If not Illinois, then who?

If not Illinois, then who?

Tell Klee who you're rooting for here

With their favorite team on the sidelines, Illini basketball fans might be looking for a rooting interest for the remainder of the month.

Here is our rundown of which teams Illinois fans might be able to pull for ... and which ones they won't be able to stand, courtesy Tony Bleill:

1. Cornell

Why root for the Big Red: The average SAT score for incoming freshmen is 1,360 (average ACT: 29). These are no dummies.

The downside: The NCAA tournament isn't the Math Bowl.

Projection: The most dangerous No. 12 seed in the field, the Big Red Machine will dump Temple in the opener.

2. Wofford

Why root for the Terriers: Tiny (enrollment 1,500) liberal arts school in Spartanburg, S.C., is as far removed from big-time college athletics as you can get.

The downside: Your confused friends will think you're pulling for a team in the NJCAA Division II tournament.

Projection: Keep the bus running.

3. New Mexico St.

Why root for the Aggies: You can be certain Lou Henson will root for his former school.

The downside: If  Reggie Theus could suit up, we'd feel a lot better about the whole deal.

Projection: Henson knows first-round foe Michigan State well enough; maybe he can provide a scouting report.

4. Butler

Why root for the Bulldogs: Ten players are homegrown in Indiana – places like Yorktown and Kokomo – and it isn't like North Carolina and Kansas were knocking down their doors during the recruiting process.

The downside: A perennial Top 25 team, the Bulldogs no longer carry the cache of the upstart underdogs. There are expectations now.

Projection: Some hoops gurus are worried about an early flameout.

5. Michigan St.

Why root for the Spartans: Sparty won't beat you to a pulp the next time he sees you.

The downside: Foul-shooter extraordinaire Tom Izzo isn't allowed to shoot the free throws when the game's on the line.

Projection: Won't play for a national title this time around.


Why root for the Miners: The school, then known as Texas Western, produced the seminal moment for collegiate sports in the 20th century, portrayed in the movie "Glory Road."

The downside: Don Haskins isn't roaming the sideline anymore.

Projection: Capable of taking out Butler in the first round.

7. UC Santa Barbara

Why root for the Gauchos: Hands down the best campus in the tournament. If you've been to Santa Barbara, you know what I'm talking about.

The downside: When in doubt, avoid teams from the Big West. The basketball hasn't been very good since UNLV left the conference many years ago.

Projection: It was fun while it lasted.

8. Murray State

Why root for the Racers: Stifling defense and great balance make Murray State (30-4) a very dangerous dark horse.

The downside: We'd feel a bit more confident if their best win was against someone better than Chattanooga.

Projection: Put 'em in the Sweet 16 after upsets of Vanderbilt and Butler.

9. Texas A&M

Why root for the Aggies: A pure-bred Collie named Reveille is the highest-ranking member of the school's Corps of Cadets. The dog can do anything it wants, anywhere it wants, on campus. How cool is that?

The downside: Remember – the dog can do "its thing" anywhere it wants ... that includes going on your shoes.

Projection: Draw looks enticing.

10. North Texas

Why root for the Mean Green: Well, if you happen to be mean, and you're also green, here's the team for you. Maybe the mascot is Lou Ferrigno.

The downside: As Kermit can attest, it's not easy being green.

Projection: Football practice begins Aug. 9.

11. Baylor

Why root for the Bears: Let's be honest. Everyone in the state of Texas is preoccupied these days with spring football. The Bears could use the support of some basketball-loving folks.

The downside: They haven't won an NCAA tournament game in 60 years. Yikes.

Projection: Some hoops junkies think they're poised to make a deep run. We agree. With some breaks, could reach Final Four.

12. Houston

Why root for the Cougars: You can break out that musty old "Phi Slama Jama" T-shirt that's been in your closet since 1983.

The downside: Your teenage son has no idea who the heck "Phi Slama Jama" is.

Projection: No Clyde Drexler, no wins.

13. Vanderbilt

Why root for the Commodores: Coach Kevin Stallings is one of the few coaches in big-time basketball who truly cares about his players' education. It isn't just lip service.

