Chicago is a city filled with college basketball. Northwestern is in the Big Ten, DePaul is in the Big East, Loyola is in the Missouri Valley, Chicago State is in the WAC and University of Illinois at Chicago is in the Horizon League. Not to mention, there are many other basketball programs in Illinois, including Illinois State.
Chicago has five Division I basketball teams from five different leagues and programs on the rise. In the Chris Collins era of Northwestern, they’ve played three schools: DePaul, Chicago State, and UIC.
Last year, the Big Ten made a statement when the conference schedules were released. Every team had protected rivalries and would play those teams twice every year. That meant two Michigan vs. Michigan State games, two Northwestern vs. University of Illinois games, and two Purdue vs. Indiana games. While Northwestern vs. Illinois has not carried nearly as much weight as Purdue vs. Indiana and Michigan vs. Michigan State, it was exciting to see the Big Ten giving this opportunity to teams in conference play.
Now that the league has done this with conference play, it’s time for Northwestern to do this with non-conference play.
Many other schools in other conferences schedule these types of games in their non-conference schedules. Granted, these rivalries have been there for years, so the attendance for the games is through the roof.
For example, Kentucky vs. Louisville is one of the most exciting games of the non-conference season every year. Two strong basketball programs and an in-state rivalry that is one of the best in the country.
Surely, it would take a long time for Northwestern to build a non-conference rivalry, but it’s not impossible.
But if Northwestern started an in-state rivalry game in the non-conference schedule now, could it turn in to one of those in 10 or 15 years?
With the way Northwestern basketball is trending now, it looks like a possibility.
In theory, this is the best option for Northwestern. Illinois State finished first in the Missouri Valley last season. Normal, Illinois is not too far of a drive for Northwestern and Redbird Arena has a great atmosphere. Illinois State fans are loyal and dedicated to their team.
Dan Muller has been at Illinois State since 2013, and the program continues to grow. After Illinois State missed the NCAA Tournament this year, he called for more quality opponents on Twitter. Dan Muller should put a call in to Chris Collins if he hasn’t already.
Before the 2015-2016 season, Northwestern and DePaul agreed to a 5-year series. This is good in theory, but it could be better.
Northwestern almost lost in overtime at AllState Arena in 2015, and in 2016, Northwestern demolished DePaul at home.
DePaul is in a great conference. They play against Seton Hall, Villanova and Creighton. They’re building a new arena and the program is getting there slowly but surely.
But What About Loyola?
Loyola is the only school of the five in the Chicagoland area to have won an NCAA National Championship.
Obviously, up until 2013, when Loyola was in the Horizon League, it was difficult to play Loyola and the University of Illinois at Chicago in non-conference play because both schools were in the Horizon League.
However, beginning with the 2013-2014 season, Loyola has played in the Missouri Valley Conference: a competitive league that has had perennial NCAA Tournament teams such as Wichita State and the University of Northern Iowa.
The last full schedule on NUSports.com dates back to 2000-2001. In every season beginning with the 2000-2001 season, Northwestern has not played Loyola.
This should change.
Loyola won the CBI in 2015 and Porter Moser has attacked recruiting in-state. He has also brought in a strong group of players that include Kansas transfer and now potential NBA Draft pick Milton Doyle, Simeon player Donte Ingram, former Iowa State guard, Clayton Custer, and Farleigh Dickinson transfer Marques Townes.
These two schools are 15 minutes away from each other and attendance to basketball games is on the rise. The women’s teams have even shared siblings. Vic Law’s sister played at Loyola and Cameron Satterwhite’s sister is going to be a freshman on the women’s roster at Northwestern.
Northwestern needs a strong mid-major program on their non-conference schedule. They have the opportunity to make it a rivalry and they should do that. Loyola and Illinois State are very viable options for non-conference opponents and for a city who’s professional basketball team is struggling, why not watch college basketball?