Living in what feels like a void for content, we here at Inside NU have gone with the decision to launch a special, exclusive, riveting, brand new four-part series. To honor what was originally scheduled to be the week building up to the 2020 Final Four, I will be playing/simulating an entire season with Northwestern men’s basketball via the Xbox 360 and the brutally bad NCAA Basketball 10, undeniably one of the worst sports-related, widely-released video games of the century.
In these times of trouble and uncertainly, the 2009-10 Wildcats will attempt to do the unthinkable and clinch Northwestern’s first-ever spot in the Big Dance (2017, of course, does not exist in the world of NCAA Basketball 10).
It won’t be easy, but with a little luck, magic and poor video game programming, the Wildcats just may have what it takes to go all the way.
So you came back for Part II? Awesome, guess you’re as bored as I am.
After a solid 7-2 showing in non-conference play, Coach Coffman and the Wildcats are revving up for Big Ten action as they continue their quest for a March Madness berth. Juice Thompson and Kevin Coble have N’Westn playing some solid “basketball” (I use the term loosely considering the monstrosity of a game that is NCAA Basketball 10), but conference action is going to pose a big test.
With future opponents including Evan Turner and Ohio State, Draymond Green and MSU, Talor Battle leading the charge for Penn State, and a loaded Purdue roster featuring E’Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummel, I was definitely sweating a little bit heading into B1G action. I’m just grateful that Greivis Vásquez and Maryland still played in the ACC at this point, or else things could’ve gotten really ugly.
Here’s where the Big Ten stands heading into conference play:
As you can see, the top half of this conference is no joke. Indiana won’t pose much of a threat this season, but besides that, there will be few easy games for the remainder of the season, especially when playing on the game’s hardest ‘All-American’ setting.
On top of that, my conference schedule is incredibly front-loaded. My first half of Big Ten play consists of nine games, and six of those will come against teams currently ranked in the standings shown above. The other three consist of playing host to Illinois, a road contest with Michigan, and a trip to Champaign (the 12th hardest place to play in the country according to NCAA Basketball 10!).
**Quick side note regarding this game’s list of toughest places to play: We should automatically be skeptical of anything produced by the creators and developers of NCAA Basketball 10, but there are perhaps few things more alarming than the fact that they have Texas ranked as the 15th hardest place to place in college basketball. Having grown up as a UT fan, watching and going to games every year, the Frank Erwin Center in Austin quite literally might be the easiest place to play in the entire country.
Anyways, tough conference. Tough opening slate of games. But I’m not worried. This is a team of destiny.
Game 10: at Illinois
Final Score: L, 32-22
Record: (7-3, 0-1)
Well, it didn’t take long for me to learn things were going to be a lot tougher than I expected them to be. I was punched in the mouth on the road in Champaign, unable to get anything going playing in, famously, the 12th-toughest atmosphere in college basketball. When Illinois gets ahead, the screen and controller start shaking so heavily that seeing your players clearly is a challenge. Shooting free throws became impossible. What a well-designed game!
A tough start to the conference ticket.
Game 11: Michigan State
Final Score: L, 48-22
Record: (7-4, 0-2)
This one was humbling. Tough home conference opener. Coming off a loss. Day after New Year’s. The players just couldn’t get up for this one and it showed. Having the students home for break certainly didn’t help, but you’d still expect the players to be motivated with or without a student section present for a Top 25 opponent. The Welsh-Ryan crowd grew restless early on, with a few signs popping up in the crowd suggesting they want Coach Coffman OUT. Seems harsh:
The call of Bill Raftery and Gus Johnson with the CBS theme makes the game a bit more entertaining, I learned, but it was still a roundly pitiful 14 minutes of getting absolutely pummeled by Green and the Spartans. The head-to-head postgame stats were atrocious:
Check out that field goal percentage disparity. Video game-like numbers.
Game 12: at Michigan
Final Score: L, 39-38
Record: (7-5, 0-3)
This was one just brutal. I counted not one, not two, not three, but FOUR charges on me called outside the three-point arc. Jeremy Nash triple rimmed out as time expired. You just hate to see it.
At least these two Michigan fans and their ‘M’ shirts left happy.
Game 13: vs Wisconsin
Final Score: L, 54-53
Record: (7-6, 0-4)
Upset and discouraged by my third straight loss while actually playing the game myself, I thought I’d give simulating a try just to see how that would work for me. Sure enough, it turned out to be even more demoralizing than playing, as the ‘Cats squandered a 16-point halftime lead and plummeted to 0-4 in Big Ten play. Juice’s 24 points simply weren’t enough down the stretch.
Game 14: vs Purdue
Final Score: W, 31-29
Record: (8-6, 1-4)
Finally, a breakthrough. My first win of conference play came as a huge upset over No. 6 ranked Purdue at Welsh-Ryan. Sitting at 0-4 in conference play, I decided to act on the advice given to me from commenter C.E. Bell on my first post, giving John Shurna the start over Luka Mirkovic to shake things up. Keep commenting with any suggestions folks, your advice can help lead to victories.
Game 15: at Ohio State
Final Score: L, 64-44
Record: (8-7, 1-5)
I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty if I tried to play the No. 3 team in the nation on the road, so I didn’t even bother trying. Cowardly, I know. But I have to save my attention span and abilities for the games where I have a chance. Buckeyes by 20.
Game 16: vs Illinois
Final Score: W, 43-41
Record: (9-7, 2-5)
Needed this one badly. A remarkable run down the stretch helped overcome a six-point second half deficit and steal this rivalry win over the Illini.
Game 17: vs Minnesota
Final Score: W, 56-51 (2OT)
Record: (10-7, 3-5)
Wow did this one have it all.
We could talk all we want about Nash’s heroic performance and Shurna’s clutch triples, but I want to talk about how EA Sports tried to steal this game from the ‘Cats. I present two key pieces of video evidence:
The officials not only miss Juice Thompson being fouled at the beginning of the clip seen below, but the baseline official, who has a clear view of the play, fails to make an easy out of bounds call on Minnesota. Egregiously bad refereeing, but somehow not the worst we’d see from the Zebras in this one.
This clip solidifies the collusion that was present in The Barn for this game. This was called an offensive foul on Juice Thompson (yes. that’s scrawny 5’10” point guard Juice Thompson) and fouled him out of the game late in regulation. The refs had it out for him for the full 14 minutes.
Despite the officiating woes, this prevailed to be a huge road win for Coach Coffman and the boys. Always tough to win on the road in the Big Ten.
Game 18: at Michigan State
Final Score: L, 41-26
Record: (10-8, 3-6)
Well, I tried to recreate some Wildcat magic in East Lansing, and I failed. I even watched highlights from the ‘09 upset at the Breslin Center to get me in the right mindset for this one, but it was a futile effort in the end.
I won’t hide from the truth. 3-6 is not where I wanted to be in conference after nine games, and I’ve definitely given myself a hole to dig out of in the latter half of Big Ten play. Tied for 8th place in the conference at the halfway mark is certainly not NCAA Tournament-quality, but there is still plenty of time to turn this season around.
The good news? Things should get easier from here on out. I’m done with all my regular season matchups against teams currently in the conference’s Top 4, and I still have two matchups looming with the bottom-feeding Hoosiers. Home tilts with Minnesota, Penn State and Iowa should also produce more favorable matchups compared to the gauntlet I’ve faced so far.
Part III on Friday. Drop lineup suggestions or any other random advice in the comment section. The path to the tournament is uphill, but anything is possible with nine games to go.