In the 2009 NCAA Tournament, the 'I' stood alone.
As in the U of I. And yet, the state's biggest school and lone representative in The Big Dance, fell short to upstart and upset-minded Western Kentucky. And it got me thinking: what's up with this state's college hoops teams?
Let's run 'em down.
Illinois: Bruce Weber is the best X's and O's coach in this state and has some great recruiting classes coming to Chambana in coming years, so that should help. Not to mention that run to the title game in 2005 should ease any concerns of his coaching ability.
The Fighting Illini's success hinges on the success of guard Demetri McCamey, the team's most talented player. He goes through amazing peaks and painful valleys, but if Weber can straighten him out, the Illini will be making deep tourney runs starting next year.
Southern Illinois: All good things came to an end this year as the Salukis went through their first losing season since the end of the Rich Herrin Era. So what does my university need to do to get back to the dance? Well, it might be more complicated than once thought.
The young core of a 13-18 team returns, that's the good and bad news. SIU should be better based on a year of experience and an offseason in the weightroom. Expect big things out of Kevin Dillard and Anthony Booker, but Southern needs to improve its depth and athleticism if it wants to make any tournament next season.
DePaul: Remember when the Blue Demons dominated the Chicago Public School recruiting scene? Well, the only thing they're dominating now is the bottom of the Big East standings. So where can DePaul improve?
Other than somehow leaving the Big East ... I'm not sure.
Northwestern: The Wildcats were the state's biggest surprise this year, making noises as if they wanted to be an NCAA Tourney team before succumbing to the NIT.
But unlike prior years of Northwestern's tourney trips, this team is still building. And while people were trying to run out the Princeton Offense last year, I think the 'Cats could be dancing if they can build on what they did this season.
Illinois State: The Redbirds have been on the outside looking in the last two March Madness events. So, what does Illinois State need to do to bust through the bubble.
First, hope that head coach Tim Jankovich doesn't get a sweet deal from a power conference school and hope superstar guard Osiris Eldridge doesn't go pro. If those two key cogs return, play a semi-challenging non-conference schedule and don't lose to Indiana State twice and you'll be fine.
Bradley: Pop quiz: Who uses more hair products? Rod Blagojevich or Jim Les? Maybe if the Braves' head coach spent less time looking in a mirror and doing his hair, he could get some talent to compete on the War on 74. Unfortunately for him, Patrick O'Bryant is nowhere to be found at this point.
Northern Illinois: Enjoy Jerry Kill and football season as much as you can. The Convocation Center is a nice basketball arena ... good luck, Ricardo Patton.
Illinois Chicago/Loyola: The Horizon League has Butler and now Cleveland State on point and they're not going away any time soon. Especially Butler, which has become the state of Indiana's best basketball school.
The Flames and Ramblers' best chance is to schoop up some little known Chicagoland talent and hope for the best come conference tourney time.
Eastern Illinois/Western Illinois: Combine and be called East-West Illinois and maybe come out and get lucky in some conference tournament. At least they have pretty decent FCS football teams.
Chicago State: Contrary to the belief of some southern Illinoisans, Chicago is not a state. Nor should it be ... I don't wanna pay out of state tuition, it's why I came to SIU anyway. I'm not sure what CSU does good, so I'll leave them alone.