Column: ‘What if’s pile up for Cats

Andrew Simon

What should have been.

It’s the most tantalizing thought in sports and one that Northwestern sports fans are well acquainted with these days.

Coming off a football season in which the Wildcats came oh-so-close to their first bowl win in 60 years, the basketball team has taken to a whole new level the art of crushing built-up hopes.

Anyone who attended the spectacular come-from-ahead loss to

Illinois on Thursday can attest to that. And that game was not an isolated incident. NU also lost a huge lead in backbreaking fashion to Purdue earlier in the season.

Sunday’s 70-67 overtime loss to Michigan at Welsh-Ryan Arena was merely the latest example of the Cats’ amazing ability to turn What Should Have Been into What Wasn’t. Once again, NU could not make quite enough plays down the stretch to scratch out a victory.

Afterward, forward Kevin Coble addressed the issue of his team’s fading postseason hopes and expressed the same frustration many Cats fans undoubtedly are feeling as well.

“It’s in the back of our minds a little bit, just that we’ve had such good success and we’ve played teams well and had some big wins and seen how good we can be,” he said. “Unfortunately the record just doesn’t reflect that at the moment. There have been a lot of games we should have had. If we win the last two, we’re all of a sudden right in the mix towards the top and in pretty good shape.”

It is tempting to follow Coble’s line of thought. After all, if the Cats had just made that one shot, corralled that one rebound or come up with that one stop …

But they didn’t. This season, that which should have been has not been.

Coach Bill Carmody knows it all too well. In his nine seasons at NU, he has done enough losing to realize that the result is all that matters.

During the post-game press conference, Carmody quoted former NFL coach Bill Parcells, saying, “Whatever your record is, that’s who you are.”

The Cats’ Big Ten record is 4-8. In other words, they are a below-average team.

According to Carmody, NU likely will continue to play at about the same level it has thus far. He simply hopes some of the narrow losses will turn into close victories.

Perhaps they will. Fortunes can change quickly. All NU needs is that one shot, that one rebound, that one stop.

But if the Cats cannot figure out how to win the close games, a post-season berth will be the latest thing that should have been, but wasn’t.