Cubs watch Northwestern men’s hoops with ‘personal connection’

MESA, Ariz. — Failing to reach a World Series for 71 years? Failing to win one for 108?

What about failing to qualify — ever — for a 78-year-old tournament that has had between 32 and 68 berths for the last four decades? From a conference that often qualifies half its teams?

‘‘Let’s just say it’s an equally depressing drought for both fan bases,’’ Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant said. ‘‘Thankfully, we figured ours out. Hopefully, they can figure theirs out this year. I’ll certainly be one of their biggest fans this March.’’

It’s no wonder the Northwestern men’s basketball team has found a group of empathetic baseball players in the Arizona desert. Many of the Cubs plan to keep an eye on the NCAA tournament starting Thursday, when the Wildcats play the first tournament game in school history against Vanderbilt in Salt Lake City.

Northwestern men's basketball coach Chris Collins throws out the first pitch at a Cubs game last August.

‘‘It’s got a little personal feel to it, a little connection,’’ said Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who started the historic Game 7 of the World Series last fall that brought down the so-called Billy Goat Curse. ‘‘It makes it cool.’’

NU might not have a name for its drought, but the comparisons with the Cubs are as intentional as the timing of the teams’ historic accomplishments are serendipitous.

Wildcats coach Chris Collins is a longtime Cubs fan from Northbrook. He has thrown out the first pitch three times and has conducted the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field.

When the Cubs were running away with the National League Central last summer on their way to ending their long wait for a title, the basketball program in Evanston began adopting some of the ‘‘Why not us, too?’’ faith exhibited by the Cubs.

The Cubs and the university already had a long-standing relationship that included NU medical staff, shared use of NU practice facilities and college games at Wrigley.

‘‘I think it’s crazy that it’s happened within the same year almost, two droughts like that [ending],’’ said Hendricks, who started tuning in to more Wildcats games late in the season at the urging of bullpen catcher Chad Noble, who went to NU. ‘‘I think it’s pretty awesome. . . . Something of this magnitude, March Madness, I can’t imagine what those guys are feeling like. It’s got to be pretty special.’’

Said Bryant: ‘‘I think the biggest part is not just getting there. I’m sure they’re feeling the same way. They want to win the whole thing. I mean, it was kind of like everybody celebrated us making it to the World Series, and it’s easy to overlook the fact that you want to be there to win the whole thing. That’s how we felt.’’

Either way, Bryant said, ‘‘It’s a pretty good time to be a Chicago sports fan.’’

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com