clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Ballad Of Ricky-Bobby (And Z.W.): How Would Chicago Treat A NCAA Tournament Run By Northwestern?

The staff of SB Nation Chicago looks at how the city would react to the first NCAA Tournament run in school history for the Northwestern Wildcats.

Every week, SB Nation Chicago's Z.W. Martin, Bobby Loesch, and Ricky O'Donnell put a local sports topic up for debate. Today, they discuss the NCAA Tournament chances of the Northwestern Wildcats.

Rbpinglogo_medium& Z.W.!


Ricky: As you may have heard, the Northwestern Wildcats have never made the NCAA Tournament. This in itself would be enough to make them the Chicago Cubs of college basketball, but there's one big difference: the Cubs could go 200, 300 years without winning the World Series, and they would still be the Story of the Summer, every summer. The Cubs are beloved. No one cares about Northwestern basketball.

Making the Tournament could change that, though, at least momentarily. This is an awfully slow time of year in Chicago sports. The Bulls are just trying to get healthy before the playoffs. Even during at the start of spring training when optimism is said to be eternal, the Cubs and Sox are hard to get excited about. Neither is even expected to *contend* for a playoff spot, much less secure one.

So: with March Madness on the brink, the Wildcats have an opportunity here. They have two games left in the regular season -- tonight vs. No. 11 Ohio State and Saturday vs. Bobby's Iowa Hawkeyes. Assuming they fall to OSU and top Iowa, they'll probably need only a victory or two in the Big 10 Tournament to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Right now, they sit at 17-11 overall, and USA Today has them as one of the last four teams in the field of 68.

My question to you guys: if Northwestern does the impossible and crashes March Madness, what will be your stance? Will you root for them? Will you be typically apathetic? Will you just keep staring at that creepy Jeff Samardzija photo? I forcefully ask for answers.


Bobby: Ricky, you ask a good question, and it's got a long answer.

Even though I find myself rooting against Northwestern football and basketball on a somewhat regular basis, I'd probably put both into my arbitrary Top 10 favorite college teams. After all, NW is the closest Big Ten school to where we grew up, they aren't insufferable or anything, and, ultimately, they're pretty harmless. Shit, what did they ever do to you? Nothing, that's what. If football or hoops made the national title in a sport, there are less than eight schools I'd root for over them. Therefore: Top 10.

Well, sort of. I'm not a huge Pat Fitzgerald fan (blah to "rah! rah!" I say -- dude seems kinda prickish), and it's never a party to watch their basketball team, either. I hadn't watched them play in years, and I was happy to see their best player, as always, is a 6-7 white guy with a goofy face. And may I interest you in bullshit 3s? The more things change...

Another thing: this "Northwestern not making the tournament" thing is turning into the Ron Santo Hall Of Fame Pity Party 2.0. And you know why? Everyone in the media graduated from Northwestern because the J-school there is so god damned good. Darren Rovell, Michael Wilbon, J.A. Adande, and Dan Shanoff are all alums -- and that's just off the top of my head. Surely there are at least 5,000 more. Because of this, I feel a disproportionate amount of chagrin from these people every time the 'Cats fail to make the tournament. Because of this, I find myself rampantly rooting against them to do so. I feel like if all of my teams winning titles would make up a Top 10 sports goals list, the Wildcats missing the tournament would be on some sort of bizarro anti-Top 10 sports goals list. I never want to see them make the tournament. The streak is just too fun. The are the only BCS team to never go -- so pathetic!

Having said that, if they ended up making it, I really feel like I'd 180 and just start rooting for them. You legitimately make the dance? Then go get 'em, boys! They'd probably deserve the support. ... Man, I'm a weird hypocrite. Just don't call me a bandwagon fan. People with Rose Bowl sweatshirts from the 90s loss to USC know what I'm talking about. Man, that was a joke. I'd be casual at best, I swear. If my alma mater and real favorite team Iowa lets us down in the coming days, I apologize to everyone in advance.

So yeah, I think my short term goal is to have them not make the tournament until it expands to 96 or 200 or whatever they are kicking around. Then, if they do, it'll mean way less than it did before.

As for this year? Death to y'all, Purple.


Zach: Today I learned that dragons are real. Little, tiny, miniature dragons* are of this reality. This could simply be an Internet hoax; a play on my gullibility and desire for unimaginable (and magical) other-lings. Regardless, I'm going to choose to believe in our diminutive flying amigos. In this same sense of mysticism and childhood irreverence, I'm also choosing to believe in NDubs and will totally root for them at a modest and respectable level (assuming they make the Big Dance). I will not turn it up to 11, but eight? Perhaps.

When I think about Northwestern basketball, I think of one thing/person/creature, Evan Eschmeyer. The forever senior led a mediocre 'Cats team to a similar tournament scare in his final campaign during the 1998-99 season. They fell woefully short, but my math teacher at the time was an NU graduate, so he played games in class as often as he could (who needs learning anyway?). The Wildcats went 15-14 that season. The next year, with a recently drafted Eschmeyer and his "South Park" exploding ball-knees gone, the 'Cats went 5-25. I've haven't cared to look back since.

I know Northwestern has had better teams, particularly of late, but that Eschmeyer team was the last team it seems we, as Chicagoans, cared about. Maybe that speaks to the talent this year's team posses or that NU may actually be turning into Chicago's team (nah). Then again, if we are looking at it honestly, the reason Northwestern may make the tournament has little to do with Northwestern at all. Rather it's the national perception that the Big 10 is the best basketball conference in the NCAA this year. Almost by default, NDubs may actually get the nod.

I think this, however, plays on a larger theme within college sports: in basketball, talent dominates system. NDubs football can sneak into bowls by spreading defenses out. Navy football has similar success because of the option. That's not how it plays out on the court. I guess an argument can be made for system with teams like Notre Dame or Wisconsin who slow the game down to a crawl. But those teams also boast NBA prospects. Substance over style is (ironically) what college basketball is about (you can argue the NBA is rooted the exact opposite).

In Northwestern basketball's case, they've never had real talent or a real shot at the real postseason. Which is fine, in my opinion, because, if they do go dancing, it makes them even more lovable. Who doesn't root for the underdog during March Madness? Especially one that has never experienced the thrill.

Go purple, or something.

*It is taking everything I have in my soul not to mention the hot chick who gets naked all the time in "Game of Thrones" (she's part dragon, you see).