Northwestern University students, including Gram Bowsher, front row, second from right, watch the Wildcats play the Indiana Hoosiers at Welsh Ryan Arena.(John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)
Northwestern won its fourth straight Big Ten game Wednesday at Welsh-Ryan Arena, beating tournament-bound Indiana.
But many students probably didn’t even know the game was happening, and a number of the ones who did didn’t go.
Northwestern doesn’t have a basketball culture, but that falls more on the program and the school itself than the students.
The Wildcats are the only major-conference team never to have made the NCAA tournament. Northwestern has put together a winning record just four times in the last 12 seasons and hasn’t finished above .500 in the Big Ten since the 1967-68 team went 8-6.
Northwestern is also the smallest school in the Big Ten at a tick above 8,000 undergraduates. Some may argue that a small private school can’t foster a wild game environment, but it’s important to consider that parallel schools such as Duke don’t run on the quarter system, which has students facing a deluge of midterms for about half of the 11-week term.
The students who did attend Wednesday’s game at Northwestern were loud, passionate and watched with a chip on their shoulder.
“We may not have a ton of fans because of how small of a school we are, but the fans that are here care a hell of a lot,” said Gram Bowsher, the Northwestern student president of Wild Side. “I can barely talk right now.”
Bowsher said the Wild Side’s goal this season is to lay groundwork and establish tradition as the team rebuilds. It’s a thankless task.
“I want this place to be standing-room-only. ... I want Welsh-Ryan Arena to be one of the toughest places to play in the Big Ten,” Bowsher said. “It’s frustrating because we are passionate fans. ... But we know that we’re setting the base for what could really be an explosion two (or) three years from now.”
Steven Goldstein, a Northwestern senior, is an intern at the Tribune.