The downside: Going to class isn't a requirement for getting into the NCAA tournament. Just look at Kentucky.

Projection: English class will be full Monday morning.

14. Montana

Why root for the Grizzlies: Anthony Johnson scored 34 of his school-record 42 points in the second half to help Montana erase a 20-point halftime deficit to defeat top-seeded Weber State – at Weber State – in the tourney final. Unreal performance.

The downside: The poor coach, Wayne Tinkle, won't be able to see his daughter Joslyn play in the women's NCAA tournament for Stanford.

Projection: Interesting matchup with New Mexico in first round. Upset possible.

15. Northern Iowa

Why root for the Panthers: The 2008 flood that gashed Cedar Falls, along with many other parts of Iowa, isn't something you'd wish on your worst enemy. They're due for some good fortune.

The downside: UNLV doesn't deal in sympathy.

Projection: Very dangerous team. Beware, Lon Kruger.

16. Oakland

Why root for the Golden Grizzlies: Their best player, Derick Nelson, nearly left school to play professionally in Europe to support his 3-year-old daughter. He chose to stick around because he had a feeling Oakland could get to the NCAA tournament.

The downside: Some people think the school is located in northern California. (It's in Michigan.)

Projection: No need to book an extended reservation.

17. Wisconsin

Why root for the Badgers: If they hadn't lost to Illinois twice, the Illini wouldn't have even been on the bubble. Bucky did his part to get the Illini in the Dance.

The downside: Only native cheesehead Steve Stricker roots for Illinois and Wisconsin.

Projection: Capable, on their best day, of reaching Final Four.

18. Winthrop

Why root for the Eagles: One of three teams from South Carolina to reach the tourney. That's as many as basketball-rich Indiana.

The downside: There are some folks who live in South Carolina who don't know that Winthrop is located in their fine state.

Projection: It'll be 68 degrees on campus Monday.

19. East Tennessee St.

Why root for the Buccaneers: They were the No. 5 seed in the Atlantic Sun tournament, which is the definition of obscurity.

The downside: Wearing a patch over your eye and sticking a sword in your mouth will get you some unnecessary attention.

Projection: Aye-aye, matey! Ahoy!

20. Purdue

Why root for the Boilermakers: Robbie Hummel grew up an Illinois fan and his grandparents, who live in Champaign, are UI season ticket-holders.

The downside: Hummel is injured and so are his team's chances of making a deep run.

Projection: Without Hummel, it's hard to be optimistic.

21. UNLV

Why root for the Rebels: New promotion: $5 off the buffet at The Mirage with a Rebels' victory.

The downside: The Rio's buffet is better.

Projection: We never underestimate a Lon Kruger team.

22. Minnesota

Why root for the Gophers: They showed some serious pluck in Indianapolis over the weekend, playing their way into the field.

The downside: That home loss to Minnesota a few weeks ago still sticks in the pit of your stomach, a loss that severely damaged Illinois' hopes.

Projection: Xavier's no juggernaut, but the Gophers can be quite hit-or-miss.

23. Old Dominion

Why root for the Monarchs: "Old Dominion" is a term for the Commonwealth of Virginia, and no state has a better slogan than "Virginia is for lovers."

The downside: Virginia is for lovers, but the NCAA tournament is for teams that rank higher than 301st nationally in three-pointers per game.

Projection: Caught a break when paired with overseeded Notre Dame.

24. Robert Morris

Why root for the Colonials: Coach Mike Rice said he "hated" his team after a lackluster quarterfinal win in the league tournament, but his wife urged him to take his team bowling to help them relax. He did, they rolled – on the lanes and in the tournament – and now wives everywhere are in their coaching husband's ear.

The downside: This isn't the Earl Anthony Memorial Classic.

Projection: Will win the NCAA bowling title in 2011.

25. St. Mary's

Why root for the Gaels: Center Omar Samhan is a demonstrative, boisterous sort who is worth the price of admission.

The downside: You don't actually get to visit the northern California campus, located in one of the country's neatest areas.

Projection: Won't get past the second round.

26. Siena

Why root for the Saints: Former Champaign Central star Allie Lindemann plays for Siena's women's team.

The downside: Can't name a single player on the men's team.

