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MAILBAG: Just how far can the Lake Show go?

With the arrival of April, optimism is pervading Evanston.

Photo by Ross Dettman, 630.660.0817,

Following the conclusion of a magical men’s basketball season, Northwestern Athletics has provided an encore with softball and lacrosse already rolling in early April. This turning of the page sports-wise has also applied to Inside NU, where we’ve introduced Iggy Dowling and Bradley Locker as Editors in Chief alongside Gavin Dorsey. What better time to answer your questions about everything ‘Cats? From postseason predictions to food debates, read what we have to say below.

“After seeing what the atmosphere at Welsh-Ryan can be, who would be your dream opponent to come in on the Non Con Slate? Scheyer returning to Chicagoland to face a former coach and fellow GBN grad? UConn off a Final 4 and potential title? UCLA or Gonzaga?” — JT2311

Bradley: I was (clandestinely) hoping Northwestern would match up with Duke in the NCAA Tournament for storyline purposes. As you mentioned, the connections between Jon Scheyer and the North Shore are inherent, with the coach having grown up in Northbrook. On top of that, Chris Collins has inextricably been shaped by his time at Duke and has not shied away from mentioning Cameron Indoor Stadium, Coach K or his tenure in Durham during pressers. Of course, it would also be Ryan Young’s return to Welsh-Ryan Arena. The academic behemoths haven’t squared off since 1989; what better way for NU to prove it’s a legitimate basketball force than to host maybe the most well-known blue blood of them all? The game would probably sell out in minutes — beyond only student ticket submissions — and would draw pretty tremendous ratings around the country, too.

Iggy: Duke already has enough bragging rights over Northwestern on the gridiron. Give me Virginia. On a personal level, I have a few friends that go to UVA, so that would be fun. The “battle of the nerds” storyline is there. But most of all, I have this sick desire to watch Tony Bennett and Chris Collins (as well as Chris Lowery) will their defensive-oriented teams to the most putrid, slow-paced rock fight possible. The one game these teams played in Evanston was a 48-44 Virginia win in 2004. Let’s get into the 30s and make every bucket feel like a soccer goal.

Gavin: Give them another shot at UCLA. I know Jaime Jaquez may be gone and the Bruins might not be the same team NU played this year, however, it stings so much knowing how close Northwestern was to pulling off the massive upset and I know the team would be juiced. Plus, we’ve already seen what the matchup was like with a mostly UCLA crowd in a large stadium; let’s see how the Bruins handle a sold-out Welsh-Ryan Arena when the crowd is practically on top of them.

“What is the bar scene for students (both pre and post legal age) in Evanston, right now? The staples for us old-timers are all gone... I’m not sure where you can get the traditional cheap drink with a bad fake ID any longer! Also update the best cheap (but good) eats if we’re back near campus.” — GTom

Gavin: The food one is a trick question — nothing is cheap in Evanston. If I had to pick some of my favorite ~affordable~ spots in the area, you definitely get a good amount of wings for $10 at Buffalo Joe’s and it’s pretty good. Epic Burger by Target is also a good bet. Chicken Shack is one of my favs in terms of late-night options and fairly cheap as well. Outside of the affordable range, Prairie Moon is good and has live jazz on Wednesdays. My girlfriend has also gotten me into sushi lately, and I’ve really enjoyed Todoroki. Bat 17 is up there as well.

As the resident 21-year-old of the editorial staff, I’ll also take a stab at the bar question, and that’s that the scene in Evanston is basically dead. The lone “college bar” is Reza’s, a converted pizza restaurant that added a lounge last year and now serves as a hub for freshmen and sophomores who don’t want to go all the way into the city to drink and dance. Other than dorm and frat parties, there’s virtually nothing to do in Evanston if you want a night out, leaving a train ride to Wrigleyville, Lincoln Park or the Loop as the only options for students who on the weekends.

If anybody with money to burn sees this, I have two requests: a late-night food option open past midnight and a college bar in Evanston.

Iggy: I am the biggest Buffalo Joe’s proponent you have ever seen.

