Monday, March 7, 2011

Don’t Give Up Till It’s Over: The Big Ten Tournament Four Days From an NCAA Bid

Let’s be honest, this season was disappointing from a Northwestern fan’s perspective. From the moment this summer when Kevin Coble decided he didn’t want to play basketball for Bill Carmody anymore NU’s NCAA dreams were pretty much put on life support. Then in December when John Shurna went down with his ankle injury the life support machine got turned off. Instead of a healthy Shurna who probably could have led NU to a 9-9 Big Ten record even without Coble’s backing, the ‘Cats and the less than 100% Shurna struggled to finish 7-11 in the league with their only real quality win coming over a mediocre Illinois team. NU’s perceived underachievement has led some to label the ‘Cats the nation’s most disappointing team. I don’t know enough to argue one or another on that, but I do know this was in many ways the most disappointing year for me as a Northwestern fan. Many of the bad NU teams I’ve seen have simply been bad. There weren’t any expectations of success. This year the team had realistic hopes of making the NCAA Tournament, but once again fate seemed to throw every bit of hard luck possible at NU’s men’s basketball program. Does that constitute a cruse? Who knows? But let’s remember before we write this year off, it’s not over yet. Four wins in four days in Indianapolis and the entire history of the 2010-11 season will have to be rewritten.

To be honest, from the moment the Big Ten created their conference tournament I always kind of figured that would be how NU first made the Big Dance. In a way, that’s kind of crazy because winning four games in four days is really much harder than going 9-9 over 18 league games as tournament contenders Illinois and Michigan did. However, I think I’ve be skewed by looking at so many bad Northwestern teams that I figured getting hot over four days was more likely than any sort of consistent performance in the league. Consistency certainly wasn’t NU’s strong suit this season as not only was the team remarkably inconsistent, but many of NU’s players swing on the continuum from spectacular to terrible at remarkable rates. Drew Crawford and Luka Mirkovic stand out the most, but they aren’t the only Wildcats who lack any sort of consistent game.

Those inconsistencies, though, are part of why I can’t give up on this season just yet. Sure, the ‘Cats could lose to Minnesota on Thursday, but Northwestern is a streak-shooting team and they haven’t really had a hot streak since January. I saw them light up Georgia Tech for 55 points in a half and torch Iowa for the best 15 minutes probably ever played by a Northwestern basketball team. I’ve seen Crawford, Juice, and John Shurna get into stretches where they don’t miss. That hasn’t really been the case recently, but I know it could happen. If the ‘Cats catch fire in Conseco Fieldhouse they’ll have a shot at knocking off #1 ranked Ohio State in the second round of the tournament. If they do that, it’ll blow the door wide open for any would-be title contenders to claim a title which many assume will another Buckeye coronation.

The odds are against NU pulling off such an upset or perhaps even beating Minnesota on Thursday, but if ‘Cats play loose and confident no matter the situation they have a shot. And as someone once said…well, I guess that’s something.

It’s enough at least that I’m not giving up hope for another few days or to put in another way, as an upstart baseball team from the middle of the past decade once asked, "Why Not Us?"


Glenn said...

I certainly think they can beat Minnesota again, and I sure hope they are motivated for it, as that game has all the markings of a play-in game for the NIT.

As for Ohio State in the second round: I'd expect the coaches to remind the 'Cats that they showed they could have beaten the Buckeyes and that was without Shurna. There were some lucky offensive rebounds that game for NU but it wasn't as if they shot ridiculously well against OSU (they didn't) or that OSU was bad, or missing a key player or something.

And should they beat OSU? Who knows what happens after that point.

I don't think this is the most likely scenario but I'm ok with some wild-eyed enthusiasm.

Herman said...

Here's hoping that the week off allowed some of our injuries to heal, most notably Shurna's various ailments, but also Marcotullio's thumb, Crawford's shoulder and Cobb's hip flexor.

Here's also hoping that the week off did not leave the team rusty, as our other long layoffs this season have seemed to cause.