State of '08: Illinois
Duke or Carolina? BC or UMASS? Gonzaga or Washington.. or Washington State? What is the best program in each state? While there's not much competition in Hawaii.. there are great debates to be had in loaded regions like California, North Carolina, and Texas. The State of '08 is a ranking of every program in every state.. based mostly on recent success (the last five years) mixed in with subjective factors such as conference prestige, historical success, and overall program direction.
Up today: Illinois. For more info, check out the State of '08 introduction.
ILLINOIS - In 2005, Bruce Weber led Illinois to the National Title game behind the amazing backcourt duo of Deron Williams and Dee Brown. But those were Bill Self's guys, and Weber's teams have gotten worse every season. Last year the Illini missed out on the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999.. and have little shot of making it this year as well. While Illinois is still the class of the state, SIU continues to the close the gap. The Illini's 2010 class can't get on to campus quickly enough.
SOUTHERN ILLINOIS - Before last season, SIU had made 6 NCAA Tournaments in a row, including two Sweet Sixteen runs along the way. Even last year, despite the mediocre 11-7 MVC record, the Salukis were better than many think.. as they knocked off Top 40 foes like Mississippi State, Saint Mary's, and Western Kentucky.. all of whom made the Big Dance.
BRADLEY - In 2006, Bradley made a name for itself, shocking many pundits by making the Sweet Sixteen. 2007 was arguably an equally successful regular season (an RPI of 38 vs 33 the previous season), but the Braves ended up in the NIT. Bradley has topped DePaul in the RPI each of the last 3 seasons (also beating them 3 times in a row), and should accomplish that feat again in 2009
DEPAUL - Still trying to find its groove in the Big East, DePaul should most likely finish in the conference's bottom 3 in 08-09. The program has made just 2 NCAA Tourney trips in the last decade, in 2000 & 2004. Fourth year coach Jerry Wainright has some work to do getting DePaul back to that level.
UIC - Veteran coach Jimmy Collins has led UIC to 3 NCAA Tournaments since taking over in 1996. Since their last trip in 2004, the Flames have been mired in mediocrity, going 32-34 in Horizon League games in that period. Another similar middle of the pack finish is expected in 08-09.
6. ILLINOIS STATE - 1998 was the last time the Redbirds made the Big dance, but 07-08 was the best since then. First year Tim Jankovich led his team to a 13-5 MVC record, and an RPI of 34. Illinois State had the 2nd highest RPI of any team that didn't make the Big Dance.. and got screwed by playing the only higher team (Dayton) in the 2nd round of the NIT. Another NIT is possible this season, but the NCAA Tournament will have to wait.
7. NORTHWESTERN - The Wildcats' futility is known to all fans, as the program has yet to reach the NCAA Tournament in its 100+ year existence. The last postseason trip (one of 3 ever) was in 1999, a first round loss in the NIT. From 02-04, BIll Carmody supplied some hope as NU finished with a .500 Big Ten record in '04 for the first time since 1968. But the hope has mostly fizzled out with just 3 wins in their last 34 conference games.
8. LOYOLA - Coming off a down season, Loyola is hoping to repeat the success they had in 06 & 07 when Blake Schilb led the Ramblers to 19 & 21 win seasons. Jim Whitesell's crew should most likely improve on last year's RPI of 222.
9. NORTHERN ILLINOIS - The Huskies are coming off two brutal seasons (just 12 D1 wins combined), and should once again be one of the worst teams in the MAC this season. But every couple years NIU has a decent run: In 2006, they upset DePaul (for the 2nd year in a row), as well as Kansas State, and Ohio. In 2003, they finished 3rd in the MAC and won two conference tourney games
10. CHICAGO STATE - From 2001 to 2003, Chicago State may have been the country's worst program. Now CSU is simply bad, and lacks a conference affiliation since leaving the Summit League after 2006. (2006 was oddly one of CSU's best ever D1 seasons, as they finished on a tear and went to the conference title game). Its hard to expect much from the Cougars any time soon.
11. WESTERN ILLINOIS* - One of the country's usual doormats, WIU is arguably coming off its best season since 1999. Which isn't saying too much considering the Leathernecks won just 10 D1 games and only beat one Top 200 team all season (North Dakota State). There's every reason to expect another 290-300 RPI this year.
12. EASTERN ILLINOIS* - In 2004, EIU went from being a run of the mill sub par program to one of the worst in the country. With an RPI of 337 last year, the Panthers were the 3rd worst full-time D1 team, only edging out UMES and fellow OVC team Jacksonville State.
* WIU and EIU have had very similar success recently, and have even split their meetings in the past 4 years. I give WIU the edge for being in the Summit League, which has outperformed the OVC for the last handful of seasons.
Last: Indiana (Yes, I know I reversed the order of Indiana & Illinois by mistake..) - Next: Iowa
State of '08: The Introduction (& State list/links)