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.

Happy National Signing Day!

Today is National Signing Day.  For those of you who don’t follow college football — and if you fall into that category, you really should reconsider your life priorities — National Signing Day is the day that high school athletes sign letters committing to attend certain schools.  National Signing Day has become a kind of holiday for sports fans, even though the only sports-related activity is the athlete picking up a pen and signing his name.  It has become like Selection Sunday, when the NCAA Tournament field is announced, or the day that pitchers and catchers reports for spring training.

The dynamics of National Signing Day are interesting to observe.  Most teams go into the Day with a roster of “verbals” — athletes who have already verbally committed to sign their letter of intent.  However, there are always a few holdouts who announce their decision on National Signing Day, usually by picking among the caps of competing teams and putting on the hat of the winning school.  As a result, evaluation of recruiting success or failure becomes perversely skewed to the holdouts.  Fans of schools like Ohio State, which already has “verbals” from more than 20 excellent athletes, will focus on the holdouts and feel let down if their team doesn’t land one, when they should be focused less on the prima donnas and more on the corps of fine players who long ago agreed to be part of their school’s program.

When National Signing Day comes, coaches get to finally talk about their recruits.  After they have done so, I imagine they breathe a sign of relief, and then start planning their next recruiting trip.

The NCAA Tournament Expands

The NCAA has decided to expand — ever so slightly — the NCAA Basketball Tournament field, from 65 to 68 teams.  Starting next year, there will be four “play-in” games instead of just one.

I suppose this is a compromise solution, between people who wanted an 80- or 96-team field and those who would prefer to leave the Tournament the way it is.  I think making the Tournament much bigger would have been kind of silly, so I am glad the NCAA Board of Directors resisted that temptation.  As it is, I kind of scratch my head at the arguments about whether a “bubble” team from a “power conference” that couldn’t even finish above .500 in conference play should make the Tournament.  If you can’t even win a majority of the games in your conference, why should you be playing for the NCAA championship?  For that same reason, I also like the NCAA Board’s idea of the play-in games not being limited to just small-conference teams.  Why shouldn’t a “power conference” team or two have to play their way in, just like the small fry?

The linked article also notes that, in 2011, every game in the NCAA Tournament will be available for viewing, live, across the country.  The games will be broadcast by CBS, TNT, TBS, and truTV.  That news will cause every sports fan to ask one question:  “What the heck is truTV, and do I have it on my basic cable?”