The Northwestern Wildcats are in the NCAA Tournament. No more ifs, no more fantasy. it is reality. And it feels surreal. But so good.
The CBS television coverage was going to take its time. What was another 30 minutes to a school and a fan base that has had to wait eternity (or all time or some other extra superlative for the length of time the NCAA Tournament has existed, I am too excited and lazy to do math right now)?
The Wildcats have been through plenty of heartbreak. Even something that seemed so sure was left in doubt. The Wildcats have failed to finish the job so many times. Jokingly, a clerical error would be the only thing to keep the Wildcats’ run of futility going. And everyone in the fan base expected it.
Especially as the show went longer and Northwestern’s name was not called yet.
Chris Collins told the crowd to stay calm, the team was headed out West. That is Collins. the ultimate believer. The guy who took a chance on the woeful program and believed he could be the one to take it to that unforeseen land.
And very quickly, it was done. Heading to Salt Lake with Gonzaga and South Dakota State and matched up with Vanderbilt, Northwestern is heading to the NCAA Tournament.
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) March 12, 2017
That is the image of pure joy. Of pent-up frustration and belief bursting out in one beautiful moment. The Northwestern Wildcats are going to the NCAA Tournament.
No more qualifiers. No more should be. No more probably will. No more doubt.
Northwestern is a NCAA Tournament team.
They are really going to the Dance. They are playing in Salt Lake City on a neutral floor with that blue NCAA logo at midcourt. The CBS theme will play and someone will welcome viewers around the globe to the Big Dance where Northwestern will play a basketball game.
Like in the Ron Paul meme: THIS IS HAPPENING. For real this time.
It was an emotional day at Welsh-Ryan Arena, the final event that charmingly quaint (when full) stadium would experience before it is gutted and renovated. The team knew it was in and yet the reality of it had not even hit. This could not be real.
The journey was a long and uncertain one. The Wildcats made video packages reminiscing on the journey this group has taken to get here.
For long-suffering Northwestern fans, there was not a dry eye in the building. Least of all the Wildcats’ big players.
President Morton Shapiro and athletic director Jim Phillips spoke of the vision they had when they hired Collins. And then Collins took the mic and spoke about the journey he took to get this program here.
It was a risk for seemingly Mike Krzyzewski’s replacement in waiting at Duke to return to Chicago and try this project. This project was impossible for many. This was a total leap of faith. The Wildcats were the impossible school.
This season proved anything is possible. The Wildcats can do anything.
Slowly but surely the bandwagon got bigger. The win over then-ranked Texas was the first sign something special could happen. Then there was the close defeat at Butler, a painful reminder of how fragile things can be. Then the win over Dayton, holding on to the last moments despite a killer first half.
The Wildcats avoided the pitfalls of bad losses entering the Big Ten season. They only had to do what had not been done since the 1930s, get a winning record in conference play.
History would require history, after all.
Northwestern navigated its schedule well. The Wildcats defeated the Buckeyes on the road for the first time since some unknown year (it was the 1970s, again too excited to do math). They traveled to Wisconsin and knocked off the Badgers on the road with Scottie Lindsey fighting mono and out for nearly a month.
What Northwestern team before could withstand losing its leading scorer? What team could even make the NIT like that?
This team was always different. They always found a way. Even when they created that typical Northwestern angst. The loss at Indiana was the breaking point of doubt and belief. That loss was the impossible loss for Northwestern. The one fans had come to expect every night out.
And then the impossible win. The full-court pass to Dererk Pardon from Nathan Taphorn against Michigan was a hope and a dream. It was the ultimate go-for-it move. The Wildcats were not waiting for someone else to let them in the Tournament, they were taking that bid. There would be no overtime and no doubt.
There were moments where it felt like Northwestern was in for sure. It began feeling all but certain after winning at Wisconsin. It was done after Michigan.
The Wildcats had their moment. It happened on March 1. Northwestern had their March moment. And the team kept it going with a first ever Big Ten Tournament run to the weekend.
There will be more firsts. The Wildcats take on a very strong Commodores team. The surroundings and the pressure will be new to them.
The tears from Sunday will last with this program forever. No matter what happens Thursday, Northwestern will view this season as the greatest success. From here on out, just being in the Tournament will not be enough.
For this team, that may not be enough now. The Wildcats should think about playing to the weekend. And, sure, why not make it to San Jose. Everything else impossible has been done this year.
The Wildcats will get back to work Monday and prepare for their trip to the Wasatch Mountains for Thursday, and maybe longer. The emotion will likely not fade. This is a big moment for the university and the program. One that the team has worked its entire existence for.
