It’s legendary throughout the North Side of Chicago for its pure length of futility. It’s one of the longest streaks in sports, and dogged followers have hoped for decades that the drought would soon be over. Now, here in 2015, it appears that better days are finally coming. For the fans that have stuck around, the imminent snap of the curse will only be sweeter for their having endured decades of losing. And while the Chicago Cubs may soon end their 107-year World Series championship drought, we are not talking about the boys from Wrigley Field here. Rather, Northwestern hoops and its string of 77 seasons without an NCAA Tournament appearance (the Wildcats are the only original Division I school in a power conference that has never made the field) could very well come to an end this season. They’ve been close before and there are some extremely positive signs appearing in Evanston as we approach tipoff. Here are three reasons why Northwestern — yes, those Wildcats — could indeed go dancing this March.
- Experienced Leadership: Two seniors who have been in Evanston through thick and thin over the last three seasons have steadily improved throughout their careers. Alex Olah and Tre Demps were both honorable mention all-B1G selections last season and are without question two of the league’s top returnees. Olah in particular has made leaps and bounds since his freshman season, improving his scoring from 6.1 PPG as a freshman to 11.7 PPG as a junior. His offensive rating went from 88.8 to 106.2 in the same period despite the fact that he is also using more possessions (21.8 to 24.1 percent). Notwithstanding the math, the eye test confirms that Olah has come a long way and it’s tough to find any player in the Big Ten who has improved as much over the same timeframe as he has. Demps has also become a more complete player, having evolved from a modest scoring option off the bench into a high-usage, heavy minutes offensive leader. He’s increased his assists every season and has also seen a spike in both his scoring (from 7.6 PPG as a freshman to 12.5 PPG last season), and offensive rating (94.3 to 102.6). Quality backups for Olah and Demps are also in place this season, with Virginia Tech transfer Joey van Zegeren prepared to spell the former and freshman combo guard Jordan Ash ready to supply good minutes for the latter. In general, Chris Collins has more talented depth at his disposal than he’s ever had in Evanston. Read the rest of this entry »