One of the hot topics in the Wildcat fan community right now is what to expect from the Wildcats for the rest of the year. With the 'Cats off to a 6-1 start many optimists are appearing in NU fan circles where once there were only pessimists.
Let me say I hate to dampen the enthusiasm of any ‘Cat Backer, but I highly doubt NU’s team will maintain their .857 winning percentage or their now #5 RPI rank the rest of the year. However, I do think this year will be far more successful than any since the 2001-2002 season. So what should fans expect for the season’s final 22 games? Let’s discuss.
Northwestern has four non-conference games left this season. Three occur before the start of the Big Ten season and then NU plays Chicago State on February 4th. The most realistic expectation for these four games is a 3-1 record. The one likely loss is on the road at Stanford. Although I’d like to believe Northwestern can beat the Cardinal I just don’t see it happening. That said, a win in Palo Alto is not impossible. Stanford is not nearly as strong as they have been in recent years. They lost Head Coach Trent Johnson to LSU this off season and the Lopez brothers entered the NBA.
So why don’t I see a NU win? It has more to do with NU than Stanford. I just don’t see the extremely young Wildcats winning on the road in their first extended road trip. Freshmen traditionally don’t play well on the road and a trip two time zones away from home is not going to be easy on Shurna, Rowley, and the other youngsters. I do, however, hold out hope the ‘Cats can learn from the experience and be ready to win on the road 11 days later at Penn State.
The Big Ten plays 18 conference games this year. I’d say a 6-12 or 7-11 record for the Wildcats is very realistic. I’m not going to predict any specific games at this point as I believe that’s premature. For example, if Iowa leading scorer Anthony Tucker remains suspended beating Iowa twice is entirely possible. On the other hand, if Tucker comes back it could be hard to beat the Hawks anywhere. Also, at this point Indiana looks terrible. I would almost expect Northwestern to beat the Hoosiers twice. However, NU doesn’t travel to Bloomington until February 25th and by then the young Hoosiers might put things together. Another key game is the Big Ten opener at Penn State. The last few years NU has struggled mightily against the Lions, but this year NU couldn’t ask for a better set of circumstances to open the league on the road. Not only will Penn State’s students not be present, but I suspect the vast majority of PSU fans and alumni who are able will be in Pasadena at the Rose Bowl.
Now, if NU does beat IU (twice), Iowa (at least once), and PSU (once) that brings the ‘Cats to a total of four Big Ten wins. Where will the other two or three come from? Again, I don’t really want to guess. I will say, however, I believe getting the four or so home wins NU needs to post six or seven league wins will be incumbent on Welsh-Ryan Arena proving the ‘Cats a home court advantage. Step number one in this area will be a raucous student section. FSU was a great step in this direction. I hope what we see after break is that good in terms of student attendance and excitement or better.
Overall, let’s hope NU can win at least 15 or so games this year and get a shot at a NIT or CBI invitation.