Tate: A winning proposition

Tate: A winning proposition

“Just an old sweet song keeps Chicago on my mind”

CHICAGO — Sorry, Ray Charles, but Georgia doesn’t fit today.

The state university, engaging in multi-pronged efforts to win Frank Sinatra’s “Toddlin’ Town,” is putting the city front and center again Thursday.

The Illini’s 11 a.m. United Center showdown with Minnesota — opening game in the sold-out Big Ten tournament — is the centerpiece in a splash of events including (1) critical Big Ten meetings related to future alignment and expansion, (2) the UI’s ongoing quest for donors — the Assembly Hall needs money — as the new Chicago Advisory Board comes aboard and (3) the never-ending quest to impress and entice blue-chip football and basketball prospects.

You want Chicago? OK, here’s how: WIN! In these parts, there’s no other way to earn respect.

Football is a featured aspect of this discussion, but let’s delay that until September when Tim Beckman’s team hosts Washington at Soldier Field. As for basketball, the Illini have done quite well in these preciincts, even if some recent losses to Northwestern and UIC stick in the craw of this rabid fan base.

Consider: Since the 1997-98 season, when Chicago hosted the first Big Ten tournament, Illinois is 15-5 in tourney games at the United Center, 15-5 in pre-conference games up north, 11-3 vs. Northwestern in Evanston, and 4-0 in NCAA clashes along the lakefront. That 45-13 audit includes wins over Auburn Dec. 29 and Northwestern on Feb. 17.

First-year coach John Groce recognizes the significance of pleasing the always-large Chicago turnout as he brings a squad with eight members who prepped in the city and suburbs. Brandon Paul, Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu are listed as starters, while Myke Henry and Joe Bertrand (his shoulder appearing healed) are in the eight-man rotation.

“I love playing in Chicago,” Groce said Tuesday. “I love going up there. I love the Bears.”

Then, noting that his wallet becomes lighter, he quipped: “The only drawback is that my wife likes to shop up there.”

Highs and lows
Most memorable Chicagoland basketball successes:

— The Rosemont rally to defeat Arizona, 90-89 in overtime, put Illinois in the 2005 Final Four and stands as the UI’s most significant basketball comeback.

— In 1999, an Illini team that finished 3-13 in the Big Ten erupted with stunning upsets of Top 25 teams Minnesota, Indiana and Ohio State to finish second in the tourney.

— In 2003, Bill Self’s club edged Indiana 73-72 en route to the tourney title.

— It was in 2000 that No. 5 Illinois whacked No. 7 Arizona, 81-73, at the United Center, only to lose later to Lute Olson’s gang in a foul-marred NCAA clash, 87-81, in San Antonio.

— And who can forget the 84-70 defeat of Kansas in 1999 or the Meacham-McCamey charge that nipped Northwestern 60-59 in 2009?
And the past 15 years gave the Chicago crowd reason to fume over these disappointments:

— Some critics called the Dec. 18, 2010 loss to UIC (57-54) the Illini’s worst in modern times, the Flames finishing 7-24 that season and 2-16 in the Horizon League.

— Bruce Weber’s first UI team fell at Northwestern, 80-70, but charged back to capture the undisputed 2004 Big Ten championship.

— The 72-69 loss to Duke in 1999 was hard enough to swallow without Billy Packer trashing Frank Williams, the Big Ten’s MVP that season.

— Overtime defeats are always tough to take, the Illini falling in extra sessions to Arizona, 78-72, Dec. 8, 2007 and to Gonzaga, 85-83, Jan. 2, 2010. It was the only loss to Gonzaga in four recent meetings.

Select company
With college basketball in Illinois continually reaching new lows, the Illini remain the only likely NCAA participant despite losing three of their last four games.

This is a state noted for its prep talent, and yet it is floundering while, all around in close proximinty, there of dozens of qualifiers that don’t need conference tournament wins to advance — Saint Louis, Creighton and Wichita State, to name a few. Colorado and Colorado State are in Joe Lunardi’s bracket. Lon Kruger appears in at Oklahoma along with two other former UI coaches, Bill Self (Kansas) and Weber (Kansas State).

Coasting in are Iowa State and Butler and Notre Dame and Memphis and Marquette and Oklahoma State and Cincinnati, and the list goes on and on.

