Root, root, root ...

Root, root, root ...

For Illinois, of course. But in case John Groce's team fizzles out early, here's who we recommend cheering for from best to worst in this year's NCAA tournament:

1. St. Louis
Why root for the Billikens: Jim Crews has done an admirable job keeping the team together after Rick Majerus’ death. Enhance your viewing experience by chowing down on toasted ravioli and Ted Drewes frozen custard while watching Cody Ellis’ blue-streaked hair.
The downside: The number of national championships the Billikens have won is the same number of World Series titles the Cubs have won since the NCAA tournament started in 1939. Which is none.
The projection: Nice diversion for Cardinals fans, but St. Louis residents won’t have to worry about any victory parade spoiling the Clydesdales’ entrance at the Cardinals’ home opener April 8.  

2. Florida Gulf Coast
Why root for the Eagles: Jake Hasselbring played his high school ball at Watseka. Now the Olivet Nazarene University graduate is about to finish his first year as the team’s video coordinator. And he agreed to bring some of the Fort Myers weather with him North.
The downside: They beat Miami this season before the rest of the college basketball world cared about the Hurricanes. They won’t have the same noteworthy win in March.
The projection: Played in a summer tournament in the Bahamas. Eagles missed Florida Gulf Coast’s spring break (March 5-10) by playing in the Atlantic Sun tournament in lovely Macon, Ga. Team can make additional spring break plans to return to the Bahamas after Georgetown makes quick work of Eagles.   

3. Harvard
Why root for the Crimson: They gave us Facebook. Linsanity. Eight presidents. Bill Gates. Natalie Portman. Matt Damon.   
The downside: They gave us Bill O’Reilly.
The projection: Third straight Ivy League regular season title doesn’t guarantee NCAA tournament win against New Mexico. No matter how smart Tommy Amaker’s players are.   

4. Wichita State
Why root for the Shockers: While they’ve won before in March, Shockers haven’t emerged with a tournament win since 2006. They’re due.
The downside: No way CBS cameras want to spotlight the Shockers’ mascot at the Final Four. Thing is downright ugly.  
The projection: Gregg Marshall & Co. bring luster back to the Missouri Valley Conference with a trip to the third round before Gonzaga picks them apart.  

5. Belmont
Why root for the Bruins: They’ve made more consecutive NCAA tournament appearances (three) than the other Bruins.
The downside: They have 11 fewer national championships than the other Bruins.
The projection: Always seem to stay close with big-name teams. Always seem to falter late. Trend will continue this year as upset bid against Arizona doesn’t pan out.

6. Kansas State
Why root for the Wildcats: You always liked him as a person, just not coaching your Illinois basketball team. At least in his last few seasons. Bruce Weber has made it work in his first season in Manhattan.  
The downside: If Wildcats make it to the national championship game, a purple jacket might have to make its way out of Weber’s closet.
The projection: Weber and K-State will do something he couldn’t achieve since losing to North Carolina in 2005. Make the second weekend. Wildcats accomplish feat by beating Bo Ryan and Wisconsin.     

7. Butler
Why root for the Bulldogs: Brad Stevens still doesn’t look old enough to get into Kam’s, but he sure knows how to coach. Just ask fans of Michigan State, Florida, Wisconsin, Kansas State, Syracuse ...
The downside: They can’t run the picket fence every time down the court.
The projection: Rotnei Clarke will shoot. And shoot some more. Even when Butler is eliminated before the Final Four in Elite Eight matchup every Hoosier will drool about.  

8. La Salle
Why root for the Explorers: Head coach John Giannini not only has his doctorate in kinesiology with a specialization in sports psychology from Illinois but he was a graduate assistant under Lou Henson from 1987 to ’89.   
The downside: Giannini doesn’t have Nick Anderson, Kendall Gill, Kenny Battle and others on his roster.
The projection: Giannini’s Explorers won’t recapture Flyin’ Illini’s 1989 tournament magic after first-round loss in Dayton.

9. Davidson
Why root for the Wildcats: Riding a 17-game winning streak, they haven’t lost since a week before Barack Obama’s second inauguration.
The downside: Whichever network is carrying Davidson, plenty of Stephen Curry highlights will follow. But Curry last suited up for Bob McKillop’s team five seasons ago.
The projection: If Davidson’s winning streak reaches 22 games, think of all the clever idioms Jim Nantz will come up with on Championship Monday. We don’t see Nantz busting out his thesaurus with Marquette handling Wildcats in second round.

10. Georgetown
Why root for the Hoyas: Otto Graham did a bit of everything back in the day for the Cleveland Browns. Otto Porter Jr. does the same for Georgetown now. The St. Louis native — who enjoys bike riding — leads John Thompson III’s club in virtually every significant category. We’ll go out on a limb and say the Big East Player of the Year could punt, pass and kick if needed.     
The downside: Thompson III needs a towel like his pops. Or some other voodoo magic. Since Georgetown reached Final Four in 2007, Hoyas have made one tournament appearance, and last year’s foray ended with a third-round loss to No. 11 seed North Carolina State.
The projection: Porter and friends make it to Dallas before falling to Florida.

11. Oklahoma State  
Why root for the Cowboys: Travis Ford is a man. He’s 43!
The downside: Marcus Smart has a legitimate shot at getting picked first in the NBA draft this summer. Too bad the Cowboys can’t clone the freshman sensation.
The projection: Louisville takes down any hope of seeing another Cowboy shatter a backboard at Final Four practice like Bryant “Big Country” Reeves did at the 1995 Final Four in Seattle.

12. Valparaiso
Why root for the Crusaders: Because the guy who made the coolest buzzer-beater in tournament history, Bryce Drew, now is coaching Jim Rossow’s former college team.
The downside: Much like Rossow, former Illini Roger Powell Jr., an assistant coach with the Crusaders, is out of eligibility.
The projection: You’ll want them to go far so you can see Drew’s epic shot replayed countless times. Except Michigan State will make sure they don’t.    

