Wildcat Wishes

Ohio State fans like me are spoiled.  We expect our sports teams to win the vast majority of their games, to routinely move on to post-season tournaments and bowl games, and to win national championships every year.

Not every school is like that.  I realized that when Richard went to Northwestern and I started following the Wildcats.  NU has long had the reputation for being the toughest school, academically, in the Big Ten and the easiest, athletically, for the other schools to trounce.  Northwestern students may have been the first to come up with the “you’ll be working for us one day” chant directed at opposing teams.

In the past 20 years, Northwestern football has stopped being a doormat and has become very tough and competitive.  And Northwestern basketball has steadily improved under the careful tutelage of their excellent coach Bill Carmody.  However, the Wildcats have never been to the NCAA Tournament.  That’s right, never.  As in, not in the history of mankind.  Zero.  Nada.  Zilch.  Goose egg.

This year, though, the Wildcats have a chance to get off the schneid.  Entering the Big Ten Tournament, they stand at 18-12 overall, and 8-10 in the Big Ten.  They have two great scorers, in John Shurna and Drew Crawford, a pretty good point guard in Dave Sobolewski, and a number of role players that Coach Carmody has molded into a good team.  They shoot the three, run a Princeton-style offense that can burn teams with back cuts, and can stick around and pull games out at the end.  If they could somehow win a few games in the Big Ten Tournament, they might actually earn that first invitation to the NCAA Tournament.

I’m rooting for them to do so.  So please, Webner House readers — won’t you also root for the Wildcats this weekend?  It’s high time for them to partake of some March Madness, Northwestern style.

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Down To The Wire

The Ohio State Buckeyes are struggling, no doubt about it — but they aren’t out of the Big Ten race yet.

We’ve been saying all season that the Big Ten is balanced, and the regular season has proven that to be true.  The top team, Michigan State, already has four losses after getting drilled by Indiana last night, Ohio State and Michigan have five, and Wisconsin has six.  If The Buckeyes can win their last two games, against Northwestern and Michigan State, they would finish tied for first place.

That’s a big “if” right now.  The Buckeyes have lost two out of three at home and three of their last five.  In Sunday’s grim loss to Wisconsin, Ohio State had silly turnovers and couldn’t hit free throws, allowing the Badgers to stay in the game and pull out a last-second win.  The team seemed disorganized and undisciplined at crunch time.  These aren’t the kinds of qualities you want to see as tournament time arrives.  If a team can’t figure out to gut out close games, their season is likely to come to an early end.

Tonight’s game against Northwestern will be a good test.  The Wildcats are fighting for a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time, and a win over Ohio State would bring that dream a lot closer.  Northwestern already has beaten Michigan State this season, and behind their senior and scoring machine John Shurna they are fully capable of hanging another loss on the Buckeyes.  If Ohio State hopes to win this game, key players like Jared Sullinger, Aaron Craft, and William Buford need to step up and provide leadership at key moments, the team needs to play defense and rebound, and the players need to play smart basketball — which includes making their shots at the charity stripe.  It’s time for this Buckeye team to pull together and start playing like a contender.