Northwestern stunned Michigan with an improbable buzzer-beater on Wednesday night. The Wildcats now appear a lock to participate in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. A thousand and one journalists woke up this morning with puffed chests and a new sense of purpose. And that’s fine. In 2017, the industry needs any win it can get.
All Northwestern has done this year is defy expectations. Chris Collins’ group has racked up a record 21 wins, including 10 against top 100 teams, gone 10-7 in a deep Big Ten and earned an RPI of 45. A home win over Purdue this Sunday would be the icing on the cake and, combined with some help from Michigan State and Maryland, allow the Cats a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament. No one envisioned a scenario where they’d be playing for seeding in early March.
Perhaps poetically, though, all Northwestern did last night was meet expectations by taking a good story and interjecting a healthy dose of hyperbole and symbolism so obvious even a fifth-grader couldn’t help but grasp. The school that launched so many entertainers created the perfect script, one that paid homage to its many alums. Even if it was a bit overwritten for dramatic effect.
They dropped names like Michael Wilbon by having Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and husband Brad Hall, walk-on Charlie’s parents, show up and live and die on every possession.
They honored Brent Musberger by keeping the line — Michigan by 1.5 — in doubt until the very end. They honored Darren Rovell by making sure everyone understood the monetary and intangible benefits of making the NIT or field of 68.
Then, in a final touch of brilliance, it was decided that the game-winning shot would not just give the Wildcats a two-point victory, it would avenge Collins’ father, Doug.
Nathan Taphorn’s full-court heave to Dererk Pardon with 1.7 to play was eerily similar to the play that decided the 1972 USA-USSR gold medal game.
That play, surrounded by controversy, erased the elder Collins’ late-game heroics and cost the United States gold. The players refused to accept silver.
In the words of Seth Meyers: “Really, Northwestern? Really?” Did you really have to lay it on that thick?
Perhaps they did. Perhaps they know no other way. And we should forgive them for getting caught up in their biggest basketball moment in history. It’s hard to act like you’ve been there before when you’ve literally never been there before.