Root, root, root for ...

Root, root, root for ...

So, Illinois is in the NIT. But 68 other teams are in a bracket people will actually fill out. Here’s who we recommend cheering for (and following on Twitter) from best to worst during this year’s NCAA tournament, courtesy staff writer MATT DANIELS.

1 Wichita State (@GoShockers)

Why root for the Shockers: They’re attempting what no team has done since Bobby Knight and plaid sport coats were en vogue. Finish the season unbeaten and Wichita State becomes the eighth team to go unscathed during an entire season.

The downside: Reason they are No. 1 in this poll is because they couldn’t find a way to crack the top spot in both polls all season. They’ll attract viewers simply on the fact they could watch history. Or watch history fall apart.

Projection: A second straight strip to the Final Four. A spot as one of two teams playing on the final Monday night of the season. Jerry’s World, aka AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, will have plenty of room for all the bandwagon Shocker fans. Welcome aboard.

2 Wofford (@WoffordTerriers)

Why root for the Terriers: Aerris Smith. Go listen to his postgame radio interview after Wofford won the Southern Conference tournament. Then try to root against him and his team.

The downside: Terriers have a short leash for mistakes despite giving Wisconsin (2010) and BYU (2011) brief scares in the school’s only two other tournament games.

Projection: If the tournament advanced teams based on nicknames, Wofford is a shoo-in for the Sweet 16. Unfortunately for coach Mike Young’s team, all they’ll get is a button that says “I was on the same court as Nik Stauskas.”

3 Eastern Kentucky (@EKUHoops)

Why root for the Colonels: Jeff Johnson, pride of Centennial, is a senior on the Colonels’ roster. The forward helped the Chargers win a Class 3A state title in 2009 and made it back to Peoria in 2010 when Centennial finished fourth.  

The downside: Eastern Kentucky coach Jeff Neubauer, a branch on the John Beilein coaching tree, wasn’t able to persuade Johnson’s prep teammates like Rayvonte Rice or James Kinney to join the Colonels.

Projection: Johnson’s first trip to the tournament might not last long. The school in Richmond has never won a game in its seven previous appearances and is a 15 seed going up against No. 2 Kansas — as if that’s not enough reason to root for the Colonels.  

4 Creighton (@BluejayMBB)

Why root for the Bluejays? Look back at the Class of 2010 and you won’t find Sports Illustrated cover boy Doug McDermott’s name among the top 150 players. Now you won’t find his name outside the discussion of the best college basketball player in the game.

The downside: Greg McDermott can’t clone his son. Or Ethan Wragge. Face a team with a legitimate post presence and Creighton doesn’t have much of an answer. Unless Benoit Benjamin, circa 1985, finds his way onto the roster.

Projection: Despite all the points, the accomplishments, the notoriety and the re-introduction of T-shirts underneath the jersey McDermott has spawned, he’s never led his dad’s team to the Sweet 16. He adds that accolade this year.

5 Cal Poly (@calpolymbb)

Why root for the Mustangs? Aaron Jordan has a former high school teammate in the Dance. The Illinois commit from Plainfield East will become president of the Brian Bennett fan club this week. The former Bengal averages 6.1 points and 3.2 rebounds.

The downside: Bennett doesn’t have Big Ten-caliber teammates, although the schedule he and his teammates played against this season (road games against Arizona, Oregon, Pittsburgh, Stanford and Delaware) wasn’t too shabby.

Projection: Sure, the Mustangs are a feel-good story. A week ago, no one outside San Luis Obispo could have named more than one player on their roster. Now they get to hop on a plane to Dayton and then hop back to sunny California.

6 Nebraska (@HuskerHoops)

Why root for the Cornhuskers? For the first time this millennium, college basketball is more important in Lincoln this month than spring football practice. On second thought, maybe not. But it’s still close.

The downside: Is there really one for a program predicted to finish last in the Big Ten five months ago? No. Go enjoy the experience, Cornhusker fans. You have enough to worry about with Bo Pelini.

Projection: Tim Miles will entertain the media leading up to Nebraska’s second-round game against former Big 12 foe Baylor. He’ll tweet (@CoachMiles), like he always does, at halftime. And then he’ll have to explain to the state of Nebraska why the Cornhuskers won’t meet Creighton with a spot in the Sweet 16 at stake.

7 New Mexico State (@NMStateAggies)

Why root for the Aggies? At least one team Lou Henson used to coach received a bid. In fact, the team that plays its home games on Lou Henson Court has made the tournament three straight years.  

The downside: Winning the WAC tournament doesn’t have the same significance as it used to considering Chicago State and Missouri-Kansas City, two schools you don’t necessarily peg as Western or athletic teams, are in the conference now.

Projection: Sim Bhullar and Tanveer Bhullar could have a nice, long entertainment career even if basketball doesn’t pan out. The two brothers from Canada are absolutely gigantic. Sim checks in at 7-feet-5 and 360 pounds, and Tanveer is 7-3, 335. Future roles as villains in the WWE or as James Bond antagonists seem like good career choices.

8 Coastal Carolina (@GoCCUsports)

Why root for the Chanticleers? Usually, coaching resumes that include Big South, ACC and SEC titles have the Big South championship come first. Not so for Cliff Ellis, Coastal’s coach who won big at Auburn and Clemson back in the day.

The downside: Former home to Sam McLaurin might have the big-name coach, but not the big-name players. Which does not bode well for those who see the Chants as the first 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed.

Projection: The uniforms remind one of the Jacksonville Jaguars. A really bad football team. Coastal Carolina will look like a really bad basketball team at some point against Virginia. Probably sooner rather than later.

