On Colleges, On Golf
5:16 PM PDT, April 1, 2013
The essence of Northwestern basketball trivia, repeated Sunday during CBS' broadcast of Duke's loss to Louisville, is that the school hosted the first NCAA basketball tournament, in 1939.
The Wildcats were denied a bid that year, and the bracketologists agreed, belittling NU's 45-23 season-opening victory over Carleton College. In an effort to remain consistent, the Wildcats declined to earn a bid for the next 74 years.
Of the original 160 Division I basketball schools (figure comes courtesy of ESPN.com), only five never have Danced: Army, St. Francis (Brooklyn), the Citadel, William & Mary and Evanston's Finest.
That's partly a case of bad timing (Northwestern won Big Ten titles in 1931 and 1933) but mostly a case of horrible basketball. Since 1970, the Wildcats have finished better than seventh in the Big Ten once, in 2004. (Not that the Big Ten was bad that season, but the Wildcats went 8-8 in the league and 6-7 outside of it.)
But there's way more to the history and culture of NU basketball. As a courtesy to Chris Collins, who will be introduced at 11 a.m. Tuesday as the program's new coach/savior (live coverage on BTN with NU alums Dave Revsine and Shon Morris), here is an A-Z guide:
A is for Chier Ajou (the 7-foot-2 South Sudanese curiosity), Arthur Lonborg (coach of the '31 and '33 teams) and ACT scores. Recruits better get at least a 22, above the national average, to be considered for a scholarship. At least two current NU players scored 30 or higher.
B is for former coach Ricky Byrdsong. To know him for 10 minutes was to feel like a friend of 10 years, but the late Byrdsong will be remembered for his self-described "Walk on the wild side." During NU's 1994 loss at Minnesota, he walked alone in the aisles, shaking hands and high-fiving the Gophers mascot. NU officials frowned on the dalliance, but the Wildcats went 5-4 in the Big Ten down the stretch to make the NIT.
C is for Nikola Cerina. We think it's pronounced chur-A-nuh, but it's hard to know. Although he is an athletic 6-7 (not his listed 6-9), Cerina spent most of last season either injured or in coach Bill Carmody's doghouse.
D is for Tim Doyle, the WGN-AM 720 analyst who filled the stat sheet in 2006-07 (first NU player with 350 points, 150 assists, 100 rebounds and 50 steals) and Drew Crawford. If Collins can't convince Crawford to return for his fifth season, NU's NCAA tournament drought will hit 76 years.
E is for Dave Eanet, the voice of NU sports (dubbed "Mr. Cat" by Pat Fitzgerald) and Evan Eschmeyer, an All-America center in 1999.
F is for coach Bill Foster, who thrived at Duke (1978 NCAA title game) but sputtered in Evanston. Though affable, Foster had four players transfer (dubbed "Transfermania") after the 1990 season, including future NBA guard and current San Francisco coach Rex Walters.
G is for Otto Graham. He was aces in basketball, too, an All-American in 1944.
H is for Tavaras Hardy. A solid player (113 starts) who developed into the ace recruiter on NU's staff. Collins would be nuts not to make every effort to keep him.
I is for Iowa, which owned the Wildcats this season, scoring three double-digit victories. Fitzgerald is not exactly an Iowa fan, by the way. (Ask him about it, Chris.)
J is for John Shurna, aka Johnny Cash. NU's top all-time scorer bested Billy McKinney in 2012.
K is for Kale Abrahamson, a poor man's Shurna (for now) and Kevin Coble. How to summarize Coble? He led the Wildcats in scoring and rebounding his first three seasons and then skipped his final season over a Hawaii versus Italy travel flap related to the care of his broken left foot.
L is for NU's $220 million lakefront athletic facility, which will be a boon to NU students, especially those who wear football helmets. But no money has been set aside to nuke or renovate Welsh-Ryan Arena, where fan comfort is an afterthought.
M is for McGaw Memorial Hall, Welsh-Ryan's original name. It opened in 1952. If you contend that the restrooms have not been upgraded since then, we won't argue.
N is for NIT. Carmody took four straight teams to the Little Dance, an accomplishment or disappointment depending on your perspective.
O is for center Alex Olah, who has some offensive skill but little foot speed, and Kevin O'Neill. No one could believe when he left Tennessee in 1997 to take the Northwestern coaching job ("I took a chance," he said at the time, "Columbus did."), and no one was surprised when he bolted after three expletive-filled seasons.
P is for purple (buy some ties, Chris), athletic director Jim Phillips, top donor Pat Ryan, Carmody's Princeton offense and a bizarre late-'90s point-shaving scandal in which mostly scrubby players took money to shoot 0-for-5 rather than their usual 1-for-3.
Q is for NU's endless quest to make the NCAA tournament.
R is Rich Falk, who scored a school-record 49 points against Iowa in 1964, and recruits Jaren Sina and Nate Taphorn. While Taphorn is almost sure to follow through on his commitment, Sina is being courted by Indiana, Seton Hall and Alabama. This will test Collins' powers of persuasion.
S is for Morton Schapiro, NU's sports-loving president who dined with Collins on the night he formally accepted the job, and point guard Dave Sobolewski, who excels when surrounded by talented teammates.
T is for The Dark Side, coined by ESPN personality/NU alum J.A. Adande. How else to explain a program characterized by odd injuries, curious departures and painful last-second defeats.
U is for ugly, which is how many people describe NU's purple-splashed court. Watch for Collins to get it changed.
V is for Carmody assistant Ivan Vujic, a friendly giant who recruited Olah.
W is for Northwestern Wildside, the student section, former star Walker Lambiotte and Michael Wilbon. The "Pardon the Interruption" co-host is NU's unofficial First Fan and a Board of Trustees member.
X is for Xavier, which beat Northwestern in the second round of the '94 NIT. (NU rallied from a 12-point halftime deficit to beat DePaul in the opener.)
Y is for yarmulke, or kippah. NU walk-on Aaron Liberman, an Orthodox Jew, wears one. Under Armour makes two types — purple and white for home games, purple and black for the road.
Z is for Zoo Crew, the former name for NU's student section. Foster admonished the fans for their obnoxious chants during a 1989 game against Illinois ("Two, four, six, eight — Proposition 48!"). Last season NU students stayed home (or hit the library) en masse, contributing to a sleepy vibe and NU's 8-11 home record.
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC