NCAA Tournament: Northwestern developing new mentality as it enters foreign territory

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By Netta-Lee Lax

SALT LAKE CITY — Going into the 1995 PSAL High School Basketball Championship, one could argue that Stephon Marbury was under pressure. A family touted as New York City basketball royalty, three of the four Marbury boys had failed to bring Lincoln High School a city title. Stephon, considered to be one of the best young talents in the nation, had also failed in the years prior. Now in his senior season with 11 seconds left and his team up by just a point, Marbury stepped to the line. This was his last chance to win the coveted title. There he stood, just 18 years old, on the line at “The World’s Most Famous Arena”. Two dribbles and one deep breath, the future NBA All-Star looks to the hoop and sticks his tongue out as his fingers glide off the pebbled leather.  The tension in the air is palpable, even in watching the old film. Marbury would sink both free throws before jumping in the air ecstatically as he realizes that he had just done it – a Marbury boy had finally won a title for Lincoln. The pressure, for the moment, was released.

“I’d be hard-pressed to think there was anybody in the country that played with more pressure than us, the constant daily, will they make it, are they going to collapse, is this the Northwestern we’re always used to seeing?” – Northwestern coach Chris Collins

With just over four minutes left in Northwestern’s first NCAA Tournament appearance, Dererk Pardon stepped to the line.  Northwestern led Vanderbilt, 57-55, but as Pardon prepared to shoot his free throws, the pressure that Northwestern coach Chris Collins alluded to seemed to boil over. The raucous crowd simmered down and my palms started to sweat. I covered Northwestern basketball throughout my four years at the school and often feel personally invested in their success. To this point – in the entire history of the program – these two free throws made for the biggest moment in program history. I typed up my notes, my hands too shaky to scribble anything legible, “Still over 4 minutes left when Pardon hits a pair from the line, but you’d think this was Stephon Marbury about to clinch the city title at MSG.” This was, for Northwestern fans, a moment of legend.

“The last time out before my free throws, Coach said, it’s about toughness, that was in my head the whole time” recalled Pardon, “And before one of my free throws he said, I believe in you. And that gives you a lot of confidence.”

Deep breaths taken, eye on the prize, Pardon sunk them both. Over the course of the next four minutes, Northwestern would go to the marked line four more times. In the last two minutes of the game, the lead would change hands six times.  One might even argue, the pressure was mounting.

As Collins put it, “Your stomach is churning, because you want it so badly.”

The crowd grew quieter and quieter every time Vanderbilt took the lead and louder and louder each time Northwestern stole it back, but those free throws – that was where you could really sense how much this meant to this team, to this staff and to these fans.

They call them the Cardiac ‘Cats. Northwestern is better known for its failures in the athletic realm than its successes. The last time I covered the Wildcats at a major basketball tournament was the 2012 Big Ten Conference Tournament. An event marked by a first round meltdown that assured Northwestern’s all-time leading scorer would never burst the bubble and make it to the dance. It was the final game in a season filled with last minute collapses (Looking at you, Jared Sullinger). But the history of struggles on the hardwood can be traced back to the very first NCAA Final Four which was played on Northwestern’s Evanston campus. Yet until today, Northwestern was the only  power conference team to have not danced in March. The further you dig into Northwestern’s basketball history, the more heartbreak you find. From legitimate tragedy when former coach Ricky Byrdsong was murdered while walking with his two children, to unfortunate parts in historic events like Wilt Chamberlain scoring 52 points in his University of Kansas debut or as one article described it the “spanking” of Northwestern. Legendary coaches like Tex Winter (head coach from 1973-1978) have tried and failed (Winter finished with a 42-89 record) where Collins has finally succeeded. In the last five years, Northwestern has won two bowl games (having not won a single bowl game for 64 years prior to 2013) and now has at least one victory in the NCAA Tournament. This is foreign territory they’ve encountered. This is a new sort of Wildcat mentality.

This season Northwestern racked up the most wins in the 112 year history of the program and as March rolled in the ‘Cats all but secured a place in the big dance for the first time with an epic last-second win over the Michigan Wolverines. With less than two seconds left in regulation Nathan Taphorn inbounded a quarterback pass, throwing the ball the length of the court right into the hands of Pardon who laid it in for the Wildcat victory. That game, explained Collins, was a turning point for the team’s mentality.