9 Xavier (@XUAthletics)

Why root for the Musketeers? Travis Steele, a fifth-year assistant on Chris Mack’s staff is the half-brother of Illinois coach John Groce. The 30-year-old Steele has helped lead the Musketeers to four NCAA tournaments.

The downside: Some bad losses this season don’t exactly have fans in the Queen City pumped about March. Nor should they be.

Projection: Don’t think Xavier makes it out of the First Four. The Musketeers always seem like a trendy pick considering some of the postseason success they’ve had the last decade. Not this year.

10 St. Louis (@SaintLouisMBB)

Why root for the Billikens? This is the name you want for a guard. Jordair Jett. Guy just sounds fast. And sleek. And good. Which he is, averaging 13.7 points for the Atlantic 10 regular season champions.

The downside: Three losses in their final four regular season games (Duquesne?!?!? Really?!?!?) and the defeat against St. Bonaventure in the A-10 tournament has people second-guessing the Bills. Much like some of Mike Matheny’s managerial moves.

Projection: Don’t reserve a trip to the Final Four. Plans to Indianapolis are OK. And then you see Louisville is waiting in the third round. Relish this ride nonetheless because SLU had never made three straight NCAA tournaments. Until now.

11 Oklahoma (@OU_MBBall)

Why root for the Sooners? Lon Kruger turned around the mess Jeff Capel created in Norman by doing what he does best at any school he coaches. He wins and reaches the NCAA tournament.

The downside: He wins, yes, but not necessarily in March. Kruger is 3-4 in his seven tournament games since leaving Illinois after his final team in Champaign lost to eventual runner-up Florida in the 2000 tourney.

Projection: Ryan Minor can’t play anymore. Or Hollis Price. Or Mookie Blaylock. Or Blake Griffin. This version of the Sooners doesn’t come close to reaching postseason success like former Oklahoma outfits.

12 Mount St. Mary’s (@MountHoops)

Why root for the Mountaineers? Rashad Whack. Or, as fans of social media might get to know him: @Wiggidy_Whack. That’s what the Mountaineers’ leading scorer goes by on Twitter. He’s our pick for best Twitter handle of the tournament.

The downside: Just making the tournament is like winning the national title for the Catholic school from Emmitsburg, Md. No climbing the mountain for program that produced a coaching legend in Jim Phelan.

Projection: Not one of Phelan’s 830 wins came in the NCAA tournament. Mountaineers are familiar with Dayton, having won there in 2008 against Coppin State. But that’s the extent of their tournament travel.

13 Harvard (@hoopsatharvard)

Why root for the Crimson? Tommy Amaker is getting it done in Cambridge. Three straight NCAA trips. Or two more total appearances than he achieved with much more talented teams at Michigan and Seton Hall.  

The downside: Starter Kyle Casey (10.0 points, 5.7 rebounds) and key reserve Brandyn Curry (9.3 points, 3.0 assists) will have the TV announcers talking. For their role in a 2012 cheating scandal at the university.

Projection: It’s cool to see an elite academic school have consistent success. Not so cool when they mess up brackets like they did last year. Watch out, Cincinnati. 

14 Stephen F. Austin (@SFA_Athletics)

Why root for the Lumberjacks? They’re the upset special in your bracket. No, really. They’re bound for the Sweet 16. Even if you had no idea until this weekend that coach Brad Underwood’s team hasn’t lost since before Thanksgiving.

The downside: The 31-2 ‘Jacks (they prefer to be called that over the more manly Lumberjacks) racked up all those wins by beating Nicholls State. Abilene Christian. Houston Baptist. Northwestern State. Not exactly world-beaters.

Projection: A key reason why the Southland champs have done so well? They’ve had the same starting lineup all season. And they’ll have the same starting lineup for a third-round game against UCLA after beating VCU.

15 Delaware (@UDBlueHens)

Why root for the Blue Hens? Kyle Anderson hails from Illinois and the tiny town of Newark (population 900). Anderson, who led Newark to a Class 1A state title in 2011, averages 11 points and has made a team-best 85 three-pointers.

The downside: Michigan State is anything but a Class 1A high school team from Illinois. Good luck to Anderson and the rest of the Blue Hens (great nickname) on containing the Spartans.

Projection: Even though Delaware’s stay will likely be short, Monte Ross should find his name on the short list of several coaching vacancies this offseason after getting Delaware back in the tournament for first time since 1999.

16 BYU (@byubasketball)

Why root for the Cougars? Tyler Haws doesn’t have quite the same ring as Jimmer Fredette. But he sure can produce like the current Chicago Bulls guard. He’s averaging 23.4 points heading into the tournament.

The downside: One-man scoring binges are fun to watch. But the Cougars won’t have second-leading scorer Kyle Collinsworth after he suffered a torn ACL in the West Coast Conference tournament title game. Haws can’t do it alone.

Projection: Dave Rose’s team is back in the field for the seventh time in past eight tournaments. And back out of the tournament by the time the second weekend rolls around for sixth time in that span.

17 Iowa State (@CycloneMBB)

Why root for the Cyclones? Those who say Ames is a slow town must not watch Fred Hoiberg’s team. The Mayor has his club playing at a rapid rate. One that is quite successful, too. Ask the rest of the Big 12.

The downside: Melvin Ejim, DeAndre Kane and others must defend, too. Maybe they watched too much Iowa State football last year, when defense was mostly an afterthought.  

