Chicago may not have a direct link to the dance, but the area will still be represented by more than 30 local players around the country. The mighty Big Ten conference has seven teams in the field of 68, but around here it's Illinois, Notre Dame and Valparaiso. That's a pair of No. 7 seeds -- and a Cinderella hoping to wear a size-14 slipper.
Here are the resumes for the Chicagoland area teams:
Illinois takes their 22-12 record to the East Region where they will face Colorado. The Illini have been good enough to beat two teams that have been ranked #1 this season and average enough to lose to Purdue and Northwestern. The tournament could provide the same type of rollercoaster ride.
"I think you gotta be tough. You gotta be tough. There comes a point and time in every game, in tournament games, where toughness is really required at a high level. And that team that's able to ratchet it up, especially on the mental side of that toughness equation, often times has a big advantage," Illinois head coach John Groce said.
15 years after making tourney history Bryce Drew is back, this time as the head coach of the team he once starred for. No. 14 seed Valparaiso will have their hands full with No. 3 seed Michigan St. in the Midwest Region. The Crusaders have won a program-best 26 games this season, but their only Big Ten test this season was a close loss at Nebraska. To make matters more difficult for tiny Valpo, the Spartans are playing less than 100 miles from their East Lansing campus.
Valparaiso senior Ryan Broekhoff wants to pick up where his coach left off.
"We're here to prove a point that," he said, "We are a good team and Michigan State is obviously a very good team as well. You know anything happens in the NCAA tournament. Upsets happen all the time. So, why not us? Why not Valpo?"
Meanwhile, just 59 miles from Valparaiso, IN the Fighting Irish are sitting as a No. 7 seed and getting ready to face Iowa State. Notre Dame hasn't be able to reach the Sweet Sixteen since 2003 and the Irish haven't tasted the Elite 8 since 1978. This time around, Mike Brey and company have built up a 25-9 record, including a signature five overtime win against the tourney's top seed, Louisville.
Glenview, IL native Jack Cooley hopes playing in the Big East will have the Irish ready for anything.
"We've played six teams that are in the tournament. We've played every team obviously that's in the Big East tournament and some of them twice. It's a good challenge that we've had out there. We're going to be ready to play for this game," said the senior foward.
The bottom line--it won't be easy for Illinois, Notre Dame or Valpo. Then again, that's why they call it March Madness.