Northwestern, DePaul making a push for college basketball relevancy in Chicago

How Northwestern and DePaul are on the forefront of a movement to bring college basketball back to the city of Chicago.

In a city where winning has been the requirement for most teams to stay relevant, Chicago is undoubtedly one of the best sports cities in the country. Six NBA Championships, two World Series, three Stanley Cups, and one Super Bowl appearance has been enough to make each team relevant over the past few decades.

A sports city that thrives on nearly every professional team over the past ten years has seemed to ignore one major sport — college basketball.

The city of Chicago has been one of the richest basketball hubs for major college programs; top programs from all across the country come to Chicago hoping to land a star. Anthony Davis, Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, Tyler Ulis, and Cliff Alexander are just a few of the names to come out of the city.

The problem? None of the star-studded high school prospects are staying at home.

Just 11.4-miles apart sit Northwestern and DePaul University. Two Division-I programs playing in power five conferences are embedded into a city that loves their sports. Even with some of the best players in the country playing in the backyard of these programs, neither could land legitimate stars.

Not only were the programs not landing legitimate recruits, of the four Div-I programs in the city (Northwestern, DePaul, Illinois-Chicago, Loyola) there have only been six NCAA Tournament bids by those programs. Four of the six bids were bounced out of the tournament after the first round. None of those teams in the past two decades have made it out of the first weekend of the tournament.

No recruits, minimal tournament bids, and poor attendance meant zero coverage for the teams.

Now, DePaul and Northwestern are looking to flip the script on that narrative.

Before 2016-17, Northwestern had never clinched a NCAA Tournament bid in its Men’s Basketball history. Playing in the one of the toughest conferences, the Big Ten, the Wildcats had plenty of reasons to hope for a tournament bid but fell short. Long time head coach of the Wildcats, Bill Carmody, had multiple opportunities to make the tournament but came up short.

Apart from their recent success in football, the Wildcats were an afterthought. Northwestern was considered to be a prestigious university and a football school while basketball came with little notoriety. That all changed when the Wildcats announced they would be hiring Chris Collins in 2013. Collins, the son of former NBA head coach Doug Collins, began to make major strides to put the Wildcats back on the proverbial college basketball map.

Chris Collins’ 2014 recruiting class sparked the upward tick of the Wildcats basketball program. Collins landed Top-100 recruit Vic Law Jr. on top of Gavin Skelly, Scottie Lindsey, and Bryant McIntosh, evolving what would be Collins first legitimate recruiting class. Vic Law became the highest recruited prospect in program history and Bryant McIntosh turned into a star for the Wildcats.

Although Collins was rolling with recruits, his most important goal was getting the nod to the big dance for the first time in Northwestern’s program history. In March 2017, the Wildcats would go dancing and they immediately became the talk of NCAA Tournament in the first weekend. Notable alumni such as Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Seinfeld), Mike Greenberg (ESPN), Rachel Nichols (ESPN), and Michael Wilbon (ESPN) were all spotted at their tournament games.

The Northwestern Wildcats were also nominated for Best Play in the 2017 ESPY Awards.  The Wildcats within the past few years have put college basketball in the city of Chicago back on track.

DePaul has meddled at the bottom of the Big East for the majority of the time since they joined the conference in 2005. DePaul Men’s Basketball has been an even larger afterthought because of the location of their games. They have spent 36 seasons playing at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois rather than in the city itself.

This has been one of their most looming problems in terms of popularity for their program and the city. The students who attended the school would have to drive outside of the city in order to see their basketball team play. Many who attend other universities have facilities within walking distance. The majority of your fan base starts with those who attend the school and then by nature attend games.

The DePaul University Athletic Department seems to have decided to make playing closer to campus a priority. The Blue Demons and their fans will finally receive their calling as DePaul embarks on the final stages of their $173-million dollar project in the South Loop. WinTrust Arena, the new home for the DePaul Blue Demons, is a brand new state of the art stadium sitting right next to McCormick Place in Downtown Chicago.

This is a major facelift for the DePaul program, which will now be able to draw legitimate crowds and hopefully entices future recruits. While a brand new stadium will be a massive upgrade for the DePaul program, putting talent on the floor and staying competitive will be their ultimate battle.

Growing up in Chicago, if you are talking about DePaul basketball someone is bound to bring up legendary head coach Ray Meyer. The problem is, the Demons have yet to reclaim the success of the early 70’s and 80’s. The last big name player people talk about in the city from DePaul is Mark Aguire. That is likely to change now that they have locked up their best recruit in over 20 years.

Tyger Campbell, the No. 57 recruit in the class of 2018, made a hard commitment to play for the Blue Demons in the fall of 2018. Campbell is the tenth best point guard prospect in the class and the second best player in the state of Indiana. DePaul was trending on Twitter after Campbell made his decision to play for the Blue Demons. A major get for the program could not come at any better timing.

For now, college basketball has seemed to be revitalized in the Windy City by its own hometown teams. The Wildcats and Blue Demons will look to build on their up rising in the seasons to come and hopefully turn Chicago into one of the best college basketball cities in the future. While neither program has yet to dig heavily into the recruiting mix in the inner city, both programs look to be now competitors rather than afterthoughts.

Northwestern can use their first tournament appearance as a building block for future top recruits. DePaul will be able to wow recruits with a brand new stadium in the heart of the city. Both programs are going have to be instrumental in the inner city recruiting process in order to avoid the blue-chip schools to come in a steal recruits.

The next several years will be interesting during college basketball for the city of Chicago. One thing is for sure, many will not be complaining after the drought residents of the Chicagoland area have endured for so long. Get your dancing shoes ready Chicago.