Projection: Won't miss much class time.

27. Xavier

Why root for the Musketeers: They seem to run through coaches every few years (Skip Prosser, Thad Matta, Sean Miller, Chris Mack) but never miss a beat. The tournament is an annual destination.

The downside: Only the Xavier fans that live in Cincinnati get to chow down on some Skyline chili before the game.

Projection: Not a vintage Xavier team, but dangerous nonetheless.

28. Lehigh

Why root for the Mountain Hawks: They have what is unquestionably the coolest nickname in the tournament.

The downside: Usually play second-fiddle to the school's wrestling team.

Projection: Hello, Sherron Collins. Goodbye, Lehigh.

29. Florida State

Why root for the Seminoles: If you can't root for Chief Illiniwek, might as well stand beside Chief Osceola.

The downside: The school's recent academic scandal reduces the cheering quotient by a large margin.

Projection: Tough opener against Gonzaga.

30. Clemson

Why root for the Tigers: They can make Illinois look good. The longer they play, the more impressive that Illinois win looks.

The downside: Likely won't be around long enough for anyone to notice they lost to Illinois.

Projection: Will be doing well to Missouri.

31. San Diego State

Why root for the Aztecs: The weather's perfect, the beaches are great, the zoo is unparalleled; what's not to love about San Diego?

The downside: Remember when Steve Fisher guided Michigan to an NCAA title behind Glen Rice and Rumeal Robinson? The Aztecs have no Rice or Robinson.

Projection: Fisher will always have 1989.

32. Morgan State

Why root for the Bears: You know how much we love underdogs. And, boy, are the Bears an underdog.

The downside: They're coached by Todd Bozeman, the once-disgraced Cal coach who ran into big-time trouble in Berkeley.

Projection: Bob Huggins won't be kind.

33. Ohio State

Why root for the Buckeyes: Hoopeston's Thad Matta. That's it. No other reason.

The downside: Rooting for the Buckeyes is like eating a case of beef jerky: You just can't digest it easily.

Projection: The other Big Ten team capable of reaching Indianapolis.

34. Wake Forest

Why root for the Demon Deacons: One of the school's most famous alums is Brian Piccolo, the former Bear whose life is immortalized in "Brian's Song."

The downside: Wake was on a major slide at season's end, losing five of their last six.

Projection: Probably out after one game, but Texas is vulnerable.

35. Sam Houston State

Why root for the Bearkats: Samuel Houston was a key 19th century figure in Texas, especially in politics. According to Wikipedia, he's the only person in U.S. history to be a governor of two states (also served in Tennessee).

The downside: The dude wasn't perfect. He was a slave owner and opponent of abolitionism.

Projection: Ol' Sam, wherever he is today, will be smiling proudly ... for about two hours.

36. Georgia Tech

Why root for the Yellow Jackets: Talk about a great turnaround story. Paul Hewitt's team went 2-14 against ACC teams last season, 11-17 overall.

The downside: Honestly, if there's a downside, we can't uncover it. Go for it.

Projection: The fun stops in Round 2.

37. Villanova

Why root for the Wildcats: When you look as good as Jay Wright does in a suit, does it really matter?

The downside: Those of us who aren't "pretty boys" love to see Mr. Hunk get what's coming to him.

Projection: Need a big tourney from Scottie Reynolds to keep dancing.

38. Louisville

Why root for the Cardinals: Any team that is overshadowed in its own state deserves a little love. Strange, but in that way they must be considered an underdog.

The downside: (Insert your favorite Rick Pitino scandal joke here.)

Projection: Pitino is named coach of the New Jersey Nets on April 23.

39. Marquette

Why root for the Golden Eagles: Because Al McGuire would be proud of you.

The downside: Buzz Williams ain't no Al McGuire.

Projection: Done early.

40. Kansas State

Why root for the Wildcats: They're Kansas' biggest rival.

The downside: Burly, scowling coach Frank Martin looks like he'd be better suited as a bouncer at Kam's.

Projection: Martin tosses his starting point guard into the eighth row without working up a sweat.

41. Oklahoma State

Why root for the Cowboys: They have the coolest mascot in the tournament, a guy walking around with an oversized head. Think "Purdue Pete" with a cowboy hat.