13. San Diego State
Why root for the Aztecs: Illinois native Steve Fisher has shown he can recruit California (nearly 90 percent of roster is in-state players), and the former Michigan coach has won at least 20 games each of the last eight seasons.
The downside: When you think about SDSU athletics, admit it, you first think of Marshall Faulk. Not basketball.
The projection: No matter how much Fisher has turned around the program, the most prominent basketball alum they have is Tony Gwynn. Georgetown makes sure it stays that way.    

14. South Dakota State
Why root for the Jackrabbits: We’d like to think Centennial graduate Scott Nagy, coach of the Jackrabbits, can take senior extraordinaire Nate Wolters in a game of H-O-R-S-E.
The downside: Name one other player on SDSU besides Wolters (22.6 points, 5.8 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals) without looking. Go ahead. Try.
The projection: Wolters will score in double digits for the 72nd straight game but won’t lead his team on a Jimmer-like run to the Sweet 16.

15. Pittsburgh
Why root for the Panthers: Pitt holds a Maggie Dixon Heart Health Fair before every season in honor of coach Jamie Dixon’s late sister, who died in 2006 at age 28 because of a heart condition.
The downside: No one dominant scorer (Tray Woodall leads Panthers at 11.8 points per game) to take control late.
The projection: Panthers won the 2012 College Basketball Invitational championship. Doubt they’ll celebrate the same way after losing opener to Wichita State.     

16. Creighton
Why root for the Bluejays: Doug McDermott has made it cool again to sport the T-shirt under the jersey look, a la Larry Johnson at UNLV.
The downside: Despite his 2,168 career points, McDermott can’t count on Anderson Hunt, Stacey Augmon or Greg Anthony to complement his superb ability.
The projection: Always a popular pick to spring a few upsets, don’t bet against the private school from Omaha, Neb. Just ask Bob Asmussen, but Duke will be hard to get by.

17. Long Island Brooklyn  
Why root for the Blackbirds: They’ll score. Plenty. First-year coach Jack Perri’s team has totaled at least 80 points in 14 of its games this season and topped 90 in each of its last four.  
The downside: Deron Williams isn’t their point guard.
The projection: Feel sorry for the official scorekeeper. In Blackbirds’ 13 losses, they’ve allowed 84.7 points. We see them giving up at least that many in their 14th loss, to Indiana.

18. Middle Tennessee
Why root for the Blue Raiders: You’re a fan of the Muppets. Coach Kermit Davis guided squad to an at-large bid despite losing to Florida International in Sun Belt Conference tournament semifinal and with nearly three-quarters (19) of its 28 wins coming against league foes. That would even impress Miss Piggy.  
The downside: The Muppets were at the height of their popularity in the 1980s, which is the last time the Blue Raiders won an NCAA tournament game (1989).
The projection: They had plenty of time to check out Dayton’s tourist attractions after losing to Saint Mary’s in their First Four matchup.

19. Liberty
Why root for the Flames: Liberty is 3-2 in games played on neutral courts. We’re stretching here, folks. Everywhere else, the Flames are 12-18.
The downside: The conservative Christian Jerry Falwell founded the school in 1971. How, then, does the Virginia university have its nickname? Explain.
The projection: Only prized memento they’ll take home is a ‘I Heart Dayton’ key chain.

20. New Mexico State
Why root for the Aggies: Lovable Lou Henson made the Aggies a recognizable name around these parts.
The downside: Admission price for a nosebleed seat to see NMSU lose its first tournament game much more than Henson’s initial salary of $1 when he agreed to coach the Aggies on an interim basis in 1997.
The projection: SLU makes sure tournament run will not go as long as state’s other school in the tournament.

21. New Mexico
Why root for the Lobos: If New Mexico blows out a team, chances are you could see Kory Alford, son of Lobos coach Steve, take the floor. The 6-foot-4 redshirt freshman guard had one point this season.
The downside: Steve Alford burned Illinois plenty of times during his playing career at Indiana. And still looks like he can.  
The projection: If all games were at The Pit (15-1 record this season), go ahead and put them in the Final Four. Alas, they’re not, and Lobos’ run ends in Salt Lake City.

22. Colorado State
Why root for the Rams: Colton Iverson might not have the handles of The Answer (this Iverson is 6-foot-10, 261 pounds), but the former Minnesota reserve leads the Rams in scoring and rebounding. And he’s built like a Ram pickup truck.
The downside: Fort Collins doesn’t exactly bring to mind a hotbed of hoops. Plus it’s bad mojo referencing Allen Iverson.    
The projection: If only Tim Miles were still there to tweet his excitement after the Rams beat Missouri. If only.

23. Oklahoma
Why root for the Sooners: Former Illini coach Lon Kruger has put the Boomer back in Sooner. Billy Tubbs’ old team is back in the tournament for the first time since Blake Griffin landed his Subway endorsement.
The downside: Kruger hasn’t won a tournament game since 2008. Streak will continue this year.
The projection: The number of tattoos leading scorer Romero Osby has will greatly outnumber wins Sooners collect during brief tournament stay.

24. Marquette
Why root for the Golden Eagles: Remember this name. Vander Blue. Junior guard is Buzz Williams’ best scoring option. And has the team’s best name.   
The downside: Williams’ squad feels Blue (see what I did there?!?) away from the Bradley Center, where Marquette sported a 16-0 record this season.
The projection: Even with those sweet baby-blue jerseys, Marquette doesn’t have pieces in place (read, Wade, Dwyane) to duplicate what 2003 squad did 10 years ago en route to Final Four or even make the Sweet 16.   

25. Temple
Why root for the Owls: Go with the six degrees of separation argument. Former Owl Rick Brunson is the dad of Stevenson High School super sophomore Jalen Brunson, a primary target for Illinois in the Class of 2015.
The downside: Khalif Wyatt, Temple’s leading scorer, will shoot a lot of threes (218). And miss a lot of threes (147) for a 32.6 percent clip.
The projection: “Temple Run” is a hit with anyone who owns a computer or smartphone. The same phrase, however, won’t catch on in the tournament.  

