Where Does Illinois Rank In The College Basketball World?

Where Does Illinois Rank In The College Basketball World?

Working off of lists is always kind of dangerous when it comes to trying to make a judgement on just about anything in this world.  The reason it is tough is because the lists being discussed are always subjective to the opinion of the person doing the list.  Everything from the 10 most powerful people in the world...to the 100 most beautiful people in the world...and everything in between....reflects the bias of the writer or the general public "conventional wisdom".  

The same rule applies to ranking the top college basketball programs in the country. 

I bring this up because of VCU's Shaka Smart....and his decline of an offer to coach at the University of Illinois. I hear it over and over again when it comes to hiring a new coach at Illinois.  Whenever a job search is underway...there are always fans who say that "coaches will be knocking on the door of the Illini program to get the job" because of its outstanding history and reputation.  Others say that the progam has an average history in basketball and "we are not as good a program as we think we are". 

So I did a little research and did find a couple of things that might help.  Or it might just fuel more debate on the topic.

I think most people agree that the elite level of college basketball programs would include Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas and Duke.  Those progams have won a lot of national championships down through the years.  They also happen to be the 4 winningest progams of all time.

But when you try to put basketball programs in order on a list from #5- #30...it gets interesting.

Do you base the ranking of a basketball program on the number of national championships?  Conference Championships?  NCAA appearances?  Number of wins overall?

After the top 4 teams I mentioned....the next 11 winningest programs are....(5) Syracuse (6) Temple  (7) St.Johns  (8) UCLA (9) Notre Dame (10)Penn (11) Utah  (12) Indiana (13) Illinois (14) Washington and (15) Brigham Young.

If you base the standard of where to rank a program based on the number of overall wins....Illinois is a Top 15 program. 

Which is true.

But look at who is number (16) in the overall wins department....Western Kentucky.  Would you consider the Hilltoppers a Top 20 all time program?  What about Penn (not Penn State) at #10 in all-time wins?  Utah at #11?

I looked up Bleacher Report from last summer and their college basketball writer did a Top 50  College Basketball Programs of All Time list. .

He listed UCLA as #1 overall...based mostly on all the championships the program won under John Wooden.  Obviously they have not been as dominant since then.   In that list.... the same elite teams were listed in the top 5 behnd UCLA.....Kentucky... KU.... North Carolina. and Duke.....but then Indiana was # 6.   UConn was #7.  Arizona # 8 .  Michigan State was # 9 and Louisville was #10. 

Other Big Ten teams in the list?  Ohio State (12)......Michigan (13).....Purdue (21).... and Illinois (24).   Wisconsin was (29) on the list.  Iowa (37).

In the Bleacher Report List...other teams ahead of Illinois included:  Syracuse (11)......Cincinnati (14) .... NC State (15)...Arkansas (16)....Georgetown (17)....Villanova (18)......Oklahoma State (19)....UNLV (20).....Marquette (22) ....and Temple (23).  

For what it is worth....other programs listed behind Illinois:  Florida (25).....Memphis (26)....Maryland (27).....K-State (33) and Mizzou (38).

So in this list...based on history....total wins...NCAA appearances....reputation....etc.....Illinois would still be a Top 25 program all time.  

I just threw a lot of numbers at you....but re-read it if you need to do so.   

Based on the 2 lists above...I think you could safely say that Illinois basketball is considered anywhere from a Top #15- #25 basketball program. 

That is pretty good....dont you think?




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cymoin wrote on March 22, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Where a college program ranks based on historical information has little overall impact when that school is looking for a new coach.  Some of these schools have been around for over a century and their "glory days" were decades ago.  The number of banners hanging from the rafters and retired jerseys is great window dressing but put yourself in the shoes of a prospective coach.  The key things the potential coach is looking at are (in no particular order): conference affiliation, current roster of athletes, recruiting territory, financial package, facilities, fan base, athletic director and overall school leadership, previous ties to the school, and university commitment to the sport.  Now, depending on the personality of the individual, they may also weigh how close the school is to family or what kind of a challenge it presents.

Here is what I look at to give current rankings to Division I B-ball programs:  If every coach was paid the same amount of money and each D1 school lost their head coach at the same time, which programs would be the most attractive for a prospective coach right now?  Using that approach, Illinois would not be a Top 30 program.

