The Northwestern football team went 0-11 my freshman year at NU. When I was a sophomore, the basketball team failed to win a single Big Ten game. I often say that Jan. 1, 1996 was one of the best days of my life—and we lost the Rose Bowl that day.
With the Cats possibly, maybe, PLEASE, on the verge of making the NCAA tournament for the first time ever this Sunday, it’s my privilege to present the ten greatest moments in NU basketball history:
10) The Blocked Shot, 1992
Intramural game against my best friend’s team. Rob went up for a shot, and…I blocked it! The pinnacle of my athletic career. We lost 36-4. It went something like this:
9) NCAA Championship, 1939
Northwestern wasn’t in it, but the school hosted the very first NCAA Championship. Patten Gym, where I would block Rob’s shot 53 years later, was the site of Oregon’s 46-33 rout of Ohio State. The Buckeyes vow to never lose in Evanston again.
8) Byrdsong’s Walk, 1993-1994
Led by Patrick Baldwin and Kevin Rankin, the Cats started 9-0, then lost a heartbreaker to Glenn Robinson and Purdue, beginning a nine-game losing streak that culminated in NU coach Ricky Byrdsong’s “walk on the wild side.” In a bizarre act that was never fully explained, Byrdsong wandered from the bench into the Minnesota stands, where he conversed with the mascot and other fans. During the game. After a leave of absence, Byrdsong and the Cats squeaked into the NIT with a dramatic victory over Michigan on the last day of the season. The exciting first-round victory over DePaul was preempted by Tanya Harding coverage, and the Cats fell to Xavier in overtime in the second round.
7) Northwestern (State) Wins!, 2006
Northwestern State beat Iowa in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Hey, Verne Lundquist said “Northwestern wins!” I don’t care that Northwestern State is in Louisiana. Count it!
6) The Eschmeyer Era, 1993-1999
Evan Eschmeyer came to Evanston…and got hurt. He returned in 1994…and got hurt again. When he finally left approximately 13 years later, he was the first Wildcat named first-team All-Big Ten three times. He may not be the greatest Wildcat of all time (that would probably be John Shurna. Billy McKinney, or maybe Joe Ruklick), but he’s in the conversation.
Honorable Mention: NU Beats Michigan, Nov. 4, 2000
Yes it was a football game, but it’s a basketball score, so I’m putting it on the board. Besides, you want to watch these highlights again, don’t you? There’s never been a crazier back-and-forth at the end of a game. Ever.
5) Win Over Illinois, Feb. 1, 1992
Mere weeks after new football head coach Gary Barnett announced at Welsh-Ryan Arena that he was planning to “take the purple to Pasadena,” the Wildcats were tied with Illinois and time was running out. The Illini’s Deon Thomas had the ball…and then he didn’t. Ced Neloms took off and threw up a prayer at the buzzer. It went in, and NU won one of the ugliest games ever in exciting fashion, 46-43.
4) Arrival of Shurna, Feb. 18, 2009
Like Neloms’ game-winner, it wasn’t the biggest game on the schedule that year, but it may have been the most memorable. Kevin Coble and Craig Moore combined for 49 of NU’s 72 points against Ohio State, but it was freshman John Shurna who calmly hit the game-winning three-pointer. The Baby-Faced Assassin had arrived.
3) NIT Win, March 17, 1983
Northwestern’s football victory over Notre Dame in 1995 may have been the biggest football win in school history, but a decade earlier—on St. Patrick’s Day no less—the Wildcats won their first-ever NCAA post-season game by defeating the Irish 71-57 in the NIT.
2) Tourney Run, 2012
The Cardiac Cats have been torturing fans almost as long as the Cubs, but never more than in the last two weeks. The big news in the Feb. 18 victory over Minnesota was Shurna becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer, but, more important, the game put NU back on the NCAA bubble. A Feb. 21 date with Michigan was deemed at the time “The Most Important Game in the History of Welsh-Ryan Arena,” but hearts were broken when the Cats blew a late lead in regulation and lost in overtime. A few days later, two Shurna free throws with two seconds left lifted NU to a 67-66 victory over Penn State. Back on the bubble. Then came the Feb. 29 battle with the 10th-ranked Buckeyes, also known as “The Most Important Game in the History of Welsh-Ryan Arena.” Ohio State dominated throughout, but the Cats clawed back, finally tying the game on a miraculous three-pointer by Alex Marcotullio with seven seconds left.
Naturally Ohio State answered by driving the length of the court to take the lead, and Shurna’s desperation heave rimmed out. Finally, the Cats’ 70-66 victory over the Hawkeyes would practically count as a blowout, except that the Hawkeyes had a chance to win it on a good-looking three-point attempt that missed, thank goodness. Since Saturday’s game in Iowa City, Wildcat fans have been sweating, waiting for the Big Ten Tournament to start and hoping to get that elusive invitation to the NCAA party. Pass the Tums.
1) First NCAA Tournament Invitation, Sunday
This will be the biggest moment in NU hoops history. Or it won’t. PLEASE.
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ABOUT KENN RUBY: Kenn Ruby has been a Northwestern fan since 1989, a Cubs fan since 1981, and a masochist since birth. He is a writer and editor for RotoWire.com.