Projection: Hoiberg has had his alma mater on the verge the last two tournaments. This year they break through with a Sweet 16 appearance as the program takes the next leap.  

18 North Dakota State (@NDSUmbb)

Why root for the Bison? Joe Namath, meet Taylor Braun. The senior guard guaranteed a Summit League tournament championship this year after losing to South Dakota State in 2013. Way to back up the bold proclamation.  

The downside: No NCAA tournament wins for the school from Fargo. Maybe the Cohen brothers venture out to Spokane and direct a highlight video after season-ending loss comes at the hands of Oklahoma.

Projection: This isn’t the FCS football playoffs. That’s a postseason tournament the Bison has won three straight times. Staying within 10 of the Sooners would signify as a breakthrough for NDSU.

19 American (@AU_MBasketball)

Why root for the Eagles? It’s simply un-American if you don’t cheer on a school called American. Logic wins out in this argument among politicians in our nation’s capital, right?

The downside: They can’t assemble the best players in the country. Maybe President Obama could help out with some special legislation. Congress might agree on that act.

Projection: The toasts of the Patriot League probably made John Groce proud by limiting Boston to 36 points in the league tournament championship. Wisconsin will score that many in the first 10 minutes.

20 Virginia (@UVAMensHoops)

Why root for the Cavaliers? Go ahead. Name the last time the Cavaliers danced their way into the Sweet 16. If the names Cory Alexander, Junior Burrough and 1995 ring a bell, come on down. Tony Bennett has them poised to get back there.

The downside: Folks in Charlottesville have become accustomed to stingy defense under Bennett’s watch. Not necessarily awe-inducing offense. Cavaliers don’t have the playmakers on hand to make dent against teams stocked with NBA talent.

Projection: These aren’t the same teams Ralph Sampson used to play on. Anything beyond the third round is gravy for school that has produced one tournament win (against Albany) since the Elite Eight run almost two decades ago.

21 New Mexico (@UNMLOBOS)

Why root for the Lobos? Steve Alford isn’t coaching there anymore. All Craig Neal, an assistant under Alford at New Mexico and Iowa, did in his first season in Albuquerque was guide the Lobos to a sterling record. Well done.

The downside: The traumatic end to New Mexico’s season last year (upset loss to Harvard, Alford’s abrupt departure) makes one wonder how New Mexico’s psyche will hold up again in this go-around.  

Projection: They’ll do just fine. For one game. The inside-outside combination of Cameron Bairstow and Kendall Williams will flummox Stanford before the Lobos can’t get past Kansas.

22 Mercer (@MercerMBB)

Why root for the Bears? Take an unheralded team from the Atlantic Sun. That likes to score. Throws down a few dunks. And no one thinks much of before the tournament. Sound familiar?

The downside: The Bears haven’t gone to the tournament since 1985, the first year it was expanded to 64 teams and before the three-point line came into existence.

Projection: The run Florida Gulf Coast, the team alluded to above, made last year to the Sweet 16 isn’t likely to be replicated by this group. But if they do, you heard it here first.

23 St. Joseph’s (@SJUHawks_MBB)

Why root for the Hawks? You may not have heard of Langston Galloway, but you could swoon over him in tournament play. Big-time scorer who comes through in clutch moments. The epitome of a fan favorite.

The downside: Phil Martelli can’t have five Galloways playing at once. Nor can he bring back what Jameer Nelson and Delonte West did a decade ago in lifting the Hawks, the Atlantic 10 tournament champions, into national prominence.

Projection: Wonder if Martelli and Joe Lunardi, who works at the school when he’s not making bracket predictions, had a discussion prior to the A-10 tournament because Lunardi had the Hawks on the bubble. No run to Elite Eight this year for the school from Philadelphia.

24 Manhattan (@GoJaspers)

Why root for the Jaspers? They may struggle for pub in their own backyard, but George Beamon deserves every bit of ink. The team’s leading scorer has dealt with shoulder injuries much of last two seasons but is now fully healthy.

The downside: Rhamel Brown is the active leading shot-blocker in the country. Despite only standing 6-7. But the senior forward can’t block every shot Louisville takes, can he?   

Projection: Second-year coach Steve Masiello is used to lengthy tournament runs after serving as an assistant to Rick Pitino at Louisville. He’ll have to get used to a tournament loss after Pitino’s Cardinals win going away.

25 Weber State (@weberstate)

Why root for the Wildcats? They have tournament pedigree. One that includes upsets of North Carolina and Michigan State in the 1990s. And a do-it-all playmaker in the name of Davion Berry.

The downside: The only time Damian Lillard laces up his sneakers for a game in Utah now is when the Trail Blazers play the Jazz. If only there was a way for folks in Ogden (Utah, not Illinois) to bring him back for one more game.

Projection: Berry is the Wildcats’ leading scorer and leads the team in assists. Much like Lillard. And he’s from Oakland, same hometown as Lillard. All well and good, but it won’t make much of a difference against Arizona.

26 Kansas State (@kstatesports)

Why root for the Wildcats? You thought Bruce Weber was an OK recruiter at Illinois. His leading scorer is freshman Marcus Foster, who was a Parade All-American last year, so he’s trying to dispel the notion that he can’t recruit.

The downside: Weber could never consistently keep Illinois in the Top 25. Hence why his current team stands just outside our Top 25.

Projection: The Wildcats had to anxiously await their tournament fate after falling to Iowa State at the Big 12 tournament. They won’t have to wait that long after Weber experiences another short tournament stay.