You can spin stats and historical information all you want to try to convince yourself that you have a top program but at the end of the day, the kind of situation facing the U of I right now will tell you just how attractive the program is RIGHT NOW.

You have a new AD with no Illinois roots (never attended school here, coached here, etc.) who was hired by a university president who has fallen out of favor with the faculty.  The AD has been here for less than one year and has fired the three coaches of the three highest revenue-generating sports programs at the school.  I'm not here to argue whether or not the firings were justified but think about how it looks to an outsider or prospect.  You have witnessed average or below-average results from all three of those programs and the school's standing amongst their peers is sinking.  Let's not forget that perception is reality.  If you don't have some deep love for Illinois (native of the state, alum, etc.) and you have a great gig going where you are, the only two things that would really entice me as a prospective coach are 1) the financial package and 2) the opportunity to advance my own career by coaching in the Big 10.  Note that loyalty to the school is not listed.  There's a reason for that.  The Unviersity of Illinois is NOT a destination school unless you have a loyalty to it based on a relationship.  That is not to say that a new coach could fall in love with the place and never want to leave but the reality is that Illinois' only real attraction right now is it's conference affiliation.  After that, there's not much left.

dhendricks71 wrote on March 22, 2012 at 7:03 pm

Based on the factors you listed Illinois would be a top 15 school.  The only real negatives are the new athletic director and the fact that the Assembly Hall is almost 50 years old.  I guess Andy Katz and Seth Davis and Forbes Magazine(#5 most valuble college BB program #1 in the big 10)  are way offf base when they says its a top 15 program.  

ptevonian wrote on March 22, 2012 at 1:03 pm

I think we have an interesting combination of things happening with this search.  I think based on history -- say the past 40 years -- Illinois is a Top 15-20 program.  That is how the alumni and ardent fans see the program, and it sets the bar pretty high.  Add to that a relatively recent high-point for the program -- the dominant and beautiful 2005 team -- and the fans have a vivid reminder of "what the program should be".  Also add in the long list of "superstar" players to have come out of Chicago (conveniently ignoring all of the "stars" that didn't actually produce much in college).

What you end up with is an alumni/fan base that has very high expectations, has tasted what it could be like at the summit, and that sees "superstar" players within arm's reach.  The reality, though, is that the huge majority of college coaches aren't able to elevate their programs to that Top 10 level that we all want, and are replaced by the next coach.  Very few stay in one program more than a handful of years. The fans want and expect greatness, and are impatient to get it now.  Not a lot of coaches will be eager to step into that situation, especially not the ones who already have established credentials that are, more likely than not, going to be dimished if they don't achieve greatness in the short term.  That leaves you with generally unproven coaches to choose from.  And taking one of them is immediately dubbed a "failure" by the fans.

Bwp 5P wrote on March 22, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Two very intelligent and truthful opinions that are hard to dispute.

mbeesley wrote on March 22, 2012 at 2:03 pm

What is the relevence how the Illini BB program rates itself?  The only rating of significance is what top recruits believe and this is a fluid situation;  do top recruits come to Illinois? Do you honestly believe top recruits look at the proffered historical facts to make a decision whether to come to Illinois.  Do you honestly believe that coaching prospects make their decision based on ancient history?  This listing of facts is neurotic. 

Bear8287 wrote on March 22, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Do you honestly believe that coaching prospects make their decision based on ancient history?

Ancient history? I.e. the study of the written past from the beginning of recorded human history to the Early Middle Ages? Seven years removed from an NCAA title game doesn't seem to be that long.  :-)

This listing of facts is neurotic.

Yes, yes.  Why mess up a good story with facts?  :-)

Situations *are* fluid.  Before Bruce Weber arrived, the Illini had been ranked in the final AP poll 6 of the 7 previous seasons. The Illini were clearly a Top 25 program, possibly even a Top 10.  After going the last 6 seasons under Coach Weber without having finished ranked in the Top 25, the program has obviously slipped.

Does the history of a program make a difference.  I think that the people at North Carolina, Kentucky, Duke and Kansas will all emphatically tell you, "YES"!  Do you think that this had any impact in say, Coach Self leaving an Illinois program that he had on the verge of the Final Four to go to one of those 4 schools? I think so.

Programs that have a winning tradition typically have a fan base that cares more about winning and also has higher expectations.  Do you think that the expectations for Coach Self to win at Kansas were (and still are) high? Any coach that wants to win at a high-level knows what they're getting into and which programs can help them get there.

