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Chicago (Men) Can't Dance

The Flames flamed out. And local pumpkins and small animals need not worry about the potential side effects of magical transformations this time around. OK, OK so there probably aren't any local pumpkins at this point in the year. Work with me here.

Perhaps we should be relieved that Chicago's last best hope for representation at the royal basketball ball otherwise known as the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament bowed out last night. The UIC flames dropped the Horizon League final against Northern Kentucky 71-62 to drop their overall record to 18-17. They will not qualify for the Big Dance as an at-large team.

We can feel at least a little better because every time a local Cinderella qualifies, it potentially makes the ultimate underdog story, Loyola's run to the Final Four the year before last, a little less memorable. When something happens all the time it isn't terribly special now, is it?

Then again, the chances of something matching the Rambler run any time soon are miniscule, even if the occasional UIC gets into the Dance and battles at least for a spot in the Sweet 16.

Illinois-Chicago actually took a step forward as a program just by making the Horizon League final. It was the first time in 16 years the team had done so.

This is also a squad that has made the College Basketball Invitational the last few years and had won at least a game both times. Sure, the CBI is not exactly a high-profile event, but you take what you can get. So it won't be terribly difficult for coach Steve McClain to convince his returning players that this was another successful chapter in UIC's rise to respectability.

And Hellooooo potential recruits!

One element of Illinois' postseason run at the Indiana Farmer's Coliseum in Indianapolis that wasn't great was the fan support. It is hard to get too excited about a game when there are wide swaths of empty seats just in the 20 rows above floor level behind both benches. But maybe things will start to pick up next year.

It is easy to forget that before Loyola's magical run in 2018, they only sold out something like one of their regular-season home games at the reasonably-sized, "on campus next to the el" Gentile Center. The primary attendance bump happened in 2018-2019.

It will always be difficult for schools in the city where the vast majority of students are commuters to draw much. DePaul had its golden era so, so long ago now but during that time, they were only trying to fill an Alumni Hall with a capacity of just over 5,000.

Of course, it doesn't help if universities choose to play their games in goofy locations. DePaul first moved to the Rosemont Horizon (now the Allstate Arena) where the numbers were decent for the first few years but then fell and never recovered as the team embarked on an amazing three decades and counting (this year featured a remarkable collapse after starting the season 12-1) of ineptitude.

And of course DePaul is now in the Wintrust Arena located down by McCormick Place. I guarantee you at least three quarters of students currently enrolled in the Lincoln Park school don't even know where that is.

Most people were happy when the first shovel was turned on that venue because it hadn't seemed like anything substantial was ever going to be built by DePaul. Now as huge swaths of Near North land sit vacant awaiting Sterling Bay's Lincoln Yards development, one wonders why it didn't occur to someone that would have been a much better place for a facility.

Yes hindsight is 20-20, but come on.

Anyway, the Illini will be dancing for the first time in far too long and thank goodness for that. And their star is a proud son of the South Side, Morgan Park grad Ayo Dosunmu.

And Bradley is in for the second consecutive year. So Downstate 2, Chicago 0.

At least the local teams on the women's side are getting the job done. Not only are Northwestern and DePaul in the Dance, they both project to host sub-regionals. That's how you do it, boys.

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Comments welcome.

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