“NU lacrosse has a long and storied history, but Izzy Scane is ridiculous. Where does she rank among the all-time greats?” — JWoodNU

Gavin: Statistically, there is a very good case to make for the best all time. You can’t really consider national championships in the conversation given a) Lacrosse is a team sport, b) Northwestern won seven titles in eight years, and the majority of team members at the time had multiple championships and c) Scane’s two opportunities at a title came when she was a first-year and faced off against a phenomenal Maryland team and 2021 when NU went undefeated before falling to Syracuse.

Let it not be mistaken, there are a lot of great athletes that have played lacrosse for Northwestern. Izzy Scane is far and away the most prolific goal-scorer in school history. Halfway through her third complete season (seven games were played in 2020 due to COVID), she’s fourth in goals, fifth in points and third in shots attempted. By the end of the season, there’s a strong chance she’ll be the all-time leading goal scorer and point-scorer in over 20 less games than her predecessors. On average, she scores an entire goal per game more than anyone else in school history.

Northwestern has three Tewaaraton Award winners (two of them twice), but Scane should be considered with the likes of them for the best in program history. If you factor in that she was robbed of the award in 2021 (I’m not getting over this) and will likely win it this year, Scane has every reason to be considered the best among with the Wildcat greats. Now, all she needs is the National Championship.

“NU football is sending 4 players to the NFL draft and brought in very little via the transfer portal. Is there any reason to believe the 2023 team will be better than 2022 was?” — JWoodNU

Bradley: At the moment, there really is not much hope regarding the 2023 Wildcats. Yes, the team may be due for some positive regression after having almost everything go the other way in terms of luck, but almost all of the issues were self-inflicted. On top of that, the vast majority of talent on last campaign’s team will not return; that includes transfers like Malik Washington and A.J. Hampton. This roster is just not very competitive at the moment, and I wouldn’t expect more than a few additions in the portal in May. Factor in a new DC and a slew of just-added coaches, and the team is likely in for another soberingly bad year.

“What odds would you put for the following coming back individually: Buie, Audige, Beran — what is a realistic timeline on a decision? — @ChicagoJoe20

Iggy: Given that Chase Audige put up an Instagram story on Friday that seemed to show he’s now affiliated with an organization called “League Ready,” I’d have to go Buie, Beran, Audige from most-likely to least. I think we could hear from Audige as early as Monday given what he posted. I feel like it would be a smart marketing move to build off the publicity he’ll get as a Naismith Defensive Player of the Year finalist — which was announced on Sunday — by declaring for the NBA Draft while he’s in the national conversation, if that’s his goal (then again, who am I to say what Audige should and shouldn’t do).

Personally, I don’t think any of the three return. This is a trio that has already cemented itself in Northwestern history with this incredible season. Maybe Buie comes back for some nice NIL money, but if he wanted to stay in the NCAA for that reason, I feel like he could transfer somewhere else and get a sweeter deal with more national attention. But, since Julian Roper is going to transfer, maybe he knew the point guard spot wasn’t up for grabs? Who knows? Pete Nance announced he was testing the waters on April 25 of last year, and I think that’s a reasonable expectation for Buie and Beran.

“Chance that the Purdue football game gets moved as well and construction on new Ryan Field starts earlier?” —@ChicagoJoe20

Iggy: Add Cole Freeman and Coco Azema’s jersey numbers together. Throw Boo Buie’s (no, not Ripped Jersey Buie™) in there for good measure, and you have your answer: Z-E-R-O.

Gavin: Is this thing ever even actually going to get built?

Bradley: In light of continued town-wide debate over the new Ryan Field, I’d doubt the project gets completed any sooner than the anticipated date of 2025 or so.

“In-N-Out vs. Culver’s” — @MilesRFrench

Bradley: Culver’s in a landslide. To even compare the two is disgraceful to such a treasure.

Iggy: Being from the Northeast, I probably have near-equal experience eating each from of these (which is minimal). The correct answer here is Five Guys, but I’ll roll with Culver’s. Both places’ shakes are awesome, and In-N-Out has exceptional value, but you have to evaluate a burger place by the quality of its burger, first and foremost. The three bacon cheeseburgers I’ve eaten at Culver’s during my time at Northwestern were incredible, so I’ve got to go with that.

