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5 Reasons to Watch Northwestern vs. Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl

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Usually, bowl games mean trips to Florida or California or warmer locales. The chance to get away from all remnants of home — preferably leaving the jackets behind.

Then there is the Pinstripe Bowl, one of the few bowls played in the north, away from the warmer climes. It has the bright lights of New York City going for it and the unique playing field at Yankee Stadium.

Unlike those games where the Big Ten visits the SEC or Pac-12 on their turf, this is the south(ish) team coming to Big Ten(ish) country. This is two teams playing in the Big Ten’s turf.

Or sort of. Pittsburgh is not quite the south the ACC used to represent. And Northwestern, at 6-6, has its work cut out for it against one of the best offenses in the country. But, then again, Yankee Stadium was always a hitter’s ballpark. And one of the end zones is in that famous right field.

Pittsburgh is not quite the south the ACC used to represent. And Northwestern, at 6-6, has its work cut out for it against one of the best offenses in the country. But, then again, Yankee Stadium was always a hitter’s ballpark. And one of the end zones is in that famous right field.

Last year’s thriller featuring Indiana’s did-they-make-it? field goal against Duke has left a bitter taste for the Big Ten. This game will not be much easier.

The ACC has the advantage with its tiering sending eight-win Pittsburgh to take on six-win Northwestern in this unique and chilly setting.

Here are five reasons to watch the New Era Pinstripe Bowl next Wednesday:

1. James Conner

The James Conner story is a really special one. The kind of story that makes college football a joy to watch.

Conner was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma last December after he sat out the year with a knee injury. He was already a stellar player. But nobody knew if he would be able to return.

He beat cancer to get back to the football field and starred yet again.

He rushed 1,060 yards and 16 touchdowns to lead Pitt on the ground, a key part of the team’s stellar offense. He did not miss a beat, getting back into playing shape and making an impact. Against Big Ten champion Penn State, he rushed for 117 yards and 22 carries, helping propel Pitt to a win against the team’s rival.

He certainly treasures every carry and every chance he gets. This will be a strong cap to an amazing season, going against a tough Northwestern team with a strong running back of its own.

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2. Football in a baseball stadium

There is still a bit of novelty to playing a football game in a baseball stadium.

In fact, there are several ties between Northwestern and the New York Yankees. This pairing seemed a very natural fit.

The late George Steinbrenner is a Northwestern alum (he is kind of a big deal to the Yankees). And Yankees manager Joe Girardi is a Northwestern legend himself. Girardi reportedly called Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald to extend the invitation to the bowl game.

Northwestern will be the home team and get the Yankees locker room. That is all pretty neat.

Northwestern is no stranger to playing in a baseball stadium. In 2006, they played the famous “one-way” game against Illinois at Wrigley Field. They have games planned for Wrigley Field in the future too.

3. Austin Carr continues to amaze

One of the best stories this season was the surprising emergence of Austin Carr as the best wide receiver in the Big Ten.

The former walk-on became Clayton Thorson’s favorite — and sometimes only — option at wide receiver throughout the year. Even facing double and triple coverages, Carr found a way to get open and be an outlet for an offense that has had its struggles.

There is some talk Carr could make some NFL scouting lists when that day comes.

For now, Carr stares down a Pitt passing attack that is in the bottom five in the nation for raw yards allowed per game. He averaged 99.7 yards per game receiving with 12 touchdowns.

Thorson will target Carr plenty and he could have another big game.

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4. Video game numbers

For those looking to see a little bit of offense, there is always that potential when it comes to Pitt.

The Panthers averaged 42.4 points per game, including scoring 76 points in the season finale against Syracuse. Pitt will put up points in a hurry if Northwestern is not careful.

The Wildcats defense is fairly stout. They have put up solid numbers all year and step up when the time is right. Ifeadi Odenigbo can get to the quarterback and disrupt plays. Anthony Walker still gets early round NFL Draft talk despite a difficult season (hampered some by injury) and a deep but inexperienced secondary.

Northwestern tends to play its corners back to try to contain opposing teams and prevent big plays. The team relies on its sure tackling. But the Wildcats can give up long drives. And their offense can keep up when it is in rhythm.

