By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) Chicago is really good at being really, really bad at college basketball.
As of Sunday afternoon, the five Division-I NCAA teams in the immediate area have combined for a record of 47-91, or a winning percentage of .341. Congratulations to Northwestern, which leads the pack at 12-16 (.428), just edging out Chicago State and its mark of 11-15 (.423) by five-thousandths of a point, like a result in the five-man bobsled of awful.
Next comes poor DePaul at 10-18 (.357), moribund Loyola at 9-19 (.321) and Illinois-Chicago at 5-23 (.178).
This is not even to mention the area teams that could be considered Chicago’s when factoring in fans, alumni and the schools’ economic support systems. Illinois is 15-12 but only 4-10 in Big Ten play and has lost 10 of 12, including eight straight during a miserable, month-long stretch from Jan. 8 to Feb. 4. Notre Dame has lost five in a row and is now 5-10 in ACC play.
Let’s unpack some of this, careful to steel ourselves for the grisly details. If you have some Vicks VapoRub nearby, I’d suggest applying some under each nostril, like the West Virginia coroners in “The Silence of the Lambs” did before autopsying Buffalo Bill’s decomposed sixth victim.
Northwestern can claim some mitigating factors, like endless injuries to key players and a new head coach inheriting a roster constructed for a specific, different system. Chris Collins deserves the opportunity to prove he can win with his guys, but the questions we asked about his game coaching when he took the job remain largely unanswered, as do those regarding any effort to get NU’s still-too-rigorous academic standards for ballers more in line with fellow private smarties like Duke and Stanford.
Hard to believe DePaul is already in year four of the Oliver Purnell era, but here it is, sporting a conference record of 8-61 (.116). Purnell seems to have misinterpreted the marching orders he received in 2010, hearing, “Please rebuild our once-proud program” but understanding it as, “Please take all this money and fade quietly into comfortable semi-retirement.” DePaul remains a quaint, outdated mom-and-pop operation run by overmatched small-timers who keep their jobs only because of strange institutional politics, managerial inertia and severely lowered expectations. The plan to build a new arena near McCormick Place creates as many new problems as it solves and is already on uncertain financial ground.
As for Illinois, at least it’s not the football program. John Groce is energetic and competent, but he needs to start winning battles for top recruits if he wants to dig out from his current spot next to Penn State, 4-10 at the bottom of the conference. This Illini program was too recently vying for a national title for the current place in the wilderness to be acceptable, and the only way to change that is by bringing elite, national-level talent to Champaign as quickly as possible. And from wherever, too, not just this state.
Notre Dame has stalled upon joining a new conference, now in tough against heritage programs. UIC, Loyola and Chicago State induce yawns, barely registering. Try naming the coach of any one of those three teams. Name one player. See?
There have been some tremendous college games to watch this season, as future NBA stars trade acrobatic baskets while red-faced megalomaniacs explode in fuming tantrums of ego only loosely directed at hapless officials. Arenas are packed, intensified by higher stakes.
It seems a world away from Chicago, where college basketball has come to die.