One of the questions of the year in college basketball is, Will Northwestern Make the NCAA Tournament For the Very First Time Ever? This is in its way a refreshing change from the Question of previous years, even decades: why does Northwestern play basketball? With a forever winning percentage of 41% (under 40% if the vaguely respectable Carmody years are excluded), that was not an unreasonable question. Northwestern men’s basketball has flirted with mediocrity a few times but on the whole been dismal. There were times during the tenure of the excellent women’s basketball coach Don Perrelli when the outcome of a match game between the women’s and men’s team would have been . . . interesting.
But the football breakout year of 1995 changed many things, and that included expectations for men’s basketball. Eventually Bill Camody was brought from Princeton, and very gradually the team’s season record began to improve, ending the last two years with identical 20-14 records. These records were, for some reason unknown, insufficient for an invitation to the NCAA tournament. Nonetheless, no one has ever done that before at Northwestern. This “failure” to be invited of course infuriates a certain type of fan, who wants more more more. Like every coach that ever was, Carmody has his faults, but he’s certainly to be praised for making sure that the team isn’t embarrassing, is actually rather good, and usually has at least a couple of players who are fun to watch, and not in the Red Skelton/Dick van Dyke sense of “how can he do that to himself and not get hurt?” John Shurna is on track to become the leading scorer in Northwestern history soon, Drew Crawford can dominate, and so on. As usual, the team is thin, and the less said about the so-called big men the better, but at this point in the season, the tournament hopes are still alive, if a little feverish and weak.
With 8 games left, the Cats are 14-8, 4-6 in the conference. Barring more injuries (a famous Northwestern problem), the remaining schedule seems to put the Wildcats’ fate in their own hands – 5-3 is attainable (beat Iowa twice, Purdue, Minnesota, and Penn State). That would make NU 19-11, more importantly .500 in the conference at 9-9. Splitting the remainder gives them 18-12, 8-10, and I think that’s harder. Everyone in the Big 10 or whatever it calls itself now is beatable this year, and just about everyone has risen up to smite someone improbable. Can it happen? Well, of course. Will it? Hard to see the future is.