26. Western Kentucky
Why root for the Hilltoppers: He Hate Me. The only piece of information many remember from the infamous XFL is WKU alum Rod Smart’s name on the back of his jersey.   
The downside: He Hate Me didn’t play basketball. For that matter, people can argue he hardly played football, too.  
The projection: Don’t hate the game. Hate the players. Western Kentucky has neither and no chance against the Jayhawks.  

27. Boise State
Why root for the Broncos: Derrick Marks lit up the Chicago suburbs during his prep career at Plainfield Central. The sophomore guard is doing the same (16.3 points per game, second on the team) on a roster that has more players from Australia, Serbia and Latvia than Idaho.
The downside: In five tournament appearances, alma mater of Jared Zabransky (2007, Fiesta Bowl, Statue of Liberty) has never won a game.  
The projection: Collects first tournament win against La Salle before Bruce Weber sends Broncos packing back to Taco Bell Arena (seriously).    

28. Gonzaga
Why root for the Bulldogs: Beating Mark Few’s team in early December is the signature nonconference win of John Groce’s first season. And a key reason why Illinois is in the tournament.
The downside: Spokane is a long way from Atlanta. A pity for the Bulldogs’ faithful who travel all that way to see Kelly Olynyk’s hair suffer a loss in the Final Four.
The projection: Ask former N-G and Illinois hoops beat writer Paul Klee where to buy a Zags jersey. Odds are he’ll have one on the rest of this month from Denver.

29. Oregon
Why root for the Ducks: They might come out with the snazziest uniform combination you’ve ever seen.  
The downside: They might come out with the most hideous uniform combination you’ve ever seen.  
The projection: E.J. Singler’s career ends five games before what older brother Kyle did during Duke’s run to the 2010 national championship. Translation: Ducks won’t perform flying V move after Oklahoma State gets done with them.

30. Pacific
Why root for the Tigers: Coach Bob Thomason will end his 25-year run at Pacific on the sport’s biggest stage.  
The downside: Since the Tigers are back in the tournament, it will get you wondering whatever happened to former No. 1 pick Michael Olowokandi.
The projection: Thomason and his squad won’t make it past Miami. Don’t feel bad for the guy, though. He gets to retire in sunny California.

31. Iowa State
Why root for the Cyclones: Former IlliniHQ recruiting blogger Cody Westerlund helps cover the Cyclones for the Ames Tribune.
The downside: Fred Hoiberg can’t put Hilton Coliseum on his back and transport it to their first game. Cyclones are 16-1 at home arena this season.
The projection: Korie Lucious played in two Final Fours at Michigan State before getting the boot from Tom Izzo. He won’t come close to playing in the Final Four this year as Thad Matta and the Buckeyes stick it to him in the third round.

32. UCLA  
Why root for the Bruins: Because these will be Shabazz Muhammad’s last collegiate games. And he’s really good.       
The downside: Identical twins scare you. Especially big ones. Bruins have a set in Travis and David Wear.
The projection: Did you see Muhammad’s reaction when Larry Drew Jr. hit a game-winner against Washington last month? Egos will make sure Bruins flame out before Sweet 16 starts.

33. Bucknell
Why root for the Bison: Former Lincoln star Brian Cook helped Illinois to four NCAA tournament appearances. Fellow Railsplitter Ben Brackney will make his second tournament trip for coach Dave Paulsen’s squad after Brackney had eight points in Patriot League tournament title game.
The downside: You want to put them in the Sweet 16. You really do. But you can’t.  
The projection: Bucknell has lost five games this season by a combined 21 points. Good choice for an upset pick.

34. Notre Dame
Why root for the Irish: Jack Cooley is a doppelganger of former Irish standout Luke Harangody.  
The downside: You can’t help but think, do these guys have girlfriends? Actual girlfriends? Sorry Manti Te’o. We had to go there.
The projection: Mike Brey won’t need to pack any more turtlenecks after Irish are bounced by Cyclones.   

35. Albany
Why root for the Great Danes: If you want a dog in this race, here’s the team for you.  
The downside: If you want a dog in the Sweet 16 or beyond, this is not the team for you.
The projection: Coach Will Brown’s team set a school record for wins (24) with Saturday’s American East title-game triumph. No way Great Danes reach 25.

36. James Madison
Why root for the Dukes: Family ties. Cousins A.J. Davis and Devon Moore are second- and third-leading scorers for Matt Brady’s squad.
The downside: About time. Tournament has lacked a team named after a president since George Washington clinched a spot in the 2007 bracket.
The projection: George Mason made Colonial Athletic Association well-known during 2006 run to the Final Four. James Madison is not this year’s George Mason.
37. Arizona
Why root for the Wildcats: Billy Packer’s call at the end of the 1998 national title game — “Simon says championship” — gives you chills.
The downside: Wildcats’ starting five of Mark Lyons, Solomon Hill, Nick Johnson, Ashley Brandon and Kaleb Tarczewski doesn’t exactly sound as promising as Miles Simon, Mike Bibby, Bennett Davison, Michael Dickerson and A.J. Bramlett. Nor do they have the talent of those five.
The projection: Not a cinch to reach second weekend like they once were.  

38. Iona
Why root for the Gaels: Have the largest majority of vowels (75 percent) of any other team in the field.    
The downside: First loss of the season was to only Division I school that starts with a Q. (Quinnipiac for those wondering)
The projection: Momo Jones (great name by the way) helped carry Arizona to the Elite Eight in 2011. Not happening this year.

39. Northwestern State  
Why root for the Demons: Jermaine Wallace’s off-balance three-pointer in the 2006 tournament helped usher in the Todd Lickliter era at Iowa.   
The downside: No such shining moment will take place this time.
The projection: Lack of a consistent outside shooting threat will hinder any grand plans Mike McConathy’s squad has of pulling an upset or two.

