‘Tis the season for Tournament dreaming. Please excuse us,  the rest of the college basketball world if we seem a tad obsessive compulsive about all of this March Madness  talk. You can understand we’re novices at this. All you need to do is turn on ESPN and watch any of their seemingly dozen networks to see the Joe Lunardi “Last Four In/Last Four Out” board to see why we’re hyperventilating on the hour. Army, St. Francis, The Citadel and William & Mary, let us tell you, this drama may not be worth getting this close (our bedfellows in infamy who have been around since the start of the NCAA Tournament but have yet to experience One Shining Moment).

When you’ve hosted the damn thing twice and still haven’t been invited to the Big Dance, we can tend to be a little testy.  However, recent changes to the 64-team tournament have many of us, the obsessive purple mafia, fulfilling some stereotypes and playing all sorts of pointless scenarios out in our collective minds. It is now a 68-team tournament, with the “First Four” getting a shot to play their way in to the Tournament. Those of us that are TV ratings conspiracy theorists, have already arrived at the foregone conclusion that we’ll be playing in Dayton on March 13 on a Tuesday night, which technically counts as making it – I think – but deprives us of true legitimacy. Those of you that are saying “nonsense – it counts!” hear me out.

I remember as a kid getting Sports Illustrated, tearing out the centerfold, which was an empty NCAA Tournament bracket and filling it in. This thing would be dog-eared by April, but it became a part of my childhood wall. It’s how I got to know geographically challenged hoops destinations like Austin Peay (home of my alltime favorite “Let’s Go Peay (pronounced Pee)” chant).  Things have been modernized quite a bit and CBS, Turner and ESPN all make very friendly computerized brackets. Yet, if NU would be so lucky to squeak in via Dayton, we don’t even get our own line in said bracket.

Are you kidding me? If we are in a play-in game against, say VCU or Texas, the bracket entry will be shared. We’ll have waited 73 years and we won’t even get the marketing moxie of having our own damn line in the millions of computer brackets.  Some will say 12-seed, some will say a butchered abbreviation of Northwestern and it will be shared with some other school. My hunch is it will say something like “N’West/VCU”. After all of this, we as NU fans will get to go to fill out our computerized bracket and won’t even be able to click on, drag or even type in the name “Northwestern”.  There is zero doubt, if we do make it that the conspiracy storyline creators will pit us against Notre Dame and in the same bracket as Harvard (should they make it). No doubt Duk will be in there as well.

I don’t think you can actually, techincally pick Northwestern to go to the Final Four. We’d have to print out a blank copy and write it in. This may seem trivial to most, but the very first bracket we ever make, I want to see the damn name of my school on a line with a First Round site, date and opponent. This thing is frame-worthy by the tens of thousands of alums that will do just that for posterity sake.

There is such little time left and so much to fret about. Perhaps I should shutter LTP or convert it in to a travel agency. What if we get selected for Dayton and then have to go to Portland, or Albuquerque 48 hours later? Many will be jumping in their cars from all points on the night after Selection Sunday (have you scanned for flights yet to Dayton? thought so!), but egads, what if we win? We’re on to the next city and it may not be conceivable to get their by car.  Perhaps an LTP chartered flight from Dayton to points TBD? Good God is this getting complicated and we’re not even in yet!

No, tonight the prayer is that Sparty beats up on Indiana somehow making tomorrow night’s Ohio State game less important (yeah, right) to the Buckeyes. Stop the nonsense right now, folks. The Buckeyes are pissed off and wanting to gain style points as they’re just 6-4 on the road this year and have lost three of the last five. Have your senior day ruined, ruin someone else’s the saying that doesn’t exist now goes. Perhaps there is some kind of Rookie Fan Orientation for those that have yet to go to the Tournament? Is it a secret club we don’t know about?

