The metro area of Chicago isn't considered a hot bed for college basketball. When people think about college basketball they think the North Carolina research triangle or Philadelphia. What do those areas have that Chicago lacks? Strong local rivalries.
Chicago's Big 5
When two Chicago teams played last season there was a dramatic increase in excitement. When DePaul came to Welsh-Ryan Arena to take on Northwestern the crowd came alive. Likewise, the game between Loyola-Chicago and UIC at the end of the 2009 regular season at the Gentile Center drew a larger than normal crowd.
The Ramblers and Flames are conference rivals. They have a reason to play each other each season, but what about the other Chicago area teams? What if they were given a reason to play each other?
In Philadelphia there's the Big 5. It is composed of Villanova, UPenn, St. Joseph's, Temple and LaSalle. It is five schools from four very different conferences playing intense basketball for the right to be named king of the city for a season. The city of Philadelphia and the Herb Good Club plays up these contests. The club names an all-city team each year and an outstanding player. The outstanding player for the 2008-09 season was Ahmad Nivins of St. Joseph's.
As the Chicago area teams finalize their schedules for the 2009-10 season they should all think about the possibility of playing games against local rivals. Over the past few seasons the five teams have been relatively similar in quality. A series between the schools would benefit every team in terms of local recruiting and generating interest for some non-conference games.
This idea first came to me in February before Northwestern played Chicago State. That game was a highly entertaining contrast in styles between two local squads. It was also one of just three non-conference games between two local schools.
Last season, DePaul and UIC played against each other at UIC Pavilion. It was the fourth time the two schools had faced each other. Two schools separated by 4.0 miles and about a 15 minute drive up N. Halsted Street have played four times? Now that seems a little ridiculous.
At least the Blue Demons and Flames played. Welsh-Ryan Arena is just six miles from the Gentile Center, but Loyola-Chicago and Northwestern haven't played in the last five years.
Local rivalries are important. They get fans energized. With five teams around the city, Chicago's college should make a concerted effort to save room for each other on the schedule.