40. Kansas
Why root for the Jayhawks: You enjoy staring at the Mario Chalmers poster of him making the epic three-pointer five years ago against Memphis. Repeatedly. Every day.
The downside: The Rock Chalk chant gets on your nerves. So does Bill Self. Traitor.
The projection: Jeff Withey puts off his professional volleyball career for at least two weeks.    

41. Montana
Why root for Grizzlies: Remember the name. Kareem Jamar. California native can play.  
The downside: Grizzlies knocked off the alma mater of Meyers Leonard’s running mate (Damian Lillard of Weber State fame) in championship game of Big Sky tournament to make second straight NCAA tournament appearance.
The projection: Conference always seems to have teams that pull of March stunners. Coach Wayne Tinkle’s group comes close but can’t accomplish task against Syracuse.

42. Akron
Why root for the Zips: Overcame loss of point guard Alex Abreu to beat John Groce’s old team, Ohio, 65-46 on Saturday night during Mid-American Conference tournament championship game.
The downside: Abreu missed final week of regular season because of arrest on marijuana-trafficking charges. He’s definitely taking some hits in LeBron James’ hometown.
The projection: Zips had a 19-game winning streak during regular season. By beating the likes of Northern Illinois. And Miami (Ohio). And Coppin State. Teams that don’t exactly build up one’s strength of schedule.

43. Michigan State
Why root for the Spartans: You watch Adreian Payne throw one down and think about how he could enhance the NBA dunk contest.  
The downside: Magic Johnson won’t breathlessly announce one of their tournament games.
The projection: Every year you think the Spartans won’t make a run. Every year they prove you wrong.   

44. Florida
Why root for the Gators: Big man Erik Murphy reminds you of the Red Rocket, aka Matt Bonner, with his outside shooting ability.
The downside: Murphy’s not a ginger like the former Gator, and hence, has no cool nickname.
The projection: Much like when Bonner slung it around for Billy Donovan’s squad, these Gators will fall short of reaching milestones the Noah-Horford-Brewer trio accomplished in mid-2000s.

45. Miami
Why root for the Hurricanes: Two area schools (Unity and Urbana) commonly go by the U. Coach Jim Larranaga seems poised to lead his first team not named George Mason to the Final Four.  
The downside: Nevin Shapiro. Enough said.
The projection: Shane Larkin’s tournament run will end in time to watch father Barry break down the Reds’ chances on ESPN, but not before he helps defeat Illinois.

46. North Carolina
Why root for the Tar Heels: They don’t have the household names we’re accustomed to seeing in the past (James Michael McAdoo is about the only one that rolls off the tongue. Well, maybe. Say it five times fast and get back to us).
The downside: They have no household names.  
The projection: NCAA is making sure Roy Williams remembers the pledge he made to people in Lawrence by saying he’d never leave Kansas only to have the Jayhawks run rampant against his squad in the third round.

47. Villanova
Why root for the Wildcats: Any men out there looking for fashion advice, just watch coach Jay Wright flaunt his stylish suits along the sidelines.  
The downside: They lost to Columbia this season. By 18 points. Yikes.
The projection: In a game of slightly less significance, ‘Nova falls again to North Carolina in rematch of 2009 national semifinal game.   

48. North Carolina State
Why root for the Wolfpack: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis and Justin Bartha, otherwise known as Phil, Stu, Alan and Doug, make one heck of a Wolf Pack in “The Hangover.”
The downside: Watching team’s free throw shooting (68 percent) is almost as painful as getting punched in the face by Mike Tyson. Almost.   
The projection: “The Hangover Part II” wasn’t as good as the original. Same holds true for N.C. State’s second straight tournament appearance under Mark Gottfried.  

49. California
Why root for the Bears: Because Mike Pond, the former Rantoul kicker who helped the Eagles glide to the 1987 Class 4A semifinals in football, lives in Berkeley.  
The downside: Mike Montgomery unleashed his inner Bobby Knight last month during a game when he shoved Allen Crabbe.
The projection: Crabbe went on to win Pac-12 Player of the Year. That he wins the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player honor is nonexistent.

50. Ohio State
Why root for the Buckeyes: Hoopeston longs for the days of Thad Matta roaming the court for the Cornjerkers.
The downside: Those cherub cheeks of Aaron Craft just flat-out annoy you. Plus Normal U-High’s Keita Bates-Diop spurned the Illini for the Buckeyes.
The projection: The Buckeyes who lost at the Assembly Hall in January aren’t the same Buckeyes. Craft adds to his lore with a Final Four trip. And a national championship. That’s right. Another victory parade in Columbus is about to happen.

51. UNLV
Why root for the Rebels: If you’re all for change. Dave Rice’s team has five players who transferred to Sin City after unfulfilling stints at their original schools.  
The downside: Mike Moser (formerly of UCLA) hasn’t returned to his early-season form after dislocating elbow. And now that you actually thought of someone dislocating his elbow, you turn off your TV.  
The projection: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Much like the Rebels’ ball handling. UNLV had worst turnover margin in Mountain West Conference this season.

52. Michigan
Why root for the Wolverines: Glenn Robinson III’s younger brother, Gelen, is a Class of 2014 linebacker prospect Tim Beckman is after.  
The downside: Nik Stauskas was rude to the Orange Krush on Jan. 27 during his first visit to the Assembly Hall. And it’s Michigan.
The projection: Before he makes millions in the NBA, Trey Burke leaves Ann Arbor with a few tournament wins.

53. North Carolina A&T
Why root for the Aggies: They came into the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament as the seventh seed before proceeding to beat three higher-seeded teams en route to the title.
The downside: Aggies had sub-.500 record before winning automatic bid from the MEAC.
The projection: They’ll enjoy at least at one tournament win by defeating Liberty. But that’s it.    