How can I possibly have this much angst and we have yet to even lose to Ohio State yet? Oh yeah, here comes the true confessions part. I am traveling out of the country, gulp, at tip-off time of the Iowa game (no, it’s not because of the fact I’m freaking out – it was because what NU fan takes basketball’s regular season finale in to consideration when planning a vacation?!!!).  This is good news, folks. It ensures we will win, because why should a guy who writes a daily blog for half a decade get the simple pleasure of enjoying that kind of “oh my God, we’re now THIS close to making it!” enjoyment?

OK, if nothing else, can someone please forward this post to the committee members and all of you NU alums working at the sports media companies (and there are a TON of you that read this) make sure this plea is heard. Absolutely no tolerance for a “NWU” slash anything. If you can’t fit our damn name on the play-in line for the computerized bracket, at least give us the N’Western. Yes, you know it’s not NU, but in this case, I don’t think “NU” actually cuts it. We may not believe it is actually us. What has happened to all of us that we’ve devolved in to not being able to even enjoy the ride and that I’m already playing spoiler to a victory that is so far from happening? I thought this was supposed to be fun.

  • Wisco

    Why do you prefer N’Western to NU?

    NU is, and always should be, our abbreviation

    • Lake The Posts

      Not saying I prefer it, it is simply that no media outlet ever abbreviates us that way.

    • Lake The Posts

      Also, point is I want to see the full name on the line as seeing just “NU” would make us not believe it is actually us!

    • Nate

      It would be most-satisfying to see “Northwestern”, but don’t count on it…for now the only bracket we should be thinking about involves the 12 B1G teams in Indy next week. However, I’m keeping the blinders on, focusing solely on tomorrow’s tilt with Brutus.

  • Jim

    Taking Care of Business-Acceptable Scenarios ?

    With the hype building, I’m losing track of what NU will have to do if it loses to OSU ?

    Are “making it” scenarios now factoring in a 1st round B1G tourney win as an acceptable offset to an OSU loss ?

    I don’t want to be “Debbie Downer,” but let’s not let the hype distract us from what actually stands in front of us with alternative OSU outcomes !

    • PittsburghWildcat

      I think general consensus is we need to split this week and then win next Thursday in Indy. If we lose on Wednesday to OSU, it doesn’t hurt us necessarily because OSU is currently a top-10 RPI team (9th in this week’s official NCAA RPI).

      But it doesn’t help us either.

      Lunardi on ESPN pointed out something that I think we need to realize. He said there are on average 2-3 conferences a year where a major upset in the conference tourney ends up netting that league an additional team in NCAAs and bumping out the otherwise last at-large team. We’re very much in that danger zone of getting bumped out if that happens this year.

      Winning 2 of 3 (Iowa + B1G tourney opener) seems like it keeps us in that zone unless some of those other bubble teams drop some more games and we move up by attrition.

      • Jim

        Thanks, Pittsburgh Wildcat !

        The nuances of how we might make it and how we match up in each game is what makes the “journey to the tourney” interesting at this time of year. It’s interesting how the subtleties of the scenarios for “making it” shift the closer you get to the tourney. It was only a couple of weeks ago that this conversation focussed primarily on 9-9, with the B1G tourney as merely an asterick.

  • PittsburghWildcat

    I’ve personally gotten past the asterisk notion. The tournament is 68 teams. Either you’re one of the 68 or you’re not. The overpriced (but you bet your butt I’d be in line to buy them) souvenir t-shirts listing all the schools will have 68 teams listed, none with asterisks.

    I think it’s easier for me to buy into that now that there are those 4 games in Dayton as opposed to just the 1 game between the worst automatic bid league champions.

    This may not be apples to apples, but to use the NCAA women’s hoops tourney as an example, I remember NU making the 1993 tourney. We hosted Georgia Tech at Welsh-Ryan in the opening round and the lower bowl was literally packed (3,000+ attendance; it was loud and awesome). ‘Cats won that night and we went to Tennessee. Lady Vols had a bye in the 1st round because the field was 48. The history books show we won the 1st round game and lost the 2nd round game.

