Could Illinois Support Another Big Ten School?

Gonzaga v IllinoisMy CBS Chicago column from March 25 …

(CBS) Michigan has two, and they’re both in the Sweet 16. Ohio and Iowa have two apiece, and all of them heard their names called on Selection Sunday. Indiana also has two, and … well, perhaps they’re not the best example right now.

Throughout the Midwest, several states have a pair of large public universities that are both members of major conferences (Michigan/Michigan State and Indiana/Purdue in the Big Ten; Iowa in the Big Ten and Iowa State in the big 12; and Ohio State in the Big Ten and Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference), and many of them enjoy athletic and academic success.

Illinois, stands alone in that regard, but two local legislators want to change that.

Last week, state senators Michael Connelly (R-Naperville) and Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) introduced legislation in Springfield to study the feasibility of making one of Illinois’ current state universities a Big Ten school.

According to the Naperville Sun, the measure, Senate Bill 3526, passed the Senate Higher EducationCommittee on March 19 and will be called for a Senate vote soon. Both lawmakers say they are pursuing the idea due to concerns that some suburban students are leaving Illinois to attend other, high-priced Big Ten institutions out of state.

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The names behind Chicago’s neighborhoods

From the Saturday, March 22, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

mapThe WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

Chicago is a city of many things, including nicknames.

From the Windy City to the Second City to the City of Big Shoulders, that Toddlin’ Town has plenty of monikers. It also has plenty of neighborhoods – 77, to be exact – all of which have nicknames, too.

Last week, MentalFloss.com, which specializes in interesting facts and odd bits of knowledge, published an article entitled, “How Chicago’s Neighborhoods Got Their Names.”

The piece taught me about neighborhoods that I barely know, such as Pill Hill (named for all the doctors who once called the area home), Gladstone Park (named after British Prime Minister William Gladstone) and Jackowo (named from the Polish spelling of Saint Hyacinth’s Basilica – Bazylika Św. Jacka).

And for the neighborhoods I thought I knew well, I learned that I didn’t really know many of them well at all. To enlighten you, I wanted to share a few of my favorite facts about Chicago’s favorite neighborhoods.

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With Football Focus, NU Neglecting Hoops Arena

CollinsThursday’s column at CBS Chicago

(CBS) The 76th edition of the men’s basketball NCAA Tournament begins today, and for the 76th straight year, the Northwestern Wildcats will honor the event in the only way they know how.

By following it from home.

As the only major conference school in America to never reach the Big Dance, Northwestern exists in a realm that perhaps only Cubs fans can understand, and even they know what the postseason feels like.

Like the Cubs, Northwestern also plays in an aging venue that’s in need of work. But unlike Wrigley Field – which is slated for a massive overhaul (eventually) – Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston isn’t due to get any more than a touch-up in the foreseeable future. However, if Northwestern really wants to become a perennial player in the Big Ten basketball race – and even the occasional qualifier for the NCAA Tournament – it needs to do more for its home court.

Much more.

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My One Big Problem With Groce This Season

Illinois v MiamiTuesday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) The good news for this young Illinois basketball team is that it’s playing in the postseason. The bad news is that the postseason is the NIT. And the frustrating news is that I think it could have instead been the NCAA Tourney, if only a few buttons had been pushed earlier.

And, yes, John Groce, I am looking at your trigger finger.

Overall in Year 2 of the Groce Era in Champaign, I was pleased with the Illini coach’s job. As he works to stabilize and strengthen his roster for the long term, he’s been forced to deal with a lineup that’s long on inexperience and short on shooting. Throughout this season, he didn’t allow the Illini’s spirit or effort to falter, even during an eight-game losing streak. And yet again, he has his team peaking down the stretch when games matter most.

But my beef with Groce for 2014-15 is that he didn’t peek down his own bench earlier this year. Because I do believe that if he had inserted freshmen Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill into the starting lineup in place of fifth-year seniors Jon Ekey and Joseph Bertrand a little earlier, Illinois very possibly would have nabbed the one or two more Big Ten wins it needed to be selected for the Big Dance.

And while I’m surely not the only to hold that theory, I am the one who has crunched the numbers to help back it up.

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Illini Fall, But Groce’s Arrow Is Still Pointing Up

Illinois v WisconsinFriday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) With Illinois trailing Michigan in the second half of the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals on Friday, Illini junior Rayvonte Rice grabbed the basketball, raced down the court on a one-man fast break and leapt off the floor for a what looked to be a sure one-handed dunk.

Instead, it resulted in an air ball.

“The ball just slipped out of my hand,” Rice sheepishly explained after a game the Illini ultimately lost 64-63. “There ain’t no other way to say it.”

And with that one-point loss to the Wolverines – one that ended with Tracy Abrams’ floater bouncing off the front of the rim as time expired – a huge upset of No. 1-seeded Michigan and a potential berth in next week’s NCAA Tournament also slipped out of the Illini’s hands.

There ain’t no other way to say it.

