I know you're excited, I know Seth Meyers is excited, I know the whole college basketball world is excited: Northwestern men's basketball has a chance to make its first-ever NCAA Tournament this year, and it's one of the biggest stories of the whole college basketball season.
Well, please, allow me -- a University of Illinois graduate, it is probably worth noting -- to retort. Northwestern making the tournament this year would be a bad thing and is something you should cheer against. Let's see if I can cobble together 10 reasons why.
1. They're not that good right now. On Feb. 12, Northwestern pulled off an upset win over Wisconsin that, in the eyes of many hopeful watchers, essentially punched its tournament ticket. It was the "signature" win the Wildcats needed, the one that took them off the bubble. Most projection systems have them roughly around a 8 or 9 seed right now. But I might humbly suggest that the sentimental factor of Northwestern is artificially inflating its projected seedings. This is not a great team.
Northwestern's RPI is only 42, which is respectable but hardly a golden ticket: Colorado State missed the tournament at 29 just two years ago. That Wisconsin win loses luster by the day: The Badgers just lost again to Ohio State on Thursday for their third loss in their past four games. Northwestern doesn't have many great wins: It has only three RPI top-50 victories, and its best one isn't even Wisconsin: It's Dayton, at the United Center back in December.
More to the point: The Wildcats are falling apart lately. They've lost four of their past six, including two at home, and their only win outside of that Wisconsin win was a very wobbly home victory over Rutgers. My Illini beat them twice in two weeks, both rather convincingly. Top scorer Scottie Lindsey missed several games with mono and has been ineffective since returning, and it has knocked the whole team off course. They've got a road game against a collapsing but still dangerous and desperate Indiana team on Saturday; a loss there, and it'll be difficult to pretend that this is the Northwestern team everyone wants it to be.
2. If they struggle down the stretch, if they do sneak in the tournament, you'll always wonder if they only got in as the feel-good story. After that Indiana game, there are two home games against teams expected to make the tournament: Michigan and Purdue. What if they lose all three, or win only one? Is that enough? A 10-8 record in a down year for the Big Ten with no real impressive out-of-conference wins other than Dayton and Wake Forest?
It would close, it would be awfully close. And it would be too close for that nagging doubt to ever be removed: Did the NCAA put a not-worthy Northwestern team in the tournament just because it would be an easy sell? If it's going to get in, you'd like it to go flying through the front door it just definitively swung open. If the Wildcats lose two of these last three, which would put them at 3-6 in their last nine -- and heaven forbid they go 2-7 -- is that definitive enough? I would argue that it is not.
3. Next year's probably the better year anyway. This team is young, with only two seniors, and all its stars likely to return next season. Let that team be the one that swings that proverbial door open rather than this flawed, stumbling-late team.
4. The journalists will be insufferable if Northwestern makes the tournament. We see this a little bit each year when Syracuse makes the tourney, but oh man, it's going to be awful if Northwestern gets in. Those Medill kids will make sure you will not be able to escape Northwestern. Michael Wilbon, Darren Rovell, Stewart Mandel, J.A. Adande, Jon Heyman, Christine Brennan, Mike Greenberg, Rachel Nichols, John Heilemann … they're going to be the worst. Northwestern is an incredibly expensive, upper-tier, elite-class private school in the wealthy suburbs of Chicago, and if Northwestern makes the tournament, every alum in the media is going to try to convince you they are the most likable plucky underdog story that has ever existed, the 1980 USA hockey team crossed with Hickory High multiplied by Rudy. Trust me: You do not want this.
5. The Chicago's Big Ten Team thing. A few years ago, Northwestern, with Trumpian gusto and lack of fealty to reality-based analysis, decided it would brand itself "Chicago's Big Ten Team." This is roughly analogous to claiming that Rider is New York City's college basketball team. A few years ago, The New York Times put together a map, using Facebook data, of every region across the country and what college football teams they cheered for. Go look at that map now. Go look at Chicago.
You see Notre Dame there. You see Illinois there. You see Michigan there. You see Ohio State there. You even see Wisconsin there. The one thing you absolutely do not see there is Northwestern. Scroll around in areas surrounding Chicago, the north and south suburbs, the west suburbs, Northern Indiana. You won't find Northwestern anywhere. The only place you will find Northwestern is in Evanston … and only then when click directly on Ryan Field, where Northwestern plays. Check out what pops up when you click the area directly west of Ryan Field:
Northwestern is not only not Chicago's Big Ten Team, it is likely it is not even Evanston's Big Ten Team.
6. This makes them liars. Northwestern's slogan -- the words that are painted on its court for crying out loud -- are flat-out lies. Who wants to root for liars? You're not pro-lying, are you? For shame!
7. Other teams' fans still often outnumber Northwestern's at home games. Let us not forget this classic photo from a Nebraska-Northwestern a few years ago.
It is one thing to be a likable underdog. It is another to not even be able to rouse one's own fans into excitement.
8. Doug Collins might stop being an insane person. He's a proud sports dad, and that's great, but if Northwestern makes the tournament, he might not do this anymore:
Doug Collins watching his son's team. Taking the free throw miss in stride. pic.twitter.com/wJfkHDYfmo- Matt Schick (@ESPN_Schick) February 19, 2017
Plus: Has everyone decided to just forget how much they hated Chris Collins when he played for Duke all of a sudden?
9. If Northwestern makes the tournament, it's just another boring old team. The whole drama of Northwestern is how it's never made the tournament. It's honestly the only interesting thing about the Wildcats. If they sneak in this year, you will never think about Northwestern basketball again. Though maybe that's a good thing.
10. Illini fans have suffered enough. This one might be a little too personal. But it's undeniably true.
So, sure, take your easy story, your Chris Collins love, your Happy Michael Wilbon, and go ahead and cheer for Northwestern if you want. But it's better if it falls short again. There are just three games left in the regular season for Northwestern. Two wins clinch a spot. One might. Go Hoosiers! Go Wolverines! Go Boilermakers! Not all feel-good stories make you feel good.