27 Memphis (@UofMTigersHoops)

Why root for the Tigers? Josh Pastner’s best player, dynamic guard Joe Jackson, went to the same high school in Memphis (White Station) as Illinois signee Leron Black.

The downside: The selection committee didn’t slot the Tigers into the South Region. Memphis’ home court, FedEx Forum, is hosting the regional, and the Tigers are 15-3 at the venue this season.

Projection: Jackson, nor Michael Dixon (former Missouri guard), is the equivalent of Derrick Rose. Another trip to a Final Four in Texas isn’t on the minds of many outside Memphis.

28 N.C. Central (@NCCUAthletics)

Why root for the Eagles? Glance at so many team photos and after a while they all start to blend together. Not so for coach LeVelle Morton’s squad. They look dapper in their dark suits and ties. Well played.

The downside: Teams they feasted upon in the MEAC, like Howard, Norfolk State and Coppin State, aren’t playing the rest of the season.

Projection: The Eagles are playing really good basketball right now, having won 20 in a row. Three of their five losses this season came against Cincinnati, Wichita State and Maryland. Regardless, staying close against Iowa State will only be a moral victory.

29 Albany (@UAlbanySports)

Why root for the Great Danes? They resemble the United Nations. Coach Will Brown has six international players, including leading scorer Peter Howley (Australia) and leading rebounder Sam Rowley (Australia).

The downside: Those atrocious uniforms. Did you see them Saturday morning on ESPN2 against Stony Brook? Yikes. They look like something you’d see in a men’s 40-and-over league, not a college team.

Projection: The New York school from the state capital will knock down a few three-pointers. Make a few layups. Take viewers into a TV timeout once or twice thinking they can beat Florida. Then they’ll quietly exit stage left from the tournament.

30 Tennessee (@Vol_Hoops)

Why root for the Volunteers? Cuonzo Martin’s staff represents Illinois. Martin (East St. Louis Lincoln) and assistants Tracy Webster (Thornton), Jon Harris (Edwardsville) and Kent Williams (Mount Vernon) are former in-state prep products.

The downside: Martin (Purdue), Webster (Wisconsin), Harris (Marquette) and Williams (Southern Illinois) didn’t play at Illinois, but Webster’s assistant coaching gig at Illinois produced some memorable moments in 2005.

Projection: In the tournament for the first time with Martin on the sidelines, Vols can rely on Jordan McRae to possibly help Rocky Top surprise a team or two along the way. But nothing more.

31 Oregon (@OregonMBB)

Why root for the Ducks? At least they didn’t beat Illinois on their distracting home court, doing so instead this season at Portland’s Moda Center. Dana Altman has found a way to mix transfers in rather smoothly.

The downside: Oregon, which lost five straight at one point, finished the regular season with seven straight wins before UCLA rolled past it at the MGM Grand in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals. Team is definition of streaky.     

Projection: The Ducks may not have other components to make a Final Four run, but advancing to the Sweet 16 wouldn’t surprise. Nor should it surprise if Altman puts it to his former school, Creighton, in sending the Ducks to an Elite Eight appearance.

32 San Diego State (@GoAztecs)

Why root for the Aztecs? Xavier Thames can shoot from outside. Make steals. Grab a few rebounds. Drive the team bus. Cook the postgame meal. Arrange interview requests. It doesn’t seem there is much the versatile guard can’t do.   

The downside: Veteran coach Steve Fisher does not have many players who instill much confidence other than perhaps Josh Davis, a transfer whose name was floated about in possibly coming to Illinois last spring. Perhaps Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson can come back for Fisher.

Projection: You want to make them your sleeper Final Four pick out of the West. No problem in doing so. At your own risk because you could see them lose to New Mexico State almost as easily as beating Arizona.

33 Providence (@PCAthletics)

Why root for the Friars? The rigors of coaching can take a toll on the men who lead programs. Like Ed Cooley. But the third-year coach has lost more than 100 pounds in the past year. And has his Friars dancing again for the first time since 2004. Life is good.

The downside: Winning the Big East tournament these days doesn’t quite carry the same weight it used to. Point guard Bryce Cotton is a delight to watch (and hardly ever comes out of the game), but an Austin Croshere wannabe is nowhere to be found on this team.

Projection: God had something to do with the last tournament win Providence had. As in God Shammgod, the Friars’ point guard during the 1997 tournament — when the Rhode Island school make it to the Elite Eight. Too bad God (Shammgod) isn’t on Providence’s side this time.

34 Gonzaga (@ZagMBB)

Why root for the Bulldogs? Prep sophomores and juniors don’t know any different. The Zags have always reached the NCAA tournament in their lifetime, and this year’s berth marks the program’s 16th straight.

The downside: Point guard David Stockton (son of John) doesn’t have a Karl Malone-like scorer to throw the ball to on those sweet pick-and-rolls. Thankfully, though, he doesn’t have shorts like his dad.  

Projection: Other than that precocious run to the Elite Eight in 1999, the Bulldogs don’t exactly fare well once the lights get brighter in March. Expect more of the same this time around.

35 Western Michigan (@WMUMBB)

Why root for the Broncos? Their 98-77 beatdown of Toledo to win the MAC tournament showcased a prolific offense that can score points in bunches. Much like what Illinois offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, and former Western Michigan football coach, loves to have happen.

The downside: Good luck figuring out the zone Syracuse will throw at the Broncos. For a team that hasn’t seen it — and for a team that scored 35 points against Northwestern this season — it’s a nightmare. Especially without Illinois transfer Darius Paul.  

Projection: David Brown could vault the school from Kalamazoo past a few teams. Stellar guard play from a MAC team (think Ohio in 2012) could prove problematic once more.  

36 Dayton (@DaytonMBB)

Why root for the Flyers? You’re a fan of brother coaching tandems. Archie Miller, kid brother to Arizona coach Sean Miller, is in his third season at Dayton and has the Flyers back in the tournament for the first time since 2009.  

The downside: When you think of Illinois and the NIT, these guys pop in your mind. No way you’d cheer for a team that denied Bruce Weber’s team a trip to Madison Square Garden in 2010.

Projection: Got to hand it to the selection committee. They can talk all they want about not orchestrating. Flyer supporters will finally get one against the dreaded Buckeyes. Two nearby foes haven’t played since 2008 NIT and haven’t met in regular season since 1988. And they’ll get to do so in ... lovely Buffalo.

37 La.-Lafayette (@Cajunbasketball)

Why root for the Ragin’ Cajuns? The only school in the tournament from the state that brings us “Duck Dynasty,” has two players who would make Willie and Jase Robertson proud. Elfrid Payton and Shawn Long are the leading scoring duo in the country. No duck calls needed for them to get any extra attention from opponents.   

The downside: Motivational ploys come in many different forms. For Louisiana-Lafayette coach Bob Marlin, tattoos seem to work. He told his team he’d get one if they made the tournament. He gets to follow through on that now.

Projection: Tattoos hurt. They sting. Needles plunging into your skin don’t exactly sound like the best way to spend your free time. Neither does pinning your hopes of an extended tournament stay on the Sun Belt tournament champs.

38 Pittsburgh (@HailToPittHoops)

Why root for the Panthers? This isn’t like the plodding, defensive-oriented Pittsburgh teams of the past. Lamar Patterson, Talib Zanna and Cameron Wright are all capable of asserting themselves offensively.  

The downside: Still hard to fathom Pitt is in the ACC. While Jamie Dixon’s team posted a winning league record, it failed to beat any of the blue bloods like Duke, Syracuse, North Carolina or Virginia in the regular season.

Projection: But the Panthers did beat the Tar Heels in the ACC tournament. This tournament doesn’t exactly conjure up positive memories for members of the Panthers’ booster club, but Florida doesn’t exactly have an easy stroll into the Sweet 16.

39 George Washington (@GW_MBB)

Why root for the Colonials? You may not have liked him when he was wearing the candy-striped pants of the Hoosiers. But Maurice Creek’s ability to bounce back from devastating injuries at Indiana to lead GW in scoring is mighty impressive.

The downside: Creek couldn’t bring along some of his former teammates in Bloomington to the nation’s capital.

Projection: Most notable tournament accomplishment was getting beat by the Fab Five from Michigan during a Sweet 16 game in 1993. This year’s version won’t do anything special to brush aside that bit of notoriety.

40 Michigan State (@MSU_Basketball)

Why root for the Spartans? Adreian Payne can do anything on a basketball court. Branden Dawson is a force when he’s not hitting tables. Gary Harris makes the game look too easy at times.  

The downside: Tom Izzo’s bunch has the most talent of any Big Ten team in the field. When healthy. The Spartan faithful are sure hoping all the key pieces remain away from the medical staff in the coming weeks.

Projection: Going real scientific on this. The only team nicknamed Spartans in the field made it to second round in 2007. Why does this matter? That’s the year the movie “300,” was released, featuring its own set of Spartans. The movie’s sequel “300: Rise of an Empire,” is out now. Meaning one win and then a quick exit for Sparty.

41 Baylor (@BaylorMBB)

Why root for the Bears? Gotta love a gunslinger from deep. Canadian Brady Heslip isn’t shy about shooting — and making — three-pointers. Of the 125 field goals he’s made this season, 112 have come from beyond the arc.

The downside: Baylor went on an Illinois-like slide in January, dropping seven of eight games at one point. That’s pretty sick. As in bad. Like the Sic ’Em jerseys the Bears wanted to wear, but thankfully the NCAA said no. Good call.

Projection: Scott Drew’s team enters the tournament playing at a high level. Just like Art Briles’ football team was entering the Fiesta Bowl. Bears won’t claw their way to Elite Eight like they did in last two tournament trips.

42 Arizona (@APlayersProgram)

Why root for the Wildcats? T.J. McConnell looks like he should play in an intramural league on the Tucson campus. Not outperform nearly every point guard he plays against. Pittsburgh native sure is fun to watch, though.

The downside: Sean Miller was a great free throw shooter at Pittsburgh. Great enough to shoot 89 percent back in the day with the Panthers. His Wildcats, on the other hand? A measly 65.5 percent.

Projection: Aaron Gordon will go off and make millions this summer. Along with experiencing a trip to the Final Four that seemed almost certain in late January and then uncertain. But it’s back to being certain as Wildcats reach national semifinals.

43 Connecticut (@UConnMBB)

Why root for the Huskies? Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, who shared Mr. Basketball honors in this state with Chasson Randle in 2011 after starring at East Aurora, form an athletic and highly entertaining backcourt.

The downside: Jim Calhoun was a March maestro. Verdict is still out on Kevin Ollie. His Huskies missed the tournament last year because of bad grades. How will his coaching handle the pressure?  

Projection: This team doesn’t have a ton of postseason experience. Who cares? As long as the Huskies don’t match up against Louisville (two losses by a combined 45 points) Ollie’s group is poised for Sweet 16.

