77 years. That is how long Northwestern waited to dance for the first time in program history. 77 years without their name being called on Selection Sunday. With the mention of 77 years of NCAA Tournament drought, the 49 years of not having a winning record in conference play also can’t be forgotten. In the 2003-2004 season Northwestern did manage an 8-8 record in conference play, but not until the 2016-2017 season did they see more wins than losses in conference play.
Northwestern hasn’t ever been known to be a “basketball school”. The team has always had low attendance at games and outside of their loyal fans and alumni who follow, the fanbase has wavered.
That all changed this season. Whatever moment you chose to point to: Nathan Taphorn’s pass and Dererk Pardon’s shot against Michigan, Northwestern beating Indiana and Iowa at home, Northwestern taking down Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament, or Northwestern defeating Wake Forest in non-conference play, this season brought the fans to Welsh-Ryan. Along with the fans came more attention from the media and even a visit from Jim Nantz and CBS on the final Sunday of the regular season.
This season, Welsh-Ryan Arena was filled with purple. Most conference games sold out and fans had to spend more money to see the Wildcats play in Welsh-Ryan Arena than they did to see the Bulls play in the United Center.
The Wildcats would ultimately achieve their long-lasting goal of reaching the NCAA Tournament this winter. They cashed their first ticket to the Big Dance and went to Salt Lake City, beating Vanderbilt in the first round before suffering a tough loss to #1 seeded Gonzaga in the second round.
But now the season is finished. Welsh-Ryan is undergoing a year-long renovation, Chris Collins has moved out of his office, Nate Taphorn and Sanjay Lumpkin are preparing to graduate and all eyes are set on the future.
This summer Northwestern will welcome the 2017 recruiting class to campus. That class includes incoming freshman guard Anthony Gaines and junior transfer A.J. Turner from Boston College. The Wildcats will spend the next season at Allstate Arena while Welsh-Ryan undergoes renovations.
Northwestern danced once, but can they dance twice in a row?
Here’s what we know:
- Northwestern loses a starter in Sanjay Lumpkin, a power forward and the “glue guy” on the team.
- Northwestern loses the best three-point shooter in the conference, Nathan Taphorn, a bench player who started a few games this year.
- Northwestern brings back Aaron Falzon after missing the 2016-2017 season with an injury.
- Northwestern adds Rapolas Ivanauskas, who missed the 2016-2017 season with an injury.
- Scottie Lindsey will return and return healthy.
- 4 of the starting 5 will return.
- Northwestern adds more depth in the backcourt with Anthony Gaines and more depth in the frontcourt with Ivananuskas.
So...Can The Wildcats Dance Again?
Northwestern can dance again.
The Wildcats have the depth and the experience of a long season in order to prepare themselves for another deep run. With a healthy roster and continued improvement from their players, Northwestern will have a chance to dance once again in 2018.