Well, it happened.
The thing every Northwestern basketball fan has spent their entire Northwestern basketball fandom waiting for happened, and we didn’t really even have to sweat. If we’d been waiting for a championship, we’d have had to wait it out until the last second, the final out, the game-sealing play. But we were just waiting to be one of the 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament, and we realized we’d be in a while ago.
For years, I’d dreamed of this moment. But then it rushed by with me getting rapidly comfortable with the onset of history, and then weeks of complete certainty before today, the Sunday we were finally selected. But it’s those years that make today feel special, and I’d like to thank everybody who helped make it feel that way.
I guess I have to start with Chris Collins. The average player on this roster is simply a cut above the average player on every Northwestern roster ever, and while you probably aren’t the only coach in the world who was capable of making that happen, you might be the only one who was actually willing to risk working for Northwestern. It seemed like a moonshot that somebody so eminently qualified would take the Northwestern job, and as it turns out, it was. You made this happen. Thank you.
But, to be honest, I’m not even sure I like you that much. I’ve rarely heard you say things that are nice, never heard you say something funny, and, since you became coach, there’s a trend of players leaving Northwestern under mysterious duress. There’s an active lawsuit saying your coaching staff demonized a player to make him give up his scholarship. (Remember when a former walk-on couldn’t give an interview because he’d been asked to sign an NDA?)
Under normal circumstances, the allegations of player abuse and general unseemliness surrounding this coaching administration would drive me into a fury. But Northwestern basketball has warped me. I don’t know if I like you, but you got this forsaken team to the NCAA Tournament, and therefore I love you, and I always will.
Thanks to Vic Law, the best player Northwestern has ever had. You were the best recruit we’ve ever had. We’d spent 100 years or so convinced recruiting rankings are bogus. Turns out sometimes they’re not. Northwestern lost some critical parts of last year’s team that missed the NIT, and didn’t add any new players who made a major difference. But they got Law back, and Law is so good on both offense and defense. Law rules. You’re probably the player most responsible for today, and for that, I love you.
Thanks to Bryant McIntosh, who I suppose we call the star of this team. Jeez, you’re so frustrating sometimes! He can’t finish with his left, and I don’t think he knows that. Your shooting numbers, if we’re being perfectly honest, are terrible this year and significant drop-offs from his first two seasons. But you’ve got that floater! And you’re a magician! He’ll finish this season leading the team in scoring and as the school’s all-time leader in assists with a year to go. Sometimes, your hero-ball can be hideous, but I know you can be that hero. I want the ball in your hands, and for that, I love you.
Thanks to Scottie Lindsey, who I thought was going to be just a shooter. Man, you’re not that at all! This year Lindsey is shooting almost 20 percent higher from inside the arc than from outside. You’ve has developed into Northwestern’s best scorer, and that’s a big part of why Northwestern is going to the NCAA Tournament this year. For that, I love you.
Thanks to Dererk Pardon. Yeah, you hit that shot, the one we’ll never forget, the one which will probably determine your legacy. But as we salute you for making a catch and routine finish on a semi-contested layup, I want to make sure we don’t forget something. You’re is the best Northwestern center ever. You’re so big, and so nimble, and you finish with such ease. And you’re the reason Northwestern has an imposing interior presence on defense for the first time... ever. (Under Bill Carmody, Northwestern finished in the top 100 in defensive 2-point FG percentage and block percentage. This year: 18th and 23rd.) Also, you made that shot, and for that, I love you.
Thanks to Nathan Taphorn. You threw that pass! And also hit a bunch of good threes! Thanks to Sanjay Lumpkin. You’ve grown so much in five years, adding some actual offensive skills to what was always an exceptional defensive skillset. You came here for a different coach, but stuck around for a long, long time and got Northwestern to the NCAA Tournament, and for that, I love you.
Thanks to Gavin Skelly. I think people overlooked you because of your previously doofy hair. This dude would’ve been the best center on any Northwestern team for decades.
Thanks to Isiah Brown. Nobody will ever convince you not to take a shot, which I deeply admire. Most of the time that hurts Northwestern, but a few times, your shameless chucking has really helped, and for that, I love you.
Thanks to Barret Benson, who could be okay at basketball. Northwestern hasn’t needed you in anything more than small doses yet. Most importantly, I never thought I’d see a Northwestern player with enormous hair, and for that, I love you.
Thanks to Jordan Ash, who has ensured Bryant McIntosh has been slightly less tired at extremely critical moments. You’ve also made me accidentally Google a male porn star a lot, which is disappointing. But for the semi-critical basketball thing, I love you.
