As Northwestern got closer and closer to an NCAA Tournament bid during the latter part of Bill Carmody’s tenure, the Wildcats became a sort of sentimental favorite, not unlike the nearby Chicago Cubs at times did in Major League Baseball. You could sense that when they would suffer a key loss that would hurt their NCAA Tournament hopes, a lot of people felt it whether they were fans or not.
While there is a lot of basketball still left to play, it looks more and more like this season has a chance to finally be the one to end the heartbreak. On Sunday, they continued to knock down barriers, this time doing something they had not done in 40 years.
Northwestern went to Ohio State and beat the Buckeyes 74-72, marking their first win in Columbus since 1977. While this was not a win that will give them a big push in bracketologists’ seedings – Ohio State is just 2-5 in the Big Ten after not doing much to build a resume in non-conference – it’s significant all the same. It’s their fourth straight win and pushes them to 5-2 in the Big Ten, which puts them in a tie for second with Purdue.
The Wildcats are in the top 40 in RPI, with a 1-3 mark against top 25 teams and a 2-4 mark against the top 50. With their 16-4 mark, that means they don’t have a bad loss, and they have three road wins, all coming in Big Ten play. And now, five of their next seven are at home, so they can really build some momentum and get more good wins. Only the last game in that stretch is against a team outside the top 100, when Rutgers comes to Evanston.
While Carmody couldn’t get them over the hump and in the NCAA Tournament, he did get them to the NIT four years in a row, making it to the quarterfinals in 2011 and the second round a year later before the bottom fell out in part from injuries. The last two NIT teams were agonizingly close to having a solid case for an NCAA Tournament bid.
Now in his fourth season at the helm, Chris Collins has picked up right where Carmody left off. They have done it the old-fashioned way: recruiting. Their first full class is led by Scottie Lindsey and Bryant McIntosh, now juniors, and redshirt sophomore Vic Law, who missed most of last season due to injury. Gavin Skelly also came in that year. They picked up Dererk Pardon a year later from a winning program, and he leads the team in rebounding, along with Aaron Falzon, who helped right away but got hurt this year and will redshirt. Captain Sanjay Lumpkin doesn’t put up big numbers but does a lot to help this team.
If you’re still hoping that you will one day see Northwestern announced as being in the NCAA Tournament on the Selection Show, it’s possible you won’t have to wait much longer. The current edition of the Wildcats is playing like a team destined to get there and finally secure the program’s first appearance in it.
In other games of note on the day, Xavier took care of Georgetown 86-75 in Cincinnati, while Seton Hall took care of nearby rival St. John’s 86-73 in Big East play. George Mason handed Richmond their second straight loss after starting Atlantic 10 play with five straight wins, this one an 82-77 decision, and Dayton took advantage and grabbed sole possession of first place there with a 67-46 win over Saint Louis. Virginia Tech handed Clemson another tough loss, this one an 82-81 final at Littlejohn, and USC held off Arizona State 82-79, the fourth straight loss for the Sun Devils.
A customary light slate is on tap with 25 Division I games.
- NC State takes its recent struggles a little down the road to Durham to take on Duke (7 p.m.)
- A good matchup in the Sun Belt is on tap as Coastal Carolina visits a Georgia Southern team that hasn’t lost a conference game yet (7 p.m.)
- Ordinarily, Oklahoma at Texas (9 p.m.) would be a good one, but it’s been a tough season for both teams. The Sooners may be turning a corner, though; can Texas do the same?