That could mean there might be some fireworks at Yankee Stadium next week.

5. Northwestern bowl wins are rare — and special

Northwestern still has only two bowl wins in its history. These games still have a lot of meaning for the Wildcats and their fans. And they might actually get a 50-50 split for this game.

Pitt has sold out its alottment of tickets. Northwestern, though, has a very large alumni base in New York. This is not a big travel ask for the Wildcats. Not as much as geography would dictate.

And when Northwestern senses the opportunity for a win in a bowl game like this, the team and its fans get excited.

Northwestern, once it gets settled in its bowl appearance, can put in some stellar games historically. The Wildcats struggled last year against the Tennessee Volunteers in the Outback Bowl. That was a game that was a bit too much for an unbalanced Northwestern team with a freshman quarterback.

The moment was too big.

But typically in bowl games, Northwestern has played exciting games. Pat Fitzgerald usually gets his team ready for their bowl appearances.

The average margin in Northwestern’s bowl games under Fitzgerald (except last year) is 8.4 points per game, including two overtime games. That includes the classic shootout in the Outback Bowl against Auburn.

Northwestern saves its best offensive performances and most exciting moments for its bowl games.

Philip Rossman-Reich is a Northwestern alumnus and former contributor Lake The Posts. He also writes for Orlando Magic Daily and The Step Back.

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Basketball

Northwestern Wildcats measure up as they bow out of NCAA Tournament

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Vic Law, Northwestern Wildcats

The Northwestern Wildcats had plenty of emotions as they bowed out of their first NCAA Tournament. But the one that matters most? This is just a start.

The emotions for the end of a breakthrough season were still raw as the players began filing toward the locker room following the 69-63 loss to Gonzaga in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday.

Chris Collins had gone ballistic on an official, getting a technical foul and, in some sense, costing his team a chance to complete a 21-point second-half comeback. Very clearly (unless you were sitting in the upper bowl right behind the basket and so obstructed from its view) a Gonzaga defender had blocked a shot by poking his hand through the cylinder.

The basket would have made it a three-point game, one possession late in the game and tantalizingly close to completing the impossible once again.

Collins was incensed and the technical foul he received made it a seven-point game. The task was that much tougher. And Bryant McItnosh and his team ran out of gas against a long and feisty Gonzaga team.

The headlines around the nation focused on that call and its effect on the strategy late in the game. It had an effect, Collins said. It shifted momentum as the Wildcats came so close to completing the comeback.

The reality is Northwestern was too sloppy and inconsistent in the first half. Trailing by 18 points at halftime and looking like the team might get run out of the gym was the reason the team lost. The Wildcats struggled to adjust to the Bulldogs’ length and speed on the perimeter. They fell behind and looked tight and pressured as they tried to get back into the game.

It did not come until the desperation seeped in during the second half. Northwestern had to make a slow climb back into the game, but with each stop, each dive on the floor and each dig, the team came back. The Wildcats made the top-seeded Bulldogs sweat.

Northwestern showed its program’s truest colors in that second half. The team was going to fight to the very end of the game. The Wildcats were not going to see this season end with a whimper, it was going to end with nothing left on the floor.

And so, while Northwestern gave itself plenty of reason to lose before that moment, the goaltend was something that mattered. It took the fight away from the Wildcats. They were not going to win or lose on their own play, shooting or mistakes. It was someone else’s. One they could not get back.

Nobody wanted to see this season end. And so it was angry to see its end at least partially taken out of their power. The Wildcats at least wanted the fair chance to win on their terms.

The anger was palpable for that reason.

Soon it gave into the reality and sadness of finality. Northwestern’s season was over. Its first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament was done. Another team would move on and the Wildcats would be done.

It was always going to be this way. Northwestern was not about to win the national championship. But this fan base and this team probably were not prepared for that final moment when it came.

What team really is? Even if they did not expect to do much more than to make the Tournament field.

The feeling started to seep in when Dererk Pardon fouled out. He received a hug from every member of the coaching staff on his way to the bench. Fans started chanting “Dererk Pardon” in appreciation of what he did — famously his lay-in against Michigan but more generally his strong contribution on the block and even in this game against Gonzaga’s group of big men.

