Illini Basketball’s One Silver Lining

GroceToday’s column from CBS Chicago

By Dave Wischnowsky –

(CBS) Right now, when it comes to NCAA Tournament bids, the Big Ten is looking a little small.

In ESPN’s latest edition of “Bracketology,” Jim Delany’s 14-team conference had only six schools in the projected 68-team field. League leader Wisconsin was listed as a two-seed, and Maryland held a three-seed. But behind them, Indiana could be found clinging to a seven-seed, while Iowa, Ohio State and Michigan State all stood together as a trio of mediocre nine-seeds.

Illinois wasn’t included in the bracket, not at all surprisingly considering that the Illini are currently 13-8 overall and just 3-5 in the Big Ten. However, when it comes to NCAA Tournament hopes, John Groce’s squad does have one silver lining – none of Illinois’ eight losses are truly “bad” setbacks.

Unlike Michigan and Nebraska, there are no New Jersey Institutes of Technology or Immaculate Words blighting the Illinois loss column. All of the Illini’s defeats have been against teams from major conferences with winning records, and seven of the losses have come on the road or at neutral sites.


Unveiling Chicago’s best shortcuts and tricks

From the Saturday, Jan. 24, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

pedwayThe WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

Chicago can be a tricky place to navigate.

When I moved to the city nearly a decade ago, I quickly discovered that I didn’t know what I didn’t know about living there until, well, I knew it.

For example, during my first week in town I learned about parking. When the city sweeps one side of the street on one day ($50 fine), it’s going to sweep the other side of the street on the following day ($50 fine).

No, I was not fine.

Since then, however, I’ve learned a few things. And last week, Timeout Chicago shared many of the Windy City’s best shortcuts and tricks in an article entitled “27 Chicago hacks to make your life easier.”

Some are particularly helpful for visitors, which I thought I’d share with you today along with my own two cents.

Timeout says to use the Pedway system. When slush, bitter cold or rain plagues Chicago, the underground system of tunnels allows pedestrians to move between CTA stations, City Hall, Macy’s, the Aon Center and more – all without going outdoors.

I add: Chicago’s Pedway is largely unknown to outsiders. You can actually take a tour of the 40 blocks of subterranean corridors through

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Welcome To Chicago’s Golden Age Of Coaching

Chicago Cubs Introduce Joe MaddonToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) One of them has already won two titles. Another has been to two title games. A third has guided a team to a championship series, while a fourth has designs on getting his squad to one of those this season.

It’s time to sit back and smile, Chicago.

Because at this very moment, we’re living in the Golden Era of Coaching in the Windy City – or, at least, it sure looks like we could be.

That’s because with Joel Quenneville (two Stanley Cups), John Fox (two Super Bowl appearances), Joe Maddon (one World Series appearance) and Tom Thibodeau (gunning for an NBA Finals) handling the reins for the Blackhawks, Bears, Cubs and Bulls, I don’t think we’ve ever before been blessed with such a wealth of coaching brain power in the city.

Oh, and Robin Ventura? You’re going to need to step your game up.

After seeing way too much bad baseball, boneheaded football and injury-plagued basketball over the past few seasons, it’s exciting to now see so many gaudy coaching resumes spread across the city, all at once.

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Some conventional thoughts about the 2015 Cubs

cubsFrom the Saturday, Jan. 17, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

Five years ago, I attended my first-ever Cubs Convention in Chicago, and the team promptly went 75-87 during the 2010 season.

I haven’t been back since. And, really, neither have the Cubs.

Since that weekend spent hobnobbing with Cubs greats – and Ronnie “Woo Woo” – the club hasn’t enjoyed a winning season and has gone 346-464 overall. However, as the team’s 30th annual convention continues today and Sunday, hope finally has returned to the North Side.

Not coincidentally, it’s accompanied by talent.

In Joe Maddon, the Cubs again have a manager worthy of their stage, both in terms of leadership and personality (sorry, Rick Renteria, Dale Sveum and Mike Quade). They finally have a true ace in $155 million man Jon Lester. And if phenoms Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and others develop as hoped, they may soon have a team filled with true stars.

And as Theo Epstein & Co. fuel the fan fest excitement today, here’s some things that currently interest me the most regarding the 2015 Cubs.

Win now … and later

This week, while chatting with the Chicago Tribune about movies and baseball, Kevin Costner called the Cubs “a funny team – almost America’s team in a weird way. They need to win.”

And, yes, they do. But that doesn’t mean they have to win big now.

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Illini Fighting Way Back Into NCAA Tourney Contention

GroceThursday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) Just when it looked like all was lost for Illinois basketball, suddenly, it isn’t at all.

Only nine days ago, Illini coach John Groce’s program was engulfed in both gloom (an 0-2 Big Ten record after a 77-61 setback at Ohio State) and doom (leading scorer Rayvonte Rice had been sidelined indefinitely after breaking his hand) as it prepared to face No. 11 Maryland down in Champaign.

But since then?

Well, you’ve really got to hand it to the Illini, because they didn’t just throw theirs up and surrender in the face of adversity. Instead, the Illini are living up to the “Fighting” in their nickname and have now given themselves a legitimate shot at actually making a run to the NCAA Tournament.

Getting there still won’t be easy — but it also isn’t impossible.

