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Area colleges come up empty again in NCAA Final Four

The last time an arecollege made NCAA Final Four was 2005 when Illinois got there. | AP

The last time an area college made the NCAA Final Four was in 2005 when Illinois got there. | AP

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Final Four

At the Georgia Dome, Atlanta
Ch. 2, 670-AM


◆ Louisville (33-5) vs. Wichita State (30-8), 5:09 p.m.

◆ Michigan (30-7) vs.
Syracuse (30-9), 7:49 p.m.


◆ Semifinal winners, 8 p.m.

NCAA Final Four matchups, preview, odds
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Updated: April 5, 2013 3:21PM

ATLANTA — So many players from Chicago have made their marks on the Final Four.

You can go recent: Anthony Davis with Kentucky last year, Derrick Rose with Memphis in 2008, playing against Kansas’ Sherron Collins in the championship game.

You can go historic: Antoine Walker playing on Kentucky’s 1996 national championship team, Juwan Howard on Michigan’s Fab Five 1992 and ’93 Final Four teams, Cazzie Russell on Michigan’s back-to-back Final Fours in 1964 and ’65.

You can go future: It’s not a big reach to see Duke-bound Jabari Parker gracing the Final Four very soon in a Blue Devils uniform. There’s speculation that Young junior Jahlil Okafor, who’s still weighing his options, also might wind up at Duke.

And yet, with all the talent here, Illinois has made only two Final Four trips, in 1989 and 2005, in the last 60 years. DePaul has reached college basketball’s biggest stage once in that span, in 1979. And Loyola is marking the 50th anniversary of the state’s lone national championship in 1963.

Props to the Ramblers for a groundbreaking, heartwarming achievement, but even the youngest fans who remember that team are nearing their golden years.

What’s the deal?

With all the players the Chicago area produces, why can’t schools in our area translate that into NCAA tournament success?

There’s no one explanation. It’s a complex issue that always goes back to the central question of why so many players leave — and that has multiple answers.

At the top of the list these days is the fact that it’s in the top players’ best interests to showcase and polish their skills elsewhere. Cynics will point to recruiting chicanery, but that’s sour grapes until proved otherwise.

The most dramatic examples, Rose and Davis, not only were able to play on college basketball’s biggest stage, they played their way into being the top overall pick in the NBA draft.

The response to that is no secret, but it’s a chicken-and-egg deal. The way to keep the best players at home is to build an attractive program.

Before DePaul kept Mark Aguirre and Terry Cummings at home in its ’70s and ’80s heyday, it built itself into a competitive team that was capable of recruiting with established powers.

Illinois has been on the verge of being able to lure the Chicago area’s best players consistently, but then has lost its edge. Lou Henson was close to building on the 1989 Final Four, but an NCAA probation stalled the progress. Bill Self stocked the cupboard for Illinois’ 2005 Final Four, but Bruce Weber was unable to keep the recruiting pipeline flowing.

On the positive side, John Groce is showing signs he’ll revive Illinois’ fortunes. That will take the usual formula: Recruit well enough to build the success that makes a program attractive to elite recruits.

While the Final Four is Illinois’ goal, merely making the NCAA tournament for the first time would make Northwestern’s day. Securing occasional spots in the Big Dance also would be major steps forward for DePaul, Loyola and UIC, which have been non-factors lately.

Whatever the goal, the answer to the question remains the same: If Chicago-area programs want to keep local heroes, they need to run their programs better.

NU’s new coach, Chris Collins, a Glenbrook North alum, should be well-suited to convince players to stay close to home. Recruiting analysts expect him to be a better closer than Bill Carmody, who never quite got over the recruiting hump.

One reason DePaul has fallen off the map has been its inability to establish an attractive home court. Rosemont is too far from campus, and the United Center seems to have too many tenants to be feasible. A new arena near McCormick Place has been discussed, but the Demons’ home-court situation is in limbo for now. And it remains to be seen if Oliver Purnell is the man to lead DePaul past its myriad hurdles.

UIC and Loyola have their own mid-major issues, but UIC’s Howard Moore and Loyola’s Porter Moser are off to encouraging starts.

Finding players. Keeping players. It’s all about relationships, facilities, success that breeds success. Merely having talent in your backyard isn’t enough.

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