Are the Illini the Chicago Cubs of college basketball?


The Daily Illini File Photo

Students celebrate after the Cubs win Game 7 of the 2016 World Series against the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday, November 2 on Green Street at the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign.

By Matt Gertsmeier, Columnist

Illinois is temporarily adding a bit of hardware to its collection Saturday.

The Commissioner’s Trophy is taking a tour with the 2016 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs, and the next stop is State Farm Center.

Let me be the first to welcome the Commissioner’s Trophy to Champaign. I don’t think the Chicago White Sox brought the trophy after they won it in 2005, and this is the first time the Cubs have had it in 108 years.

This occasion got the juices flowing and caused me to start pondering a theory – are the Illini the Cubs of college basketball?

Off the bat, I know this is an extremely ridiculous take, but hear me out.

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The first piece of evidence is the extreme championship drought. The Cubs suffered 108 years of not having a championship. The Illinois basketball program was founded in 1905, making it 112 years with no National Championships. It’s safe to say, Illinois is due for a title run.

Now, I understand college basketball is way different than Major League Baseball.

First, there are 30 MLB teams compared to 347 Division I basketball teams.

There have been 38 different schools that have been crowned champions in the 78 years the NCAA Tournament has been around. Seventy-three percent of MLB teams have won a title compared to about 11 percent of NCAA Division-I teams.

But the Illini are in a much different tier than most Division-I teams, competing in a Power-Five conference and being an established program since the early 1900’s. Looking at the Power-Five only, you can easily make the case that Illinois is the Cubs and UCLA is the Yankees.

The next piece of evidence is the obvious location aspect of the Illini and Cubs. Northwestern can claim to be “Chicago’s Big Ten team” all it wants, but at the end of the day Illinois is the state school and there’s no arguing that.

While Chicago and Champaign are extremely different cities, they’re still home to Illinoisans, and that’s a special breed. We’re a simple, friendly kind of people who value loyalty, especially when it comes to sports.

Illini fans will come out in droves no matter how bad their team is, just as Cubs fans have done in the Wrigley Field bleachers for many years.

The third piece of evidence is the runs in the early to mid-2000’s.

From 2000-2003 Bill Self led Illinois to three NCAA Tournament appearances, including an Elite Eight finish in 2001. Meanwhile, on the North Side of Chicago, the Cubs were making strides.

Both teams faced unlucky circumstances. For the Cubs, walks, wild pitches and errors in the eighth inning of Game Six of the NLCS destroyed their chances of winning and advancing to the World Series.

For the Illini, center James Augustine fouled in nine minutes of play against North Carolina who challenged the Illini with big man Sean May. Oh, and pretty much all of North Carolina was academically ineligible.

Finally, I’d like to bring up the Bill Murray impact.

The Wilmette native has made a name for himself in the comedy business, being involved in Saturday Night Live and iconic roles in movies such as Ghostbusters and Caddyshack.

Murray is also a diehard Cubs fan and was present through most of the postseason games this year. He was at Game Seven in Cleveland and was seen rocking a “I ain’t afraid of no goat” t-shirt.

Despite not attending Illinois, Murray was a big supporter of the Illini during the 2005 run. He was at Illinois’ Sweet-Sixteen, Elite-Eight, Final-Four and Championship games.

For whatever reason, Murray loves the Illini – or at least when they are doing well.

So, how do the Illini get to become the 2016 Chicago Cubs and finally break the “curse”?

That has yet to be determined.

Is John Groce Illinois’ version of Joe Maddon? Is Josh Whitman Illinois’ Theo Epstein? Is there even an Illini curse?

The Illini might still be searching for those answers. Maybe the Commissioner’s Trophy will leave some of its magic behind in Champaign after its appearance.

But, one thing is for sure. Having Murray at Illinois games is a must — don’t want it, need it.

Matt is a Junior in Business

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