  • Bucko

    Before we make too many plans, let’s get the Purple out in force tomorrow night for the OSU game. From the radio spots its sounds like tickets are still available. Whether or not you want to keep Carmody (I don’t) or have complaints about the AD, the concessions, etc., it is time to support the team. Despite usually being outmanned and undersized compared to their opponents, our kids bust their tails. I have lived and died (Far more deaths) with our basketball team for 46 years. It still frosts me to see empty seats or, worse yet, seats filled with our opponents fans. See you tomoorw night.

    P.S. Yes, I have also been planning. I have checked out hotels in Dayton. Both my sons went to the University of Dayton. I drove there numerous times for 6 years. My boys say that the play-in games are an experience at the UD Arena. The Dayton season ticket holders and students fill the place (They sell out all of UD’s home games) and cheer like crazy for the teams. Now we need to win at least 2 more games. Go Cats!!

  • Alan Abrahamson

    As a Dayton native (born and raised, Northmont High School, class of 1976) and 1980 Medill grad, I say — in is in. If the rules say it’s 68 and we are one of the 68, we are in. If we make it, next year that stupid graphic won’t say, “Northwestern is one of only x schools that has never made the tournament blah blah blah.” Enough said.

    If we go to Dayton:

    Best place in town to eat: The Pine Club. It’s way better than some local joint. It’s the kind of place people search out from far and wide. Link: http://thepineclub.com/

    Recommended pizza: Cassano’s. Link: http://www.cassanos.com

    If you are driving from Chicago, it’s five hours down I-65 to I-70.

    Cincinnati is an hour south. The airport there is across the Ohio River, in Kentucky, which adds some time.

    If you fly into Dayton, the airport is on the north side of town. UD Arena is on the south side of town.

    I-70 and I-75 criss-cross in Dayton. You are very unlikely to have a problem finding a motel room. Mind you — I didn’t say a good hotel room!

    Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is located just northeast of downtown Dayton, and if you’re trying to find something to do while waiting for the Wildcat victory the museum is really interesting.

    • Bucko


      Alan – As I recall there is one huge problem with The Pine Club – No Reservations! It has been 11 years since my younger son graduated from UD but I also recall that it was also “Cash Only”.

  • Watching and (mostly) Waiting

    Wasn’t it VCU a year or two ago who had to play their way in, then went on to the final 8 (or 4?). Memory fades, but even though I would have no such fantasy about NU, it would seem VCU has blazed the trail and certainly legitimized the Tuesday night round. We have to burn off the stigma of what had previously been a 16/17 seed game (and I still think it should be), which was kind of an afterthought, but Northwestern/Texas sounds like a legitimate tournament game to me.

    • CatInTheHat

      Yep–VCU went from Dayton all the way to Houston for the 2011 Final Four. They beat USC in the play-in round, largely proving the NCAA right in its modest expansion to 68 teams and letigimizing the teams invited to play into the 64-team final bracket.

  • Piano1956

    Dude. I’ve read your column for about two years from now. It’s wonderful. Informative. Sometimes I have to NOT read it because I’m mad at a particular team. As for THIS column. Read my lips. Xanax. They tell me it works. There’s not a thing you can do about OSU/Iowa..so sit back and watch it unfold. It’s cool that we’re this close…but NU is like the college version of the mighty Cub. Close often. Heart broken more often. So..for your health. Xanax. Think about i

    • CrankyCat

      A: “I heard Northwestern’s never been to the tournament.”
      B: “That’s not true, we went last year.”
      A: “Oh, how far did you guys make it?”
      B: “We didn’t win the play-in game.”
      or if you prefer
      B: “We were thiiiis close to making the round of 64.”

      Let’s face it. The play-in game is just an extra opportunity for us to make the real tournament, late in the season. If the field expands to 96 or 128, sure, we can make the tournament then too, technically. It just doesn’t mean much.

      • calling all toasters

        The correct answers are: “We lost our first game” or “we lost to _________________.”

        You’re welcome.

