Shurned Out: Riding the Bubble at Northwestern
Last Saturday, John Shurna broke Northwestern's career scoring record, surpassing Billy McKinny's 1,900 career points with a three-pointer against Minnesota. Last weekend I set a career personal high score of 18,310 points in BrickBreaker, but nobody made much of a fuss about it.* Or even a t-shirt.
As Northwestern basketball fans are starting to realize, life on the bubble of the NCAA tournament is a lot like what I'm assuming drunk sex with your pledge wife would be like: you hold your breath and hope that everything magically falls into place to bring about a wondrous sensation you've never felt before, but you're really just waiting for something to go horribly awry and inevitably ruin everything you hold dear. There will probably be a lot of crying in the end no matter what.
Like Ross Packingham outside the Keg, the 'Cats are on the outside looking in at the NCAA Tournament.
The game against Michigan on Tuesday night was considered a must-win game for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, the paradise that has been denied to Northwestern since Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler were in power.** In fact, every game for the rest of the season that isn't against #9 Ohio State is a must-win game if the Wildcats are to have any hope at all to go dancing this spring.
Only at NU would professors use this game at Welsh-Ryan as an excuse to assign extra homework, commissioning their students with the task of analyzing the effect of attending basketball games on hearing loss or how the transformative power of group mentality is expressed during sporting events.***
Like Northwestern has ever been able to fashion a cohesive group identity around support for its athletics.
After much internal debate and an impassioned attempt to create a game theory game to determine whether or not I should write my paper or go to the game, I arrive at Welsh-Ryan along with Sir Twattingworth and our loyal cohort. We've already stolen extra Shurna shirts, sang the proper Adele songs, and identified the opposing player's star father. You know, the usual.
Before the game, Stu Douglass was asked about the presence of Michigan alums at away games, to which that pretentious assmunch of a slutmonkey zebrafucker replied,
"That gym's pretty small and it doesn't get too loud."
But damn this gym is packed! I don't think I've ever seen this many fans at Welsh-Ryan -- it's standing room only in the student section, and purple seems to dwarf out the maize of Michigan. Apparently somebody thought it would be a brilliant idea to take the least photogenic player on the team and make enormous cardboard cutouts of his face, so pale and heinously awkward Shurnas bob up and down in the crowd as the game begins.
8,127 sets of eyes -- 10 of which are ginormous and cardboard -- watch as Northwestern comes to life. The 'Cats, led by Hearn, Curletti, and Sobolewski are playing an extraordinarily physical game, driving through the Wolverines defense to the basket, drawing foul after foul, and cleaning up the glass for once. We're in the bonus with 13 minutes left in the first half, and I'm still amazed that a team ranked 325th out of the 344 Division 1 basketball teams managed to outrebound Michigan 33-30.
I think that the three most exciting basketball games I've ever experienced live are as follows: 1. This game. 2. That one time in high school I saw Iman Shumpert**** posterize some poor West Suburban Silver Conference forward. 3. That one game in 8th grade rec league when that one fat kid sank a halfcourt three at the buzzer to beat us in the final game of the season.
Clearly, two things are true: this game fucking rocks, and I need to watch more basketball.
Shurna's layup with 31 seconds to go sends Northwestern into halftime with a 31-24 lead, and the place goes wild. The excitement at the prospect of upsetting Michigan is more intoxicating than the crappy vodka we drank at 5:15 this afternoon. I make the mistake of asking Sir Twattingworth about proper court-rushing procedure.
But Michigan comes roaring back from halftime. They just keep hocking up threes, and most of them seem to go in. Before we know it, Vogrich has nailed a three, Burke's gone in for an easy layup, and Michigan's ahead 41-38. Things are crashing down around us like the fallout from an afterschool sex-toy demonstration.
And then, all of the sudden, Hardaway Jr. chokes like Stefan Demos, bricking 6 free throws. Northwestern seems to rise from the ashes like a Gingrich campaign, leaving their bodies and hearts on the floor as the Wildcats give everything they can to overcome the odds and topple a physically superior Michigan team. Despite missing two straight chances to break a 49-49 tie with under a minute to go, Michigan can't draw up anything better, and Trey Burke's three-point shot with 2 seconds left on the clock is wide. One and only one thought pervades.
We're still alive!
I don't hate Michigan. I never have and never will. I damn near went there myself. Chants of "state school" never seemed appropriate during football games, especially when said state school was kicking our ass.
Michigan fans aren't total self-conscious dicks like some other fans I could mention. They have enough self-respect to refrain from shouting their team colors back and forth to one another. Michigan fans have pride and respect and a tradition of winning that I would kill Willie the Wildcat for in a heartbeat. Just once I want to know the feeling of going to a school that has achieved what is becoming increasingly impossible in modern collegiate athletics: fielding a superior team without sacrificing morality or intellect.
But God how this hurts. How can you go from a tied overtime game to a brutal twelve-point loss in five minutes, approximately the same amount of time it takes me to realize that I will never be able to spell David Sobolewski's name from memory? How can you give up three three-pointers in a row? And how can the hopes of finally reaching the greatest tournament on Earth be dashed so quickly to the frigid Evanston ground?
Every fan I talk to would rather go to the NCAA Tournament than win a bowl game. Fuck the NIT. Fuck the Little Caesars Bowl. Fuck you Stu, for hitting the nerve of Northwestern athletic insecurity.
The 10 sets of cardboard eyes look on, as impotent as the real Shurna to keep the fans from leaving the bleachers.
It's hard to be a Northwestern fan, knowing that your team will never achieve the dominance or respect that other schools take for granted. But just once I want to know what it feels like to make history for something other than our infinite capacity to disappoint.
The embarrassment and shame is almost as bad as the defeat itself. As one student put it,
"Every time we lose, I feel like I have to answer to my Dad."
And that's a feeling that's almost as heartbreaking as the prospect of returning home to write a paper on the transnational dimensions of global protest in 1968. Oh well. How many tournament appearances does U of C have?
—————————————————————————————————————————— *The key to success? Hour upon hemorrhoid-inducing hour spent on the toilet perfecting my craft. And by "craft," I mean "BrickBreaker," of course... **Coincidence? I think not. ***I swear that if Bracketology was offered as an adjunct major at Northwestern, about a third of the students would take it and the rest would just assume "bracketology" is an obscure offshoot of the larger field of herpetology. ****Currently of the "I got replaced by Jeremy Lin" fame. Apparently karma does not favor me when it comes to basketball.