Thanks to Charlie Hall and Tino Malnati. Coaches love to say the energy and scout team work provided by walk-ons does make a significant difference. Who knows if that’s true: It seems more likely Vic Law and crew being really good made the biggest difference. But look: Maybe Northwestern truly has been inspired by their practice play, or Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ presence, or the infinite stream of Lou Malnati’s pizza. No other walk-ons have ever gotten Northwestern to the NCAA Tournament, and for that, I love you.
Thanks to Aaron Falzon. You’re definitely good at basketball, and I really thought Northwestern was in trouble when it turned out you were done for the year. Thanks to Rapolas Ivanauskas. I don’t even know if you’re good at basketball. Thanks to you guys, and Kevin Coble, and Drew Crawford, and Jared Swopshire, and Jeff Ryan, and everybody else whose bodies broke while attempting to get Northwestern an NCAA Tournament bid. I’m sorry you hurt for us, but I love you for it.
And yeah, thanks to Drew Crawford. Thanks to John Shurna and your hideous jumper. You might still be the best player Northwestern has ever had. (Second-best behind Vic Law?) Thanks to Juice Thompson. That dude was a warrior. And thanks to Jitim Young, and Vedran Vukusic, and the other players who were just a bit too good to play for Northwestern. And thanks to Evan Eschmeyer, who was definitely too good to play for Northwestern. You probably could have played on better teams and been happier. Instead, you fought for Northwestern. The tenacity with which you battled made us want you to win, which made the fact that you always fell short more devastating, which makes today feel even better, and for that I love you.
Thanks to all the many players who were probably not good enough to play for teams besides Northwestern. Thanks to Luka Mirkovic, with facemask and without. Thanks to Tim Doyle, on TV and off. Thanks to Evan Seacat, and Sterling Williams, and Jason Okrzesik, and Mike Capocci, and so many others. Each Northwestern fan could name a dozen. Gosh, y’all had no business playing heavy minutes for Big Ten teams. Few people are! But you went out night after every night with Northwestern across your chest and, well, you lost. It probably hurt. But you did it with dreams of a better day—today—and for that I love you.
Thanks to Bill Carmody. You never got Northwestern to the NCAA Tournament in over a decade, and, hell, I don’t know if you ever would have. But you did something pretty important: You made Northwestern good enough often enough that we got upset that Northwestern wasn’t making the NCAA Tournament. I truly think if it weren’t for you, and all your weirdness and semi-successes and obvious flaws, we wouldn’t be here today. We’d be floating in a sea of sub-mediocrity, with nobody caring enough to get us over the edge. So thanks. And thanks to Jim Phillips, for having the guts to fire Carmody and for hiring Collins.
Thanks to all the players who ultimately went elsewhere. Thanks to Kevin Coble. Man, you were so good! I don’t know what happened at the end of your career, but remain convinced Northwestern would’ve gone to the NCAA Tournament if you played your senior year with Shurna and Juice. Thanks to the players who went to Northwestern and then transferred. Thanks to the players who considered Northwestern but chose elsewhere. There’s a world where Northwestern made the NCAA Tournament many years ago. I’d have been happier in that world, but all the bad years have made this good one exceptional.
Thanks to every coach that convinced kids not to come to Northwestern, and thanks to every fan who filled Welsh-Ryan Arena to cheer for another team. It was in those moments, when Northwestern had lost and “I-L-L” or “GO BLUE” boomed through our home arena that made today seemed the most impossible. Thanks, it makes today seem so much better.
Thanks to every announcer who mentioned Northwestern had never been to the NCAA Tournament before. How else would we have remembered?
But, most importantly, thanks to us.
We know there will never be another day like today. We saw Northwestern’s endless bowl drought end in 2013, and we saw Northwestern win a regular-ass bowl game in December. It felt good, but it didn’t feel the same. After today, Northwestern basketball will be significantly less different. Yes, we’ll still have our own colors and souped-up stadium and traditions, but the main thing separating Northwestern basketball from every other team will be gone. From now on, Northwestern will just be another major conference school that isn’t particularly good at basketball most of the time. Or maybe we will be good for a while. Only time will tell.
Being a Northwestern basketball fan has not been not fun. There have been many painful losses; as well as many painless blowouts. There have been plenty of times that I’ve looked out on an empty Welsh-Ryan Arena and realized what I was doing was not normal, dozens of confirmations that following this basketball team was not a sane thing to do.
But we have been there. The few joys and this grand one would not have been as fun without you guys. I’m not sure I would have had the resolve to continue watching this team through the hailstorms of hurt if I hadn’t been sure somebody else was out there suffering with me.
Today, Northwestern loses the thing that has made it unique. Yes, it’s a uniqueness we’re happy to be rid of. But it’s been undeniably ours. Through good, through bad, thanks for making Northwestern basketball like this. Today is special, and to everybody who has made it that way, I love you, and thank you.