So most people have never heard of the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) tournament, which is going on right now and has its championship next week just like the NCAA tournament that gets (deservedly) all the attention. But if you're from Chicago, maybe you should have heard of it. Because there were only three men's teams from Illinois playing in the post-season, and two of them (NIT entries Illinois State and University of Illinois Champaign) are gone, gone gone (in the words of Phillip Phillips).
The third team, my own alma mater Loyola University, is still alive and will be competing with Louisiana-Monroe in the best-of-three championship of the CBI.
Yeah, I said CHAMPIONSHIP!
If you are not aware of the fact, only one team from Illinois has ever won the NCAA tournament. One guess who it was. Did you guess Loyola University of Chicago? If you didn't, you're wrong. LU won it in 1963.
I'm not 100% certain, but I think Loyola's last postseason appearance was in the 1985 NCAA tournament where they went to the Sweet 16 and lost to a really really really (that's three "really's") good Georgetown team.
Why should we care about this? Well, there's been a lot of talk these past two weeks about how bad the state of Chicago, and of Illinois college basketball has been recently. There's not much excitement around the usual teams, Illinos and DePaul. No one talks about the Redbirds of ISU, or the Salukis of SIU, or Western, Eastern, Northern, Chicago State, UIC, Northwestern, or Loyola.
Yet a bunch of NBA players and a bunch of players on the last few years' final four teams have been from Chicago. Anthony Davis. Derrick Rose. Jabari Parker. The Okafor kid from Duke this year. All Chicagoans. And there are plenty of others who are NOT superstars of their teams but instead are just good solid players.
They aren't playing for local schools.
It's a big change from when I was in school. The best college bound HS basketball players were often heading to Illinois. Or DePaul. Some even went to Loyola. A few went to Northwestern. A couple more ended up at ISU. Voise Winters? Efram Winters, Mitchell Anderson, Kenny Battle, Mark Aguirre, Ken Norman, Terry Cummings, Alfredrick Hughes, Andre Battle, David Thirdkill, Darius Clemons..those were Illinois kids who played for Illinois schools. They made Illinois college programs good.
They're all leaving now.
Seeing Loyola playing for a championship, talking about it, promoting one of our Chicago teams, is a first step in increasing the visibility of the local programs. Showcasing local talent, showcasing local coaching, those are good things. The local news and sports should be at least talking about LU's postseason run, which has included wins over Rider, Oral Roberts and Seattle so far. They don't have to make it the lead, or even higher than the upcoming Kentucky/Notre Dame matchup, but it should at the very least be news in the Chicago area market.
It hasn't been. No one, except for an occasional mention by WSCR's Mike Mulligan (a Loyola graduate), says anything about them. And that's why Chicago and Illinois basketball are not relevant these days. The big story is about major programs in other states. Not a word about Illinois programs, except to ridicule them and maybe talk about DePaul's search for a head coach.