NCAA Talk

Illinois a No. 4 seed in CBT's projected bracket

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Illinois a No. 4 seed in CBT's projected bracket

With more than two months to play in the college basketball season, plenty will change between now and Selection Sunday. But that won't stop NCAA Tournament projections from coming fast and furious now that conference season is underway for the 348 Division-I schools vying for a berth in March Madness.
NBC Sports' College Basketball Talk released its first mock bracket this morning, and Illinois, one of the early surprises of the non-conference season in all of college basketball, was slotted as the No. 4 seed in the Midwest region, taking on No. 13 Middle Tennessee State.
The Illini (14-2, 1-1) bolted out to a fast start in Maui, defeating Butler 78-61 to win the Maui Invitational in November, and haven't looked back. With wins at No. 9 Gonzaga, the aforementioned No. 14 Bulldogs and, most recently, then-No. 8 Ohio State on Saturday, the Illini came in ranked No. 12 in the country in the NCAA's first release of its RPI standings.
That win over the Buckeyes last week salvaged the start to the Big Ten season for the Illini, who lost to unranked Purdue on the road, 68-61.
The Boilermakers (7-7, 1-1) were not listed in CBT's mock bracket, but six other Big Ten schools were: Indiana (No. 1 seed), Michigan (1), Minnesota (2), Michigan State (4), Ohio State (5) and Wisconsin (First Four game in Dayton).
The Big Ten, which touts an NCAA-best six teams in the top 25, is also the only conference with two No. 1 seeds and two No. 2 seeds. Teams assuredly will move up and down as the season goes on, but the top six Big Ten teams (Wisconsin not included) are almost locks to make the NCAA Tournament.
The at-large field is weak this year, which means Northwestern (9-6, 0-2) could still contend for its first ever berth. With two games left against Ohio State and Illinois, and one game remaining against Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan and Michigan State, there's still room for big wins to boost the Wildcats' RPI (currently at 101).
NOTE Illinois State's rough 0-3 start to Missouri Valley play kept the Redbirds out of the projected bracket. Three teams -- Creighton, Wichita State and Indiana State -- made the first round of cuts.

Say it ain't so: DePaul commit Tyger Campbell reopens recruitment

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AP

Say it ain't so: DePaul commit Tyger Campbell reopens recruitment

It looks like it was too good to be true.

Tyger Campbell shocked the recruiting world when he committed to DePaul on May 8.

Less than four months later, Campbell has reopened his recruitment.

The Rivals.com four-star point guard out of La Lumiere High School in Indiana, who is the No. 66 prospect in the 2018 Class, took to Twitter Friday night to explain his decision.

One of Campbell's original draws to the Blue Demons was DePaul hiring Shane Heirman as an assistant coach. Heirman coached Campbell for two seasons at La Lumiere.

"I like DePaul and honestly my coach (Shane Heirman) just went there and we have a great connection and he's always had my back," Campbell told Scout.com when he committed to the Blue Demons. "I like [DePaul] coach Dave Leitao, too. I like his program and he's an intelligent guy."

Campbell currently has offers from a handful of D1 schools, including Illinois, Michigan State, Ole Miss, Purdue, SMU, Memphis and Tennessee.

Upset alert? Why a confident UIC is challenging juggernaut Kentucky

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USA TODAY

Upset alert? Why a confident UIC is challenging juggernaut Kentucky

On the heels of a 12-win improvement, UIC basketball is riding confidently into the new season. 

And why shouldn't they be? Head coach Steve McClain returns a young, talented nucleus that's expected to challenge for a Horizon League championship and NCAA Tournament berth. 

In fact, the program is in such good shape that they thought: Let's play Kentucky. 

Yup, that's right. The UIC Flames will match up with the Kentucky Wildcats at Rupp Arena on Nov. 26, a necessary stage in development, according to McClain. 

“Every year you build your program, there’s steps you have to take," McClain said. "When we got the opportunity to go to Kentucky, I think that’s the next level of exposure for our program.

"When you're chasing trying to be great, you gotta show your kids and show people what greatness looks like. I don't think anyone can argue what Kentucky has done, so I want to put our kids in that environment so they see what it is." 

The contrast between programs is severe. UIC hasn't made an NCAA Tournament since 2004. The Wildcats have made 11 since then. UIC has never advanced out of the first round at the Big Dance. Kentucky has eight National Championships. 

Even this upcoming season, as the Flames boast one of their most skilled teams in school history, none of them were ever touted like Kentucky's freshman class, which ranks No. 2 in the nation per ESPN. 

But the disparities in past successes don't seem to bother UIC. Instead, players, who were likely snubbed by bigger schools in recruitment, are excited about the opportunity to compete on a national stage that the Flames rarely see. 

“First I was like, ‘It’s about time we got someone like (Kentucky) on our schedule,’" said center Tai Odiase, one of the few seniors on the roster. "We’ve been trying to play bigger teams to showcase what we’re made of."

“I don’t see why you go into a place like that without a chip on your shoulder. You don’t go in there just to play basketball, we’re trying to win."

UIC will be heavy, heavy underdogs. There's no way around that. But there are certain spots where they may not be at such a disadvantage. 

On the defensive end, Odiase continued to terrorize guards and big men alike, finishing fifth in the NCAA with 2.9 blocks per game. The dynamic guard duo from "The Six," Godwin Boahen and Marcus Ottey, are quick enough to hang and both took a huge step down the stretch last season. Then there's the return of 2015-2016 Horizon League Newcomer of the Year Dikembe Dixson, who is recovering from a torn ACL.

"The doctors at times thought he was a freak of nature because he was back as quick as he was," McClain said.  

Still, it's a tune-up game for Kentucky, who also scheduled Kansas, UCLA and Louisville on their non-conference slate. But one team's expected walk through is another team's vital experience. 

"Our guys can walk in and see that on a given night, you can compete with anyone," McClain said. 

Given new athletic director Garrett Klassy's comments at his introductory press conference, it doesn't seem as if games like this are a one-hit wonder for UIC. 

“I am an aggressive scheduler," Klassy said. "I helped with the scheduling at George Washington. We’ll play anyone, anytime, anywhere.

"You want to measure yourself against the best. We have a lot of returning starters. It’ll be nice to go on the road, play a tough game and maybe sneak out an upset."