“I’ve noticed ever since winning that Michigan game we’ve relaxed and got back to playing the way we were playing all year,” Collins said.

Nine days later the Wildcats again made program history when they won two games in the Big Ten Tournament for the first time. A few days after that they finally saw their name in the bracket, I “mean the watch party was a day we’ll never forget,” recalled Collins, “Because that was history. That’s a moment that will live with me and us forever, because that was doing something that’s never been done.”

Tonight was also something that had never been done before and the pressure was on.

“We are doing this for more people than just ourselves,” senior Sanjay Lumpkin said. “We are doing this for people like Billy McKinney, Jim Stack, Drew Crawford – all these older players that have played for this program. So many people have been a part of this.”

Pardon was a mere 52 percent from the line during the regular season and through the Big Ten Tournament, but he knocked down all six of his free throws in the final stretch of this game. He was infallible and unflappable.

“I was really proud of Dererk, especially” explained Collins, “He’s had his struggles at the line throughout his career. He works at it religiously every day. For him to walk up and make six in a row in the last [four minutes], I was really proud of him.”

Dribble, deep breath, swish.  The tension, for the moment, was released.

2022-2023 Atlantic 10 Basketball Schedule: How to watch men’s and women’s games on USA Network and NBC Sports

Atlantic 10 basketball is coming to NBC Sports this 2022-2023 season! Here's how to watch!
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Atlantic 10 basketball is headed to NBC Sports! During the 2022-2023 season, 35 exciting matchups will be featured on USA Network and NBC Sports digital platforms, including exclusive coverage of the 2023 Atlantic 10 Men’s Championship second round and quarterfinals, 26 men’s regular-season matchups, and three women’s regular-season games.

The action tips off on Saturday, December 10 on USA Network as the Drexel Dragons head to Tom Gola Arena in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to take on the La Salle Explorers at 12:00 p.m. ET. Immediately after, the Dayton Flyers will face the UNC Asheville Bulldogs at UD Arena in Dayton, Ohio at 2:00  p.m. ET.

All coverage on USA Network streams live on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. See below for the 2022-2023 Atlantic 10 men’s and women’s basketball schedules as well as additional information on how to watch/live stream each game.

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2022-2023 Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Schedule:

*All times are listed as ET

DATE GAME NETWORK/PLATFORM TIME (ET)
Saturday, Dec. 10 Drexel at La Salle USA Network Noon
Saturday, Dec. 10 UNC Asheville at Dayton USA Network 2 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 7 Davidson at VCU USA Network Noon
Saturday, Jan. 7 UMass at George Washington USA Network 2 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 14 Loyola Chicago at Saint Joseph’s USA Network 12:30 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 14 Richmond at St. Bonaventure USA Network 2:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 17 UMass at VCU NBC Sports App, NBCSports.com 7 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 21 Dayton at George Washington USA Network 12:30 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 21 La Salle at Saint Louis USA Network 2:30 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 29 Saint Joseph’s at George Mason USA Network Noon
Saturday, Feb. 4 Davidson at UMass USA Network 12:30 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 4 George Mason at Loyola Chicago USA Network 2:30 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 5 Fordham at Richmond USA Network Noon
Saturday, Feb. 11 St. Bonaventure at Duquesne USA Network 12:30 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 11 Fordham at Davidson USA Network 2:30 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 18 Saint Joseph’s at Davidson USA Network 12:30 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 18 Fordham at VCU USA Network 2:30 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 19 George Washington at St. Bonaventure USA Network 2 p.m.
Wednesday, Feb. 22 St. Bonaventure at Davidson NBC Sports App, NBCSports.com 7 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 25 Rhode Island at Fordham USA Network 2:30 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 26 Saint Joseph’s at St. Bonaventure USA Network Noon
Sunday, Feb. 26 Davidson at Duquesne USA Network 2 p.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 28 La Salle at Dayton NBC Sports App, NBCSports.com 7 p.m.
Saturday, March 4 George Mason at Richmond USA Network 12:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 4 St. Bonaventure at UMass USA Network 2:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 4 VCU at George Washington USA Network 4:30 p.m.

How to watch the 2022-2023 Atlantic 10 Men’s Championship on USA Network:

DATE GAME TIME (ET)
Wednesday, March 8 A-10 Championship Second Round Noon, 2:30 p.m., 6 p.m., 8:30 p.m.
Thursday, March 9 A-10 Championship Quarterfinals Noon, 2:30 p.m., 6 p.m., 8:30 p.m.

