Thursday, February 5, 2015

Don't Believe The Hype, or Why I'm Tired of NU Sports

The Northwestern basketball team has limped to the halfway mark of the B1G season with a conference-worst 1-8 record. That’s NU’s worst record through nine games since the 2008 team lost its first 14 games en route to a 1-17 finish, and it all but guarantees an 11th-consecutive losing B1G season. The ‘Cats take their 12th-ranked conference defense to Madison on Saturday, where they will meet the nations #1 offense. Ken Pomeroy projects a 74-55 defeat. NU will almost certainly find itself 1-9 through 10 games. Looking at NU’s record through 10 conference games over the past 15 years, it’s hard not to feel pessimistic about the future of NU hoops.

Season
Through 10 Games
Finish
2001
0-10
3-13
2002
4-6
7-9
2003
2-8
3-13
2004
3-5
8-8
2005
4-6
6-10
2006
4-6
6-10
2007
1-9
2-14
2008
0-10
1-17
2009
4-6
8-10
2010
4-6
7-11
2011
3-7
7-11
2012
4-6
8-10
2013
4-6
4-14
2014
5-5
6-12
2015
1-9*
3-15*
*Projected

To be fair, there have been a few bright spots this season, most notably the heady play of Bryant McIntosh. The general trend, though, has been discouraging. The offense has improved from abysmal to simply mediocre, but the defense has regressed from elite to terrible. In NU’s five-game moral victory streak, Chris Collins made multiple coaching blunders that surely cost the team several wins. There is no evidence to indicate that he can scheme above the talent level of his players, a glaring shortcoming in a conference chock full of top-level coaches.

His recruiting (his biggest asset as a new hire) hasn’t been dramatically better than his predecessor’s best years. The 2015 class projects to be rated lower than the 2014 class, and outside of McIntosh the 2014 class has been underwhelming. Vic Law was clearly overrated. Scottie Lindsey has shown potential to be a decent role player. Gavin Skelly and Johnny Vassar look like practice players. They may only be freshman, but the reality certainly has not matched the “greatest class ever” hype. There is no heir apparent to Alex Olah in the 2015 class, and 2016 center target Barrett Benson is a major long shot. With back-to-back losing seasons in his first two years, there is no reason to believe that Collins can maintain even the modest recruiting uptick he has achieved to date.

Couple this hoops misery with the mess that is Northwestern football, and it is very difficult to maintain any enthusiasm for NU sports. To make matters worse, those at the top of the totem pole, most notably Jim Phillips and Pat Fitzgerald, project hubris completely detached from reality. Remember when Fitzgerald claimed that the football program has “never been in this good of shape” after the win at Notre Dame? A simpler, more honest answer would have been “this was a great win for our program.” His defiance in the face of legitimate criticism is an insult to fans.

Phillips, meanwhile, does little other than spin and glad-hand, posing for photo ops and parading veterans out on the courts & fields for easy applause. The lakeside football facility seems stalled, both revenue sports appear to be trending down, and Dr. Jim is incapable of doing anything other than spouting meaningless buzzwords and catchphrases: “programs on the rise,” “better destination,” “accountability,” “Chicago’s B1G Team.” But at least we’ve got some more overpriced bread and circuses at Wrigley Field to look forward to. (Speaking of Wrigley Field, how is this guy still our AD when he thought it was acceptable to play a football game with a major safety hazard in one end zone?? Keep the below photo in mind the next time he waxes righteously about the welfare of “student-athletes.”) Phillips’s new role with the NCAA likely ensures that he does even less to bolster the actual performance of his marquee coaches and teams.



Next year I expect to purchase football season tickets with my parents and sister for the 20th-consecutive season. It will be my 35th year of attending NU football games. I also expect another losing season. I do not expect to renew my basketball season tickets. The game times are frequently inconvenient, my kid hates going to the games, and the losing, borderline-unwatchable basketball does nothing to overcome those impediments. I’m tired of unused tickets that I can’t even give away for free.


Here I am, a lifelong Wildcat fan, with family ties to Northwestern stretching back nearly a century, and I’m on the verge of breaking up with NU sports. I’m in the minority, I’m sure, but I know I’m not alone. My ennui is growing. I’m tired of the hype that doesn’t jibe with reality. There’s trouble on Ashland and Central with zero indication that anyone in charge is aware of it much less capable of changing course. Jim, Pat, Chris, I know you’re not listening, but I’m telling you anyway. I may continue to watch the games on TV, but you’re losing my heart and my money, possibly forever.



Public Enemy - "Don't Believe The Hype"


2 comments:

  1. Nice post.
    I share many of the sentiments, which you have expressed very reasonably and thougtfully.

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  2. Start being a bigger fan of the women's basketball team. Maybe you'll find a love there that you'll share with your baby girl. They have a great coach, good players, and good effort. They won a good one tonight on the road.
    It may be more difficult to be a consistent Wildcats fan but being a Northwestern University fan is a part of who I am.

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