A guide to the NCAA tourney for Northwestern, a first-time Dancer
I mean, really, Northwestern! Act like you’ve been here before!
All that whooping, hollering and speaking in tongues as your name was called Sunday for the NCAA tournament. Players and fans celebrating as if they had won the lottery, hit the mother lode and struck oil. Tears flowing at the approximate rate of a Miss Teen USA Pageant. Ridiculous!
What’s that? You actually haven’t been here before?
In that case, proceed with your jubilation.
You will play Vanderbilt on Thursday in Salt Lake City. It’s the first time your school has received an NCAA tournament bid, which is saying something because the tournament started in 1939. You are an eighth seed. A seed is a team’s position in a tournament. A tournament is a collection of teams vying for a championship. A championship is . . . oh, never mind.
You can be forgiven for not knowing quite what to do with yourselves or how this whole Big Dance thing works. I can see that you need a heads-up on what to expect. Some things for players and fans to keep in mind:
• The NCAA tournament is an absolute whirlwind, whether you lose in the first round or get to the Sweet 16. Time seems to move at warp speed as the tournament sheds teams. Don’t forget to soak up the experience of playing games in mid-March. That’s what it’s about. And it’s fleeting for everyone.
• Don’t expect a big crowd for your first-round game. If you get one — if every NU fan feels compelled to come to this historic event — great. But it’s more likely the arena will feel closer to a YMCA on a Saturday morning than a Sweet 16 game. It’s not personal. It’s just that many people care only about their team’s games, and there aren’t a zillion NU alums.
• Don’t worry about the up-and-down end to your season. It’s true you went 5-5 in your last 10 games, including a blowout loss to Wisconsin in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament. It doesn’t matter. This is a new day. Of the 23 teams NCAA.com recently identified as low-seeded Cinderella teams that made it to the Sweet 16 or beyond since 2002, five of them went 5-5 in their last 10 games before the tournament, and three went 6-4.
• You’re not a Cinderella team. Maybe in the 78-years, haven’t-made-the-tournament sense, but not in the sense of a team that will shock the world if it wins a game. Lots of people thought this was the season NU would finally break through. And a good number of people, including yours truly, think you can win a game or two in the tournament.
• NCAA “open” practice days are like snow days, so act accordingly. The general public is allowed to watch teams work out the day before their tournament games. The players’ job is to dunk a lot. That’s it. Coach Chris Collins knows this from his Duke days: Nobody gets much work done at these practices. Players are there to put on a show, not to give away strategy to the other team. Enjoy the environment and each other, fellas. Then dunk some more.
• It’s not just Northwestern. You won’t understand a thing Bill Raftery says about other teams, either.
• Do not, under any circumstance, take a drink from a Gatorade cup at the tournament. Powerade is the official beverage of the NCAA, and its name will be on all paper cups during March Madness. If you’re caught with any non-Powerade cups, God help you. NCAA officials will summarily execute you, then take a limo back to a high-priced hotel and clink brandy snifters, which are paid for by money generated by the players, who get nothing in return.
• Fans, chug a fortified drink every time a TV announcer mentions that Collins is the son of Doug Collins and a former assistant to Coach K. You’ll be sloshed by halftime.
• The networks will try to make the Northwestern cheering section out to be like the Duke cheering section, both schools being on the brainy side. Don’t take the bait, kids. Try not to be like Duke fans. They think it’s about them. Nobody likes these people, not even their parents. You want to be liked, right? Good. Very good.
• No NU player need worry about stage fright. Julia Louis-Dreyfus attended Northwestern, her son is on the basketball team and she goes to a lot of the games. Therefore, whatever network is showing the NU game will train its cameras on her in the crowd. Often. She will be to the Wildcats what Bill Murray was to the Cubs in the postseason. Nobody has to fret about the heat of the spotlight.
• Don’t act like you’ve been here before.
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