Northwestern Basketball Should Have Been an Underdog Story; Result was Polar Opposite



It’s amazing how rapidly the story of Northwestern basketball in the NCAA Tournament went from underdog to oversaturated to OVERKILL to deserved backlash. That’s a shame because there are so many true blue Northwestern basketball fans out there who truly embodied the idea of “act like you’ve been there before,” even though their program had not.

Then there is the team itself, which although not elite, very solid and battled a great Gonzaga team to the very end despite getting egregiously hosed on a major momentum shifting basket interference call. This Northwestern basketball team plays a fairly entertaining brand of basketball too.

They’re not exactly the showtime era L.A. Lakers, but they’re also nothing like the aesthetic atrocities you see at Virginia, or on the Wisconsin teams that were coached by the father (Dick Bennett) of UVA’s current leader Tony Bennett.


The Wildcats players themselves, and the small group of legitimate die-hards who support them are a likable bunch. If this story existed in just a vacuum, as purely a hoops tale, it would have been truly a feel-good affair.

However, nothing exists in a vacuum, and the hype, promotion, cross-promotion, self-promotion and self-congratulation that surrounded the Northwestern basketball story was somewhere between nauseating and deplorable.

Or perhaps nauseating and deplorable at the same time.

Some forecasted the Purple Mafia being over-the-top well before the tournament started, but no one could have seen this level of self-indulgent tripe coming. Many Medill graduates reminded America why so many people who didn’t go to school there call this sort “Medilldoes.”

If you wanted to publish a “Detestable Northwestern Alums in Sports Media Power Rankings.” it would be hard to limit the list to just ten. While no one could have really expected the NU alumni in the sports media to be unbiased, fair and objective in this situation, no one expected them to be this obnoxious.

It would also be difficult to rank because there was just so much smugness, by so many, in your face at all times. The best season in Northwestern basketball history also ended up being the best validation of the old joke “Northwestern is where the villains in every John Hughes movie go to school.”

Seth Meyers is a funny guy with a great television show but why do we need to see any of his tweets about Northwestern basketball? We certainly DON’T need to see every single one.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, a daughter of a billionaire who possesses some comedic talent should be excited about her son’s team, but why did March Madness degenerate into sponsored content (or native advertising if you prefer) for the HBO series Veep?

Why did every single columnist hack, who make the “Team XYZ does things the right way” their signature move have to break out that mind-numbing shopworn tripe over and over and over again, and affix it to Northwestern basketball?

When Gonzaga was on the verge of eliminating NU and ending their season, Yahoo’s Henry Bushnell, Northwestern class of 17, Tweeted this:

I couldn’t have said it any better.

Credit Bushnell’s very next Tweet for summarizing perfectly exactly what happened here:  “This should have been the best underdog story ever. It turned into anything but.”

Sure, some of the blame for why this happened lies with the current media landscape that we all live in- 24/7 information overload.

However, most of the blame lies with the influencers who shape and mold opinions. They revealed their true colors here, and it was anything but redeemable. NU making the big dance, on a micro level, from just the building of a basketball program was an underdog story.

However, it became packaged in and then consumed by a bunch of wealthy, powerful, attention-seeking elites doing little more than reminding you how elite and powerful they are, and why you need to once again pay attention to their elite standing.

Next year, the Northwestern basketball team should be even better, perhaps much better, at least on paper. In 2018, the community built around them will truly get the chance to “act like they’ve been here before.”

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports and TheBank.News, partnered with FOX Sports Engage Network. and News Now. Banks, a former writer for the Washington Times and NBC, contributes to Chicago Tribune.comBoldWGN CLTV and KOZN

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  1. Any thoughts about why Northwestern baseball (or college baseball in general) gets no media coverage from any kind of mainstream outlet? Northwestern baseball plays Indiana on Friday and there will probably be 200 people in attendance.

    Seems to me like this will be a problem for MLB down the line in terms of MLB not being in the cultural conversation. If kids today never see coverage of college baseball or anyone attending college baseball games, they will grow up to think pro baseball is even less cool than it currently is. Of course right now the Cubs are winning, but that doesn’t stop the fact that no one in Milwaukee is interested in the Brewers.

    Northwestern baseball is 4-10 so obviously a losing record means less coverage than a winning record. But in terms of overall coverage of Division 1 college baseball. There is nothing there from the mainstream press. The amount of coverage is the equivalent of NCAA men’s golf teams.

  2. paulmbanks says:

    Hi Ando,

    thanks for reading and commenting. You’re spot on in stating that 1. baseball is not hip with the youngest generation and 2. Milwaukee doesn’t really care about the Brewers.

    Miller Park is basically Wrigley Field north.

    re: college baseball

    The 24/7 sports cable networks are certainly doing everything they can to get more college baseball on the air, but it only seems to make an impression in the south. No one outside of the SEC country really seems to care all that much and it’s probably because those southern markets often don’t have other sports options to follow, plus the warmer climates, where they can host games earlier in the season, seem to be more engaged.

    also, the sport is held back by all the levels of the minor leagues, which are perceived to be having better talent, and thus more siginificance

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