54. Memphis
Why root for the Tigers: Former Illini Stan Simpson is having same effect he had at Illinois (hardly any) with Tigers.   
The downside: Memphis coach Josh Pastner played (we use that term loosely) and coached at Arizona under Lute Olson.
The projection: Notable moments in Memphis basketball history — Darius Washington against Louisville in the 2005 Conference USA tournament title game and the 2008 NCAA championship game — involve missed free throws. Expect the same this year as squad is only shooting 67 percent from the foul line.

55. Minnesota
Why root for the Gophers: Tubby Smith’s mustache earlier in the season. And his dancing. Pretty self-explanatory.
The downside: Chances are you’ll see a new coach on the sidelines at Williams Arena next season even if the Gophers upset UCLA.
The projection: Smith has never been able to recapture the tournament magic he had from the 1990s into the 21st century.   

56. Missouri  
Why root for the Tigers: Phil Pressey is fast. Phil Pressey is fast. Phil Pressey is fast. Phil Pressey is fast. Phil Pressey is fast.
The downside: Phil Pressey can’t shoot. Phil Pressey can’t shoot. Phil Pressey can’t shoot. Phil Pressey can’t shoot. Phil Pressey can’t shoot.
The projection: Two words: Norfolk State. We all remember how that ended last year for Frank Haith.

57. Cincinnati
Why root for the Bearcats: You’re the only person in East Central Illinois who still belongs to the Bob Huggins Fan Club.   
The downside: Their play is about as ugly as the uniforms they unveiled at the Big East tournament.  
The projection: We imagine Nick Van Exel, Corie Blount and other members of the 1991-92 Cincinnati team when we envision successful NCAA tournaments. Not this group.   

58. Colorado
Why root for the Buffaloes: Ralphie might come charging at you if you don’t.
The downside: Despite their rebounding prowess, Buffs rank in bottom half of Pac-12 Conference in all three shooting categories.
The projection: Their most relevant NCAA tournament moment is being the team North Carolina beat to give Dean Smith his record-breaking win during the second round of the 1997 tournament. Still is.  

59. Syracuse
Why root for the Orange: Best use of a mascot in a commercial. Ever. Just ask Charlie Steiner.
The downside: A loss and who knows what Jim Boeheim will say in his postgame news conference. But that always makes for good entertainment.  
The projection: Christmas comes early for Syracuse (in the form of 6-9 forward Rakeem) as Orange makes serious run at first Final Four since Carmelo Anthony era. Until Tom Crean tells Boeheim & Co. the ’Cuse wrecked his program by (insert unusual Crean comment) after Hoosiers win in Sweet 16 matchup.

60. Duke
Why root for the Blue Devils: You used “Krzyzewski” in Words with Friends and scored 108 points.  
The downside: You’re still bitter about Illinois native Jon Scheyer choosing Duke — and winning an NCAA title in Durham.
The projection: Ryan Kelly isn’t the second coming of Christian Laettner and Krzyzewski spends April answering questions about whether he’ll coach 2016 Olympic team instead of how it felt to coach another national champion.

61. Southern
Why root for the Jaguars: Shahid Khan owns the team. Graduated from Illinois. Started Flex-N-Gate.
The downside: Oh, wait. Wrong sport.
The projection: Maybe in 20 years we’ll talk about Southern being the new Gonzaga of college basketball. Just not now.

62. Virginia Commonwealth
Why root for the Rams: You wanted Shaka Smart for the Illinois job. Badly. Needed Shaka Smart for the Illinois job. Badly. Can’t live without Shaka Smart ...
The downside: Tournament surprises no more, VCU won’t sneak up on anyone as fifth seed.  
The projection: Instead of writing in VCU in your bracket, just write havoc. Which is what the Rams will do to your bracket if you don’t pick them to win at least one game. But that’s it before Michigan makes up for last year’s quick tourney stay.

63. Louisville
Why root for the Cardinals: You’ll see plenty of Kareem Richardson, a former Rantoul star, on the sidelines as an assistant coach to Rick Pitino before Richardson leaves for Missouri-Kansas City.
The downside: Russ Smith is known to make some Russdiculous plays. Which isn’t good.
The projection: We see either a Final Four trip in the cards or an upset loss in the early rounds. Or somewhere in the middle just to cover our bases.

64. Wisconsin
Why root for the Badgers: Because just like Steve Stricker, you have a Wisconsin hat.
The downside: Mike Bruesewitz and his hair bring back memories of Sideshow Bob from “The Simpsons.”
The projection: Hide the children! Board up the windows! Stockpile the fridge! Bucky will frighten the common basketball fan with its style of play but will win a few more games in March.    

65. Saint Mary’s
Why root for the Gaels: Enjoy tiny California school this month. Randy Bennett’s program about to get hit with four-year probation that will reduce scholarships.
The downside: Three words a school never wants to hear from the NCAA: failure to monitor.
The projection: Maybe they can go from First Four to Final Four like VCU.  

66. Mississippi
Why root for the Rebels: Andy Kennedy will make his first tournament appearance coaching the Rebels after a surprise run through the SEC tournament.
The downside: Kennedy is the same guy who punched a cabbie and called him racist names more than four years ago.
The projection: A deep tournament journey might make people forget about Kennedy’s past indiscretions. Then again, probably not.

67. Indiana
Why root for the Hoosiers: You know more about basketball than Crean. And have better hair. And think Cody Zeller is handsome.  
The downside: Zeller sometimes forgets he’s one of the best players in the game, but Jordan Hulls never forgets that he is one of the best players in the game. At least in his head.
The projection: This. Is. Painful. To. Type. Hoosiers. Reach. Title. Game, but ... lose to Ohio State. Big sigh of relief.  


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peterborich wrote on March 18, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Kansas State?   Yep, let's root for the Coach that recruited the Illini into the toilet and then complained that he wanted players like Robbie Hummel instead of his own players that he brought into the program... Yeah, right....

