Just hours prior to the start of the annual March Madness tournament, which kicks off this evening with a pair of play-in games between LIU-Brooklyn taking on Radford and St. Bonaventure taking on UCLA, I decided to put together an “All-Illinois March Madness Team”.
The purpose of the exercise this morning is to highlight the talent across the 68 teams in sports’ most exciting tournament of the year, as well as paint the picture as to just how bad Illinois based programs are at landing home-grown talent in the recruiting game. I have put together a 12-man roster of players who hail from the State of Illinois, to be led by Illinois-native Porter Moser.
I’m also replacing Syracuse in the play-in game for the 11th seed in the Midwest Region, and I’m going to see how my All-Illinois squad stacks up in the bracket. So without further adieu, here’s the roster that Naperville, IL native Porter Moser will lead into hypothetical competition.
|Player (College)||Class||H.S. (Hometown)||Stats (Per/Gm)|
|G – Jalen Brunson (Villanova)||Jr.||Adlai Stevenson (Lincolnshire)||19.4 P, 4.7 A, 3.1 R|
|G – Jevon Carter (West Virginia)||Sr.||Proviso East (Maywood)||17 P, 6.6 A, 5 R, 3 S|
|G/F – Donte Ingram (Loyola-Chicago)||Sr.||Simeon (Chicago)||11.6 P, 6.5 R, 1.5 A|
|F – Jeremiah Tilmon (Missouri)||Fr.||East St.Louis H.S./La Lumiere (East St. Louis)||8.4 P, 4.3 R|
|C – Keita Bates-Diop (Ohio State)||Jr.||University H.S. (Normal)||19.4 P, 8.8 R, 1.7 A|
|Player (College)||Class||High School (Hometown)||Stats Per/Gm|
|G – Charles Matthews (Michigan)||Jr.||St. Rita (Chicago)||12.6 P, 5.4 R, 2.6 A|
|G – Zach Norvell, Jr. (Gonzaga)||Fr.||Simeon (Chicago)||12 P, 3.6 R, 2.4 A|
|G – Kendall Stephens (Nevada)||Sr.||St. Charles East (St. Charles)||13.2 P, 2.0 R, 44% 3pt FG|
|F – Admiral Schofield (Tennessee)||Jr.||Zion-Benton (Zion)||14 P, 6.3 R|
|F – Cameron Krutwig (Loyola-Chicago)||Fr.||Jacobs (Algonquin)||10.5 P, 6.3 R, 1 B|
|F – Sean O’Mara (Xavier)||Sr.||Benet Academy (Glen Ellyn)||7.1 P, 3.3 R, 1.0 A|
|C – Loudon Love (Wright State)||Fr.||Geneva H.S. (Geneva)||13 P, 10 R, 1 B|
If you weren’t aware of just how bad Illinois schools have been when it comes to locking up home-grown hoops talent, you certainly are now. That’s a full twelve player roster of kids from the state of Illinois, with many of them coming from the Chicagoland area.
Just how far would this All-Illinois team advance in this year’s tournament? We’re going to put it to the test right here, but first a few notes;
– Opponents beyond the first round will be determined by the team with the higher seeding in their previous match-up. For example, Seton Hall is an eighth seed squaring off against a nine seed in N.C. State, Seton Hall wins in this exercise when determining our hypothetical opponent.
– The determination of games between the All-Illinois team and other opponents will be based on match-ups, talent and seeding — and maybe a little March magic.
– The players on our team in this exercise, do not play for their actual school — following the theory of what an Illinois-based program could look like if they landed some of the stud players coming out of their backyard.
The First Four Game – (11) All-Illinois vs. (11) Arizona St.
Honestly, I’m not even sure how Arizona State got into the tournament, especially considering Notre Dame with a healthy Bonzie Colson is playing in the NIT Tournament this week, so I’m going to give our All-Illinois squad an easy victory over the Sun Devils to make their way into the round of 64.
This roster is actually quite good, and as we all know, March Madness revolves around guard play and heroes, and with Jalen Brunson and Jevon Carter in the back-court, this team is going to have their way with opposing defenses. On to the real dance we go.
Round of 64 – (11) All-Illinois vs. (6) TCU
The Horned Frogs of TCU enter this match-up coming off of a 21-11 season, not bad right?
Wrong. TCU won 12 of their 21 victories to open the season against the likes of Tennessee Tech, South Dakota, Omaha, and U.L. Monroe.
In addition to their 12 softies to open the season, the Horned Frogs were 2-7 against ranked opponents during the 2017-2018 campaign, and this All-Illinois squad is certainly going to tear up the likes of Vladimir Brodziansky, Kenrich Williams and Desmond Bane.
All-Illinois moves onto the Round of 32 in a laugher against a TCU team in over their head at the 6th seed.
Round of 32 – (11) All-Illinois vs. (3) Michigan State
Here’s where things get interesting for the All-Illinois squad, as they face an early test in Tom Izzo’s third-seed Michigan State Spartans. The Spartans finished the season 29-4, going 1-1 in the Big Ten Tournament in a losing effort, and boast two NBA Draft lottery prospects in Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson, Jr.
Tom Izzo’s team is good this year, and really match-up well against anyone in the tournament. I covered their game against Northwestern towards the end of the season in west-suburban Rosemont, IL. I had two major takeaways from that game regarding the Spartans, with the first being that they’re an experienced and resilient bunch, and the second being — they’re definitely primed for an upset defeat.
The Wildcats, without Bryant McIntosh running the offense were mopping the floor at the All-State Arena with Michigan State’s defense for the entire first half in that contest. Michigan State took advantage of a thin Northwestern squad that used an eight-man rotation for much of the afternoon, and surged back for a narrow win in the second half, holding the Wildcats to just a few buckets.