Of 13 major in-state schools, only one finished .500 or better in its conference. Jim Molinari’s Western quintet was 13-3 in the Summit but the Leathernecks lost to North Dakota State, 55-43, in Monday’s tourney semi, and will have to settle for the NIT. The conference record of the other 12 in-state teams is 64-132. Nine of them had sub-.500 records for the season, the worst being NIU at 5-25.

It is astounding that this populous state, a long-standing basketball hotbed with so many touted prep stars, is so poorly represented in college basketball. Bradley, Illinois State and Southern disappointed in the Missouri Valley. Eastern continues to struggle. DePaul, 2-16 in the Big East, never got started, and Northwestern trailed off to 13-18 overall. Even as the Illini advance, they found themselves at 8-10 and in a tie for seventh, eighth and ninth in the Big Ten with Minnesota and Purdue.

Yes, the Illini are safely in, even if they lose to the Gophers Thursday. Lunardi has them as an eighth seed, which means there are more than a dozen at-large teams behind them in his mock seedings.

One of these is Minnesota. The Gophers are banking on backboard demon Trevor Mbakwe to spark one last surge — and perhaps save Tubby Smith’s job — after the Gophers dropped 10 of their final 15 games, the last two to Nebraska and Purdue.  
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com

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Illini 1st wrote on March 13, 2013 at 10:03 am

"Yes, the Illlini are safely in, even if they lose to the Gophers Thursday. Lunardi has them as an eighth seed...." Lunardi also has Iowa out. How sure is Lunardi that the committee will bypass Iowa? How sure are we? Thursday's game is a tie-breaker; the loser drops to 8th place. If the Gophers win, I am not betting my house that we are in.

IlliniMike05 wrote on March 13, 2013 at 12:03 pm

A tiebreaker for what? All Thursday's game determines is who plays Indiana on Friday.

Why is Lunardi sure that Iowa won't be in? Because they did absolutely nothing in their noncon; Illinois had one of the best noncons in America. That's why. Illinois also has wins over Indiana, Gonzaga, Minnesota, Butler and Ohio State. Iowa doesn't.

Lunardi and Jerry Palm both have Illinois as a No. 8 seed (and this is after Lunardi was keeping us as low as No. 10 or 11 for quite some time when we were hot last month). There is zero question about Illinois making the tournament; being a No. 8 seed means there's about 12-16 teams between us and the bubble bursting. There aren't enough bids that can be stolen in the smaller, would-be-one-bid-leagues conference tourneys to keep Illinois out. Lunardi has us at No. 33 on the S-curve. There isn't enough that can happen that would knock us the 15+ spots it would take to even possibly keep us out.

How sure is Lunardi that Iowa won't be in? Um, pretty damn sure. He has them at No. 75 on the S-curve, meaning they're barely among the NEXT four out, much less the first four out. They aren't totally dead for an at-large, but they'd need all their friends on the edge of the bubble to crash and burn, probably make the BTT title game, and need no bids stolen by would-be one-bid leagues. Even if ALL of that happened, there's still a decent chance they don't make it.

Though Iowa's per-possession numbers are pretty strong, what about their actual resume suggests a tournament team to you? They're No. 76 in the RPI (and the RPI is still a useful tool for grouping teams for basis of comparison and by pure results, which is an important distinction from specifically measuring how well a team has actually performed on a per-possession basis over the course of a year). They have one Top 25 win, while only Duke and Indiana have more Top 25 wins in the entire country than Illinois.

Do the math next time before worrying yourself to death. Your house is safe, and Illinois is dancing. It's not really debatable at this point. 


Illini 1st wrote on March 13, 2013 at 12:03 pm

You make a good case, Mike, and I hope you're right. Also I agree we had a terrific season.

True, Iowa didn't do much out of conference, but it beat Minnesota and beat us. Iowa beat NWU twice while we split. Iowa is one of only 6 teams in B1G to make .500 in conference.

Maybe my memory is failing but doesn't the committee stick close to the conference regular season final standings, the only question being how far down the standings they go? Show me a history of the committee skipping around in the standings and I will feel better. 

If we beat Minnesota I will feel better.

IlliniMike05 wrote on March 13, 2013 at 12:03 pm

I'll feel better if we beat Minnesota, too. (Although losing wouldn't be bad; it might drop us to a 10 seed and avoid the dreaded 8-9 matchup that we appear pretty locked into). But we're 100 percent in the tournament either way.