Northwestern is in.
WATCH: Northwestern unveils inside look at Welsh-Ryan Arena
After a year spent at the strange confines of Allstate Arena out in Rosemont, the Northwestern Wildcats basketball teams will return home to Welsh-Ryan Arena for the 2018-19 season.
On Friday, the Wildcats released a video look at what the new-look arena actually looks like ahead of the opener.
Take a look at this state-of-the-art arena built around the old school appearance on the outside.
Northwestern Wildcats caught in a bind with Jordan Lathon’s surprise release
Northwestern University has rescinded their offer of admission to star guard Jordan Lathon. That leaves Northwestern in a deep bind at point guard.
The Northwestern Wildcats have seen a sudden rash of transfers that have begun to gut the roster some. Especially at the important point guard position.
One more loss might be the biggest and most mysterious of them all.
Friday, Inside NU reports Northwestern had rescinded its offer of admission and the national letter of intent to Jordan Lathon. Lathon responded on Twitter, thanking coach Chris Collins and the Northwestern community for their support. It is not clear at this point why Lathon was unable to enroll at Northwestern.
Whatever the issues are — whether it was Lathon not meeting some requirement or Lathon deciding to go to a different school — everyone has to hope Lathon find the place and the situation that fits best for him — both on and off the court.
There will be an undoubted effect on the court for the Wildcats in losing this prized recruit.
Lathon was a four-star prospect from Grandview, Missouri. He was undoubtedly one of the best recruits — at least from the recruiting services — ever to come to Northwestern. The kind of player that only Chris Collins seemed capable of getting for this program. And, yes, a direct beneficiary of the Wildcats’ first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.
With Bryant McIntosh graduating and Isiah Brown transferring, Northwestern was thin at point guard. There seemed to be a very realistic chance Lathon would start this year. His departure leaves the Wildcats with just Jordan Ash and Anthony Gaines to play point guard. Both struggled to stay in the rotation last year.
That puts the Wildcats in a major bind on the court. The team is going to need someone to step up. And then eventually to find a long-term answer at the position — possibly in the upcoming recruiting class now that Lathon is gone.
It is hard to say a whole lot about Lathon’s situation. The reason he will not be attending Northwestern is unclear. All we know is Northwestern denied his admission for whatever reason.
And now Chris Collins will have to scramble to find a replacement or make due with what he has and hope someone steps up.
Recruiting loss leaves Northwestern in a point guard bind
The Northwestern Wildcats struggled with their point guard depth last year, relying heavily on Bryant McIntosh. Now he is gone and a recruiting loss leaves a lot of questions at this critical spot.
The Northwestern Wildcats’ disappointing basketball season last year seemed like a blip on the road to consistent respectability. This was still a program and a team on the rise with a strong head coach, a renovated building and the budding confidence to assert itself.
Last year’s team — largely a run back of the previous year’s breakthrough NCAA Tournament team — never quite got itself off the ground. Perhaps everyone expected success to roll over easy. Maybe the team really missed the intangible tough qualities from graduating senior Sanjay Lumpkin. Maybe injuries were just too much to overcome.
It was not a good year. But optimism remains for 2019.
The Wildcats know they will have their work cut out for them in the debut of the new Welsh-Ryan Arena. They have veteran players like Vic Law and Dererk Pardon to anchor the team. But it has also been a summer of massive change for the program.
The team will be moving into the renovated Welsh-Ryan Arena at some point. But more importantly, the loss of seniors Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey leave a gaping hole for the program. Especially considering the other attrition from the roster — Rapolas Ivanauskas and Isiah Brown’s transfer.
If there was another contributing factor that no one spoke of that led to Northwestern’s difficult season, it was the poor development of young players, especially at guard.
Brown struggled to step into the role as the backup point guard, averaging 3.9 points per game and playing just 10.8 minutes per game. Freshman Anthony Gaines did not fare much better, averaging 4.0 points per game in 18.6 minutes per game.
McIntosh, even through injuries and his own shooting struggles, had to carry a heavy creation load for the team last year. He played 31.3 minutes per game for the season. And Lindsey and Law had to carry a heavy minutes burden too. Northwestern’s poor depth put a lot of strain on the team and it simply was not able to hold up.
That does not bode well with two of those heavy minute players gone. Their replacements are not particularly clear — although with a hopefully healthy Law, the team seems loaded on wings.
That is what made the pursuit of grad transfer Matt Mooney seemingly more important.
