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Exploring DePaul Basketball’s In-State Rivalries

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(Konrad Markowski/The DePaulia)

(Konrad Markowski/The DePaulia)

(Konrad Markowski/The DePaulia)

Paul Steeno, Sports Reporter

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Some of the best rivalries in college basketball involve schools from the same state.

Think Duke and North Carolina, Louisville and Kentucky, Wisconsin and Marquette, Kansas and Kansas State, Michigan and Michigan State, and Indiana and Purdue.

It’s difficult to replicate the fiery passion encapsulated within in-state rivalries, and for a long time DePaul basketball has been missing out. But, it’s not DePaul’s fault.

Most of the rivalries mentioned above involve teams that share both a conference and the same state simultaneously. DePaul is the only team in the Big East that makes its home in Illinois.

But, with 12 other universities in Illinois that compete in Division I for athletics, DePaul has plenty of options if it’s looking for in-state rivals.

Based on the history of the two programs, current talent level, and perceived fan interest, which university in Illinois has the best basketball rivalry with DePaul?


Not Boiling Anybody’s Blood

Chicago State

This one is about as lopsided as they come. DePaul owns a 15-0 record against the Chicago State Cougars with an average margin of victory of 24 points.

Out of all the basketball programs in Illinois, Chicago State is the one that DePaul has played with the most consistency recently as the two teams have clashed for the last seven seasons (although they won’t play this season).

However, because the series has been a one-sided affair thus far and Chicago State isn’t great again this year, getting fans to emotionally invest in this matchup could be difficult.

Eastern Illinois

In six meetings, the Blue Demons own a perfect record against the Eastern Illinois Panthers. The Blue Demons have won these matchups by an average of 20 points.

EIU’s strength isn’t basketball; since 2000 the program has finished with a winning record in just three seasons. The Panthers have done better recently, finishing no worse than fifth in the 12-team Ohio Valley Conference for five straight seasons.

However, the Panthers are capable of pulling big upsets. In an exhibition tune-up on Nov. 3, EIU bested the University of Illinois 80-67 and they also beat the University of Missouri 67-64 last season.

However, there isn’t much of a history between the two teams and the discrepancy in talent could make it difficult to get pumped for an annual EIU versus DePaul basketball game.

Bradley University

The Blue Demons have played the Bradley Braves 28 times in program history, but the two teams haven’t matched up in 11 years. DePaul leads the series 18-10 but lost the last three matchups by an average of 15 points.

The series between the two teams is characterized by runs: Bradley won five of the first six matchups in the late 1940s and early 1950s before DePaul rattled off 15 consecutive wins between 1954 and 1992. If the series doesn’t continue, it will be Bradley that gets the last laugh as the Braves have won five of the last seven matchups including the most recent three.

If DePaul is looking to pad its series lead against Bradley, now may be the best time to schedule the Braves. Bradley went 39-91 over the last four seasons (30 percent winning percentage) and the coaches picked Bradley to finish seventh in the Missouri Valley Conference this season.

This was actually a good rivalry in the past but given that the Bradley basketball program isn’t generating a ton of excitement, a meeting between the two teams isn’t going to be a marquee matchup.

Western Illinois University

The lone matchup between the two teams occurred in 1989 and resulted in a Western Illinois 72-69 victory.

The Leathernecks have been dreadful as of late, finishing the last four seasons in last or second to last in the Summit League standings. To be fair, WIU has started this season 3-0, so maybe a turnaround is in order.

Nonetheless, WIU versus DePaul doesn’t scream sustainable rivalry and there’s probably a reason why the two teams haven’t played in 28 years.

Southern Illinois University at Carbondale

The DePaul Blue Demons have never matched up against the Southern Illinois Salukis.

The five-hour car ride between Carbondale and Chicago through all those miles of corn probably explains why these teams don’t play.

Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville

The two teams have never played.

The 4 hour 25-minute drive from Edwardsville to Chicago through all that corn is probably (again) a good idea why these teams don’t play.


Some Interest

Northern Illinois University

The Blue Demons have played the Northern Illinois Huskies 25 times dating back to 1968, and have emerged from the fray victorious in 21 of those contests. The last meeting between the two teams was in 2014.

Current DePaul Blue Demon graduate transfer Marin Maric, who spent his undergraduate years as a Huskie, may be interested in renewing this rivalry. But, from a fan perspective, a rivalry with a middle tier mid-major program isn’t all that appealing, even though NIU will probably end up on DePaul’s schedule again in the near future.

