heading up the right program. But most importantly it’s about players.
This is where college basketball programs in Illinois have to thrive. Any of the aforementioned important pieces could be missing from any single program, but the lack of a fertile recruiting ground to nab players can never be an excuse or drawback in this state. At the end of the day, what it boils down to is that the state of Illinois has always had enough high school talent to re-stock the college programs.
Tomorrow: The 30 that got away
Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport