Team posters hang in their rooms. Newspaper clippings are posted on their doors. They spend the afternoon and evening arguing over their tournament brackets. The windows are papered with "Go Illinois" slogans.

Group shot
It's a block of ice shaped like an "I" and colored with Kool-Aid!

Scharman is from New Jersey; but thanks to basketball, he now feels so much a part of Illinois that he should be paying in-state tuition.

"We're part of history," he said. "How long has Illinois been playing? A hundred years? And I happened to come here the year we had the best season in school history? I had a 1-in-100 chance when you think about it.

"I mean, when ever are we this close to people who are famous? I turned off the power on the TV after one win and went to the bar, and there was Dee Brown. I couldn't turn off the Bulls game and run to the bar and hang out with Michael Jordan."

"Dee Brown asked to use my notes in my philosophy class," says John Janowiak, the floor R.A. "He actually asked to use MY notes."

I remember that feeling. I remember what it was like when the Washington Huskies went to the Rose Bowl my first two years in school, and the night I painted banners for the big game against Washington State with the girls from down the hall. I remember feeling a much stronger sense that I belonged to the school when I was in the football stadium than when I was in the library.

I remember that feeling and I miss it – although I'm still not going to paint my face today, as Scharman will. I mean, I might wear a Tigger suit to a bar, but there are certain things I just won't do.

Reading
Every good dorm has some quality reading material on hand.

"I'm not painting my face so other people can see it. I'm doing it so I can see it," Scharman said. "When you put something on your body that isn't cloth to represent your team, that takes you to elite status."

Is all this a little much? Should an institution of higher learning devote such an inordinate passion to a basketball team? Should students attach their sense of identity to the shooting percentage of a dozen players they don't know? Should students who study and pull all-nighters feel vindicated by a basketball player asking to copy off their notes?

I guess it depends on how far Illinois goes in the tournament.

Actually, how far Illinois advances is unimportant. This is an enormous campus with about 40,000 students; and if the team brings them closer together for a semester, isn't that a good thing? As Emily Dickinson wrote: "A little madness in the spring is wholesome even for the king."

Daylight is about to break, and it's time to clear the beer cans from the bed and get some sleep. A big day awaits.

"The world stops turning tomorrow," Scharman said. "Or starts."

Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," is being published by Plume. It can be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com.



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