44 Arizona State (@SunDevilHoops)

Why root for the Sun Devils? He’s not on Eddie House’s level. Yet. Jahii Carson can put the ball in the bucket at a high clip, though, and the sophomore guard has 12 games of at least 20 points this season.  

The downside: Perhaps their egos needed checking after beating Arizona in double overtime last month. Since that win, the mood around the Sun Devils isn’t exactly sunny. Five losses in the final seven games will have that effect.

Projection: Great weather. Great campus. Not-so-great tournament runs. Alum James Harden might even have a tough time watching Herb Sendek’s bunch flounder once more in March.

45 Ohio State (@OhioStateHoops)

Why root for the Buckeyes? You think Aaron Craft never fouls and is the best point guard since Bobby Hurley. You also think Brutus is a long-lost family member.

The downside: You wake up and realize Amir Williams is your starting center. The same Amir Williams that causes you to hurl the remote in frustration when he doesn’t hustle.

Projection: Hoopeston’s finest, Thad Matta, has done so well in Columbus that Ohio State supporters think anything less than a Sweet 16 (something the Buckeyes haven’t missed out on since 2009) is a disappointment. Get ready to be disappointed.

46 Stanford (@stanfordbball)

Why root for the Cardinal? They’re back in the tournament for the first time since 2008. And first time in Johnny Dawkins’ much-maligned six-year tenure.

The downside: Bruce Weber and his Illinois staff sure went hard after guard Chasson Randle. But the Rock Island native headed to Palo Alto. All Randle did was average 18.9 points this season, tied for second in the Pac-12. That’s all.

Projection: It’s the school that last went to the Final Four in 1998. Before Mark Madsen became infamous for his dance moves. No pep rallies this time around once the Cardinal are gone after the first weekend.

47 Massachusetts (@UMassAthletics)

Why root for the Minutemen? The folks in Amherst have had some dreary basketball to watch most of the last two decades. Ever since a coach named John Calipari and a big man named Marcus Camby departed.  

The downside: Coach Derek Kellogg, the point guard for some of Calipari’s best teams, doesn’t have a post presence among the players he coaches now like Camby.

Projection: Leading scorer Chaz Williams was only 6 the last time Massachusetts made the tournament in 1998. Duke was good back then, and they’re still good, so the likelihood of a Sweet 16 berth is far-fetched.

48 Michigan (@umichbball)

Why root for the Wolverines? Spike Albrecht plays like he did in the first half against Louisville the entire tournament. And gets a date with Kate Upton. Have to give him props if the latter situation happens.

The downside: Starting, at point guard, junior Trey Burke. Those words were never uttered this season. Derrick Walton doesn’t have quite the same skill set — at least not yet — as the current Utah Jazz player.

Projection: Albrecht won’t get a chance to give a shoutout on Twitter to the Sports Illustrated swimswuit cover girl. Because Michigan won’t get past the Sweet 16 this season.

49 Colorado (@CUBuffsMBB)

Why root for the Buffaloes? You’re familiar with a lot of their names from the emotional rollercoaster that was a 57-49 win for Illinois in last year’s tournament. Like Askia Booker. And Josh Scott. And Xavier Johnson.

The downside: And Spencer Dinwiddie. Except you won’t see the versatile guard suit up for Tad Boyle’s team after he tore his ACL in mid-January. Bet Pittsburgh is breathing a huge sigh of relief.

Projection: No Dinwiddie, no possibility of a long tournament run. Then again, long tournament run are words no Colorado hoops fan is familiar with, so it won’t be as disappointing as what the Broncos did in the Super Bowl.

50 Va. Commonwealth (@VCUathletics)

Why root for the Rams? Praise loyalty. Shaka Smart is a smart man. Mentioned every offseason for any high-profile job, the 36-year-old has VCU positioned in the tournament for the fourth straight season.

The downside: Curse loyalty. Smart is anything but smart. The Final Four appearance in 2011 was pure luck. Since that journey to Houston, VCU has lost two third-round tournament games to Big Ten opponents.

Projection: Two reserves from the 2011 team, Juvonte Reddic and Rob Brandenberg, are still around and starting for the Rams. Too bad they won’t get to end their careers with another bracket-busting run.  

51 N.C. State (@PackMensBball)

Why root for the Wolfpack? They finally completed the trilogy with a solid but not spectacular third “Hangover” movie. Oh, wait, wrong Wolfpack.

The downside: If T.J. Warren, the ACC Player of the Year, could spread his scoring skills to other teammates, then we’d be on to something here. But Warren can’t get any help against a pesky SLU defense in a second-round loss.

Projection: At least Mark Gottfried’s team will get to travel from Dayton to Orlando before boarding a plane back to Raleigh. There’s worse things in life.

52 Oklahoma State (@OSUMBB)

Why root for the Cowboys? Jeff Orr probably won’t stand and applaud if the Cowboys win a game. So go ahead and cheer for the Pokes because you don’t quite believe the story the Texas Tech fan put out there after ugly incident in Lubbock.

The downside: Marcus Smart shoved a fan. A major no-no for a player who has major upside and will make major moolah once he becomes a lottery draft pick in June.

Projection: The Cowboys have more than just Smart — although they don’t have Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt anymore — and are a team no one is particularly geeked to play.

53 Texas Southern (@TXSOTigers)

Why root for the Tigers? Aaric Murray, the high-scoring center for the SWAC tournament champions, has a 48-point game attached to his name this season. No reason to think he won’t finish in double figures against Cal Poly.

The downside: Mike Davis is their coach. Yes, the Mike Davis who used to coach at Indiana, not the Mike Davis who used to make 15-foot jump shots for the Illini.

