College basketball roundup: Which Illinois teams will go dancing this month?

There’s no postseason quite like March Madness. Here’s who’s in and out for some Illinois colleges.

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With the help of former Morgan Park star Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois is enjoying its best season since 2005.

AP Photos

When it comes to postseasons, there’s nothing quite like March Madness.

The men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments captivate the nation for three weeks. Perhaps it’s the unpredictability that makes them so appealing, with even mid-major teams — such as Loyola in the men’s tournament in 2018 — able to somehow pull off magical runs in pursuit of a national title.

But before the madness begins, some teams must first make it through their conference tournaments — which began this week and run through the next — to solidify their national tournament spots.

A few Chicago-area teams have already locked up their invitations to the big dance. The DePaul and Northwestern women’s teams have been among the nation’s best all season and have a chance to host the first two rounds. Meanwhile, the Illinois men’s team is slated to make its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2013.

There’s about a week left before fans start filling out their brackets and office bookies start collecting money. Before then, here’s what you need to know about Illinois’ biggest programs:

DePaul men’s team

Record: 15-15 overall, 3-14 Big East*

Overview: Over the last few years, DePaul men’s basketball has become synonymous with disappointment. Fans were hoping that would change after this season’s promising start. DePaul won 12 of its first 13 games, beating teams such as Iowa and Texas Tech. But it all fell apart like a Lego structure crashing to the floor once conference play began. After upsetting No. 5 Butler in January, DePaul lost 10 of its next 11. It doesn’t matter if the Blue Demons win Saturday’s regular-season finale. They’re in sole possession of last place in the Big East for the fourth consecutive season.

Player to watch: Junior forward Paul Reed (averages 14.9 points and 10.6 rebounds)

* Regular season ends Saturday.

Northwestern men’s team

Record: 7-22 overall, 2-17 Big Ten*

Overview: After 78 dance-less years, Northwestern earned its first March Madness berth in 2017. Coach Chris Collins was praised for elevating the Wildcats to the next level. But it has been all downhill since. In fact, the Wildcats have reached a new low this season, their worst campaign in more than a decade. With two games left, they’re on pace for their second consecutive last-place finish in the Big Ten.

Player to watch: Sophomore forwardMiller Kopp (averages 13.3 points and 3.6 rebounds)

* Regular season ends Saturday.

Loyola men’s team

Record: 21-11 overall, 13-5 Missouri Valley

Overview: Only a few pieces remain from the 2017-18 team that went all the way to the Final Four. But despite losing key players Marques Townes and Clayton Custer after last season, Loyola has shown little, if any, regression. Led by center Cameron Krutwig and guard Tate Hall, the Ramblers finished second in the Valley in the regular season. Similar to what happened in 2018, Loyola had to win the conference tournament to make the NCAA Tournament, but the Ramblers suffered a stunning overtime loss to Valparaiso in the quarterfinals Friday.

Player to watch next season: Junior center Cameron Krutwig (averages 15.3 points and eight rebounds)

No. 23 Illinois men’s team

Record: 20-10 overall, 12-7 Big Ten*

Overview: After more than a decade of mediocrity, the Illini finally had a breakthrough this season. With the help of former Morgan Park star Ayo Dosunmu, they’re enjoying their best season since 2005. On the cusp of their first March Madness appearance since 2013, they locked in coach Brad Underwood and his staff with a lengthy extension this week. And despite losing to Ohio State on Thursday, they can lock up a double bye in the conference tournament with a victory Sunday against Iowa.

Player to watch: Sophomore guard Ayo Dosunmu (averages 16.4 points and 4.2 rebounds)

* Regular season ends Sunday.

No. 18 DePaul women’s team

Record: 25-5 overall, 15-3 Big East

Overview: While the men’s team continues to struggle, the women’s team has maintained a reputation as one of the country’s best and will make its 18th consecutive March Madness appearance. The Blue Demons cruised to the Big East regular-season title, making them the No. 1 seed in this weekend’s conference tournament. They earned a first-round bye and will play the winner of the Georgetown-Providence game Saturday at Wintrust Arena. Winning the Big East tournament would solidify a top-16 spot in the NCAA Tournament, meaning the Demons would host the first and second rounds.

Player to watch: Senior forward Chante Stonewall (Big East Defensive Player of the Year, averages 17.3 points and 5.6 rebounds)

Loyola women’s team

Record: 15-13 overall, 6-11 Missouri Valley*

Overview: Loyola continued to make progress in Year 4 of coach Kate Achter’s program overhaul, but it wasn’t enough to earn its first NCAA Tournament bid outright. After winning a combined nine games over Achter’s first two seasons, the Ramblers have won at least 13 games in each of the last two. Loyola’s chances of claiming an NCAA berth depend on winning next weekend’s conference tournament — a tall order, especially since No. 23 Missouri State has been nearly unbeatable in Valley play. The Ramblers have never made it past the MVC quarterfinals since they joined the conference before the 2013-14 season.

Player to watch: Junior guard Abby O’Connor (averages 13 points, 8.2 rebounds)

* Regular season ends Saturday.

No. 11 Northwestern women’s team

Record: 26-4 overall, 16-2 Big Ten

Overview: Barely a blip on the preseason radar, Northwestern now has a chance to play at home in the NCAA Tournament as a top-four seed. Let that sink in for a moment. Led by Big Ten first-team selections Lindsey Pulliam and Abi Scheid, the Wildcats made history this season, earning their first Big Ten title in 30 years and setting a school record for most wins in a season. They entered the conference tournament this weekend as one of the hottest teams in women’s hoops, winning 14 of their last 15 games. But they lost their quarterfinal game against Michigan on Friday.

Player to watch: Junior guard Lindsey Pulliam (unanimously selected to All-Big Ten first team, averages 19.1 points and 4.8 rebounds)

Illinois women’s team

Record: 11-19 overall, 2-16 Big Ten

Overview: While the men’s team has found its recipe for success and hopes to make a deep postseason run, the women’s team proved it still has a long way to go. Redshirt junior Petra Holesinska carried the team, averaging 12.6 points, although it’s unclear if she’ll return to Illinois for her final season. Meanwhile, first-year players Kennedi Myles, Jeanae Terry and Jada Peebles, who all averaged 20-plus minutes, offer hope for the future after an overall disappointing season, which ended Wednesday with a first-round exit at the hands of Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament.

Player to watch next season: Freshman forward Kennedi Myles (averaged 8.9 points and 8.7 rebounds)

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