It is often said that Christmas is a time of giving. But even more so, the holiday season is a time for wishing. Come on, you're always left wishing for more than the wool socks your uncle gave you this year.
The Northwestern Athletic Department is no different. So here are our wishes for Wildcat athletics this Christmas.
For a magical season from Northwestern men's basketball to re-kindle Evanston's love for college hoops.
I'm not getting too ahead of myself here by wishing for an NCAA Tournament berth, but rather for Northwestern to stay relevant in the conversation through a majority of the Big Ten season. In the first month of conference play, Northwestern hosts two of the top teams in the nation in Michigan State and Maryland, as well as Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State. Welsh-Ryan has the ability to be a fun, intimate and loud venue. With those programs all visiting Evanston in January, not only should Welsh-Ryan be rocking, but the games should also reveal a more accurate picture of Northwestern's NCAA Tournament chances.
For the men's basketball team to stay healthy
As Josh hinted, Northwestern basketball is in a position to potentially be the subject of bubble conversations in February and March. Only if it stays healthy though. Joey van Zegeren's foot injury has sort of exposed how shallow this rotation is. If any of Northwestern's big three -- Bryant McIntosh, Tre Demps, Alex Olah -- were to miss time, even just a few games, it really could be detrimental to NU's tourney hopes. Even if a role player were to go down, it's tough to see Northwestern surviving throughout Big Ten play. So as a necessary complement to Josh's wish, I'll ask for good health.
For Northwestern athletics to prove its national relevancy
These past few months have seen Northwestern athletics assert itself onto the national scene. A New Year's Day bowl and No. 13 spot in the final College Football Playoff rankings has helped Northwestern's football team to assert its relevance. And a tournament appearance for the men's basketball team -- or as Josh said -- even remaining in the Big Ten/national bubble conversation throughout the winter would represent a major national boost for the program. Not to mention, Northwestern currently boasts a top-15 women's basketball team. The athletic department as a whole is gaining more and more national respect and notoriety and my wish is for that to continue this year.
For Northwestern football to build upon 2015
Heading into 2015, Pat Fitzgerald and Northwestern were coming off back-to-back 5-7 campaigns and hadn't been to a bowl since 2012. With a freshman QB, not a ton was expected of the Wildcats heading into the season. Then three months later we found ourselves arguing about whether Northwestern should be in a New Year's Six bowl. With 10 wins and a chance at an 11th in the Outback Bowl this is already one of Northwestern's best seasons ever, but the key will be maintaining the momentum.
The last time Northwestern won 10 games was only three years ago, and that season led to an uptick in recruiting. However the two seasons after wound up being disappointments. After another great season Northwestern will undoubtedly see another uptick in recruiting, but they need to string together more than one successful season. If they can build off 2015 and have another great season in 2016 then the program will begin to get recognition nationally and finally start bringing in better and better recruits. I want Northwestern to continue to build off of this season because if they do, by 2018 or 2019 the team will be absolutely loaded.
For a first NCAA tournament bid for the men's basketball team, a deep postseason run for the women's team and a return to the top for the women's lacrosse team
This year, the tremendous success of the school's football team has made me a little greedy, so I am going to call on Fitzgerald to act as a genie and grant me three wishes, two basketball wishes and one lacrosse.
My first basketball wish is for the men's team to receive the program's first ever NCAA Tournament bid. Although there are 53 current Division-1 teams who have never had the chance to compete in March Madness, only one is in a Power 5 conference: Northwestern. There have been some close calls in the past, but the team has never quite reached the summit of receiving a bid. This year felt like the year everything should change, but then standout sophomore Vic Law was lost for the year thanks to a shoulder injury. Fans quickly began mourning what might have been; but, with the necessary caveat that conference play has not yet started, the team has looked good. Here's to hoping they can continue their high level of play into the Big Ten season.