The committee does stick fairly close to conference standings, generally speaking, but it's not an actual consideration. Again: correlation without causation, because conference standings usually somewhat correspond with how strong of an NCAA tourney candidate teams are. But conference record in and of itself is a near-total non-factor. Those games only count for a little bit more than your noncon resume (and arguably not at all; it depends on how strongly individual committee members feel about games later in the year mattering more, though I think they do a pretty good job of not falling prey to this logical fallacy we know as "recency bias"). So a team like Iowa can finish a game ahead of Illinois in the Big Ten standings and have it mean absolutely nothing as it pertains to the NCAA tourney. In fact, that's exactly what's going to happen. The "bad" losses Illinois had in conference play count for a lot less than the wins over Indiana and Ohio State do, something Iowa didn't have, not to mention a total black hole of a noncon resume.

Don't sweat it. We're in with room to spare.

Chief_Lives wrote on March 13, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Iowa finishing 9-9 in the B1G does seem pretty impressive, until you look at who they beat. Outside of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois, they mainly just beat up on the bottom feeders.

IlliniMike05 wrote on March 13, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Exactly. The win at Wisconsin is extremely nice, but other than that...eh. It's great to win all the games you should win- something Illinois didn't manage to do, with the home losses to NW and Wisconsin (I know they're good but they shouldn't win in Champaign) and at Purdue- but that doesn't cut it when you only have one win pretty much the whole season that's a true resume-booster.

calvin wrote on March 13, 2013 at 10:03 am

maybe we shouldn't be............we were below .500......8th?........

walker wrote on March 13, 2013 at 11:03 am

A positive article w/ Chicago as the backdrop.  Wait a minute, that can't be because moonpie informs that Tate hates Chicago, even lives in fear of it.  Oh well, Tate did mention Frank Sinatra and moonpie will have major issues there because it obviously shows Tate's age  

IlliniMike05 wrote on March 13, 2013 at 11:03 am

No, we were not below .500. We were well above it, at 21-11.

Again: conference record is not a consideration. The phrase "correlation without causation" certainly applies here. Yes, most teams good enough to be at-large teams will have winning conference records. But most teams with losing conference records a)don't have high-profile wins like @Gonzaga, Butler on a neutral floor, Ohio State, Indiana, and @Minnesota, and b)play in a league as absurdly loaded as the 2013 Big Ten.

This is hurting my head. The regular season is over and Illinois is nowhere near the edge of the bubble. Why is anyone wondering if we will or should be in?

Not that it has anything to do with simple bracket math that some of our fans appear to be failing, but it seems as if many of our fans have somehow forgetten what a tremendous job Groce did this year to get us this far. Yes, we lost a few we probably shouldn't have, but also won a few we shouldn't have; we locked up a tourney bid with weeks to go in the regular season that no one- rightfully so- projected or predicted us to get, and in the process got in the thick of recruiting battles for several of the nation's best 2014 players.

These aren't bad times for Illini hoops, people. Considering where we were a year ago and how far we've come, I'm pretty happy. Those of you who aren't, get your heads checked or find something else to do with your free time.

GranadaClub wrote on March 13, 2013 at 1:03 pm

Does anyone else feel more than a bit empty about the Illini getting an opportunity to compete for a national title despite an 8-10 conference record?  It's even more of a sham were the Illini to get an NCAA invite should it lose to Minnesota in the Big 10 tourney's 1st round.  Regardless of conference, no team is worthy of an NCAA invite after posting a losing conference record.  The NCAA tournament was never meant to include the absolute best 68 teams regardless of conference (otherwise the Ivy League champion would rarely garner an invite).  I don't doubt what Joe Lunardi knows from his contacts as to who's in or out.  But Ole Miss with an SEC record of 12-6 is out?  Really, Joe?  I'd be heartened were the NCAA to reward a team such as Middle Tennessee with an invite (19-1 in the Sun Belt, 28-5 overall, but among the first 4 out according to Lunardi).

Illini 1st wrote on March 13, 2013 at 1:03 pm

We only lost 5 games that were not true road games, one of those being Missouri at St. Louis, and we won't have any more road games, so we could make a deep run and do some damage. Gonzaga and Indiana say we can beat anybody on the right day. I won't bet my house on a national title but we have a shot. 

