It’s March Madness on – and off – the basketball court

GroceFrom the Saturday, March 21, edition of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

It’s that time of year when hope springs eternal.

Or, at least it is, unless your team has already been bounced out of the NCAA Tournament – or, ahem, already bounced out of the NIT.

Beyond any Cinderellas on the hardwood, spring training is in full swing promising hope for the summer. Elsewhere, spring football abounds promising hoping for the fall. And rumor has it that there may even be hope for warm weather soon.

Although, perhaps you shouldn’t hold your breath.

Instead, exhale as we take trip around the spring sports scene and check in on the Cubs, White Sox and Fighting Illini.

March Badness

The last time Illinois missed back-to-back NCAA Tournaments was 1991-92, and then only because the Illini were barred from the ’91 postseason due to NCAA sanctions. There are no sanctions this time around, but there’s plenty of frustration after Illinois was sent to the NIT and then failed to even show up in a 79-58 loss at Alabama.

“Certainly there’s some disappointment,” Illini athletic director Mike Thomas said after the loss. “We’d rather be playing in the NCAA tournament, and that’s our goal every year and any given year when we’re not playing in the NCAA tournament.”

At Illinois, however, making the NCAA Tournament shouldn’t be a goal – it should be the expectation. Soon, Thomas is going to have to start holding his coaches to higher standards, or the university is going to have to find an AD who will.

Is the Chayce on?

In Champaign, the football team is taking snaps as it hopes to build upon to Tim Beckman’s first bowl appearance. And in order for that to happen, the Illini will likely need a banner season from quarterback Wes Lunt, who struggled last season with injuries and ineffective play during the Big Ten schedule.

When Lunt faltered, senior Reilly O’Toole that stepped into the fray to lead Illinois past Minnesota and Penn State and into the postseason. With questions still remaining about Lunt as a Big Ten QB, I can’t help but be intrigued by backup Chayce Crouch, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound redshirt freshman out of Ohio about whom Illini offensive coordinator Bill Cubit recently said, “Chayce is special. Sometimes you get lucky.”

Lucky can be good.

Acting like April fools

Can we all just relax about Kris Bryant?

Things have gotten ridiculously heated with Bryant’s agent Scott Boras accusing the Cubs of not wanting to win if the club doesn’t put the phenom on the Opening Day roster. The reason: If Bryant isn’t promoted to the majors until after April 16 – meaning he needs to miss only nine games – he won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season.

I understand that it’s Boras’ job to make the most money possible for his client, and that he wants free agency sooner. But it’s also the Cubs’ job to run a business, and as good as Bryant might be right now at 23, he’ll be even better when he’s 29.

The Cubs would be foolish to bring him up before mid-April.

Sox ready to run

This week in a piece for, Jonah Keri wrote glowingly about the White Sox, stating that, “this team that’s been an also-ran for the past six years has the look of a stealth playoff squad. Only a year and half after [general manager Rick] Hahn embarked on a massive rebuilding project, everything seems like it has gone according to plan in Chicago.”

With apologies to Dave Wannstedt, the pieces indeed do look to be in place for the Sox to make a push for the playoffs this summer. Now the question is, can Robin Ventura prove he’s the manager to get them there?