As for the women's team, a team which currently ranks No. 15 in the AP Top 25, I wish for a deep run in that same NCAA tournament the men's team can never quite crack. Although the team recently suffered its first loss to a ranked DePaul team, other than that, the team has been stellar, posting a 10-1 record, winning blowout after blowout. Junior Nia Coffey is up to her old tricks, averaging a double-double while leading the team in scoring and rebounding. Ashley Deary is averaging over six assists per game and four starters average over 15 points a game. While the team may be top-heavy, it is certainly talented and a Final Four run is not out of the question if the team's stars get hot at the right time and draw a favorable slate of opponents.
For my third and final wish, I am wishing for a return to form for one of the nation's premier women's lacrosse programs. While last year's Elite Eight appearance would have been considered a success at most places, coach Kelly Amonte Hiller has high standards and no doubt would love to add to her already impressive collection of Final Fours and championships. Last year's team was a young one, with the freshman class making a lot of contributions, none more so than Canadian standout forward Selena Lasota. Lasota quickly proved herself to be one of the top female lacrosse players in the country and should only continue to get better after a stellar offseason that included hosting the first-place trophy at the U-19 World Championships in Edinburgh, Scotland. Add to that the rest of the talented now-sophomores, including Shelby Fredericks, who is quickly becoming a draw specialist, a type of player Amonte Hiller is used to having on her roster, and this has to be considered one of the most talented teams in the country. While losses from last year's team include explosive scorer Kara Mupo and goalkeeper Bridget Bianco, the sophomores along with senior Kaleigh Craig should be able to handle the added burden while exciting freshman Mallory Weisse should be ready to step into goal from day one. This team excites me, and since I am already being greedy with three wishes, my final wish is for a women's lacrosse championship for Amonte Hiller and her team.
For the men's and women's basketball teams to beat Maryland.
Personally, I have nothing against Maryland, but it would be huge for both basketball teams if they can manage to scrape out victories against the Terrapins. For the men, a huge upset against a Big Ten frontrunner would be critical to their tournament hopes. Defeating Melo Trimble and an excellent Maryland squad won't be easy, but if Northwestern can win at home against Maryland on January 2nd, the team will truly solidify its status as a potential bubble team. For the women, a victory against Maryland would establish Northwestern as one of the best teams in the Big Ten. Northwestern lost to Maryland twice last year and looked completely outmatched in both games. If the Northwestern women can pull an upset on January 17th on the road or February 14th at Welsh-Ryan, it will confirm that they have the potential for deep tournament run.
For Northwestern to win this bowl game and shut up some select Tennessee Volunteer fans
"All I want for Christmas is yoooooooouuuuuuu to stop wasting your life making ridiculous videos hating on Northwestern." - me, singing to this guy.
Seriously, though, I'll be in Tampa for the game, and I'd love to see the sea of Orange fans quieted by a shutdown game by Northwestern's defense. Listen, I know not all Tennessee fans are bad. In fact, the dad of one of my closest friends went to Tennessee. And I actually think Rocky Top is a pretty good song, just not if the Volunteer band is playing it on this New Year's Day. But please please please, I couldn't think of a more perfect way to end what has been a magical season. Northwestern hasn't lost a game to a team not in the Big Ten this year. I'm hoping to keep it that way. If nothing else, this would legitimize Northwestern's season, be a huge win on New Year's Day -- something that could be of major importance on the recruiting trails -- and make the guy in the video realize how much time he wasted.
P.S. He listed Northwestern as second-tier to, among others, Purdue in football. Purdue!
For Northwestern's students to start showing up to games...
Everyone else has great wishes for continued success or even improvement in Northwestern athletics, but I went with something a little outside of the box. Despite the Wildcats' 10-2 season, the students struggled filling up two of their three designated sections. Typically, students would file in throughout the first quarter and the crowd would thin out noticeably after half time. I understand that nearly all of the home games were 11 a.m. starts, but it was still a really poor effort. However, the students have a chance to redeem themselves this basketball season. There is no reason not to make the five minute shuttle commute to support an 11-1 basketball team in conference play. The Welsh-Ryan student section actually looks really good when students are there, especially when both sides are full and chants are thrown between the two sections across the length of the court.