IlliniMike05 wrote on March 13, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Lunardi doesn't have "contacts." He's not getting a scoop. He understands math.

No, I do not feel the least bit empty about getting a well-earned tournament bid because of the conference record, even if we lose to Minnesota. What the hell are you talking about? Conference record, yet again, has NOTHING TO DO WITH ANYTHING. If Illinois had, say, gone 9-5 in their nonconference and not beaten Gonzaga and Butler, we're not having this conversation. But we didn't go 9-5. We went 13-1. Those 14 games count the same as the 18 conference games.

Yes, most teams who finish under .500 in their conference will not be at-large teams. Again: correlation without causation. Most teams with losing conference records don't have a slew of big-time wins, an overall 21-11 record, membership in what's by far the nation's toughest conference (thus mitigating whatever stigma an 8-10 conference record would otherwise have) and an RPI and advanced metrics ratings that place them comfortably in the at-large field. Illinois has all those things.

Say Illinois had lost to Gardner-Webb and at Gonzaga, but beat Northwestern at home and won at Michigan. Now they have a winning conference record. Yippee. It's still the exact same season overall. And that's what matters: your entire body of work, your overall resume.

Ole Miss's noncon strength of schedule (according to Pomeroy) was 329th. They did NOTHING in their nonconference, and their 12-6 conference record was in a weak-ass conference with no real big-time wins. It's not that complicated. I can't really argue with Middle Tennessee State, I think they have a decent case to be made, hence why they're on the cusp.

Saying a team should have to have a winning conference record to get in is presuming two things that are both inarguably, factually incorrect:

1. All conferences are equal. (I don't think I need to elaborate on why this is false.)

2. Nonconference games don't matter, or at least, don't matter nearly as much as conference games.

If you don't know that No. 2 is true in the eyes of the committee, or why it's true, I can't help you.







Moonpie wrote on March 13, 2013 at 3:03 pm

walker--I'm flattered, of course, you think of me. Oracle Tate calls fans rabid, which is not complimentary -- guess that includes you, too. To Oracle, the only true fans are the rich ones who buy their status.Essentially it's a tea party (elitist) worldview.

JimOATSfan wrote on March 13, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Doing a bit of research ...

FAN (person) Wikipedia:

"...In North America, an extremely enthusiastic fan are often called a "superfan", who are fans who dress up in outrageous and ostentatious costumes or outfits showing their devotion. Fanbases well known for their tenacious love and undying support are called rabid fans."

"...Merriam-Webster, the Oxford dictionary and other sources define it as a shortened version of the word fanatic. The word first become popular in reference to baseball enthusiasts. (Fanatic itself, introduced into English around 1550, means "marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion". It comes from the Modern Latin fanaticus, meaning "insanely but divinely inspired". The word originally pertained to a temple or sacred place [Latin fanum, poetic English fane]. The modern sense of "extremely zealous" dates from around 1647; the use of fanatic as a noun dates from 1650.) However, the term "fancy" for an intense liking of something, while being of a different etymology, coincidentally carries a less intense but somewhat similar connotation to "fanatic". The word emerged as an Americanism around 1889."....

This reads to me like Loren used the word 'rabid' accurately, in keeping with current everyday usage at this time.

JimOATSfan wrote on March 13, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Which made me think ...

JEER Mirriam-Webster Dictionary:

to speak or cry out with derision or mockery;

Synonyms: banter, comeback, contemn, deride, dig, fleer, flout, gibe, hector, hoot, jab, jest, laugh at, make a crack, mock, poke fun, put down, put on, quip, ridicule, scoff, sneer, snipe, taunt

This begs the question?  Is there such a thing as a jeerleader, or jeerleading?  Surely some fans and posters fit this pattern of behavior also.

JohnUI82 wrote on March 13, 2013 at 9:03 pm

Iowa State coasting in? Lunardi and Palm, the two most widely recognized bracketologists, both have the Cyclones as a 12 seed. That's not coasting; that's bubblicious. And Mr. Tate has a different definition of "close proximity" than I do.

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on March 14, 2013 at 6:03 am
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Joe Bertrand is from Sterling. It's 100 miles from Chicago.