Paul Sullivan: Northwestern has no need for tears after disproving its doubters in a run to the NCAA Tournament's 2nd round

Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Basketball

There was no crying kid meme on the internet Saturday night after Northwestern was bounced from the NCAA Tournament with a 68-63 second-round loss to UCLA.

That televised moment from 2017 — when 11-year-old John Phillips, son of then-NU athletic director Jim Phillips, became teary-eyed during the waning moments of the Wildcats’ heartbreaking loss to No. 1 seed Gonzaga — went viral within moments of the final buzzer.

“Northwestern Kid” became a trending topic on Twitter, the subject of more than 20,000 tweets, and the spotlight on an NU program that had gone to its first NCAA Tournament was growing.

Most of the key starters were coming back, and the future looked exceedingly bright for a school with no basketball history whatsoever to brag about.

“You’ve got to be careful (projecting),” coach Chris Collins told the Tribune’s Teddy Greenstein afterward. “Because as I tell the guys all the time, no two teams are ever the same.”

Unfortunately for Collins, those words proved prophetic. The Wildcats struggled over the next five sub-.500 seasons, going a combined 26-71 in Big Ten play — a .268 winning percentage.


Collins’ job supposedly was in jeopardy entering the 2022-23 season after Pete Nance, the highest-rated recruit in program history, transferred to North Carolina and the team was expected to finish near the rear of the Big Ten once again.

While no one from the top explicitly said Collins needed to start winning, the whispers grew louder after AD Derrick Gragg released a statement about “the path forward” for the program, which included “making necessary changes to build towards success in the 2022-23 campaign.”

Collins insisted he never felt extra pressure to turn things around quickly.

“Only the internal pressure I put on myself,” he told me last month. “I’ve been really good at (shutting it out), I think, because of growing up with my dad (former NBA coach Doug Collins).


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