  • Drew

    I love the enthusiasm, but aren’t we getting a little ahead of ourselves here? There are still so many games and scenarios to be played out. Some things that NU can control, and others that are completely out of our control (like conference tournament upsets reducing the number of at-large teams). I’m cautiously excited for tomorrow’s game and can’t believe I’ll be in attendance for the (latest) biggest game in NU history. As for tourney, I don’t care about 64 or 68 teams, NU vs. N’western. The only things that matter to me is to hear Northwestern’s name on selection Sunday and then to see the reaction of the team and the NU faithful. I hope we get to experience that. Go Cats!

  • CatInTheHat

    While I do believe that the play-in games are legitimate, a part of me would be disappointed if we weren’t included in the 64-team bracket. The cons of Dayton have been covered well by LTP. The pros, of course, are that we still hear our name called on Selection Sunday, and we have postseason basketball in a tournament not containing the word “Invitation.” I do fear, however, that were we to make Dayton and lose there, we would simply go from hearing “Northwestern has never made the NCAA tournament” to having to deal with “Northwestern has only made the tournament once, and even then lost in the play-in round.”

    Make no mistake, I want any spot in the Tourney–Dayton or elsewhere. However, I do admit that Dayton would not carry the same excitement and anticipation as a round-of-64 game would. That being said, I like our chances in Dayton against another 12 seed, and if we do make the tournament in the first place, and we’re in Dayton, and we win there, then I think we will be able to truly put this particular monkey to bed for good.


    Pine Club is great. President’s/Presidential Candidates eat there when they are in town(SWING STATE!!)

    However, on the Pizza? BITE YOUR TONGUE. MARIONS PIAZZA ALL THE WAY if you want to truly experience a Dayton original.

    • Alan Abrahamson

      Let’s just hope we’d all get to have the argument!

      (In any event — it’s not like Dayton is world-famous for pizza …)

      • Bucko

        We used to take my sons to a place a mile or so east of the UD campus for pub grub – Tank’s. Good burgers and cold beer. Of course, as good Flyers they only went there for the burgers! They called me to inform me that Tank’s is still going strong!

  • Matt

    I see the switch from 65 to 68 teams as being similar to the recent increase in college bowl games. For football, I haven’t heard anyone say all the recent bowl trips (Motor City, etc.) don’t “count” just because those bowls haven’t always been around.

    If we make the 68 we should be happy no matter what. It will definitely help recruiting plus we will then be able to move on to agonizing over when we will get our first NCAA Tourney win just like we agonize over the bowl drought.

  • Ithacacat

    Inverse problematic: A lot of teams that could beat Top 10 teams lack access to BCS bowls; a lot of teams that NU could beat get automatic bids to NCAA March Madness. That’s why in my mind there’s an asterisk on the never-been-to-the-Dance albatross. Fifteen or twenty worse-than-NU teams get in every year. So not getting in does not equal not being good enough to win tournament games.

  • Greg

    Recall that the “First Four” concept came about because of two concerns:

    1. Mid-standings teams in power conferences always lobbied to get in based on the strength of the conference
    2. Power conferences complained that too many spots were handed to schools that got hot in weak conferences

    So the NCAA said, “okay, prove it by playing another team that looks just like you.” There is no asterisk for playing in Dayton. VCU put that to rest. And consider that if some of the bracket projections come true and Northwestern plays in Dayton on Tuesday, it will be schools like Texas (the largest athletics budget and revenue base on college sports), Miami-FL (who just beat a #16 Florida State squad and knocked off top-5 Duke at Cameron a few weeks ago!) and Xavier (who has a rich basketball and tourney history) that join us.


    That’s some pretty rich company, and I don’t think they will be complaining about “sneaking in” or have a crisis-level concern about whether or not to play in Dayton or host a first-round game in the NIT … If those three schools play in Dayton (it’ll be a home game for Xavier), you can bet your last dollar they will have 2012 listed under “NCAA Appearances” in their media guides … just as USC hoops has 2011 listed in theirs:


    No, this is about something else: Northwestern’s seeming ability to turn everything into a referendum on its “place in the [fill in the blank] landscape.” We do it with everything: b-school rankings, med school, law school, endowments. Everything. It’s also called an “inferiority complex,” especially when it comes to a discussion of athletics vs. Duke and Stanford.