On Wednesday night, Illinois pulled out a gutsy 72-67 road win at Northwestern, giving the team victories in two of its last three games since losing Rice to injury. With a 12-6 record overall that includes 2-3 mark in the Big Ten despite playing four of their first five league games on the road, the Illini’s situation is now looking up.

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Warm thoughts about Chicago’s winters – really

WinterFrom the Saturday, Jan. 10, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

In Chicago, winter is about as popular as City Hall.

Both can be terribly taxing.

And last month, with the Great Polar Vortex still wintry fresh in our minds, Chicago Tribune business columnist Melissa Harris wrote a piece entitled, “The Mass Exodus of 2014,” in which she spoke to an Evanston blogger who claims to have had 48 friends flee the area for other states during the past 14 months.

“Every year people complain about the weather, but last year especially, it was just ridiculous,” said 36-year-old Saya Hillman, who surveyed 22 of her friends about their reasons for leaving Illinois. “I think most of these people, where weather played a part, it wasn’t, ‘Oh, I’ve never thought about moving before.’ The weather was the kicker. It was the thing that pushed them over the edge.”

Yeah, maybe. But I tend to think that anyone who leaves Chicago for that reason is a wimp. And as a different Tribune business columnist, Phil Rosenthal, pointed out this week, “truth is, we’re sweating bigger problems in this state” – namely, our avalanche of financial concerns, which is something that should really chill us to the bone.

And that’s likely the true reason why most Illinoisans are leaving.

But back to the polarizing – and polar-like – issue of Chicago’s cold, which last winter dumped a whopping 82 inches of snow on the city while also plunging temperatures below zero on 26 different days, more than the during previous five winters combined.

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Short-Handed Illini Just Can’t Get A Leg Up

rayvonte-riceToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) Seemingly, it’s been years since Illini basketball last caught a break. And then this week, when it finally did? Well, it was completely the wrong kind.

Namely, the fractured-left-hand-of-your-best-player-during-practice kind of break, which seems so terribly cruel to a struggling team and a suffering fan base, yet also so terribly Illinois.

In terms of mood, Orange is the New Blue.

Worn weary after having missed four of the past seven NCAA Tournaments and whiffing in so many high-profile recruiting battles, Illini Nation on Tuesday didn’t respond with a passionate online uproar so much as a collective sigh of resignation when the news broke that senior star Rayvonte Rice had broken his left hand and will be sidelined indefinitely (likely around a month or more) following surgery Wednesday.

It was almost as if the reaction was, “Of course he did.”

And if ever a fan base, a basketball program and, heck, an entire athletic department was in need of a win, the University of Illinois is.

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Wisch Lists are for New Year’s

HoverboardFrom the Saturday, Jan. 3, issues of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

Wish lists are for Christmas.

But Wisch Lists? Well, just like always, they’re for New Year’s.

And I’ve been waiting almost 30 years for this one.

Although, we’re already three days in 2015 and I’m still yet to see a hoverboard. Or a flying car. Or anyone wearing those cool self-lacing Nike high-tops that looked so good on Marty McFly’s feet.

But they’re probably part of the spring collection.

And surely I’ll track a pair down by the time the Cubs beat Miami to win the World Series in October.

Wait … Miami?

OK, so maybe everything about 2015 that was projected in “Back to the Future II” won’t actually happen in 2015. But here’s what I hope does.

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Groce, Illini Need To Tackle The Big Ten

Kennesaw State v IllinoisTuesday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) The University of Michigan band has been asked back early from winter break. Ticket prices for the Wolverines’ Big Ten hoops opener are reportedly through the roof. And across the country, all eyes will be on Ann Arbor this afternoon.

But it isn’t because the Illinois Fighting Illini are in town.

Or even that John Beilein’s Michigan basketball team is.

Rather, all the hoopla is because some guy named Jim Harbaugh is supposed to be introduced at Crisler Arena during Michigan’s 2 p.m. game against Illinois on Tuesday. Apparently, he coaches football, and the folks up in Ann Arbor really care about that sort of thing.

As a result, the arrival of the school’s new khaki-clad rock star direct from the NFL means that Michigan’s hoops arena should be rocking much more than it would be if the underachieving Wolverines basketball team (7-5) was the only attraction on tap.

Harbaugh’s anticipated appearance at Michigan is inconvenient for the 10-3 Illini, although Illinois coach John Groce told reporters on Monday, “We always say the louder the better, the bigger stage the better. We relish opportunities like that.”

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What you don’t know about Christmas in Chicago

Holiday2From the Saturday, Dec. 20, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

Sometimes, Chicago can be a Polar Vortex.

But the Windy City also can be a Winter Wonderland. And during Christmastime, its buildings, streets and parks are filled with holiday fun – and all sorts of fun holiday facts, many of which you might not know.

To help put you in the Christmas spirit this weekend, I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite holiday facts from all around the city.

It’s a tradition

Chicago has more longtime holiday traditions than you can shake a Christmas tree branch at.

Among them: For 64 years, the Museum of Science and Industry has celebrated the birth of Jesus with its spectacular “Christmas Around the World” tree exhibit. For 36 years, Goodman Theatre has told Charles Dickens’ classic tale by staging “A Christmas Carol.”And for 23 years, the Art Institute has held the annual “Wreathing of the Lions” for its pair of bronzed felines along Michigan Avenue.

The CTA Holiday Train (and Bus)

Riding the “L” in Chicago isn’t always the most pleasant experience. But if you’re lucky, it actually can be magical in December.

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