The downside: You don't get any of T. Boone Pickens' money.

Projection: The way Ohio State is playing, they won't see the second weekend.

42. Maryland

Why root for the Terrapins: Guard Greivis Vasquez is terribly entertaining, one of the country's top scorers.

The downside: Have you ever seen how much Gary Williams sweats? It can be scary. Drink plenty of fluids, Gary.

Projection: Vasquez scores 32 in the opener.

43. Syracuse

Why root for the Orange: They're tall, athletic and quick. You get the feeling Jim Boeheim really believes this team can win it all.

The downside: No team that lost its conference tournament opener has ever won the NCAA tournament.

Projection: The pick here to win it all.

44. New Mexico

Why root for the Lobos: You admire Steve Alford's hair.

The downside: Alford's hair is better than his team's free throw shooting (67 percent).

Projection: Iowa fans beg Alford to come back.

45. Arkansas-Pine Bluff

Why root for the Golden Lions: No team that's won a play-in game has won a first-round game.

The downside: A hyphenated team hasn't won a game in the NCAA tournament since Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2006. (UNLV doesn't count.)

Projection: Kyle Singler awaits.

46. Brigham Young

Why root for the Cougars: If you're a Mormon, this is a no-brainer. Otherwise, I'm not much help.

The downside: Danny Ainge's eligiblity has expired.

Projection: They knock off Florida in the opener and students celebrate by drinking water (with lemon).

47. Richmond

Why root for the Spiders: They're tough as nails in close games, winning 14 of them by seven points or less. Pure grit.

The downside: Wouldn't know coach Chris Mooney if he walked up and punched me in the face. Would you?

Projection: Tough draw. An appearance in the Sweet 16 would be a surprise.

48. California

Why root for the Golden Bears: It's Berkeley. Chances are, the players know how to spell more than just "NCAA."

The downside: Might be able to spell, but the jury's out on whether they can hit enough jumpshots.

Projection: The third-string point guard is the CEO of IBM in 2026.

49. Utah State

Why root for the Aggies: No. 12 seeds have a history of being upsetters. They're 34-66, a better record than No. 11s in the first round.

The downside: Utah State's first-rounder is against Texas A&M, a hard-nosed, well-coached team that probably won't overlook anyone.

Projection: One and done.

50. Gonzaga

Why root for the Bulldogs: Because Paul Klee – GU Class of 2002 – will buy you a beer at Esquire Lounge.

The downside: You have to spend time with Klee to get that beer.

Projection: The Zags fizzle against Syracuse in the second round and Klee drowns his sorrows.

51. Pittsburgh

Why root for the Panthers: The Pirates' season starts in less than a month. In other words, the good folks of Pittsburgh could use something to feel good about before enduring six more months of agony.

The downside: The Big East is such a monolith in men's basketball that rooting for one of its teams makes your skin crawl.

Projection: Lukewarm on their chances.

52. Vermont

Why root for the Catamounts: Never been there, but am guessing that Burlington, Vt., is a mighty fine place. Hear the syrup's yummy.

The downside: Where is Vermont, anyway?

Projection: Getting hungry for some pancakes already.

53. Notre Dame

Why root for the Fighting Irish: You view nice guy Mike Brey as the anti-Charlie Weis.

The downside: Weis is a better coach than Brey, whose talented but underachieving teams annually are too soft defensively to do serious damage in March.

Projection: Might escape Old Dominion, then the fun ends.

54. Texas

Why root for the Longhorns: If the rumors are true – that they might become the Big Ten's 12th team – you can consider this a brothers-in-arms moment.

The downside: The way Rick Barnes can recruit, do you really want Texas in the Big Ten?

Projection: Haven't been the same since January. Early exit.

55. Ohio

Why root for the Bobcats: They're a true Cinderella story, capturing the Mid-American Conference tournament as the No. 9 seed, winning twice in overtime.

The downside: Their top player is former Indiana Hoosier Armon Bassett, an exile from the Kelvin Sampson era.

Projection: Might make life difficult for Georgetown for a bit, but that's it.

