Wow. This Northwestern quest is starting to feel more and more like the ’69 Cubs.
Woke up Sunday morning after that 63-62 heartbreaker at Indiana, trying to remember. Was that a dream? Or just a nightmare?
Exactly when did that black cat run across the Assembly Hall court?
The Wildcats built a 12-point first-half lead, and gave up 22 straight points—including a three-quarter-court halftime buzzer beater to be down 10 at the break.
They bounced back for a seven-point lead with 93 seconds to play. And still lost.
Had to delete—well, postpone—that congratulatory Tweet. It’s pretty clear that one more regular-season win the will give Northwestern its first NCAA bid in the history of the tournament.
Even with two daunting regular-season games left, I still think they are going to make it. But with five losses in their last seven games, what once looked like a given now looks problematic.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
Next up is Wednesday’s home game vs. Michigan, which showed toughness in its own NCAA quest by beating Purdue on Saturday.
A win over the Wolverines will be a serious challenge. Then again, the regular-season finale, against the Boilermakers, figures to be even more perilous—especially with the potential for dryness in the throat.
And yet, the positive of that gut-wrenching loss at Indiana is that the Wildcats showed they can play well enough to win one of their last two.
I also like the parallels between the similarly-surnamed Bryant McIntosh and Rory McIlroy. They both have that boyish tough-guy look. One minute, you'd swear they're high-school kids. The next minute, they're doing impossibly good things.
The other wild card is the Big Ten tournament, where NU will have another opportunity to get off the bubble and into their first NCAA tournament.
Are the Wildcats feeling the pressure that their Purple Line friends, the Cubs, endured all of those times—notably 1969, 1984, the Bartman debacle—before breaking their World Series drought last fall?
That’s part of the deal. The factors that make success so difficult to achieve are the same factors that will make that success so satisfying.
Remember Joe Maddon’s mantra: ''Don’t let the pressure exceed the pleasure.’’
I’m getting a kick out of those angst-filled quotes from NU media celebrities like my friends Michael Wilbon and Christine Brennan.
Full disclosure: Although I am a Northwestern alum, I am more identified with—and I identify more with—Wisconsin.
No regrets there. Trust me. If you ever have a choice between four years in Madison, and four years in Evanston, go north.
I am proud of my master’s in journalism from NU. It taught me a lot, opened a lot of doors—and the look of pride on my humble-origins grandmother’s face at the graduation ceremony remains a lifetime highlight.
But it was Badger basketball that chilled many a winter day in my life.
That may sound odd as Wisconsin prepares for its 18th straight NCAA trip. But the Badgers had their own NCAA drought—from 1947 to 1994—and it was very real to those of us who lived it.
Only diehards ventured to the wonderful old Wisconsin Field House in my day. We would sit behind the basket. Back in the day when the difference between Big Ten basketball and Big Ten football was not all that great, that was the place to be.
And although we didn’t say it out loud, the motivation was often as much to see opposing-team stars as it was to see if the Badgers could pull off a one-game miracle.
The one that always sticks in my craw: One wintry night in 1971, with Indiana and George McGinnis in Madison. I skipped the game because some non-sports-fan friends were visiting. We went to see a silent-film classic.
It still bothers me that I missed the Badgers' overtime upset of George McGinnis to see The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
But life has gone on.
If 1969—when I was a Cubs vendor and went to New York for a miserable July series against the Mets—taught me anything, it is that this is only sports. A first-place team losing 17 of its last 25 games can happen. It did.
It took decades to stop replaying that miserable September of ’69 in my mind.
But I got over it.
On the bright side, the way things are looking at Northwestern, even if the NCAA bubble is burst this year, it won’t be decades until the mission is accomplished. All Chris Collins needs to do is grow some Maddon-like facial hair.
More importantly, and more immediately, the Wildcats still have a few more chances to make 2017 The Year.
They’ll be fine. As long as they don’t have to play Illinois again in the Big Ten tournament. Or the Mets.[/membership]