2017 NCAA


The 2016-2017 season was among the best in Northwestern sports history. For the first time since the early 1930s, both the football team and the basketball team had fantastic seasons: the football team won just its third-ever bowl game, and the basketball squad won a game in the NCAA tournament, coming THIS close to knocking off the team that would ultimately appear in the national championship game.

What follows are some of the items posted on HailToPurple during its special coverage of the Wildcats' NCAA tourney run.

For the Lowes Line special coverage, check the end of the 2016 Lowes Line Archive.

[Extra, Posted March 12, 2017]

Emotions are unchecked, and the Streak is undone: NU is in the NCAA tournament.

Northwestern is the #8 seed in the West Region. The 'Cats will face #9 Vandy in Salt Lake City this Thursday.

Scenes from NU's Selection Party
[Extra, Posted March 12]

[All images are Facebook screen captures except the
final image, which is a Chicago Tribune image]

Willie gets ready for the selection show.

The pep band strikes it up.

Dave Eanet, the Voice of the Wildcats, serving as emcee.

The players gather and wait.

Dr. Phillips addresses the large crowd gathered to celebrate with the 'Cats.

As Coach Collins addressed the fans, emotions and tears flowed.

The first second, of the first day, of the first year
of the new Northwestern Basketball era.

Celebrating the Previously Unthinkable
[Posted March 12]

Mention "The Streak" to most older Northwestern alumni, and images of football futility from the 1970s and '80s will flash through their memories. The Streak was, to them, the galactically bad, NCAA record-setting football losing streak. That streak was put to bed, and finally buried for good with the football team's renaissance in the 1990s.

However, a more doleful, more epic streak has haunted Northwestern athletics: the men's basketball team's failure to make the NCAA tournament is a 78-year stretch of unhappy memories and unfulfilled dreams. The Great Basketball Streak began, of all places, in Evanston, in a gymnasium during its final year of service to NU. Old Patten Gym was the site of the very first NCAA Tournament Final Four on March 27, 1939. NU hosted, but did not play. Nor did it play in 1940, nor any year since.

The Great Streak ended today, March 12, 2017, of all places, in Evanston, in a gymnasium during its final year of service to NU. Old Welsh-Ryan Arena held the Wildcat faithful as they heard the words never before said: "Northwestern has been selected. . ." And pandemonium justifiably began.

The Wildcats will play Vanderbilt this Thursday in Salt Lake City, in the first round of the West Region. Northwestern is technically a #8 seed, but make no mistake: this is really the very first seed. This first seed will product fruit in Evanston for years and years to come.

To have seen a Wildcat basketball team this good, this successful, a Wildcat fan would have had to been around in 1931, when Northwestern secured a piece of the (pre-NCAA Tourney) national title. To my knowledge, there is no such surviving fan. This, for every living Wildcat fan, is new territory, and it's a great reason to celebrate the school, the program, the coaches, and the players. Northwestern basketball is finally in.

The team has come close before. A couple of decent teams in the 1960s and '70s, an NIT team in the early '80s, more NIT teams in the recent past, a handful of stars. Coach Carmody built a team that could compete, but never could achieve the level of tournament selection. In his fourth year, Coach Collins has constructed a program than did. Like Coach Barnett (who also completed his rebuilding of Northwestern football in his fourth season, with the Rose Bowl campaign), Collins has taken a program with a sorry tradition and has built a foundation for success.

Propelled by a program-record 23 victories, including wild wins over ranked teams and a Big Ten Tournament semifinals appearance, Northwestern has finally done it. And, just as names like Schnur, Autry, Fitzgerald, Rice, and Bates are permanent fixtures of NU lore, so too will be the names Law, Pardon, Hall, Brown, Ivanauskas, Lindsey, Malnati, Ash, Benson, McIntosh, Taphorn, Lumpkin, Falzon, and Skelly.

HailToPurple.com, until now, has spent 17 years focusing on NU football games and history, with occasional excursions into NU non-sports history. Until now, that coverage has been to the exclusion of other sports. We always said that if NU should make the tourney, we'd suspend the exclusionary nature of the site and join in the fun. Bandwagon, yes, but I suspect there's room. I have to think that there will be a lot of welcomes this week, a lot of homecomings, and a lot of long-awaited introductions.

The old gym rocked today, for one last time. The next time we see Northwestern play basketball in Evanston, it will be without its biggest and worst tradition, and with its new purpose, its new (and old) fans, and with a new and proud layer of heroes past and memories made.

For now, let's settle in and enjoy the fun.

NU vs. Vandy: The HTP Uninformed Preview
[Posted March 15]

Northwestern vs. Vanderbilt
West Region, Round One
Thursday, March 16, 3:30 pm CDT
Vivint Smart Home Arena, Salt Lake City

As Northwestern's online and social media campaign has assured us, It's Time.

Finally time for the Wildcats to step onto the court that they first helped to unveil in 1939: the NCAA Tournament. NU will do so as a #8 seed and a 2.5-point underdog to #9 seed Vanderbilt, in a battle of private school academic elites. Lose, and history will still have been made, and the 'Cats will have put a foundation stone in place for a new and promising program. But, win. . .

A win over the Commodores would be the biggest win for the program and would put NU on a collision course with #1 Gonzaga.

Initially, the 'Cats seem to line up well with Vandy. At least, their footwear will: the Wildcats will be sporting gold and white Under Armour shoes that have a distinctly Commodorian appearance. Dancing shoes!

Deney Terrio, eat your freakin' heart out.

Vandy's coach, Bryce Drew, played for his father's school, Indiana's Valparaiso, and Drew is famous for his own heroics at the Tournament as a player. Drew is a terrific coach, and his 2016-17 team is going to be a terrific challenge, despite its fifteen-loss record, a near-record for the Tourney.

ESPN's research shows that, since 1985, there have been eight teams to make their NCAA Tourney debut as a tenth seed or better. Of the seven before NU, four have won their first round games, and one-- Florida in 1987-- won its second round match.

Ready to make more history?

Pick: 'Cats dance, for one more round-- NU 68, Vandy 64 (pick based on shoes alone)

Oh Hell YES: Fitz crashes the postgame victory talk.

The Wildcats Make the Second Round:
A View from Heaven
[Posted March 18]

The Wildcats Make the Second Round: A View from Heaven
A Play in One Act

Curtain opens on Wildcat Heaven: a Victorian-style drawing room. Walls are furnished with plush purple drapes, which are painted with clouds near the top. Dry ice provides a foggy, cloud-like effect across the stage floor. RICKY BIRDSONG sits in a purple velvet chair, stage left. JOHN EVANS stands next to a fireplace, rear. He is holding a basketball, and leaning against a grandfather clock, the face of which is eerily glowing purple. OTTO GRAHAM enters, stage right.

GRAHAM [pumping his right fist and carrying a French horn in his left, he strides in front of a massive painted rock, center stage ]: U Rah Rah! How about that those last two minutes?! Crazier than an Evanston councilman! And that Vandy foul! How on Earth?

BIRDSONG [smiles coyly]: Well, Fisher-Davis may have had a little nudge into Bryant. . .

GRAHAM [mocking shock]: Ricky? You?

BIRDSONG: Actually, No. But I might have put someone up to it, someone perfect for the job.

Air Willie races onto the stage, slips, and slides through the fog on his jaw.

EVANS: Speak of the devil!

AIR WILLIE: pfffffffffffff. Blrp.

BIRDSONG: His airness works in mysterious ways.

EVANS: I tell you, boys, I never thought I'd see the day. Northwestern, not only in the Tournament, but advancing on its first try.

BIRDSONG: John, you didn't see the day. In fact, you didn't see basketball, period.

EVANS: So? Here in Wildcat Heaven I've taken great pride in how the boys have overcome their frustrations with the indoor foot-ball and have carried forth. I think all us boys can say that, no matter from which Northwestern era we hail.

Frances Willard enters, stage right.

WILLARD: What's all this 'us boys' shit? [She double-fists a bottle of Colt 45 and a flask of Old Crow. She is rip-assed drunk]

GRAHAM: Holy Johnny-off-the-pickleboat, Frances. Save some for us.

WILLARD: Go blow it out your French horn, Automatic. I gotta make up for lost time. [Pounds]

EVANS: Sorry to interrupt the festivities, but I have an important message from He-Whose-Name-Must-Not-Be-Rhymed.


Everyone else on the stage, including Air Willie, suddenly shrieks.

EVANS: What?! Ricky, Hell no: he's The-Original-He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. And his final horcrux, by the way, was the Wildcats' NCAA drought. No, I'm talking about He-Whose-Name-Must-Not-Be-Rhymed.

ALL: Oh, Lunt!

EVANS: Exactly. Orrington informs me that the Wildcats play Gonzaga later today.

BIRDSONG and GRAHAM, together: Gonzaga! Noooooo! We're doomed!

EVANS: I am afeared so. The team of the Northwest Territories is to face the even team-ier team of the even more Northwestier Territory. From Washington State comes the Pale Horse, the bringer of Northwestern's unmaking. The finisher of our dream. For how can the Wildcats compete with this mountain of a team? This premier of seeds?

WILLARD: What?! Man up, assholes! Gonzaga is a great team, but it's not the '96 Bulls.

AIR WILLIE: sssssffffffftt.

WILLARD [finishes off the Old Crow; spikes the flask onto the floor]: Look, this Wildcat team has already achieved more than we thought they could, right? So why not one more game? Forty minutes of hard-ass work, and a lifetime of great memories. You think Gonzaga is unstoppable? Have you seen Law when he's on a tear? What about McIntosh. That bastard knocked down 25 points on Thursday; he's not going to cower like a little bitch against some school from Washington. [takes out a Pabst and a pencil; shotguns the can]. Screw that! Let's play nuts-out, for ONE MORE GAME!

BIRDSONG: Frances, you might be right. Terrifyingly plowed, but right. Lindsey has scored at least 14 points in his last four games. What's so magic about the 'Zags? They put on their basketball shorts just like the 'Cats do.

GRAHAM: You mean with the help of their valets, in their dressing parlors?

EVANS: Now you're just perpetuating NU stereotypes, Otto.

BIRDSONG: The 'Cats are shooting nearly 50% right now, and their ten wins on the road this season match the record you helped set, Otto, back in '43 and '44. You know, I think they can do it.

AIR WILLIE [bursts]

WILLARD: Randy! Rashidi! Bobby! Matt! Marcel! Max! Tex! Get your asses in here! The game's about to start!

GRAHAM: You know Tex Winter's still alive, right?

WILLARD: Never mind, Tex. The rest of you: grab a keg, get your purple banners, and help me re-inflate Air Willie. He's got a few more nudges to deal out.