1 illinifan wrote on March 18, 2013 at 8:03 pm

Ditto! Weber sure came out of the pile of crap smelling like a rose, inherited a good team just like last time for him. Bets on how long it will take to run that program in the ground?

pblillini wrote on March 18, 2013 at 9:03 pm

I'll commend the author for putting IU in last place, but it should have been a tie with KSU for that spot.  No self-respecting Illini fan should be rooting for the guy who just drove our program into a 6+ year ditch.  Blech.

IlliniMike05 wrote on March 19, 2013 at 10:03 am

I'm not rooting for him, but I'm not rooting against him either. Probably because I'm not so petty and small-minded that I fly off the hinges at a tongue-in-cheek article about the rootability of teams the author knows the readers won't be rooting for (hence the first paragraph) like a lot of our fans clearly are. He didn't win as many games as I would have liked, either. He didn't get as many great recruits as I would've liked. He made some dumb comments at times. Terrific.

Get over it.

annabellissimo wrote on March 19, 2013 at 5:03 pm

You sound like the same guy over at that other site who leaps up at any whiff of criticism for Bruce Weber with what you/he seem to consider the voice of authority with "get over it....move on.....let it go...."  I missed the vote that gave you that authority over all others to tell us that our ongoing contempt for Weber Worship is verboten. That forceful German would be the kind of word that "bossy" folks who like to say "get over it.....move on.....let it go...."  like to use, ya? 

I'm not rooting for him or against him either; I just want him to go away.  There was a large picture of him in this paper the other day with the caption that Bruce Weber is going to the NCAA Tournament again. There is mention of him by name in this "humorous" list with the assumption that we all "liked him as a person".  There is the comment by B. Paul that Weber has been in touch with him lately.  There was the recent interview with him by one S. VanPelt in which he responded to a question about his time at Illinois with the comment that it "might have been the best nine years in the program's (Illinois basketball) history"!  He won't go away. He won't let go. He can't seem to just go away and spend the millions and millions of Illinois dollars that he did not earn but received by contract. He still inserts himself, or his perennial cult-members insert him, into Illinois "stuff", and I'm sick of him - and was long before he finally was FIRED, leaving with a huge wad of Illinois cash while bad-mouthing our team and the athletic administration in an effort to save his own sorry position. He gathered his crying family around him for the cameras and had team members - young men who are Illinois, not Weber - stand to the side looking upset - while he whined and whined for the cameras and intimated that it was the AD who "done him wrong", lying about the process! He got Tom Izzo to speak out against OUR AD and OUR university in an effort to save his sorry behind - never mind that Izzo and MSU would certainly benefit from casting a shadow on Illinois for his own recruiting aims in the Chicago, and other, areas.  

Yep, I'm sick of him and sick of seeing him STILL promoted anywhere in this newspaper or anywhere else having to do with Illinois. He's a Milwaukee, Wisconsin native with long ties to Indiana/Keady basketball, a relatively short stint in Carbondale, now in Manhattan, Kansas. He has no ties to the University of Illinois, not in caliber of intellect, nor of coaching prowess, and he has lots of Illinois money and many cult members willing to sing his praises, for reasons I will never understand. The man undermined young men's spirits and talents and if he did nothing else but that, that is very bad in and of itself.

YOU can let it go, move on, get over it.  When Weber is no longer mentioned when Illinois is having an otherwise happy week, then maybe those of us who don't adore him will consider not mentioning him either.


IlliniMike05 wrote on March 20, 2013 at 9:03 am

Yes, if you're not ripping him, that means you worship him. I find it unsurprising that your brain traffics in false dichotomies because you can't handle understanding things with any nuance, or on a spectrum.

As for the rest? You're insane if you think anyone's reading that. I made the mistake of reading an insanely long post of yours once. Won't happen twice.

aaeismacgychel wrote on March 20, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Even if I were to give you the benefit of the doubt on much of what you said, the criticism of Mike Thomas by both Weber and Izzo may not have been good publicity, but it wasn't incorrect. And Weber never did criticize the university though criticizing the AD of the university will also unfortunately associate said university with the issue at hand.

AD Mike Thomas' role in wanting to get rid of Bruce Weber was well indicated by his actions and while let's face it, Weber clearly lost the team after the Purdue game and his time as coach was over at that point, it was Mike Thomas' actions that directly led to that conference. He went on a radio show and instead of doing what 99.99% of ADs would do in that situation in saying, "I have full confidence in Bruce Weber as a coach and leading this team to the NCAA tourney. Let's allow him to do his job and save all coaching questions until after this season is over" (even if a bald-faced lie) he expressed a show of no-confidence for Weber. In all earnestness, Thomas did submarine Illinois' season.

Mike Thomas also played a key role in forcing out Koenning and Howard by again, not giving either a fair shot as well. While I am sure Izzo did get some personal benefit from saying what he did, Thomas' hands are not clean in the least. Plus Izzo is the President of what basically amounts to the NCAAB coaching union, so if there is a situation where they deem improper behavior in a coaching hiring or firing it is technically his job to speak about it on the other coaches behalf. I think this is one of those cases that clearly could've been handled better by all sides, but to put 100% of the blame on Weber for that I think is what Mike Thomas would want, but is misdirection from the truth.

CecilColeman wrote on March 18, 2013 at 10:03 pm

I wonder if those K State fans enjoyed the 10 minute scoring drought in the first half Saturday against Bill Self's Jayhawks? They'd better get used to such droughts.........

annabellissimo wrote on March 19, 2013 at 3:03 am

This is apparently supposed to be humorous. I didn't find it humorous.  In fact, I cannot believe I am reading this in the "hometown" paper of the University of Illinois during the week in which the Illini will play its first game - against Colorado - in the NCAA Tournament.  Do you really want to entertain the idea of rooting for Colorado NOW even if it is supposed to be humorous and hypothetical and all? 