How to watch 2022-2023 Atlantic 10 Women’s Basketball on NBC Sports:

  • Wednesday, January 25 – George Washington at Loyola Chicago at 12:00 p.m. ET
  • Thursday, January 26 – VCU at UMass at 12:00 p.m. ET
  • Wednesday, February 8 – St. Bonaventure at George Mason – 7:00 p.m. ET

Peacock Classic 2022: How to watch Gonzaga vs. Baylor, live stream info and game preview

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Two of men’s college basketball’s elite programs are set to face off when the No. 6 Baylor Bears and No. 14 Gonzaga Bulldogs play in the inaugural “Peacock Classic” Friday night. The game marks a rematch of the highly-anticipated 2021 NCAA National Championship Game, and the Zags will certainly look to get some revenge after Baylor ended their bid at an undefeated season.

The two programs boast two of the best coaches in the country, with Scott Drew of Baylor and Mark Few of Gonzaga working the sidelines. The “Peacock Classic” also marks a crucial point in the development of name, image and likeness deals at the collegiate level. Read on to learn everything you need to know ahead of the event.


How to watch the 2022 “Peacock Classic”

Only those with a $4.99/month Peacock Premium plan can stream the event. Sign up here or, if you have a free account, upgrade to Premium by going to your account settings.


A new world of NIL opportunities

For the first time, college athletes will be able to earn money by promoting a game in which they are playing.

Eligible players for both Baylor and Gonzaga can opt-in through NBC Sports Athlete Direct – a NIL community connecting student-athletes, advertisers and fans – and promote the game’s sponsors on their personal social media channels.

All participating players will be paid the same rate for their involvement.


Rematch of 2021 NCAA National Championship Game and series history

Baylor’s 86-70 victory over Gonzaga in the 2021 championship game marked the Bears’ first-ever NCAA men’s basketball title. The game carried added stakes since the Bulldogs entered it with a 31-0 record – the first team to make the championship game without a loss since Larry Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores in 1979.

That matchup was a rightful bout between the two behemoths of that season – it was the first championship game that featured the tournament’s top two overall seeds since North Carolina beat Illinois in 2005. Baylor jumped all over Gonzaga in the early going, playing an aggressive style that prevented the Bulldogs from getting into their fluid offense and opened up its own attack for 3-pointers. Gonzaga was a -4.5-point favorite but never led in the game.

Gonzaga leads the all-time series between the teams 5-1, having won all their matchups with Baylor before the championship game. The previous meeting before 2021 saw Gonzaga eliminate Baylor from the 2019 NCAA tournament in the second round by a score of 83-71.


How Baylor and Gonzaga match up with each other

Both teams have been tested multiple times early in their seasons. Gonzaga (5-2) has defeated two teams currently ranked – No. 20 Michigan State and No. 19 Kentucky – but lost to No. 2 Texas and No. 5 Purdue. The Zags last played on Sunday, when they outlasted Xavier 88-84 to secure third place in the Phil Knight Legacy men’s tournament.

Baylor (5-2) has had it slightly easier but has still had to deal with talented teams; they lost to No. 3 Virginia and defeated No. 21 UCLA in back-to-back games earlier this month. They’re coming off a surprising 96-70 loss to Marquette in Wisconsin Tuesday night as part of the Big East-Big 12 Battle.

Gonzaga will face a tough task in trying to slow down Baylor’s offense, whose 88.1 points per game ranks ninth in the country.

The Bears are paced by a duo of strong guards. LJ Cryer leads the team at 17.9 points per game, and Adam Flagler is not far behind at 16.9 points per contest while averaging 6.9 assists.

Baylor also boasts the services of freshman Keyonte George, another talented guard who could be a lottery pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.

Naismith Player of the Year Award candidate Drew Timme leads the way for the Zags, averaging 20.3 points and 7.7 rebounds. He’s flanked by Julian Strawther, who’s putting up 14.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per night.

Timme and Strawther are two of the six Gonzaga players left over from the 2021 finalist team, so vengeance will be top of mind. Baylor also has six holdovers from that championship matchup, including Cryer and Flagler.

With both teams ranked and looking to prove themselves early in the season, Friday will be a statement game – in more ways than one.