How Ryan Langborg earned his status as March Madness legend at Northwestern and beyond

Friday's blistering overtime for Ryan Langborg has been a calendar year in the making.

Turn the clock back to March 16, 2023, in Sacramento, Calif.

Northwestern basketball geared up to play Boise State. Moments before that, Princeton pulled off an all-time shocker: The No. 15-seeded Tigers upset No. 2 seed Arizona.

Wildcats head coach Chris Collins couldn't help but notice.

"Fortunately, we were both out in Sacramento," Collins said. "Princeton was in Sacramento. We were in Sacramento. We both advanced. We had a chance. You're focused on what you're doing, but you have an eye."

Of all the teams in Sacramento that weekend, Princeton and UCLA advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. Princeton downed Missouri behind Langborg's 22 points; UCLA beat Northwestern. In the ensuing offseason, Langborg committed to Northwestern.

Come a calendar year later, Northwestern is on the cusp of its first-ever Sweet Sixteen appearance for a third-consecutive NCAA Tournament. 

This time, Langborg has a chance to etch another upset into his March resume following an all-time classic overtime where he scored 12 of his 27 points.

"We were hoping and praying as we saw, because as we watched him; we knew we were going to have a good nucleus coming back," Collins said. "We just felt Ryan was a seamless fit, who he was, his character, who he was as a player, his skillset."

With his 27 points against FAU on Friday, Langborg became the second player in NCAA Tournament history with a 25-plus point game for multiple teams. He did it with Princeton last year against Creighton and again against FAU.

The only other player to achieve that was Jamal Faulkner in 1991 with Arizona State and in 1994 with Alabama.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 22: Ryan Langborg #5 of the Northwestern Wildcats reacts in the second half against the Florida Atlantic Owls in the first round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Barclays Center on March 22, 2024 in New York City.

In four NCAA Tournament games, Langborg has averaged 20.8 points per game. His experience last year taught him plenty as he moved seamlessly from the Ivy League to the Big Ten. That experience led Langborg to laud his teammates ahead of himself.

"In every situation, I feel like you just got to stay calm," Langborg said. "These guys leading the way with the ball, we just stayed composed the whole time and made it easy."

Luckily for Northwestern, Langborg couldn't stay at Princeton. Ivy League rules do not permit graduate students to participate in athletics.

"We knew a lot of those Ivy League kids, because of the COVID, they have to leave," Collins said. "If they have another year and they are done, there's no more. They couldn't stay."

Northwestern knew this. It one of the first programs, perhaps the first, to reach out to Langborg.

Brooks Barnhizer said he knew Langborg was going to commit when he made his official visit to Evanston. Barnhizer hosted Langborg, and eventually became his roommate.

"He's meant so much to our team, being a leader and being an everyday guy," Barnhizer said. "I can't describe the friendship and leadership he's had for not just me and Boo (Buie), but the other guys on our team. So he's meant the world to our squad for sure."

Buie, who earned all of Northwestern's biggest accolades this season, recounted the impact Langborg has had in just one year.

"Obviously, the basketball is great, but just as another mentor and leader for our program," Buie said. "He's just a super, super nice person and he'll do anything for anybody. He's just a really good teammate to have. And man, he was balling today."

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 22: Ryan Langborg #5 of the Northwestern Wildcats celebrates after a basket in overtime against the Florida Atlantic Owls in the first round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Barclays Center on March 22, 2024 in Ne

Langborg not only led Northwestern to an NCAA Tournament, but this marked consecutive NCAA Tournaments for the first time in program history.

In a season where Northwestern lost multiple starters, Langborg delivered consistently. There was no moment bigger than against FAU.

The Owls have a lineup and head coach with Final Four experience. They were expected to make another run, especially against a Northwestern team that struggles to defend the perimeter at a consistent level.

The 'Cats defense did its job. But when NU needed it most, Langborg supercharged the offense with 12 overtime points.

That set up a Buie runner in the lane that all but iced the win.

"I usually don't celebrate a lot when I make shots, but I know I had my tongue out and things like that," Langborg said. "That fadeaway that Boo hit at the end of the shot clock, we were just feeling good and just having fun out there."

Northwestern doesn't earn a chance at the defending national champion UConn without Langborg. That sets the stage for Langborg to further his legendary status in March.

Across two tournaments with two separate programs in two different positions, Langborg has proven he's a special player when it matters most.

Buie may have established himself as the best player in NU history this season with his accolades and broken records. Langborg has established himself as one of the best postseason players NU has ever had.

That was just one performance with more to come.

"Don't know what it is about the NCAA Tournament with Ryan Langborg," Collins said. "But I'm glad he's on my team this go-around."


Northwestern, Ryan Langborg outlast FAU in overtime NCAA Tournament thriller

The Wildcats' defense stepped up on the biggest stage, but the Cats' offense woke up at the perfect time thanks to Ryan Langborg in an overtime classic.