It continued as Sanjay Lumpkin came off the floor for the last time. Then Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey and Vic Law. The Wildcats’ season ended with all five starters getting their standing ovation. Deservedly so for the history this group made.

After the game, Collins was sad this team’s season was over. The Wildcats played their best basketball at the end of the season. The run through the Big Ten Tournament and Thursday’s NCAA Tournament win and even the second half Saturday were all signs the team had found its mojo and were ready to make noise.

The Wildcats made noise. Northwestern is still the talk of the tournament one way or another — whether it be as the darling newcomers or the team that got robbed of an upset.

There is no guarantee this group will get back here. Sanjay Lumpkin was the heart and soul of the team. His leadership will be missed. And now everyone knows Northwestern can do this. How does a team handle those expectations? Do the Wildcats try to get too aggressive living in the shadow of this historic group?

Those might be questions for the offseason and before next season. For now, it was the appreciation and sadness of this team’s season ending.

After the team had done its press responsibilities, every player, still in uniform, came out of the locker room and into the arena bowl, climbing into the stands to greet their parents and fans. There was a special appreciation reserved for this team.

That would be the last anyone would see of this team together in public. The Wildcats thanking those who supported them and generally still enjoying everything about each other, the family and this season.

Northwestern accomplished a lot.

And there is still more to do. That defiance and optimism were present too as Northwestern filed off the court after the game. Northwestern fans stood and cheered the team after the final buzzer for everything it had done.

There were bowed heads and gestures toward the crowd in appreciation.

And then there was freshman Barrett Benson thumping his chest and soaking in the love. Benson seemed ready to go again and get the next season started.

He and all other classes coming after him will no longer view it as acceptable to miss the NCAA Tournament. The feeling from this weekend in Salt Lake City was that Northwestern is here and here to stay.

With the Wildcats losing only Sanjay Lumpkin and Nathan Taphorn and gaining back Aaron Falzon and freshman Rapolas Ivanauskas, expectations will be high in Evanston.

Nothing is guaranteed. But Northwestern certainly should feel it has a Tournament-capable team in 2018. And all the pent-up frustration and rage that were present at the end of the game Saturday have some place to go — becoming a two-time Tournament participant and a Sweet Sixteen team in 2018.

Only time will tell if they get there. But Collins repeated what he said on Selection Sunday on Saturday: This is only the beginning.

Fans of the three other teams in the Salt Lake City pod complemented Northwestern fans on their way out the doors at Vivint Smart Home Arena on Saturday. Northwestern came to the city and took over it as a fan base and proved the team belonged on the court.

It is only the beginning for the program.

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Basketball

Northwestern Wildcats feel right at home in the NCAA Tournament

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The Northwestern Wildcats took over Salt Lake City and made themselves right at home in their first NCAA Tournament game.

Northwestern’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament is not about what happened on the court — not completely.

The Wildcats were more than game, taking as much as a 15-point lead in the second half. They were the dominant team, controlling the the game seemingly from the tip. Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew lauded the team’s physicality afterward.

Northwestern not only played the game, but played like it belonged.

So did Vanderbilt. The Commodores were advertised as a three-point shooting team and proved every bit of that. An 11-0 run behind the 3-point shooting from fireballer Matthew Fisher-Davis made the game tight.

It made it more than tight, it pushed Vanderbilt into the lead late and forced Northwestern into a back-and-forth game. The Wildcats were going to get to experience all the emotions of a NCAA Tournament game in their first appearance in the tournament.

And, yes, Northwestern advanced thanks to a puzzling foul from Fisher-Davis, giving Bryant McIntosh a take foul with his team up one and less than 30 seconds to play. The Wildcats frittered away their lead, unable to get shots consistently and got bailed out.

Thus is the madness of March. And Northwestern fans learned it firsthand for the first time. They felt the agony of uncertainty and the ecstasy of victory.

Survive and advance. Give up the game on free throws. Win the game on free throws. Get beat at the buzzer. Survive at the buzzer. All of it was wrapped into one.

