Sunday, February 6, 2011

Northwestern Hoops

In December, Northwestern fans believed that this could be the year that Northwestern finally broke through its moribund sporting reputation and burst into mediocrity by winning a bowl game and qualifying for the NCAA basketball tournament. The bowl bid bust into a thousand bits of awkward alliteration despite a valiant comeback led by Freshman QB Kain Colter and the befuddling coaching of Tommy Tuberville, who coached the second half with the shaky overconfidence of a cartoon supervillain.

Tuberville inexplicably orders an onside kick in the third
quarter of the Inaugural Ticketcity Bowl over the advice of
more cautious assistants, who acquiesced after being threatened
with being cast into something that has the word "doom" in it


As of now, a tournament spot for Northwestern looks unlikely after the strong non-conference start, despite blowing heartbreaking losses to Michigan State and missing the upset of Ohio State by only one. Nevertheless, the win over arch-rivals Illinois at a significantly more purple Welsh-Ryan arena this weekend means that Northwestern isn't technically out of it yet, although my knowledge of bracketology, bracketometry, braxonomy, or any other bracket-related science or vaguely sinister alchemical pseudo-science is not up to par.

A stunning upset in the Southland Conference
Tournament provokes a dangerous unbalancing
of critical NCAA bracket humours

The Wildcats spent the early part of the season propelled by the deadly chest shooting of John Shurna and senior Juice Thompson, who, with over 4,000 minutes logged, has technically played more Northwestern basketball than anyone ever. I'm also impressed by freshman Jershon Cobb and The Masked Adventures of Luka Mirkovic in the paint.

Mirkovic should not only keep the mask next year, but experiment with
different masks to terrify opponents into costly turnovers

As far as I'm aware, the Wildcats are still clinging precariously to the bubble, but even if they slip they can of course still get to the NCAAs by winning the Big Ten tournament. In fact, winning the Big Ten Tournament would be the most satisfying way for Northwestern to finally kick in the doors of the NCAAs, although at this point I would also accept a Northwestern NCAA appearance wrought by storming the United Center and handcuffing themselves to a piece of infrastructure like the scorer's table or Bill Wennington until let into a game or cleverly disguising themselves as Kansas State.


A significant controversy coming into this weekend's Super Bowl involves calls to improve player safety as we come to better understand the deleterious effect of armored men smashing into each other at maximum speed on the brain. This year has seen the NFL in particular make concussions a point of emphasis. But, despite attempts to decrease the violence of football, a trend dating back to the first decade of the twentieth century when a more barbaric game saw the use of stampedes, cudgels, and blimp bombardment as legitimate methods to stop ball-carriers, football is still rife with concussions. In a recent New Yorker article, Ben McGrath questions whether football as we know it can persist as doctors get a better picture of just how much damage concussions can cause.

Attempting to find better equipment is a logical step
to keep athletes safe unless it looks goofy I mean
come on that thing looks like it has space for auxiliary

You can argue about the effectiveness of the NFL's increasing use of flags against big hits or rail against the league's hypocrisy, but the new policies at least demonstrate a growing popular concern for athlete safety in complete contrast with what we'd expect from movies. Instead, future sports in movies invariably become more violent, culminating with The Running Man in which participants are encouraged to maul each other to death with colorful, themed implements. Even in the latter-day Arnold opus The Sixth Day, future football involves a quarterback dying on the field, only to be surreptitiously replaced by a clone (the Sixth Day is a pretty bad movie, but at least watchable as shown on this graph charting the enjoyability of Schwarzenegger movies since 1996):

The hardest part of making this chart was deciding whether End of Days or Collateral
Damage represents the nadir of the Arnold Schwarzenegger experience. Although End of
Days is absolutely abysmal, I decided on Collateral Damage because the movie ends with
Schwarzenegger killing a guy with an axe and letting the guy die with nary a pun. He
didn't need to axe-cuse himself? There was no need to axe the guy a question? This is
coming from the same man who once quipped "you're luggage" after shooting a crocodile
at point-blank range

There are more helmets (the fact that people once played hockey bareheaded is absolutely mind-boggling), more padding, body armor in baseball, more goggles in basketball, and I'm sure race car drivers are doing things such as trying harder not to crash into each other. We don't have rollerball or state-sponsored game shows that involve hunting the ultimate prey: man; it's 2011 and we've not seen a single death race. Bill Laimbeer is being closely monitored. So, even though there is a lot of soul searching to do about the costs of football, compared to a fictional dystopia where deadly gladiator games mask the ever-stomping bootheels of authoritarianism, we're doing pretty well.


The rest of the month of Wildcat basketball should be a thrill ride, as the team clings to hope of amassing enough victories to finally make the tournament. Even if the 'Cats don't get in, they'll hopefully get another shot to at least make a decent run in the NIT, which would almost certainly gain popularity if it was turned into a chaotic mess of Running Man-style basketball. I'll turn the end of this post over to the NBA D-League's Maine Red Claws promotions department:

There's no better way to tell someone you care than through the
use of a make-shift anthropomorphic crustacean Cyrano de