Everyone probably just needs to chill and let AD Mike Thomas do his job.  His last hire at Cincinnati is still in the tournament.  It's a matter of finding a person who is a good fit for the position.  I'm disappointed that Shaka Smart isn't joining the program but clearly he wasn't a good fit for the program at this point in his career.

I was also a supporter of Coach Weber but it really shouldn't be a mystery to anyone as to why he was removed from his position. If it is, re-read that paragraph about where the program was when he took over and where it is now.


dhendricks71 wrote on March 22, 2012 at 7:03 pm

Surely recruits and coaches want to go to a place they think can win at. One indicator whether they can win or not would be a programs track record or history.  You have to have your head buried in the sand not to know that.

will134 wrote on March 22, 2012 at 3:03 pm

This article was no doubt written with the coaching search in mind, not what recruits think about the program.  And Self left illinois because of the perception of Kansas as being in the top elite programs in the country, period.  Coaches look at a number of factors from money, recruiting possiblilities, location, and the overall campus environment which is deeply affected by the tradition of winning obviously.   The college landscape has changed so much in the last 25 years from the advent of the 3pt line, restructuring of conferences, and most importantly an abundance of athletic talent, which allows smaller or traditionally less competitive schools like VCU and Butler to become household names.  Everyone wants their school to be elite, but then again, i want a Ferrari but I know i have to be practical.  It gets frustrating seeing how people respond to coaches and writers who are just trying to do their jobs.  You can still have pride in your school without going to a final four.

Bear8287 wrote on March 22, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Readers interested in this story may also find this one to be of interest:  Illinois still top job despite Smart rejection

jjohnson wrote on March 22, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Since I often complain about posted comments, I would like this time to congratulate both of those who commented ahead of me. Not that I think we stand as a Top 20 program, and not that I think history is irrelevant, so that being a Top 20-25 is realistic. However, the comments about what risks a coach would take in coming to Illinois are well stated. Self took minimal risk, but Kruger took a big one, both because he was leaving a decent school and because he was succeeding the man who returned a downtrodden program to the Top 20 -- but was leaving the cupboard bare (no particular fault of his own).

Given (some vocal) fans ridiculously harsh judgements of class act Bruce Weber, maybe Thomas was not a year premature in pulling the plug (though I still do not like it), but the two earlier commenters take me to this conclusion: Take a chance, make the kid (Jerrance Howard) a chance and the budget to bring in a really, really top chief assistant and an administrator (Sean Harrington?) and see what happens.

I do want to offer this further opinion as a two-time graduate and lover of the institution first and athletics second: We do not want the Rose's and similar. One-and-outer's make a travisty of college basketball even if it is already so corrupt that it is silly. The NCAA needs to start charging schools two lost four year scholarships for players that leave after one year to try the pros, one lost for those who leave after two years, and two year's worth of scholarship for those leaving after three who have not already graduated.

Bear8287 wrote on March 22, 2012 at 4:03 pm
dhendricks71 wrote on March 22, 2012 at 7:03 pm

Are these people sniffing glue?  I have heard at least three BB writers comment that Illinois is a Top 15 job.  Now I'm sure some would say maybe top 20 or 25 but surely anywhere from 10-25.  Apparently people have short memories or are just ignorant or both.  I saw one comment said it wasn't any better than IOWA(lol).  Also someone stated they believe Mizzouri?(have they ever even been to FF?) and Purdue.  Although Purdue has the most B10 championships they don't have a fraction of the success at the national level.  Watch Purdue and Iowa during a down year comparable to Illinois(this year) and they couldn't fill up Huff Hall with their crowd.  Illinois still nearly sells out or is somewhat close to 3/4 full even during the last few "bad" years. I watch Purdue play in a tourney last year in Chicago and their was about a 1,000-2,000 people. This was at the end of Purdues most successful 4 year period ever. 

SickNasty wrote on March 23, 2012 at 10:03 am

According to ESPN/SAGARIN rankings Illinois is ranked as the 6th best program in NCAA.


jeffj1973 wrote on March 26, 2012 at 9:03 am

Well Groce is their 6th choice

Moonpie wrote on March 23, 2012 at 2:03 pm

He sounds desperate with that last line -- oh please please please believe Illinois is a top program so that I am viewed well by association.

