The race is on.
Well, it’s actually been on for many years but now it appears that either a finish line or a mirage is in sight.
I’ve been posing this question for years and it has three answers.
What will happen first?
$1a) The Cubs winning a World Series.
$1b) Northwestern’s men’s basketball team making the NCAA Tournament.
$1c) Neither. The world will end before the Cubs win the top prize and NU makes it to the Big Dance.
In 2016, it looks like both teams are put into a position where it could happen sooner than later.
I don’t want to overhype this or get people’s hopes up, but there are some good signs.
The Cubs gave their fans a huge Christmas present when they signed that washed-up bum outfielder Jason Hayward to a huge contract.
What? He’s not washed up?
He’s not a bum?
Well, that’s what St. Louis Cardinal fans are saying, heh, heh, heh.
On paper, the Cubs look like they just about have it all. Good hitting. Good pitching. A manager that is adored by players and most fans – although he was a washed out bum after that weekend the Cubs were clobbered by the lowly Phillies in late July according to some fans who called in to the sports yak radio stations.
But World Series titles are not won on paper. First, teams must go through a 162-game grind and the playoffs are a month of unpredictability in which the best team doesn’t always win. Just ask Lou Piniella after he guided Seattle to a 116-win season in 2001 and couldn’t bring the big prize home.
It’s going to be a long climb for the Cubs but it should end up being a fun season for the fans.
The smart money is that Northwestern would have the better chance. It’s easier to make it to the NCAA Tournament than it is to win a World Series, even though the Wildcats never made it.
At least the Cub won a World Series, albeit more than a century ago.
NU’s streak of failure to qualify is astounding considering they had pretty good coaches such as Rich Falk, Bill Foster, the late Ricky Byrdsong, Kevin O’Neill, Bill Carmody and now Chris Collins, who is in his third year.
Year after year, the Wildcats generally have pretty decent non-conference seasons only to get torn up in the Big Ten Conference.
Carmody had four straight seasons of 17-14, 20-14, 20-14 and 19-14 overall but couldn’t put up a winning record in the Big Ten and that meant four trips to the NIT.
This year, the Wildcats have played a soft non-conference schedule and were 10-1 after beating DePaul in overtime Saturday.
I don’t think this is a great NU team, but the key is having a good Big Ten record. And some Big Ten teams are not setting the world on fire.
I see two winnable games against Nebraska, Minnesota and Penn State.
I see winnable games against Wisconsin, Illinois and Rugters.
That’s nine wins there.
I see two likely losses against Maryland and one likely loss against Michigan State, Iowa, Purdue and Michigan.
That’s six losses there.
They have two games with up-and-down Ohio State and one against Indiana and if they pick off one or two of those games, they are in great position for a plus .500 season in the Big Ten, which should put them in the NCAA Tournament.
But, keep in mind a lot of people have predicted this success after promising non-conference seasons only to have those dreams dashed over and over.
So who wins the end-of-the-futility race?
Let’s hope we all live long enough to see a winner.