A weekly feature in which author Benoit Denizet-Lewis follows the fortunes of the only BCS school to have sucked so consistently and spectacularly that it has never made the NCAA tournament, Northwestern. Record: 14-6. Tournament prospects: Stranger things have happened.
Last two weeks: Purdue, W, 72-64; @Ohio State, L, 76-56; Illinois, W, 73-68; @Minnesota, L, 65-61
Upcoming: @Michigan State, Michigan
Northwestern (hereto known, thanks to this humble little column, as "America's Team") went 2-2 since we last gathered around this virtual purple campfire, winning at home against Purdue and Illinois and losing on the road to Ohio State and Minnesota.
Here's a quick recap in reverse chronological order, which is the preferred order of snobs who loved Memento:
Minnesota 65, NU 61: My boy John Shurna scored 19 points, and center Luka Mirkovic (have we mentioned he's from war-torn Serbia?) took offense to everyone calling him soft and pulled down 14 rebounds, but America's Team inexplicably forgot to guard lefty three-point specialist Blake Hoffarber, who hit four treys in the last seven-plus minutes to give Tubby Smith's crew an undeserved victory.
NU 73, Illinois 68: Poor Ill-Annoy. Your basketball team underachieves. Your football program — led by The Zookster, who is 12-28 in conference play but is inexplicably being asked back for a sixth season, because five wasn't enough to truly fuck everything up — is a catastrophe. On the plus side, your men's gymnastics program is quite strong.
Ohio State 76, NU 56: Evan Turner was nursed back to health in time to embarrass NU in Columbus.
NU 72, Purdue 64: Junior Michael "Juice" Thompson (one of the country's most underrated point guards) scored 20 points, and likely Big Ten freshman of the year Drew Crawford hit clutch three-pointers down the stretch to help the Cats upset then-No. 6 Purdue at home. NU plays the Boilermakers only once this year, saving everyone a trip to West Lafayette, the Big Ten's most unfortunate college town.
Next up for Northwestern is a road trip to East Lansing, where the team shocked the Spartans last year. The odds of that happening twice are about as good as Kiefer Sutherland getting blown to pieces ("Dammit!") on 24, so it's likely that when we meet here again next week, the Cats will have closed out the first half of conference play with an unspectacular 3-6 record.
Now, before you give up entirely on America's Team and go back to your regularly scheduled Internet programming (gambling, pornography), realize this: Northwestern had a brutal first half to its conference schedule, with all nine games coming against teams that made the NCAA Tournament last year. The going gets considerably easier now, with six of NU's last nine conference games coming against the Big Ten's three worst teams — Iowa, Indiana, and Penn State.
If the Cats go 6-3 in conference the rest of way (and beat Chicago State on March 3) that puts them at 9-9 in Big Ten play and 21-10 overall. Win a game or two in the Big Ten tourney, and the tournament committee will be hard-pressed to say no to America's Team. (Of course, going 7-2 instead of 6-3 would make the committee's decision a whole lot easier.)
Tuesday's home game against Michigan is essentially a must-win, and, even though I'm quite busy, I will be traveling to Evanston to catch it in person. (The last time I spent any time in Evanston, I hung out with supposedly sober frat boys.) The timing of this trip couldn't be better, since my recently revised Bucket List includes a handful of NU-hoops-related items, including hanging out with my boy John Shurna, apologizing to Luka Mirkovic for calling him a marshmallow in an earlier column, solving the mystery of whether 7-foot backup center Kyle Rowley can dunk a basketball, and letting freshman sharpshooter Alex Marcotullio beat me in a three-point shooting contest in an effort to boost his sagging confidence. (For a skinny French white boy, I'm not a bad basketball player. I scored 23 points a game as a high school senior, although that was against other skinny white boys from the not-so-rugged private schools of San Francisco.)
I will be back here next week to tell you all about my winter Midwestern sojourn and to remind you that when the Saints and Colts face off Feb. 7, a Northwestern player is guaranteed to win a Super Bowl ring for the fifth straight year. Stay classy, everyone, and go Cats.
Benoit Denizet-Lewis is a writer with The New York Times Magazine. His latest book is American Voyeur: Dispatches from the Far Reaches of Modern Life. He can be reached at www.benoitdenizetlewis.com or on Twitter.
Photo courtesy John Templon, ChicagoNow