By Bailey Knecht, sports columnist
As an avid basketball fan attending a school with a mid-major basketball program, my life is a paradox—I have a deep admiration for prestigious basketball programs such as Duke and Michigan State University (MSU), while simultaneously loathing them for all their success and stardom. When I traveled to MSU’s Breslin Center, where the Northeastern men’s and women’s basketball teams faced the Spartans in December, I seethed at the entire atmosphere. I grudgingly gawked at the upscale press room and unwillingly obsessed over the renowned arena, secretly wishing I could be a part of it all.
Sitting in the Breslin Center that day, I couldn’t help but make comparisons between Northeastern and Michigan State athletics. What is it like having nationally televised games and a seemingly unlimited budget? Or being able to claim Magic Johnson, Draymond Green and Zach Randolph as your own? The glitz and glamour of prominent basketball programs overshadow any struggles their current teams may be experiencing—the 12-6 Spartans haven’t been ranked since Nov. 21, yet they continue to receive more press attention than Northeastern and the majority of teams across the country because of their history and prestige.
However, if you have been following Northeastern men’s basketball or college basketball in general you know the Huskies won that matchup by a convincing eight-point margin. Yes, MSU was playing without star freshman Miles Bridges, but NU’s victory was commendable nonetheless. Northeastern became one of just five teams to have taken down MSU at that point in the season. The other four? Arizona, Kentucky, Baylor and Duke—some of the most elite programs in college hoops. Handing the Spartans their first home loss of the 2016-17 season, Northeastern proved that heart and determination often goes further than extravagant facilities and an impressive history.
Gonzaga head coach Mark Few once told ESPN.com’s Andy Katz that the term “mid-major” is “a very poor descriptor for college basketball and has nothing to do with describing the level of a team’s play and everything to do with describing the capital campaigns of the university.”
So, Northeastern’s “mid-major” label more or less speaks to the school’s basketball culture in terms of attendance, funding, etc., and really just serves as a convenient descriptor that ignores the complexities and intricacies of college basketball. In fact, it means little to nothing when it comes to wins and losses, as evidenced by the Huskies 81-73 victory over Sparty.
Northeastern men’s basketball most likely won’t be favored should it make a March Madness appearance this year—at 11-5, the team may not even be favored in the Colonial Athletic Association right now, sitting behind University of North Carolina Wilmington and the College of Charleston, each of which has earned better overall records so far. The beauty of college basketball, however, is that none of that matters. This team shows up in big moments and is capable of beating perennial powerhouses (looking at you Michigan State and Connecticut), which is something no other CAA team has done this season.
You could argue that Northeastern’s occasional lack of consistency may prove to be problematic in the postseason—losses to mediocre teams like Cornell and LIU Brooklyn could’ve been avoided—but the team’s ability to bounce back has been admirable. The Huskies have opened conference play with four straight wins, including a 90-54 beatdown of Delaware on Jan. 5. Suffice to say, they don’t seem to be slowing down. The obvious improvement of senior guard T.J. Williams, plus a nice combination of Alex Murphy’s veteran leadership and energetic play by the team’s three freshmen, gives fans high hopes for the rest of the season.
Those big wins over Michigan State and Connecticut could be simply labeled as underdog upsets, but maybe they weren’t random. Maybe they were the signs of something special and unexpected—and I recommend tuning in just in case.
File photo courtesy of Bailey Knecht