The key to Northwestern’s colossal lead at halftime was their efficiency behind the three-point arc, and making Michigan State uncomfortable. This All-Illinois squad features three players who average 15 or more points per game in the starting lineup, and has depth on the bench to back it up. Kendall Stephens can check into the game and light it up from deep, averaging four triples per game on the season at just over eight attempts per contest.
This one goes down to the wire, but I’m going with the All-Illinois team in a nail-biter between two well-matched teams. How “Sweet” it is.
Sweet 16 – (11) All-Illinois vs. (2) Duke
If there’s a team in this region that knows a little something about reaping the rewards of talented Illinois-native hoops phenoms, it’s Duke. Duke also doesn’t really scare me in terms of match-ups on paper with this unit I have assembled, so we’re here for revenge.
Grayson Allen will be busy all night matched up with Jalen Brunson, arguably the best point guard in the country this season, with plenty of March Madness experience, and Marvin Bagley III will be matched up with Loyola-Chicago’s Donte Ingram.
You know what makes Loyola-Chicago such a good unit? Their defense. Donte Ingram is a crucial part of that formula for success. According to CBB Reference, opposing teams turned the ball over to the Ramblers 12.5 percent of the time that Ingram was on the floor per 100 possessions, and Ingram logged 2.5 defensive win-shares this season. While on the floor this season, Ingram grabbed 22 percent of the available rebounds as well.
There’s no denying the talent of Marvin Bagley III, but I think that Ingram will give him fits in the match-up and effort department, and the other four starters on this team have enough scoring power to pace anyone in the region. Factor in 20 points and 9 rebounds that Keita Bates-Diop is good for on a nightly basis, and we’re sliding that Cinderella slipper on the massive feet of this All-Illinois squad. All-Illinois is heading to the Elite 8, and putting a bow on the seemingly never ending career of Grayson Allen.
Elite 8 – (11) All-Illinois vs. (1) Kansas
More local ties in this Elite 8 match-up, as the All-Illinois kids have a date with the Kansas Jayhawks, and Bill Self, the one-time head coach of the Illinois Fighting Illini who fled for a “Blue Blood” program like may Illinois-native players do each year.
Here we have an opponent that dropped five conference games in a Big 12 that really, really doesn’t excite me at all this season, or most seasons for that matter.
The Jayhawks carry a defensive rating of 101.1, good for 129th of the 351 Division I schools according to CBB Reference, so needless to say, I have our All-Illinois scoring at ease for much of the game.
Udoka Azubuike (13.7 PPG) and Devonte’ Graham (17.1 PPG) will help the Jayhawks 10th rated offensive attack (per CBB Reference) keep pace with the firepower in our All-Illinois lineup, but the nod on paper goes to the underdog (by seed), as our All-Illinois squad dances their way into the Twin Cities for a Final Four berth with a win over Kansas in a high-scoring affair.
Final Four – (11) All-Illinois vs. (2) Purdue
Two wins from cutting the nets down, we meet our first exception to the rules that I outlined earlier, as Purdue gets the nod from the East Region portion of the bracket, after knocking off a Jalen Brunson-less Villanova team in the Elite 8.
Brunson was ranked the top player in the tournament by Bleacher Report on Monday night in their Top 25 Players in the Tournament rankings, due to his veteran leadership and his NBA-ready basketball IQ at the point.
Matt Painter and his Boilermakers were a force in the Big 10 this season, going 15-3 in league play, and finishing behind Michigan State in the regular season standings. The Boilermakers posted a top-10 defensive rating this season, but their offense was even better, sporting a 118.6 rating and checking in at No. 5 in the country.
This game would likely be the grittiest win of the bunch for this All-Illinois team, because Purdue possesses the firepower to match that of this lineup. With Carsen Edwards and his 18.5 PPG leading a starting five that boasts four players carrying double-digit scoring figures on the season.
Still, with possibly the most improved player in the Big 10 in Bates-Diop and Savvy veterans in the back-court like junior and NCAA Champion Jalen Brunson and Maywood, IL native and West Virginia senior Jevon Carter, my money would be riding on the All-Illinois team in this match-up.
National Championship – (11) All-Illinois vs. (1) Virginia
The single most important stat here is this, 87.9. That’s Virginia’s second-best defensive rating this season, the driving force behind their 31-2 record and their top overall ranking in college basketball.
The major question here is, can Virginia’s suffocating defense stop this lineup? A lineup that carries a trio of 15-plus points per game scorers who are considered three of the top 25 players in the tournament by Bleacher Report, is that enough scoring firepower to hang with the Cavaliers in the biggest game of them all?
This lineup, the starting five and the deep bench is just too damn good to be stopped. No chance I can bet against these guys. Team All-Illinois is our hypothetical 2018 National Champions, and while some of the scores were probably close, the further along I got, the harder it became to envision them losing, on paper.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a hypothetical exercise that features a crop of guys that would probably be tops among recruiting classes if they all came in at the same time, but that was one of the key points I wanted to make here.
I had no idea where I was going with this beyond the general idea of the exercise when I started doing research on Monday evening, but by the wee hours of Tuesday morning, I proved a couple things to myself. The alarming amount of Illinois players that jettison their local schools for other power programs is troubling.
Why? That’s a question for a later date, because I could never do it justice without delving into another couple thousand words at minimum. The more immediate takeaway here is, there are a good number of Illinois natives that will be dancing starting this week, so jot down these names, and be sure to cheer for these local guys since Illinois’ local programs are represented seldom in this magical tournament as of late.
Oh, and don’t forget about those Loyola-Chicago Ramblers, who we borrowed two players and a coach from for this exercise. The Ramblers, are after all, this state’s March Madness crush this year.