I must admit that I had no inkling that there would be a meaningless Gopher basketball game this March. At this point in the season I thought the Gophers would be wrapping up a top four Big Ten finish and jostling for an NCAA tournament seed that would put the team in position to make a Sweet Sixteen run. Oh what could have been. Instead, the Gophers play one of the least likable bad teams in all the country.
Lovable losers thrive in college basketball. Seemingly every conference has a team that fans of other teams can get behind, regardless of how poorly they play. No one wants to lose to these bad teams, but if and when it does happen, there is a feeling that at least that bad team finally won. On the other end of the spectrum, the great teams elicit the hate. If Duke was bad, no one would hate them. If Kentucky didn’t get great recruits, no one would care. If Wisconsin’s excruciatingly slow-paced offense didn’t result in wide-open last second shots, their coach wouldn’t be compared to Dr. Seuss characters…as much.
Northwestern should be the most lovable of the losers. They have never made the NCAA tournament, and probably never will, yet, I can’t stand them. I know I shouldn’t care. The Mildcats are pretty harmless, even if they do occasionally manage to beat the Gophers in a high school gym. If you have run out of reasons to root for the Gophers, or don’t care now that the season is all but over, there are at least plenty of reasons to root against Northwestern. And no, the stupid “Make Shots” t-shirts aren’t on the list.
1. Bill Carmody has proven that the secret to job security is rock-bottom expectations. Before he arrived, making the NIT was a big deal, and to a degree it still is. How else could he parlay a first round NIT loss into a contact extension? For all the gimmicks Carmody employs including the 1-3-1 defense and Princeton offense, it is baffling that after so many years he still doesn’t realize that defense matters. Throw in his refusal to wear a tie and running off his best player ever, Carmody doesn’t deserve a job.
2. Luka Mirkovic isn’t exactly helping to break down the negative stereotypes surrounding pompous European basketball players. If he does anything on the court, good or bad, he has a premeditated celebration at the ready. I’m not really a fan of celebratory antics in any situation, but they make more sense in other sports. Scoring a goal soccer is a relatively rare feat, and if you want to flop on the pitch like a cod, be my guest. Hockey teams don’t score more than a few goals each game, so a fist pump or two his probably in order. Basketball teams average on the order of 65 possessions per game. There are plenty of opportunities to score or make great defensive plays. Showboating isn’t necessary, unless you are Luka Mirkovic, who feels the need to blow kisses to the crowd if he is in the general vicinity of a three second violation.
3. Nicknames are earned, not self-appointed, or at least that is how it should be. After a nickname is bestowed on someone, it should grow organically, through word of mouth. Michael Thompson decided to go the synthetic route. One March he was Michael, the following November he was Juice. It isn’t supposed to work that way.
4. Tim Doyle’s Hair
5. The national media, otherwise known as the Nattering Nabobs of Northwestern, declare that every year is the year that the Wildcats will finally make the NCAA tournament, and every year they are thankfully wrong. Sure, they are just cheering for their alma mater (or more likely their editor’s alma mater) and want a good story, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying. When Northwestern inevitably drops a winnable non-conference game or struggles in the opening days of the Big Ten season, gigabytes of server space are still devoted to their non-existent tournament prospects.
With only two more games left in the regular season, the Gophers don’t have much left to play for and the fans don’t have much to cheer for. If the Gophers aren’t going to make the NCAA tournament, they can at the very least do the long suffering Northwestern fans a favor and put one of the final nails in Bill Carmody’s coaching coffin. If they do, the college basketball world will be a better place.