Gavin: I’ll give them credit, In-N-Out has great value for what you’re getting. However, nothing compares to the Culver’s cheese curds and the quality of food there.

“What’s the ceiling for the lacrosse team? What improvements should the baseball team focus on as the year goes on? And finally, what restaurant should be added to Norris? (Bradley)” — @BrendanPreisman

Bradley: Taking the hardest-hitting one of these three, obviously. I’ll go with a Raising Cane’s. The late hours would immediately be a major plus, and the food is pretty universally well-liked among college students. On top of that, Northwestern Athletics already has a partnership with Cane’s — maybe the “chicken sandwich” chants could be redeemable for a free combo.

Gavin: I fully expect the lax team to take it all this year. I think if the Syracuse opener was played this week, Northwestern would come out on top and be regarded as the national favorites. No one — I REPEAT, NO ONE — is stopping the Scane Train right now.

Iggy: Ah, the second one. It went unanswered for a reason. At 2-18 at the time this is published, the baseball team is probably at the point the football team was after it lost to Iowa on Halloweekend. It’s pretty certain at this point that Northwestern isn’t going anywhere, so it should be a huge priority for Jim Foster to play the young guys as much as he possibly can in preparation for the future, even if it sacrifices wins. Good thing is, this team is relatively young already. Bad thing: it’s allowed a cumulative OPS of 1.038. Improvements could start there.

“What topic/issue is most likely to cause a site-altering divide between the three of y’all?” — @BenChasenINU

Bradley: For me, it has to be the NFC East. While Gavin and Iggy have their own rival teams represented in the division, I’m free to move around in terms of allegiances/agendas that I feel need supporting. In this year’s case, it’s contrasting Iggy’s point of view about the Giants regressing. Kayvon Thibodeaux breakout soon come.

Iggy: Yeah, unfortunately being a Giants fan the last decade-plus has made me an eternal pessimist (it’s allowed me to relate to the Northwestern fanbase pretty easily, too!). You know what also has? Knowing that Bradley’s answer to “Is it morally okay to watch another sporting event while you’re in the middle of enjoying a thrilling postseason college basketball game?” is a resounding yes.

A double-overtime WCC Tournament battle between San Francisco and Santa Clara that lasted well after 2 a.m. on a Saturday night? Bradley was watching UFC action during commercial breaks. How about watching a 15-seeded Princeton — in-person — advance to the Sweet 16? Or seeing Chase Audige erupt in the second half against UCLA? Sounds great, doesn’t it? Gavin and I thought so, but Bradley was sneaking in Trea Turner’s go-ahead grand slam in the World Baseball Classic during media timeouts. I enjoy baseball as much as the next person, but that’s just unforgivable.

Also, I think I stand alone on this here, but give me Kendrick Lamar over Drake any day of the week.

Gavin: I’ve compiled a list of things we’ve argued about over the last month:

  1. Bradley taking half-hour showers.
  2. Bradley complaining about In-N-Out.
  3. Bradley watching the WBC while literally at March Madness.
  4. Bradley watching UFC while literally at March Madness.
  5. The NFC East.
  6. Debating whether or not North Dakota is in the Midwest (it is).

“Do you see the Lakeshow getting over the hump of the NCAA semis?” — @Sarah_Meadow

Bradley: I think the Wildcats are virtually a lock to make the Final Four for the fourth straight year the event has been held. With the return of the almighty Izzy Scane and other complementary talent, the team likely has its best chance in quite a while at making a legitimate run at a national championship. At the same time, part of NU’s issues in the Semifinal round has been a bit psychological. Last year, the ‘Cats were dominating UNC until they let the Tar Heels score eight unanswered in the final 10 minutes; innately, some of that is just a lack of composure. The Wildcats look incredible right now, having won 10 consecutively; until we see how they fare through the Big Ten Tournament, I’m not sure I’ll fully be able to trust the team to reach the National Championship — unless it continues rolling at this ridiculous rate.