Projection: They’ll serve as the litmus test for an incredibly difficult postseason journey Wichita State is about to go on. At least the travel from Dayton to St. Louis isn’t too far.

54 Florida (@GatorZoneMBK)

Why root for the Gators? Billy Donovan is a coaching veteran. Seriously. The guy, who some people still stay looks like Eddie Munster, has coached Florida for 18 seasons. He even has flecks of gray in his hair to prove it.

The downside: The SEC isn’t the same cutthroat league the way football is. Beating up on the likes of Auburn, Alabam, South Carolina and others doesn’t carry quite the same weight it does during the fall.

Projection: This is Donovan’s best team since the Gators whipped up on Greg Oden’s Buckeyes during the 2007 title game. Will they become ninth school to win at least three NCAA titles? That’s open for debate.

55 Louisville (@GoCards)

Why root for the Cardinals? Kevin Ware. Even if he won’t play while he continues to recover from the gruesome broken leg he suffered last year against Duke in the Elite Eight, his poise in handling the devastating injury is remarkable.  

The downside: For all the squeamish fans out there, CBS will undoubtedly air replays of Ware lying helplessly on the floor of Lucas Oil Stadium while his shocked teammates look on. Have a trash can nearby.

Projection: Never smart to discount a Rick Pitino-coached team in March. The Cardinals have all the pieces in place to make another trip to the Final Four. Heck, they might even win it all. But Wichita State might have something to say about that.

56 Cincinnati (@GoBEARCATS)

Why root for the Bearcats? Perhaps Sean Kilpatrick hurt his draft stock somewhere along the way by staying. But the fifth-year senior is sure fun to watch, as evidenced by his abundant display of scoring talent (20.7 ppg).

The downside: If Kilpatrick isn’t on his game, Mick Cronin’s team could find itself in trouble. And Cronin could find himself in trouble if Ted Valentine is one of the officials assigned to a Cincinnati game.

Projection: Hired by Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas, Cronin wasn’t necessarily the most popular pick at the time. Yet the best team he’s had since his tenure began in 2006 has a chance to reach the Elite Eight.

57 Villanova (@NovaMBB)

Why root for the Wildcats? You like to be let down. Jay Wright’s team did that in the Big East tournament, losing in a stunner to Seton Hall. The same Seton Hall that lost to Fairleigh Dickinson this season.

The downside: The loss to the Pirates was the wakeup call the Wildcats needed. Or it wasn’t. Since reaching the Final Four in 2009, ‘Nova hasn’t exactly shined in March, going 1-3 in three appearances.

Projection: James Bell, Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston are all within 10 points of each other for top scoring honors. The Seton Hall defeat was a fluke, and Wildcats regroup in time ... to lose to former Big East adversary Connecticut.    
58 Iowa (@IowaHoops)

Why root for the Hawkeyes? Fran McCaffery brings the unpredictable element to every game. Roy Devyn Marble is silky smooth. Josh Oglesby can shoot the three.

The downside: Watch what you say about certain Iowa players on social media. They might lash out at you. Although McCaffery has ordered his players not to use Twitter until the season ends.

Projection: The shutdown won’t last much longer. The current Hawkeyes were in elementary school, or hadn’t even started, the last time Iowa City residents partied after a tournament win. The drought, dating back to 2001, continues.  

59 Syracuse (@Cuse)

Why root for the Orange? Tyler Ennis is superb. C.J. Fair’s last name doesn’t do justice to his overall skills. Trevor Cooney is a three-point specialist like Gerry McNamara, a Jim Boeheim assistant now. ’Cuse has all the pieces.

The downside: Except that one bona fide superstar. Ennis could maybe fit the category, but title teams need that one superstar player. Like the Orange had 11 years ago in Carmelo Anthony.

Projection: The way Jim Boeheim acted at Duke was deplorable. Which can sum up how the Orange played out the regular season, too, and its only game at the ACC tournament. Good luck predicting how Syracuse will play over the next few weeks.

60 Texas (@TexasMBB)

Why root for the Longhorns? Bevo is happier after a win. Just ask Mack Brown.  

The downside: A program with the appeal of Texas and the large recruiting influence it should have not just on the state but in other parts of the country has not produced the talent it did earlier in Rick Barnes’ tenure.

Projection: Homegrown talent (10 in-state players on roster) has Barnes, the Big 12 Coach of the Year, back to the tournament after a one-year hiatus. Now if only the Longhorns can win a few games.  

61 Tulsa (@TUMBasketball)

Why root for the Golden Hurricane: Bragging rights are on the line for the Woodard family. And likely a travel agent, too. James is Tulsa’s leading scorer and younger brother Jordan is a freshman guard for Oklahoma. Too bad the only way they could meet is in the national championship game.

The downside: Guard Pat Swilling Jr., son of former NFL sack master Pat Swilling, hasn’t played in more than a month after he was suspended indefinitely following a rape accusation.

Projection: Danny Manning can’t put on a Tulsa uniform. It’ll be a miracle if the Hurricane reaches the Sweet 16 in Manning’s second season on the sidelines. That said, Tulsa did so under Bill Self in 2000 and Tubby Smith in 1994 and 1995.


Why root for the Bruins? John Wooden used to coach there. They’ve won a lot of titles. Seth Davis has a new book out on Wooden. Ed O’Bannon is suing the NCAA. Their quarterback, Brett Hundley, is coming back. All right, we’re done reaching.

The downside: Steve Alford is their coach. The same Steve Alford who left New Mexico after reneging on a contract extension. The same Steve Alford who can’t win a meaningful tournament game when he isn’t the coach at Southwest Missouri State.

