Chicago is the college basketball capital of the Midwest, at least for this weekend.
After the Big Ten tournament concludes at the United Center on Sunday, eight or nine conference teams could be headed to the NCAA tournament.
But Northwestern, as expected, took a first-round tournament exit. Chicago-area programs from other conferences such as DePaul, Loyola, UIC and Chicago State also remain apparent long-term projects when it comes to national prominence.
Northwestern, which never has earned an NCAA tournament berth, has courted some notable recruits. I recall former NU coach Rich Falk making a run at Isiah Thomas.
"Growing up, Northwestern, DePaul, Loyola … those are places that we all looked at," said Thomas, whose mother wanted him to go to DePaul out of St. Joseph High School in Westchester. "We all wanted to be close to Chicago."
Thomas, of course, wound up at Indiana where he helped the Hoosiers win an NCAA title under Bobby Knight and had a Hall-of-Fame career with the Pistons before NBA and college coaching stints.
"Northwestern has amazing potential," Thomas said. "The college game is all about recruiting. Chicago, over the years, has been a feeding ground. These Chicago schools have to find a way to put up the border so other schools can't come in."
Former Indiana standout Dan Dakich, now an ESPN college basketball analyst, grew up in Gary and played at Andrean High School. He later was the head coach at Bowling Green and Indiana (interim).
"In DePaul's case, it seems to me that the (recruiting) job is so hard because of the facility," Dakich said. "You have to go way out to the airport (Allstate Arena in Rosemont). Other schools have built facilities on campus. … In Chicago there is a lot to do, so you have got to make people want to go there.
"Loyola … they have a nice facility (Gentile Arena), but they're in a tough league (Horizon). And for whatever reason they have not been able to make Loyola as attractive as some other schools have been.
"Northwestern … there has been a bit of a jinx there. (Coach Bill Carmody) has lost players for a variety of reasons. This year mostly to injury. I think Bill Carmody has done a really good job, but sometimes fate gets you. This is such a great area for recruiting; it really is hard to explain.
"What you need is a break-through guy. Just one to make it cool to go there. That's what Indiana got out of Cody Zeller. … It seems to me DePaul just needs that guy — Jabari Parker … that kind of guy."