And why do you express dislike for Bill Self but make an assumption about Bruce Weber ("you like him as a person...") that may or may not be true? I didn't know him "as a person" but knew the public personality he projected and I did not like that at all, and really didn't like him as a coach.  Bill Self, on the other hand, did nothing to Illinois but leave for his dream job after spending several good years here. He didn't leave with a gazillion unearned dollars; he didn't undermine the young men playing for him; he didn't whine and manipulate the media and play "victim".  He left for his dream job. 

About the only thing that the sports page in the hometown paper of the University of Illinois should be doing this particular week is anything that doesn't disparage or belittle the University's team! Good grief, would that be so hard for you while we are in the NCAA?

The Gonzaga win is Coach Groce's "signature win" this year and is the key reason we are in the NCAA? It was a good win, no doubt, but there were some others. You're being dismissive and belitling and it's really unappealing, and unhumorous.


IlliniMike05 wrote on March 19, 2013 at 10:03 am

In the spirit of this article, I'm now going to list the 67 dumbest comments in IlliniHQ history:

1. The comment you just made

2-57. Everything Moonpie has ever written

58-67. The people last week who thought we might not get into the tournament

You beat Moonpie and people who can't do math. That's really impressive.

Illini 1st wrote on March 19, 2013 at 1:03 pm

Yeah, in hindsight we look safe. That Minnesota rubber game looked crucial going in. Hey, if we lost, who knows?



IlliniMike05 wrote on March 19, 2013 at 4:03 pm

No, not in hindsight. We were already definitely in well before the Minnesota game and it probably didn't move the needle much one way or the other. The absolute worst-case scenario if we lost the Minnesota game: we'd have been a 9 on (the bracket tool formerly known as) the S-curve and been bumped down to a 10 for procedural reasons (as I suspect we were an 8 bumped up to a 7 since Indiana is the 1 seed in our region, though that's just an educated guess). The more likely scenario: it had no effect whatsoever.

That's it. We were already 100 percent in. No hindsight was needed.

IlliniMike05 wrote on March 19, 2013 at 10:03 am

My only complaint about this list: any team coached by Steve Alford should be way lower. If they were coached by anyone else they'd be in my top five: fun team to watch, awesome home arena, cool nickname, just off the beaten path enough to feel good getting behind as opposed to a behemoth program that rooting for would equal you having no soul unless you went to that school or are from there.

But, since Steve Alford is one of the worst people in college sports, they need to drop to somewhere in the 50s at least.

(Also, egos will have nothing to do with UCLA losing early. Not having Jordan Adams on a team that already isn't deep will be the reason, along with no rebounding. And Shabazz should have been upset he didn't get that last shot, even if he shouldn't have outwardly shown it. Great scorers should absolutely be wired that way.)

illiniphil85 wrote on March 19, 2013 at 12:03 pm

I can think of about 67 teams I'd root for before I would KSU. Actually 346 if you include all of D1.

aaeismacgychel wrote on March 19, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Sometimes I really wonder about Illinois fans' selective memory. I have no issue with not cheering for Kansas State or Weber- really that's your perogative. But to pretend that everything was all fine and dandy with Bill Self and to put him on a pedestal is so ridiculous and a slap in the face to Illini history it's not even funny.

No, Bruce didn't win enough games the last few years, but you know what? At least he didn't try recruiting our top players away upon leaving like Self did. Yeah, maybe some of you might say "I wish he would've taken Brandon Paul or DJ Richardson, or Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu with him", , but you know what? He didn't. And he was fired. He could've tried doing it out of spite. Your messiah Bill Self left in the middle of the night without telling the team and tried recruiting Deron Williams and Dee Brown hard to transfer with him. Had Bill Self had his way and Dee Brown not had the loyalty and resolve and ethics he had, there would have been no 2005. Deron Williams had a foot out the door, but Dee convinced him to stay. That's the coach you want to bow down and pray too? He actively tried taking our best players, and leaving us for dead. Weber never did that. You say Weber destroyed the program Self built? Really? Self won with Henson's players! And Lou recruited a hell of a team that Self took to the Elite 8 in 2001. Yeah, Self's recruits panned out, sure. And Weber hasn't had nearly that success, but if Self had his way, we never would've known, because there would be no success. And then there's the complaints how Weber threw his players under the bus? Has anyone seen Self's pressers for Kansas this year? You seriously think Weber said anything worse than what your Messiah, Bill said? Calling that team the worst to ever put on the Kansas uniform? Blaming Elijah Johnson for everything?

So you can cheer for Bill Self. Cheer all you want. Forget the bad things he did and only remember the good. But I say screw him. I won't cheer for him wherever he goes because I remember what happened and I remember who he is. How we try to demonize Bruce Weber and consecrate Bill Self is just ridiculous. I guess winning really does heal all ills. No matter the cost.