Loyola

Just over five miles separate DePaul’s Lincoln Park Campus from the Joseph J. Gentile Center where the Loyola Ramblers men’s basketball team plays their home games.

Therefore, it’s unsurprising that the two schools have met 39 times in basketball with the Blue Demons holding a commanding 30-9 advantage. But the rivalry has withered out recently. The two schools played three years in a row from 2010-2012, but haven’t played since.

The Ramblers have clawed their way back to relevance the last few seasons, posting a 24-13 record in 2014-2015 and an 18-14 record last season. With the exit of perennial powerhouse Wichita State University, the MVC is wide open and the Loyola Ramblers are among the favorites to win the conference tournament and advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 1984-1985 season.

The proximity between the two schools could add intrigue to an in-state rivalry that has fizzled out as of late.


We Have/Could Have A Rivalry

University of Illinois-Chicago

For the fourth-straight season, the Blue Demons will clash with the Flames and this season the game will go down at the UIC Pavilion on the Near West Side.

The Blue Demons hold a 6-2 advantage in the series that dates back to 1981. But, just because DePaul has a decided advantage in the all-time series, doesn’t mean that the game this season won’t be competitive. The Flames edged the Blue Demons 80-75 last season even with their best player Dikembe Dixson going down in the first half of the game with a season-ending knee injury. With Dixson healthy, the Flames could be on upset alert again.

For the sake of Blue Demon basketball pride, this is a game that DePaul needs to win, and a rivalry that DePaul needs to continue to dominate.

Illinois State University

There’s nothing normal about Redbird basketball head coach Dan Muller.

Since taking over the program in 2012, Muller has led ISU to a winning record each season and he brought home a MVC regular season title last season for the first time since 1998. Since 2012, it has been Illinois State that has arguably been the best Division I basketball program in Illinois.

Historically, the Blue Demons have dominated their matchups against  Illinois State, holding a decisive 16-4 advantage. But, since Muller took over the program Illinois State has won both of its games against DePaul.

With DePaul still searching for relevance and the Redbirds stubbornly willing themselves to continued relevance under the tutelage of Muller, this has the potential to become one of the more under-the-radar competitive rivalries in the state of Illinois.

Of course, none of that matters until the two schools work this game into their respective schedules.

Northwestern University

If DePaul has an established in-state rivalry with anybody, it’s Northwestern. The two programs have matched up 31 times since 1970 with DePaul holding a 20-11 advantage in wins.

The two teams agreed to play each other once a year for the next five years beginning during the 2015-2016 season, and with the Wildcats taking the first two games DePaul has some work to do if they want to get the best of their in-state rivals.

Although Northwestern has gotten off to a shaky start this season, they began the season ranked and are on the heels of a dream 2016-2017 season where they reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history.

Proximity, its status as a Big 10 school, and its recent flirtation with being a good basketball team makes Northwestern the marquee in-state rival for the Blue Demons right now.

University of Illinois

It finally happened after 60 years.

Last Friday night, the DePaul Blue Demons and Illinois Fighting Illini renewed the basketball rivalry between the two schools. In a foul-ridden, intense matchup with a mostly electric atmosphere even though the Illinois student section was missing in action due to the beginning of Thanksgiving Break, Illinois outlasted DePaul for a 82-73 victory.

It was a lot of fun, so the two schools will run it back again next year, right?

Not so fast.

If you’re going to do that [play Illinois in the non-conference schedule], and I know for us included then something else has to give. Because I’m not going to play 18 games in the Big East season, add Illinois, and still play the [same] schedule. It doesn’t make sense for our kids. It makes sense for our sport, it makes sense for the region, but we play Notre Dame now, we play Northwestern, and we played Illinois now, and we play UIC. Those are emotional games and when you are playing 18 games in the Big East that’s a lot. But, I’ll be the first one to say that this is really good basketball for both programs.

-DePaul head basketball coach David Leitao

If Leitao and DePaul’s administration can work the game into the schedule, a matchup between two talented teams scraping to return their programs back to their previous glory could make this matchup the best in-state rivalry in all of Illinois.

There are a lot of fans hoping that they don’t have to wait another 60 years for a matchup between these two teams.


*Stats and information come from BasketballReference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Exploring DePaul Basketball’s In-State Rivalries