Thursday, March 8, 2012

Let's All Bite Our Fingers For Two Days

So after 73 years and, at least in the case of this season, several months of waiting and anxiety, the chance to finally experience life on the big stage basically comes down to the next two days of college basketball if you are one of those poor, unfortunate souls who call themselves Northwestern fans.

Last we checked in, my Wildcats had come oh so close to a monumental upset on senior night that would have all but punched NU's ticket to its first ever big dance. The game even came complete with a tailor made Gus Johnson-approved game-tying three-pointer in the final seconds. Of course, that superb moment was not meant to be, which essentially meant the Cats' season, for all intents and purposes had come down to one final game -- the regular season finale -- against Iowa in Iowa City.

This was by no means an un-winnable game. In fact, many probably would have tabbed Northwestern to be the favorite. But it wasn't a game the Cats were guaranteed to win either, and given the school's choke-tacular history, I wasn't counting any chickens until I saw them clucking on the bar at Blondie's on the upper west side. Given that Northwestern promptly fell behind by a stunningly large 15 points within the first 8 minutes, I suppose I was right to. So, to salve my wounds, I drank more beer and ordered the loaded waffle fries, which I'm pretty sure contain enough cholesterol and saturated fat to kill a horse. After all, my thoroughbreds were about to come up lame. It was only appropriate that I take an appropriate dosage to forget that the hopes of finally, at long last making the Tourney, were slipping away hastily.

But then something funny happened. The Cats woke up and went on a wholly unexpected 27-5 run to close out the first half and actually take a seven-point lead into the locker rooms. Grit? Determination? Striking back against adversity instead of turtling into our shells?

What was this team? Who are these people?

In the second half, I remembered who they were, and the answer to that, is a team that even when it wins gives its fans agita. That's certainly what happened in this case, as the Cats, who were up by as much as 11 in the second half, allowed the Hawkeyes to make a game of it before they held on for an angst-inducing 70-66 victory. Another fun result of that victory was that John Shurna, who became the first Wildcat to make the All-Big Ten first team since Jitim Young did my freshman year of college in 2004, also clinched the Big Ten scoring title, while teammate Drew Crawford finished fifth in the race.

So now we're in, right?

Well, not exactly. The Big Ten Tournament starts this afternoon in Indianapolis and it is then that the real fun -- and by fun I mean wracking of nerves -- begins for Northwestern. The Wildcats' abilities to choke away a game they should win is well documented, and that particular trend almost reared its ugly head again against Iowa on Saturday. I bring this up because as NU is the No. 7 seed in today's game and Minnesota is No. 10, one would assume the Cats should win. I for one am not going to assume that that's going to happen. I've had my heart broken before. But the gist of it all seems to be quite clear.

-- Northwestern is on the bubble.
-- In the latest Bracketology, Northwestern is the highest ranked of the last four teams into the field of 68.
-- As it stands, the Wildcats may very well have sewn up a berth.
-- Of course, they very well may not have.
-- Beating Minnesota tonight, would probably seal up Northwestern's first ever invitation to the Dance.
-- Beating Minnesota tonight and then beating Michigan tomorrow, a ranked team the Cats lost to twice in overtime this season, would almost definitely get them in.
-- Losing to Minnesota tonight might damage their resume enough to allow another bubble team to hop over them and knock them out of the field.

So there you have it.

This is essentially the high-anxiety, pulse-pounding finish to the best chance Northwestern has ever had in its history of making it to the NCAA tournament. I am likely to be nervous all the way until Selection Sunday when the brackets get revealed at 6 p.m. ET. If they lose and miss out on the field it is going to be a pretty lonely night for me on Sunday. If they make it, well, anyone who knows me knows that, in general, I really dislike dancing.

But if Northwestern finally gets its invitation, I'll be the first one on the floor, ready to cut a rug.

1 comment:

  1. I wish good luck upon my second-favorite "Wildcats" team. Hope to see them in the tourney this year.