The college basketball gods continued to rain down uncertainty and misfortune upon the Northwestern Wildcats, this time in the form of a 75-68 overtime loss to Minnesota in the 2012 Big Ten tournament.
Oh, those Cardiac 'Cats, abusing the oft-used nickname with an abandon all too reckless for a team planted so dangerously on the NCAA tournament bubble. They toed the razor's edge against the lowly likes of Penn State, Illinois, Purdue and Iowa this season, only to fatally wound themselves against a Golden Gophers group whose case for March Madness was even more precarious.
Now, instead of breaking the Evanstonian's seal on the Big Dance, it appears as though Bill Carmody's club will be headed for its fourth consecutive trip to the NIT.
Which might as well be Wildcats speak for "Never In Tournament."
That, in itself, is a remarkable accomplishment in a way, as Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated points out:
How many other teams in history have played in four straight NITs? (Which is one more than its entire previous history.)— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) March 9, 2012
Not necessarily a good accomplishment, of course. Four years in a row, the Wildcats had a golden opportunity to play their way into the NCAA tourney, and four years in a row, they've wilted:
A team that continually folds under pressure, that plays with no confidence late in close games, is a reflection of it coach.— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) March 9, 2012
Of course, folks at Northwestern will still be waiting on pins and needles on Selection Sunday, hoping and praying that the powers that be show them some measure of mercy. That's tough to imagine even with the tough schedule the Wildcats played this season, considering this nasty tidbit from CBS college hoops commentator Seth Davis:
Northwestern had 11 chances to beat a top 50 team. The won exactly one. There simply is no case.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) March 9, 2012
Does Northwestern deserve to make the Big Dance?
What a shame, too, to see the magnificent career of star forward John Shurna—who led Northwestern in scoring with 21 points on Thursday—go by the wayside without an invite to the Big Dance.
Bill Carmody can do little more than cross his fingers and pray, hoping that the selection committee will have mercy upon his team's soul and/or that another star will fall into his lap at some point down the line.
Until then, Northwestern's legions of proud sportswriting alumni can only mourn their alma mater's failures and return to covering the NCAA tournament. They're left wondering without end about the woulda-coulda-shouldas.