For Northwestern sports, the ‘after’ sure beats the ‘before’ – Chicago Tribune
For decades Northwestern alumni took pride in things like high SAT entry scores, “Saturday Night Live” cast members, two campus beaches, Otto Graham and their “Purple Mafia” media contingent.
Then came the 1995 Rose Bowl season. Gary Barnett took the Purple to Pasadena. Northwestern football would no longer be known for losing Ara Parseghian to Notre Dame or a 34-game losing streak that ended with a “laking” of the goal posts.
And now we have NU basketball, no longer the answer to a trivia question or infamous for a point-shaving scandal.
Chris Collins’ 2016-17 team changed everything. A program with just about zero basketball tradition proved it belonged, beating Vanderbilt and taking a No. 1 seed to the final minute in an NBA arena where Michael Jordan once pushed, launched and posed.
Now NU basketball is known for Vic Law slams, Bryant McIntosh spins, Seth Meyers tweets, Julia Louis-Dreyfus giving the “growl” sign, a Rachel Nichols team photo, Doug Collins fighting back tears and son Chris exploding over a bogus non-call against Gonzaga.
The “after” pic is way more flattering than the “before.”
And now the question: What comes next?
Northwestern landed in the NCAA tournament one year ahead of schedule. When CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander ranked the Wildcats 86th in the preseason, that seemed about right.
Last season’s team finished 68th in KenPom.com and would lose top scorer Tre Demps and top rebounder Alex Olah. On top of that, dynamite shooter Aaron Falzon was lost to knee surgery.
This season would only be a success if Law’s surgically repaired shoulder held up, Scottie Lindsey became a legit scorer, McIntosh kept making Tom Crean wish he’d offered a scholarship, Dererk Pardon played bigger than 6-foot-8 and complementary players like Sanjay Lumpkin, Nate Taphorn and Gavin Skelly found ways help the cause.
All of that happened, not to mention Taphorn winging a pass that everyone nearby thought would sail over Pardon’s head. It did not.
Taphorn, the ace shooter from Pekin, the guy who committed to Bill Carmody and re-committed in part because he thought Tavaras Hardy would stick around, is a Wildcat no longer. He might play overseas.
Lumpkin also departs as one of Collins’ all-time favorites, a guy whose broken wrist as a freshman turned out to be a lucky break, literally.
Everyone else returns, and there will be some intriguing additions: Falzon, the skilled 6-9 Rapolas Ivanauskas, incoming freshman guard/defensive ace Anthony Gaines and possibly a graduate-school transfer.
“We’ve got to get in the gym,” Collins said. “Skill development has to be huge. Some of our guys have to get stronger, more physical and more athletic.
“You’ve got to be careful (projecting) because as I tell the guys all the time, no two teams are ever the same. We’re going to lose a lot with Sanjay and Nate.”
The NU administration better not lose Collins, who is primed for a lucrative extension. If Brad Underwood is worth $3 million a year to Illinois, how much is Collins worth to Northwestern?
The 2017-18 Wildcats will play their home games at Allstate Arena in Rosemont while construction crews rehab Welsh-Ryan Arena and its practice area to the tune of $150 million.
For NU fans on the North Shore, that drive could take an hour in traffic. On the plus side, beer will be served.
While mingling with NU athletic royalty such as Darnell Autry, D’Wayne Bates, Evan Eschmeyer and Billy McKinney and closing down Salt Lake City bars around midnight, NU’s true believers began memorizing all eight sites for the first weekend of next year’s tournament: Nashville, Detroit …
It won’t be easy to get back. Nothing is ever easy at Northwestern.
But the Wildcats finally have a real basketball program. That’s even better than having two beaches.
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