By Zain Bando
In late March, Northwestern men’s basketball ended a six-year drought when it advanced to the NCAA tournament. But it wouldn’t have been possible without a rock-solid team and an enthusiastic student section. Medill’s Zain Bando has more.
Senior guard Boo Buie entered the Welsh-Ryan Arena media room after a home win in late February and had a message for all non-Wildcat believers.
BOO BUIE: “We’re all on a different mission.”
That mission was to make the NCAA Tournament. A different one from earlier in the 2022-23 season, when Northwestern men’s basketball was projected to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten.
Now, that is no longer the case.
BUIE: We’re locked in. We’re playing; we’re playing for pride; we’re playing for joy, and we’re super connected.
The Wildcats were anything but a college basketball laughingstock.
An 80-60 win against the Iowa Hawkeyes clinched 20 regular season wins for the first time since 2017.
A return to March Madness and the school’s first-ever Big Ten Tournament double-bye came with it.
Despite its unexpected on-court turnaround, Northwestern fell to UCLA during the first weekend of competition. Though the magical dream season ran its course, it’s a time that many NU fans won’t forget.
With recent success came an increased demand for students to fill up Welsh-Ryan Arena nightly. NU Wildside is the on-campus student section group. All student tickets are free with a Wildside membership.
But, the demand met its match when ticketing forms crashed ahead of home games against Purdue, Indiana, Iowa and Penn State. Students were forced to use the standby line to get into the arena.
Sophomore Rayyana Hassan is a lifelong Northwestern fan and current Wildside member. Despite the ticketing fiasco, she has consistently waited for the Wildcats to become good.
HASSAN: Last year, like, towards the end of fall quarter, I had the full intention that January was going to be my busiest (month of the) year regardless of Northwestern’s outcome.
Hassan says that the Big Ten schedule ramps up by the start of the new calendar year, making the games a must-see.
HASSAN: January is when all the Big Ten games are, February is as well. Those are the teams I want to see. That’s the caliber of play that I really really wanted to see.
Hassan says that she’ll root for Northwestern, win or lose.
HASSAN: Regardless of the outcome, I had full intention of, you know, booking that month out and making my schedule around those basketball games. And, for success to happen outside of that is actually really, really exciting because now it’s giving more of an incentive for my friends to come join me.
Given the Wildcats’ newfound Big Ten dominance, NU Wildside student section leader and president Marco Contreras saw a shift toward more positive school spirit.
Contreras says Northwestern’s first-ever victory against a No. 1 team spark-plugged student interest to attend more games in Evanston.
CONTRERAS: I really feel the energy around campus. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. I think people who aren’t even into sports know about the Cats and what they’re doing right now. So, it’s been really great to see, and I really think that I haven’t seen anything like this for basketball in my entire time here.
Just three years ago, the future of Wildside looked bleak. Contreras wants his senior class to pass the torch onto the next wave of Wildcat fans. He hopes this is just the start.
CONTRERAS: We set a new standard for Northwestern. We changed the culture to be more of a sports culture and brought more school spirit. From the beginning of the year, we were in front of the freshman class, promoting it and saying, “Hey, come out to all these events.” And I really think it’s gonna snowball.
NU hopes to continue its newfound tradition and student spirit in the years to come, starting with the return of Buie for his fifth and final season in Evanston.
[NU starting lineups being announced]
Zain Bando, Medill