56. Washington

Why root for the Huskies: No one thinks any team from the Pac-10 is any good this season. You'll be on an island, but where there's guts there's glory.

The downside: The anti-Pac-10 crowd isn't just making this stuff up. The league really does stink this year.

Projection: Their subregional isn't daunting, so who knows?

57. Temple

Why root for the Owls: You drew them in a blind draw in your office pool.

The downside: Coach Fran Dunphy's NCAA tournament record: 1-11.

Projection: Another early exit.

58. Georgetown

Why root for the Hoyas: If I think of a reason, I'll call you.

The downside: According to Merriam-Webster, a hoya is a type of shrub. But the mascot is a bulldog-like creature. Just too darn confusing.

Projection: Compared to the rugged Big East, the NCAA tournament might seem like a piece of cake.

59. Florida

Why root for the Gators: You'll be on the same side as Erin Andrews.

The downside: Too many of the Gators shoot like Andrews. They make only 31 percent from three-point range.

Projection: Tim Tebow gets drafted in the second round.

60. West Virginia

Why root for the Mountaineers: Coach Bob Huggins, who strolls the sideline in a sweatsuit, turns "Casual Friday" into "Casual Monday" and "Casual Wednesday" and "Casual Thursday" and ...

The downside: Mr. Blackwell would not approve.

Projection: Their half of the East bracket is woeful. No excuse not to reach the Elite Eight.

61. Duke

Why root for the Blue Devils: Your brother coached Jon Scheyer in high school.

The downside: You're on the same side as Dick Vitale.

Projection: It's time to prove their worthy of that lofty seed.

62. Missouri

Why root for the Tigers: Well, if you're an Illini fan and find yourself rooting for Mizzou, you're taking your life into your own hands. Some folks will not be amused.

The downside: May I recommend a Smith & Wesson Model 910 for your protection?

Projection: They'll face Illinois in the Big Ten tournament title game in 2014.

63. Kentucky

Why root for the Wildcats: Because it's possible ... I mean, it's conceivable ... OK, it is within the realm of possiblity ... that they aren't cheating.

The downside: If Ashley Judd doesn't show up for the games, you're stuck sitting next to some boots-wearing hillbilly who uses phrases like "can't never."

Projection: Final Four appearance ... which is vacated by the NCAA in three years.

64. Kansas

Why root for the Jayhawks: Because you appreciate the fact Bill Self was the one who brought Dee Brown and Deron Williams and Luther Head and James Augustine to C-U.

The downside: If you're seen in public rooting for Kansas, you'll get your backside booed right out of Buffalo Wild Wings.

Projection: Rightfully considered the solid favorite to win it all.

65. Tennessee

Why root for the Volunteers: If you happen to look good in construction-barrel orange, go for it.

The downside: He Who Shall Not Be Named is still the coach there.

Projection: Loren Tate eggs Bruce Pearl's house in Knoxville.

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drmizzou wrote on March 15, 2010 at 11:03 am

Iowa fans won't be begging for Alford to come back, no matter what. Bruce Pearl, maybe.

sobrien60 wrote on March 15, 2010 at 11:03 am

When Tony Bleill wrote this did he really think Illinois would not receive an NIT bid? He Tony, we got a #1 seed !

Does anybody else remember the 1980 NIT semifinals where Eddie Johnson and Mark Smith led Illinois against Kevin McHale and Randy Brewer for Minnesota? The Gophers won a close game, then went on to lose to Virginia led by a freshman named Ralph Sampson.

chrispatton33 wrote on March 15, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Do that many readers really need a writer to tell them who to root for?

Batmantis wrote on March 15, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Love the article. Though show my Horns some love! #54...ouch.

optimator wrote on March 16, 2010 at 10:03 am

z - such a bad speller and always to be counted on for poorly thought out posts

zip wrote on March 17, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Tony, enjoyed the article, but you're a journalist (I think). Where did you go to school? For the Duke projection you wrote: "It's time to prove their worthy of that lofty seed." When I went to school, "they're" was the correct word.

JamesB wrote on March 17, 2010 at 11:03 pm

Now I get it. Z is a stinkin' Iowa fan. That explains why his posts are so anti Illini. Now I can skip over his entries.