That's why Klee Klub and Moses Tate hype Illini sports--they hope that if Illinois is considered a top program they will be by extension considered big fish writers instead of little fish, small pond writers. That's why we had to endure the hype of Foul Machine Leonard earlier in the season. Of course Moses is small pond in great part because he has made a career out of insulting fans and wretched writing.

dhendricks71 wrote on March 25, 2012 at 7:03 am

Why are always on this board commenting? If you were an IU fan constantly bashing Illinois pretending to be an Illini fan it would be clever.  If your an Illini an you have absolutely nothing positive to say ever your just a moron.  How many objective statistics/commentators/polls do you have to here say Illinois is a top program or that Meyers Leonard is a first rounder and you just completely dismiss them all and believe(apparently in your own head no one elses) that you are somehow wiser.  Sorry your not!!



EndZoneJones wrote on March 23, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Prestige???  All-time ratings???  That may have mattered 30 years ago!!!  By these units of measure, shouldn't everyone (Players and Coaches) be trying to go to UCLA??? 

This is 2012 and the theme is "What have you done for me lately???"  Or in "Twitter-speak", what's "Trending" now!!!  Illinois is NOT Trending now!!!  The Elite schools mentioned (Kentucky, UNC, Duke, Syracuse, etc, are getting it done (i.e. "Trending") every year, in addition to their histories!!!   

Out here in the real world (AKA NOT Champaign County or U of I Alumni/Fan Land), Illinois is considered a "middle of the road" Big 10 team, not feared or revered by any ACC, Big East, SEC, PAC 12, or Big 12 program!!!  The Flying Illini and Dee/Deron/Luther are DISTANT memories...The "Whiz Kids" are not helping you hire a Coach!!!  Honor them in your own way, but let those go because they aren't helping you now!

I'll give Illinois a 25-50 ranking (closer to 50) with the potential to improve, if the expectations are kept reasonable.  Build a little each year and get back to competing for the Big 10 Championship every year.  It may take 5 years to get back there-be Patient!!!  Don't take this as "Clubbing" the Illini...Although I grew up in that area from the Harv Schmidt through Lou Henson eras, I don't bleed Orange and Blue, I bleed reality...

dhendricks71 wrote on March 25, 2012 at 8:03 am

Name close to 50 programs better.  Then try to explain how.  

cymoin wrote on March 24, 2012 at 11:03 am

I appreciate the previous post by someone else who has not been bewitched by living in C-U.  His comments fortify my intial post at the top of the page.  Money and the conference are the only thing that will draw a non-alum or non-rooted coach to this school.  And make no mistake:  the likelihood of a rising star coach staying here if they come and achieve some success will be slim to none.  Loren Tate correctly pointed out yesterday that in 50 years, none of the 8 coaches of men's basketball were considered upper echelon coaches when they came here.  The reality is that this is not a coveted place and if you want to drink the kool-aid that the media throws out there...yes, even some of those in the national media...go ahead.  The proof is in the pudding.  Middle of the road in a conference that was, once again, overrated as demonstrated by what happened in the Sweet Sixteen round.  3 other conferences have two representatives in the Elite 8 and only OSU is there for the overly hyped Big 10.

Bear8287 wrote on March 25, 2012 at 12:03 am

for the overly hyped Big 10.

Seriously?  The B1G had 4 out of their 6 teams in the Sweet Sixteen and the best winning percentage heading into this week. The Big East also had 4 teams in the Sweet Sixteen and the next best conferences only had two.  The Big East also started the tournament with 3 more teams than the B1G

The B1G has one team in the Final Four.  Only one conference, the Big 12, has a chance of placing two and they would need both Baylor and Kansas to win on Sunday.

Chief_Lives wrote on March 24, 2012 at 11:03 pm

As a die-hard Illini fan I think we are kidding ourselves if we think we are a top 20 program as it is right now. What's frustrating is we have all the potential in the world to be a College BB powerhouse; we just have to find the right coach. Bill Self was that guy, but we all know what happened with that.


yates wrote on March 25, 2012 at 9:03 am

Just one question. If Illinois is a top 15 or even top 25 program why do we have such a hard time getting good coaches (even mid major types) to come here. It seems we are finally offering up the big bucks and still....not interested. We settled in football and it looks like we will settle in basketball too. Won't even go there on the recruit matter.