Iggy: Like Bradley said, we’re now at a point where calling the Final Four the Lakeshow’s FLOOR isn’t a ridiculous take. And I think the strength of schedule has a lot do to with that optimism this early. Northwestern has already beaten six ranked opponents, as many as it did in the entire 2022 regular season. Its worst game was a one-goal loss against a top-ranked and undefeated Syracuse team in the season opener. The ‘Cats have taken down North Carolina, Boston College and Stony Brook squads that were all ranked in the national top four when they faced off, winning in several different ways.

Taking that strength of schedule into account, this might even be a better start to the season than 2021. It’s probably the best stretch of lacrosse Northwestern has played since 2013, when it went into the NCAA Tournament having beaten 12 (!!) ranked opponents with just one loss. So, the argument that Northwestern isn’t on the same tier as UNC, ’Cuse, BC, Denver and James Madison, among other teams, is basically dead. A Final Four tilt against any of those schools is essentially a coin-flip, and a matter of who matches up better with whom. Given that Northwestern has played against most of these top squads already and hasn’t suffered a blowout loss — unlike in previous years — I think the ‘Cats can do it.

Gavin: I’ve written a lot about lacrosse this mailbag, so I’ll keep it short and sweet. The ‘Cats are going all the way. The depth is crazy, with anyone being able to slice and dice you, whether that’s Izzy Scane, Erin Coykendall, Hailey Rhatigan, Madison Taylor, Dylan Amonte or Elle Hansen.

“What stylistic changes on both offense and defense do you expect in how the football teams plays coming off two dismal seasons?” — @Dan_Olinger

Bradley: I asked Coach Fitzgerald about potentially moving to a heavier, run-oriented offense during his annual media lunch, but the head man was rather non-committal given the team had yet to really practice in the spring. At the same time, I would think we’ll see more 12-, 13- and 22-personnel sets with the ‘Cats in 2023, even though Mike Bajakian used them a good amount last season. NU does not have much talent or proven players in its receiver room, but its tight end group — with Thomas Gordon, Charlie Mangieri and Chris Petrucci — should be somewhat solid. In terms of passing, though, I do hope we get more play action, RPOs and screens.

Defensively, new defensive coordinator David Braun has preached consistency in terms of structure, so Northwestern will likely operate out of a 4-3. Players like Rod Heard II should continue to remain almost positionless at DB, wearing a myriad of hats, in light of lots of skill at safety. Braun also highlighted more disguise, which should include some rotated coverages (e.g., Cover 1 Robber, Tampa 2) and maybe even some stunts and simulated pressures. Beyond that, the Wildcats may be inclined to blitz more in 2023 given a lack of “immediate depth” at defensive tackle and an unproven pass-rushing bunch.

“What is the most impressive animal you could defeat in hand to hand combat?” —@Dan_Olinger

Bradley: If I were fighting a shark out of water, it would feel pretty tough to lose by just simply running around on sand. That might be an unfair way out, though, so I’ll go with a black widow spider. The insect may only be up to 38 millimeters in size, but its bite is one of the most lethal in the world (I watched far too many Animal Planet shows about them growing up). I’d be able to rest contentedly if I took down one of the five most deadly arachnids in the world. Maybe if I trained with UFC great Alexander Volkanovski, I could actually come up with a more impressive mammalian answer.

Iggy: I’m pretty tall, but that’s about all I’ve got, so I’ll play it safe and go with a goose. If this is truly hand-to-hand combat, it won’t be able to fly at my face at 40 miles an hour, and I’ll definitely have more reach. Not insanely impressive, but a win’s a win.

Gavin: I don’t care what Iggy says, I could 100% beat a ram in hand to hand combat. If you get control of the horns, you can take it down. I’m confident in my own abilities to dodge and out-maneuver the charging ram, and from there, I’d just have to get behind it and grab hold of the horns. Once I do that, I can drive it into the ground with help of repeated kicks to the side. Everyone who hates on this doubts my abilities, but they’re probably just jealous they couldn’t do the same.