Monday, February 16, 2009

Heartbreak Weekend for Wildcats

Watching Northwestern basketball this week has left fans wandering the highways of the Chicago suburbs carrying nothing but a backpack full of sorrow and partially shredded pants. The home stand, which stood to propel the Wildcats into their first postseason since 1999 ended with two late collapses, including Saturday's overtime debacle against Michigan.

Last Thursday's loss to the Illini, however, may be perhaps the most painful loss in NU Hoops history. The grisly highlights are available here, but I suggest clearing the surrounding area of cutlery and obtaining a device to stop you from swallowing your tongue before watching. The 'Cats were up by 14 late in the second half, and up by 6 with a minute left, and could not stop turning the ball over after being ruthlessly tackled by Illinois defenders.

The inspiration for the Illini trap defense

This loss was not only painful, but it greatly damaged Northwestern's postseason hopes. More importantly, it was to the hated Illini. I have written earlier about how I think that the NU-Illinois football rivalry might be the worst in the NCAA, but their basketball team is beneath contempt. Of course, Northwestern and Illinois have a rivalry in the sense that Germany and Belgium had a rivalry in the first half of the twentieth century.

Belgium, victims of the hated Kaiser and the
unstoppable Schlieffen Plan

The 'Cats came precariously close to snapping a nine-game losing streak against the Illini. The last time they beat them was in 2004, when Davor Duvancic improbably scored 22 points against an Illinois team a year away from playing in the championship game featuring Dee Brown, Dee Brown's shorts, Deron Williams, and Luther Head, who is probably one of the most improbably named athletes of the twenty-first century. That Illini team also boasted all-time great benchriding stick insect "Chainsaw" Nick Smith. Also of note: in that game Northwestern superstar Jitim Young led the 'Cats with 10 boards, despite standing 6'2." Of course, rebounding was a major issue for NU that year, with Carmody quipping that "power forward" was an oxymoron on his team, and that "a drunken sailor" could pull down more rebounds than the 'Cats' bigs.

Carmody follows the lead of Horatio Nelson
in coaching basketball, advocating throwing
players in the scuppers with the hose pipe on
them and ending practice by proclaiming
"Kiss me, Tavaris Hardy."

Of course, Illinois got their revenge a year later as they beat Northwestern three times, including an 84-48 humiliation in Champaign and an disgraceful alley-oop exhibition in the Big Ten Tournament which can best be described as the opposite of this Zach Randolph streetball demonstration (this is an astonishing basketball display, but the gem is the look on Isiah's face after Randolph turns into the world's worst Curly Neal). That 2004-5 Illinois team was among my least favorites with their constant wearing of orange jerseys, their near perfect record heading into the tournament, and the fact that they did nothing but shoot three pointers and have Bruce Weber caterwauling on the sidelines.

The many moods of Bruce Weber


The 2003-4 Northwestern team was one of Northwestern's last nearly successful teams, finishing 14-15, but 8-8 in the Big Ten (they also missed qualifying for post-season play by a single game the next year). The team featured the aforementioned Young, sharp-shooting forward Vedran Vukusic, high-flying Mohammed Hachad, and speedy T.J. Parker, whose older brother Tony was winning championships with the San Antonio Spurs.

T.J., who memorably left before his senior year to play pro ball in France is evidently lighting it up for the French National Team, except that the website apparently got caught in a classic T.J.-Tony confusion error. In reality, T.J. now plays for SLUC-Nancy in the French ProA league, where he faces off against Vichy, led by ex-boilermaker David Teague and other Big Ten collaborationists.

The worst enemy of SLUC-Nancy is "la défense en zone"
and poorly groomed cougar eyebrows

Vedran is playing for the celebrated KK Cibona of the Adriatic League in Croatia. Here he is with some flashy passing, and in highlights against Zagreb in league play.

Jitim plays for Polonia Warszawa in Poland after playing last year for MAFC Budapest with a group of fellow American dance enthusiasts.

This year's team is the most talented since the departure of that group, unless it comes to answering reader mail or maintaining an impeccable coiff.


Northwestern is in danger of missing the NIT without a strong showing at the back end of the schedule. Coming up is the a home game against Ohio State, and another close loss would leave me as incredulous as Lake Forest residents up in arms against the tree-cutting ways of Mr. T. In 1987, Mr. T began chopping down trees on his estate in the posh Chicago suburb, eliciting protests from the neighborhood council who had gotten the city named a "Tree City USA" for seven consectuive years despite the presence of irritating human statues and crusty jugglers. This article taken from the Sun-Times declares "Now playing in Lake Forest: Mr. T in Chainsaw Massacre" and opens with "Call him Mr. T, not Mr. Tree." I usually find such newspaper writing appalling until I realized that the article would be much better if read aloud by Walter Winchell, although this makes me upset that we no longer live in a society where being informed meant being willing to be shouted at by nasal men.

This is an actual cartoon from the Chicago Tribune. I imagine that the man depicted
turning Mr. T's catchphrases around at him would have no retort for a barrage of
"shut up old man" put-downs.

To make matters even more ridiculous, the Mr. T vs. Lake Forest battle was chronicled in a book entitled
Breathing Space: How Allergies Shape Our Lives and Landscapes by Greg Mitman and published by Yale University Press in 2007. Here are some examples of how he uses Mr. T to shape his argument in the introduction:
Saying that allergies to tree pollen provoked him, the man that wore gold chains as a reminder of the chains of his slave ancestors took action.
And here he is tying it all together:
What Mr. T's neighbors didn't appreciate, or care to recognize, is that the places where Americans have struggled to breathe, as well as the spaces they have created to breathe more freely-- lavishly landscaped estates, hay fever resorts, air-conditioned homes-- have been shaped, not only by the ecology of animal, insect, plant, and man-made allergens, but also by the unequal distribution of wealth and health care in American society.
Mitman writes that Mr. T's Lake Forest estate let him live "far upwind of the industrial pollutants, pesticides, poverty, and violence that he had dreamed of escaping as a youth" as well as pitying fools who won't eat his cereal.

In one final bit of alarming writing, the New York Times has unfortunately unleashed Bono upon an unsuspecting populace. In his first article for the times, the U2 frontman and self-anointed savior of mankind ruminated on Frank Sinatra:

Singers, more than other musicians, depend on what they know — as opposed to what they don’t want to know about the world. While there is a danger in this — the loss of naïveté, for instance, which holds its own certain power — interpretive skills generally gain in the course of a life well abused.

Is this knotted fist of a voice a clue to the next year? In the mist of uncertainty in your business life, your love life, your
life life, why is Sinatra’s voice such a foghorn — such confidence in nervous times allowing you romance but knocking your rose-tinted glasses off your nose, if you get too carried away.

The Guardian's Ben Greenman wrote a brilliant parody of Bono taking his overwrought commentary to the Super Bowl, but I'll quote a passage next to picture of Bono's smug, leering countenance in order to give it greater authenticity:

The football is kicked high in the air, caught. I am just an Irish stranger in the midst of this refining fire, and so I do what an Irish stranger would do: Watch. Well, watch and take some chicken wings. It is said that they are even more delectable when dipped in bleu cheese. They spell it "blue" in the American manner, these American men in their American world. Hold on. Let me wipe my hands.

We are all in a red zone, a zone of excitement and enchantment, a zone of hope where we cannot predict precisely and so require our hope to keep us warm. There is nothing cool in the room, save the blue cheese.

Let's hope the 'Cats can find that zone of excitement and beat the Buckeyes on Wednesday.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the Hot Fuzz reference. I'm also horrified that someone can get published by Yale for writing such ridiculous dribble. Notice that I didn't say surprised.