annabellissimo wrote on March 19, 2013 at 7:03 pm

aaeismacgychel: I'm not sure if you were addressing your comments to me or to someone else but I'll respond from my point of view anyway. I'm NOT a Bill Self supporter, nor do I nor will I be rooting for him or his team, not at all. I was only trying to raise the question of difference in attitude from some towards Bruce Weber's departure versus Bill Self's. If what you say about Bill Self is true - and how do you know these things? - then that seems to be wrong behavior, but I have no idea what is "the norm" amongst college coaches. I recall there was some discussion about whether D.J. Cooper would consider transferring to Illinois when Coach Groce came; he didn't. Do you know if Coach Groce said, "No, do not do it!"? I have no idea, not whether Cooper or anyone else even considered it for one second, but it was in the sports discussions at that time, as speculation.  It is entirely possible that "spin" gets put on things though - for example, we know that Deron Williams and Dee Brown WERE unhappy that Self left because they felt an affinity for him and so it is possible that they expressed their unhappiness to him, and Self could have said, "well you can transfer..." and you know, it is a free country - even for college athletes - and they can, and sometimes do, transfer. Maybe he "recruited them hard" as you say and maybe he just offered them that option, and maybe he didn't encourage them to transfer because, in fact, they did not transfer. You clearly have a lot of anger for Bill Self and it may be justified, I don't know. It's not that I "forget the bad things he did and only remember the good" because I am not all that familiar with either the bad or the good from him, but only that it has been said many times that coaching at Kansas was his long-time dream and when offered the opportunity, he took it. I don't think that's unreasonable and think it's what most people would do when offered their dream job. It's not as if he took the Illinois job and then turned around and left, as we have seen some assistants in football do lately; he was here for several years. As for Bill Self and press conferences you refer to, I have no knowledge of that; I don't follow Kansas or Bill Self. As you describe it, it sounds pretty bad. What I do know, what I did witness and live through, what I do remember is Bruce Weber and OUR team and how that last year and the press conferences and interviews - and games - went. I'm not a Bill Self fan at all, but I'm not a Bruce Weber fan at all; it is possible to be a non-fan of both of those coaches. I AM a John Groce fan and for the opportunity for his arrival at Illinois to have occurred, I am grateful to Bruce Weber. Doesn't make me a Weber fan though, even at that.

aaeismacgychel wrote on March 20, 2013 at 2:03 pm

I wasn't speaking to just you, mainly the continuously softening stance on Bill Self. The reason I know those things is that I was there on campus when Bill left and I am going by the Dee Brown interview where he stated that only him and Deron were contacted by Self after he had already left asking them to transfer to Kansas. When Dee was asked whether he was considering it, he said "I am not a traitor". When asked if Deron was, he said something along the lines of "I don't know. I really hope not." Now yes, perhaps Dee lied or exaggerated due to the emotion of the moment, but when the incident was brought up to Bill Self, he certainly didn't deny it, and while again you can give him the benefit of the doubt for "coachspeak" in saying that he recuited them and they're great guys and any coach would be excited to have them, it did lead credence to what Dee Brown and other Illini said (Deron never really commented).

As for the press conference after the Kansas-TCU game, the only reason I knew about it was because it was national news. Self completely blasted his players and was the biggest mass throwing under the bus of a team since Pat Knight's rant about Lamar's seniors (highly entertaining rants- both of them, so if you get the chance, look them up on youtube).

I just find it funny how much changes year to year. I recall a time where nobody said anything positive about Self here at Illinois. And I recall a time nothing but positives were said about Weber. I recall Lon going through the same roller-coaster ride as well- from loved to disliked back up to liked. And while I do realize this is how things go, I tire quickly of it in regards to Self. Had he simply held his press conference saying he was coaching at Kansas, I would've taken no issue with it. But not saying goodbye to the players you recruited and then trying to scavenge that team you left? I'm sorry, but I took major issue with that. And really, if we want to revise how Self exited the program, we may as well revise Sampson's interference in the Eric Gordon recruitment as well.

illiniphil85 wrote on March 20, 2013 at 10:03 am

Someone sounds all buthurt that Self left him. Can someone give him a JuiceBox.

Bear8287 wrote on March 21, 2013 at 4:03 am

 Self won with Henson's players! And Lou recruited a hell of a team that Self took to the Elite 8 in 2001. 


This seems like one of the most ignorant comments that I've seen on this site.

Self's first season with the Illini was 2000-2001.

Q: Who was the Illini head coach from the 1996-1997 to 1999-2000 seasons?

A: (Hint: it wasn't Lou Henson. Oh, oh, who is that guy coaching Oklahoma now?)


> Sometimes I really wonder about Illinois fans' selective memory.

I do believe that you probably do spend a lot of time wondering.  You're a funny dude. You might want to create a new account name. Your street-cred is about "0".


beekay wrote on March 20, 2013 at 10:03 pm

I'm sure I won't make any friends with this comment, but I don't harbor any ill will toward Bruce Weber for his inability to recruit the right players.  I always knew that he wanted to win badly, that he was sold out to our university, and that he was candid to a fault.  I know he was even more frustrated than I was with the implosion that occurred.  But here's the biggest thing for me - he was a huge factor in one of the greatest years of my life.  I had my first child who was just about to start walking, and I watched the greatest game I have ever seen to advance to the Final 4.  I scrambled to acquire tickets from a scalper to attend the championship game, and just feeling the buzz of energy in that building (even in a losing effort) was enough to make me realize that it may be something that I never get to experience again.  Sure, they weren't his recruits.  But he still had to coach them and they had to buy into what he was selling.  As players, I respect Deron Williams and Dee Brown a great deal and they have never wavered in their support of Weber's coaching ability.  So with the right players, I believe he can succeed.  He recruited the wrong ones, and that falls on him.  The time came for him to go, and I supported that decision.  But nobody wanted to make all of you happier with a successful basketball program than he did.  Never forget the feeling of 2004-2005.  It was a time when I nearly felt that we were invincible, and I loved every second of it.  I'm better off having experienced it than never knowing what that feels like.  So you won't hear me being bitter at Bruce Weber.  No way.

annabellissimo wrote on March 23, 2013 at 12:03 am

IlliniMike - You're rather a rude bully, aren't you. You seem to have establilshed a little platform for yourself here where you speak with authority conferred upon you,  apparently.

I don't care if you read what I write or not, although apparently you did. If you don't read what I write, don't bother responding. To the best of my knowledge, this forum does not belong to you. On another discussion forum there has been discussion about the level of incivility here for those who "dare" to criticize Weber; you must be a prime example of that incivility.

When, like the Peoria Journal Star's new rules, people have to identify themselves here by their real names in order to post, I'm guessing you will be less inclined to use your bullying tone. Until that day, Mike, do us both a favor and ignore my posts which are very few and far between anyway. Your empty but mean-spirited retorts add nothing to anybody's perspective and only reflect on your unpleasant personality.  Carry on though with portraying yourself as an expert on all things of all kinds and until we know your real name, some might actually believe you.