Projection: Nothing is sweet about UCLA’s tournament this year. Except for the fact the Bruins have a good draw to reach the Sweet 16. But then you remember Alford is at the helm. The dude just seems to struggle coaching deep into March.

63 Wisconsin (@BadgerMBB)

Why root for the Badgers? Sam Dekker is really, really good. Nigel Hayes isn’t afraid to mix it up in the post. Traevon Jackson makes plays, even if he shoots it a bit funny.

The downside: If only Bo Ryan had taken it easier on Illinois in Madison the Illini could point to that game as a possible signature win to the selection committee. Lots of teams wish they could say that, though.

Projection: Your hands start to shake after moving Wisconsin into the third round on your bracket. Then cold sweats creep up as you contemplate a Sweet 16 berth for the Badgers. Trying to predict how Wisconsin will fare is like watching an episode of “Breaking Bad.”

64 Duke (@Duke_MBB)

Why root for the Blue Devils? Jabari Parker. The Chicago Simeon native and two-time News-Gazette All-State Player of the Year is a once-in-a-lifetime talent. Who will likely be on an NBA roster at this point in 2015.

The downside: It’s still Duke. Still Mike Krzyzewski. Still the same coach who continually plucks Illinois prep talent like Jon Scheyer (past), Parker (present) and Jahlil Okafor (future) away from our state school.

Projection: While Parker displays skills showcasing he can play any position on the court, Blue Devils need better guard play if they want to cut down the nets in Texas.

65 North Carolina (@UNC_Basketball)

Why root for the Tar Heels? You still imagine Matt Doherty, Bill Guthridge or Dean Smith on the sidelines. Not Roy Williams, who kept the dominoes falling for Bill Self to leave Illinois.

The downside: The enigmatic Tar Heels have beaten Duke. Michigan State. Kentucky. And lost to Belmont. And UAB. Figuring out which team will show up is the greatest challenge for folks in Chapel Hill.

Projection: Marcus Paige can’t do it all, even if the slender guard seems capable of carrying North Carolina. All teams need other key players to emerge in the postseason, and none do as UNC falls short of the Sweet 16 once more.   

66 Kentucky (@KentuckyMBB)

Why root for the Wildcats? You’ll see players who will line NBA rosters come this time next March. Enjoy talents like Julius Randle, James Young and others in the college game while you still can.

The downside: John Calipari has come into Illinois and plucked away prime in-state talents like Derrick Rose, Tyler Ulis and Charles Matthews. Another solid run in the tournament will only bolster Kentucky’s recruiting.

Projection: No NCAA investigation about vacating Final Four wins will come from this year’s team. That’s because no Final Four is in the cards for the ’Cats this time around.

67 Milwaukee (@MKEPanthers)

Why root for the Panthers? Rob Jeter’s team most certainly earned its way into the tournament. Milwaukee knocked off three higher-seeded teams to win the Horizon League tournament. Have to respect that.

The downside: Bruce Pearl coached here. Bruce Pearl coached here. Bruce Pearl coached here.

Projection: The Panthers are dangerous in the tournament, reaching the Sweet 16 in 2005 (remember that one, Illinois fans?) and winning a game in 2006, their last appearance. It’s tempting to advance them in your bracket. Don’t do it.

68 Kansas (@KUHoops)

Why root for the Jayhawks? They’ll probably make another Final Four. While talk of all the consecutive Big 12 titles Bill Self’s program has won is filtered in during the broadcasts. And the elite recruits he lands on a yearly basis.

The downside: Elite recruits that might have donned an Illini uniform. Or won Big Ten titles at Illinois. Or made the Sweet 16 on a yearly basis at Illinois. Or churned out lottery picks from Illinois every June. Sigh.

Projection: Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid (if he’s healthy) and others win the national championship before holding multiple press conferences shortly thereafter to declare for the NBA draft.

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Green Shirt wrote on March 17, 2014 at 8:03 am

UI is a member of the Big Ten, therefore it is quite simple to determine the teams that you back in the NCAA tournament - other Big Ten teams.  It comes with the territory.

IlliniMike05 wrote on March 17, 2014 at 1:03 pm

I've never heard an adaquate explanation for this silly mindset. 

Why do I have to cheer for Big Ten teams in bowl games/the NCAA tournament? I don't like them. I understand cheering for them in nonconference regular season games because that helps Illinois' ranking/tourney chances/seeding, etc, but what they do in the postseason has no effect on Illinois whatsoever.

If anything, I want to cheer against Big Ten schools Illinois is possibly competing against for recruits; I want to cheer for Michigan or Michigan State to make another Final Four run when they're quite possibly our direct competition for Jalen Brunson? It's probably not likely to be a deciding factor in his or any other recruitment, but it's never good when the teams you're recruiting against have been more successful. 

So if it doesn't do any good for Illinois and could possibly hurt for Big Ten rivals to thrive in the tourney, what other reason is there? Bragging rights? Against whom? I don't want to talk to someone who thinks "The other teams in my favorite school's conference are better than the other teams in your school's conference" is interesting conversation anyway, because people like that are terrible. 

I'm a diehard Illini fan who will be actively cheering against Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Ohio State because I dislike at least one of: their coach, players, style of play, etc. I'll cheer for Michigan because Beilein is an offensive genius, and for Nebraska because them beating Creighton in the round of 32 would be really funny. See, those are actual reasons to cheer for or against a team, instead of proprietary nonsense that does nothing for Illinois.