But as the team and its fans descended upon Salt Lake City, there was also another unmistakable feeling. A feeling of how special this first trip to the NCAA Tournament is. And, more importantly, how at home everyone seems to be in this setting.

Salt Lake City is some 1,400 miles from Evanston, Illinois. But with the amount of purple that descended upon Vivint Smart Home Arena and the downtown area, it is unmistakably comfortable for everyone.

Northwestern packed the arena with its fans ready to witness history. The TBS broadcasters noted how it felt and sounded like a Northwestern home game — especially considering the dearth of Vanderbilt fans around. The players noticed it too on the court.

That feeling, though, permeated all of downtown Salt Lake City. Northwestern fans have taken over the city.

It did not matter if it was a Wednesday night bar packed with a hundred or so fans wearing purple. Or an alumni association tailgate teeming with purple-decked followers. Or a hastily planned post-party at another bar. Everyone greeted each other with “Go Cats!”

That is unusual for Northwestern. The rest of the Big Ten knows how quickly and easily opposing fans can pack that stadium. That is pretty much Northwestern’s reputation as a home team is giving up its home-court advantage.

This year has been different once fans got a whiff of the Tournament. And now that the Tournament is finally here, fans turned out in droves. It did not matter that this was not Evanston and they were not playing at Welsh-Ryan Arena, Northwestern had found a home in its first NCAA Tournament game.

It gave the team an added energy boost. Each Vanderbilt run was met with a critical play and a loud roar from the purple faithful all over the arena.

Northwestern played loose much of the afternoon. The team buried big shots and moved the ball. It closed out and held off Vanderbilt’s 3-point shooting. The Wildcats did not play like a Tournament novice.

Northwestern may have been playing with house money for some time. Since the Michigan win that seemingly clinched Northwestern’s place in the tournament, the team has played with a looseness and confidence that has been so rare in Northwestern’s history.

Even late in Thursday’s Tournament win, it felt like Northwestern was going to answer back. The team was going to have the answer.

Perhaps it was fate Vanderbilt made the play to erase any doubt, sending Bryant McIntosh to the line for his 24th and 25th point in this game. Perhaps Northwestern would have answered and won it anyway.

The Wildcats belonged on the floor. They belong in the second round.

And their fans get to revel in the victory in what is now seemingly a second home in Salt Lake City. Call it Evanston West for now.

Call it Evanston West, for now. The Wildcats certainly have made themselves at home.

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Badgers Basketball

2017 talking10 Big Ten Men’s Basketball Awards Special

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The Big Ten may have its awards, but what is the point of watching endless hours of Big Ten basketball without putting our two cents in, right?

Welcome to the 2017 taking10 Big Ten Men’s Basketball Awards special. Our hope is to educate you on the names that dominated our conversations and the hardwood across the Big Ten this season.

So, sit back and enjoy our special for your viewing pleasure.

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Basketball

Northwestern Locks up NCAA Tourney Berth on Buzzer Beater

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No streak in college basketball may be more talked about than that of the Northwestern Wildcats and their absence in the NCAA tournament. You know, as in they’ve never made the NCAA tournament…EVER.

It isn’t something Northwestern fans aren’t well, well, WELL aware of on a yearly basis. Northwestern fans often joke about the NCAA tournament like Chicago Cubs fans have about the World Series prior to this year — you know, “there’s always next year.”

No season may be as memorable as the 2016-17 season, as the Wildcats have done everything but clinch a berth in the tournament leading up to the final days of the season. Well, after Wednesday night’s finish against Michigan, consider that ticket finally punched.

We can say that thanks to one of the most ridiculous plays of the Big Ten season.

Northwestern fans likely won’t forget where they were and who they were with when the witnessed this buzzer beater. After all, it was the buzzer beater that got them firmly in to the NCAA tournament for the first time ever.

Welcome to immortality Derek Pardon.

Welcome to trivia question for the ages Nathan Taphorn…as the one who made the full-court pass for the win.

Of course, the bottles will be put on ice for the next 10 days or so until the name of the Northwestern Wildcats will be named as part of the field of 64 officially. However, a win over Michigan in the final week and a winning record in the Big Ten?

You can bank on a NCAA tourney ticket with those kind of numbers.

[Video from theScore]

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