    We need to get over it. We get it, we want to have an athletic reputation that matches the academic reputation, but you don’t hear Duke or Stanford alumni saying they wish they were more like Northwestern, same as you don’t hear NU folks pining to be compared to Vandy or Rice. 30 years ago, what is happening now was unfathomable, especially when you consider there was a vocal element that wanted NU to drop out of the Big Ten.

    We have come a long way, and i don’t say that as a replacement for being okay with our place. We should strive to win at everything. But we need to get over this tournament thing same as we need to get over the bowl thing. Guess what? Anyone, like me, who was in Pasadena on Jan 1, 1996 will never forget it, and if we play in a bowl game every year, no one says anything about how there are too many bowls. Fact is, we made a bowl game. If we make the tournament as #68, we are in, no doubt about it.

    One game does not define a season.

    Unless we beat Io_a in football. That makes my year.

    • zeek

      I don’t get the whole 68 vs. 64 thing. If we make it to the field of 68, we make it, period. There’s no qualifier there. The field is eventually going to 96, which will make this entire thing moot in any respect.

      As for the rest of your post, I tend to think that’s just how our student body/alumni are. Everyone knows the Top 20 US News rankings when they apply and the rest of that.

      With respect to Northwestern’s athletics, we have plenty to be proud of, and just the fact that we’ve reached respectability even if we do have some things we’d rather not have (the bowl losing streak, etc.).

      I mean look at women’s lacrosse, that’s become our claim to fame in a way.

      • NU68

        …. and our golf team beat Alabama … and they all graduate. And on and on and on …..

        Oh …still plenty alums out there that feel NU shouldn’t be in the Big 10 with the school’s view of where sports belong in their plan for NU’s future.

        • Greg

          “Plenty” is a minority, and athletics are still important at the Harvards and Yales of the world …

  • CM

    To All:

    The reason you are having this debate is because many of you (LTP included) refer to it as a “play-IN” game. That gives a sense that you’re not quite ‘IN’. But it’s not a play-in game!! It’s called the “First Four”—or, the 1st round! When you get past the First Four, you’re in the “Second Round!”

    The point? First Four = First Round. Nothing “play-in” about it.

  • bandcat

    Time for Cobb,Curletti and Crawford to Man Up..We need to come in P.O. and defend our home court. We had OSU last year at home. Time to turn the tables on them like we did with the Gophers this year..Go Cats!!!

    • Nate

      Speaking of tomorrow and the need to show up defensively vs. OSU, does anyone know if Luka is coming back anytime soon? I’ve heard he’s dealing with a bad ankle, but it seems like he hasn’t played in ages. He might not be the best post player, but he’s another body NU could use for their rotation.

  • Watching and (mostly) Waiting

    CM makes a good point about the semantics of the term “play-in game”. I commented earlier there is still a stigma associated with playing in Dayton, from when it used to be Coppin St. vs. Centenary. The outdated term captures it perfectly. Then, it was a play-in game in the true sense–the two teams deemed worst in the field. Now as I recall, the Dayton winners get something like #11 or #12 seeds. These teams belong. So do the teams they beat in Dayton. These slots are legit. Let’s go get one.

  • Wildcat86

    Sparty loses by 15 at IU? That might/probably will cost the B1G a number one seed in the tourney. It’s funny because most pundits around the country agree that the B1G is the toughest conference this year but yet we don’t have a truly dominant team. Can MSU and OSU be that team on a certain night? Absolutely, but not with the consistency that Kentucky or Syracuse have. I guess we will truly see how good/deep the B1G is in a few weeks.

    Additionally, this means OSU has control of its own destiny, so will be extra hungry at WR tomorrow night (not that I ever thought they’d play worse simply because MSU already locked up the B1G championship, but still).

    Hopefully tomorrow will be fun. I just don’t want a repeat of when we played in Columbus earlier this year or when they came to WR last year (that 1-point loss was heartbreaking).

    Go Cats!