For Illinois, it was a quality finish to the regular season but a tough way to end it. After all, the Illini, who had won five of their previous six games, certainly had their shots to knock off a Wolverines squad that had crushed them 84-53 at State Farm Center only 10 days ago. But like Rice and Abrams, the Illini just couldn’t quite hit them.

So, while the season isn’t yet over for the Illini with the NIT likely looming, the season’s big dreams now are. And as Illinois waits this weekend to learn its exact postseason destination, the question is, which direction is head coach John Groce’s compass now pointing in the eyes of Illini nation?

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On St. Patrick’s Day, it’s easy being green in Chicago

greenThis weekend’s newspaper column from The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.)

The WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

You may be able to freeze the Chicago River, but you can’t freeze out its traditions – not on St. Patrick’s Day Weekend, at least.

With all the ice and snow that’s plagued the Windy City this winter, there had been concerns as recently as last week that the river might still be frozen over today, denying the city its ability to dye the water green as has been the March tradition for more than five decades.

However, Kevin Sherlock, an event organizer with the Journeymen Plumbers Local Union 130 that oversees the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade and river dyeing, said everyone should chill.

“There’s no need to worry,” Sherlock told the Chicago Tribune on March 4. “The ice is never that thick that we can’t break through it and make it work. They will get the water moving and get the dye in there. They have never had a problem before.”

And won’t today, either, as the weather has at least warmed up a little bit this week. To get things flowing for Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade – which you can watch live at noon on ABC-Ch. 7 (the river is dyed at 9:30 a.m.) – here are a few things you may not know about the holiday and Irish in Chicago.

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With Win, The Bubble Now Beckons For Illini

abramsThursday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) Can you be on the bubble for being on the bubble?

If so, that’s precisely where ninth-seeded Illinoisfinds itself today after an impressive 64-54 victory over eighth-seeded Indiana in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.

On the strength of a season-high 25 points from junior guard Tracy Abrams, the Illini (19-13) have advanced to the quarterfinals, where top-seeded seed Michigan (23-7) awaits. And sitting there right alongside the Wolverines is Illinois’ chance at possibly sneaking into the NCAA Tournament, something that only someone wearing the thickest orange-colored glasses would have thought possible just a few weeks ago.

Coming into the conference tournament, I thought that if the Illini could win two games that they’d put themselves on the NCAA Tournament bubble and that if they could somehow win three they’d have a great shot at getting in. But first, to have any shot at all, they need to keep Michigan from shooting as great as it did during the Wolverines’ 84-53 embarrassment of Illinois at the State Farm Center on March 4.

With all that in mind, here are a few more thoughts after the Illini’s rousing victory over the Hoosiers.

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A New Arena Won’t Fix DePaul Basketball Alone

Depaul v VillanovaToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) With last-place finishes in the Big East piling up and attendance numbers at Allstate Arena plummeting, DePaul basketball is clearly in need of a fix.

But a new arena in Chicago isn’t going to fix it alone.

And the worry here is that the Blue Demons’ forthcoming $170-million home is going to end up bedeviling taxpayers for years to come.

On Monday, Danny Ecker of Crain’s Chicago Business reported that two and a half years ahead of the scheduled opening of a 10,000-seat DePaul basketball arena next to McCormick Place, the school’s already paltry attendance figures are heading in the wrong direction.

According to Allstate Arena ticket records obtained by Crain’s, DePaul’s men’s basketball attendance dropped 27 percent year over year this season to just more than 1,900 fans per game. The Blue Demons went 11-20 overall and 3-15 in the Big East, securing their sixth straight year of owning at least a share of last place in the conference.

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Cubs Can’t Be Shortsighted With Castro

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Chicago CubsFriday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) When it comes to Starlin Castro’s fielding percentage, the good news is that it’s improved every season. But the bad news? Well, after four years of big league ball, it’s still never been better than .967.

And for those of you scoring at home, that’s not good.

Despite Castro’s high-profile struggles at the plate in 2013, I still believe that he’s is a natural-born hitter, and hopefully he shows that again this summer in Chicago. But on the flip side, based on his proclivity for errors – both physical and mental – while out in the field, I’ve never really believed that the guy is a natural-born shortstop.

Rather, he just plays one on TV.

So far, much of the talk this spring in Mesa has been if Castro, the Cubs’ 23-year-old entrenched shortstop, and Javier Baez, the Cubs’ 21-year-old phenom shortstop, can eventually co-exist on the same roster.

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IHSA Boys’ Basketball Tournament belongs in Champaign

HallFrom the Saturday, March 8, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.)

The WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

Its name changed months ago, and now down in Champaign, State Farm Center is finally getting a facelift too – or, at least, the beginnings of one.

But come November 2016, once all the construction is slated to be finished and the University of Illinois’ venerable basketball arena has been fully renovated, there’s another time-honored institution that also should consider changing its identity by moving back into the place.

Yes, I’m looking at you, IHSA Boys’ State Basketball Tournament.

No offense, Peoria.

On Tuesday night, the Fighting Illini played their final home basketball game of the season. After it was over, a crew began pulling up the court at State Farm Center so work could begin on Phase I of the building’s $165 million renovation, which is scheduled to take three off-seasons to complete.

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