The South Dakota guard averaged 18.7 points per game and 3.1 assists per game while shooting 35.2 percent from beyond the arc. He is not going to completely change everyone’s fortunes, but he is clearly a capable scorer. And his recruitment in the grad transfer market was heated.
Northwestern already had a win in the grad transfer market with Ryan Taylor. But the team would not win this one. That will leave the Wildcats incredibly thin and uncertain at point guard.
— Matt Mooney (@MoonSwag13) May 14, 2018
That puts Northwestern in a tough spot at point guard.
Senior Jordan Ash, sophomore Anthony Gaines and incoming freshman Jordan Lathon are the only ball handlers on the roster now. Ash and Gaines have struggled in their time at Northwestern. Ash played only 11.3 minutes per game last year and has not taken that step forward.
Lathon is an intriguing prospect. He is a four-star prospect according to 247Sports and someone who could make an immediate impact. Freshmen can be fickle and unreliable, of course, but the Wildcats may not have any other options.
This is the hole the Wildcats will have to figure out heading into the season in November.
There is still a lot of time and Lathon and the other freshman have not arrived on campus. But Collins, despite winning the recruiting rankings relative to Northwestern, has not been as solid a player development coach as thought.
Ivanauskas was a celebrated recruit when he arrived in Evanston. Injuries kept him from making an impact in his first two years, but he is now gone from the program.
Law, the most celebrate recruit to arrive in Evanston, has had a solid career. He generated some NBA buzz, but it has been largely uneven too.
Collins may not have missed often enough to deter Northwestern’s seeming march forward. But there have been more than a few misses that have hurt the team’s depth.
A strong recruiting class with Pete Nance and Miller Kopp will add further depths on the wing. The Wildcats reaped the rewards from their NCAA Tournament appearance.
This should be a team in the hunt for the NCAA Tournament again in 2019. But it will only go as far as its point guard development can take it. If Lathon can make an immediate impact then Northwestern could again break through.
If he cannot, the losses in recruiting will stand out that much more.
Northwestern Wildcats basketball seeks some punch in a grad transfer
The Northwestern Wildcats went to the transfer market to bolster their offense as the program tries to replace some key players and get back into the NCAA Tournament.
The Northwestern Wildcats basketball season did not end how anyone would want it. The careers for Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey did not end how anyone wanted them to. This is not the how the team was supposed to follow up its breakthrough NCAA Tournament season.
After that season went away, attention quickly turned to how the Wildcats would make the new Welsh-Ryan Arena feel like home. Northwestern was losing a lot — McIntosh was essentially the team’s heart and soul. And there was an unusual amount of attrition with Rapolas Ivanauskas and Isaiah Brown.
The Wildcats return Victor Law and Dererk Pardon as the anchors for their team. They will need to see more from Anthony Gaines and likely from incoming freshman Jordan Lathon. The Wildcats have some serious holes as they try to bounce back from last year.
Chris Collins dug into the transfer market and hoped to find someone who can help the Wildcats take that next step.
Former Evansville wing Ryan Taylor will transfer to Northwestern as a graduate transfer. Taylor averaged 21.2 points per game and shot 42.1 percent from beyond the arc for Evansville last year. He scored 47 total points in two games against Loyola (Chicago) last year, but there is not a ton of high-level competition on his immediate resume.
Either way, adding the 6-foot-6 forward will help Northwestern replace some of the production lost from Scottie Lindsey. And seeing him pick Northwestern over some other big schools makes this a big get.
As Bryce Bennett of BT Powerhouse notes, this commitment is a big deal for Northwestern. Taylor adds some much-needed shooting something Lindsey struggled with last year.
The team will return Law and Pardon as the anchors from that tournament team. Collins has helped add some talented wing players. But his freshman have not been ready to contribute immediately. Adding in role players like Aaron Falzon and sitting transfer A.J. Turner could make the Wildcats a dangerous team again.
But things will have to come together for them again. In a way they did not last year despite all the pieces being in place. If Northwestern learned anything last year, it is that nothing is guaranteed. Getting back to the tournament will take a lot of work.
And talent alone will not get there. Nor will the expectation of getting there.
Northwestern still has some major holes to fill. With McIntosh gone, the point guard position still feels like an open competition heading into the summer. Northwestern will have experienced wings to help spread the floor. And the team will need Law more than ever to play consistently — he seemed to tire out as the season went on last year.
It is looking like Northwestern will have a lot of the pieces again to make a run. Assuming the team continues to grow and comes together — especially on defense.
Adding a transfer like Taylor will only add to that puzzle. It makes for a potentially exciting a potent offense for the Wildcats this coming season.