History looks fondly on Chicago's college basketball teams, well at least when viewed through the eye-glass of ESPN and Jeff Sagarin. They undertook the task of ranking every NCAA Division I college basketball program from 1-330. There are a number of surprises in the rankings. (PDF)
ESPN has the necessary reaction pieces from Pat Forde and Andy Katz, but what about the Chicago-area teams. Did they get their proper due?
Well, DePaul's ranking surely is going to surprise some newcomers to the college basketball world. Yes, the Blue Demons have been pretty bad since joining the Big East, but DePaul was once a collegiate power. They're ranked 26th in front of a number of more recognizable teams, including Georgetown (#42), Wisconsin (#28) and Connecticut (#54).
Why are the Blue Demons ranked so high? One reason is that DePaul has been playing Division I basketball for the entire 72 years of the study. The second is that there doesn't appear to be any extra weight given to more recent performance. Thus, DePaul's dominance in the 1940's - where the Blue Demons are ranked sixth - 1950's (37th) and 1980's (15th) help boost the program up overall.
DePaul has at least been to multiple NCAA Tournaments, while 26 might seem high, it's not too high when taking into account over seven decades of basketball history. Yet, over that same time period another Chicago school - Northwestern - has never even qualified for an NCAA Tournament, but there the Wildcats are at 77th overall. How?
This issue is actually addressed in the header for the rankings. Here's what ESPN/Sagarin have to say:
"We're guessing you're nearly as shocked by Northwestern's No. 77 ranking--pretty remarkable for a team that's never made the NCAA Tournament. But with eight Big Ten programs in the Top 20, the Wildcats have faced some of college basketball's toughest conference slates for more than seven decades."
Yup, the Big Ten has been that good for that long. The conference helps lifts Northwestern over programs such as Providence (#78), Penn State (#82) - a long-time independent, and Texas Tech (#89). The Wildcats also benefit for the longevity of the study. Northwestern is ranked 23rd for the 1940's, but they don't appear in the Top 40 in any other decade.
A third Chicago school, Loyola-Chicago, also slides into the Top 100. The Ramblers have a National Title to their name and a great decade of basketball in the 1960's so it's no surprise to seem them regarded highly. In fact, Loyola is the only Chicago program in the Top 40 of the 1960's. It comes in at 24th for the decade and also 27th in the 1940's.
Loyola finished ahead of schools like Butler (#98), Georgia (#101) and Virginia Tech (#105). Though the way things are going, the Bulldogs might hop the Ramblers in a few more seasons.
The other two Chicago programs didn't receive much attention. UIC - misnamed Illinois-Chicago in the rankings - and Chicago State are both ranked in the 200's. The Flames, at 233rd, did finish ahead of Harvard (#236) and just behind Bucknell (#232). The Cougars - at 285th - aren't in front of anyone with any history, but did manage to beat Liberty (#304) and last place Binghamton (#330).
Overall Chicago does very well for itself in the rankings. It's nice for the history of the area to be recognized. You can check out the rankings and apparently much more in the ESPN College Basketball Encyclopedia.