Sunday's game with Ohio State is setting up as the biggest game this season (maybe ever) for NU basketball. Of course, we wouldn't be looking at the Ohio State game as such an important contest if it weren't for Wednesday's win over Purdue or the wins over Michigan State and Florida State earlier in the year. The poll conducted this last week had the Michigan State game as NU's biggest win of the season with a total of 61 of 64 votes. That's 95%. Now, though, I wonder if the same poll was run today would the Purdue game have won? If NU beats Ohio State on Sunday is that the team's biggest win? These are the type of questions which I enjoy taking the time to ponder. In all my years watching Northwestern basketball I find it hard to think of another season which featured more than one or two big wins. This year there seem to be an endless supply and I suspect more big wins might be on the horizon. Also, this year has featured some wins over teams Northwestern traditionally has not played well against. The victory over Ohio State at home was a great example of this. If Northwestern can win at Ohio State on Sunday and record a sweep of the Buckeyes, that victory will erase yet another long losing streak.
As I think back over my Northwestern fan experience, I have trouble recalling any string of victories which would match a win Sunday followed by a Big Ten Tournament round 1 win. Combined with the victory at Purdue, such a streak would give Northwestern 19 wins and place them, I believe, in serious bubble contention. If NU could somehow get 20 wins, I believe, the Wildcats will make the NCAA Tournament.
Northwestern has posted some nice strings of wins in the past. The 2003-2004 team had a very nice run of three straight victories over #11 Wisconsin, at Purdue, and on ESPN2 vs Penn State. In the Penn State game the Wildcats went on a 30-2 run. Sadly, 2003-2004 was also the last time Northwestern really dominated Penn State. The ‘Cats also posted a Big Tournament record in steals against the Lions that year.
Getting back to NU winning streaks, the 2001-2002 team would have posted an impressive four game winning steak with wins over Wisconsin and Michigan State included. However, a loss on the road got in the way. Where on the road? You guessed it, Columbus, Ohio. That loss was a disappointing one for NU. It might have factored heavily into NU not making the NIT that year. NU was down one point late when Vedran Vukusic tried to take the ball to the hoop and got called for a charge. He probably should have passed to a red-hot Winston Blake who had posted a career high in points, but even with the foul on Vedran NU still got a chance to win. After Ohio State made only one of two free throws the score was 58-57. After passing the ball around the perimeter, the Wildcats got two shots. Unfortunately, Tavaras Hardy and Jitim Young both missed. Sadly, that has been the type of game which has plagued Northwestern at Ohio State for 32 years. Hopefully, Sunday will be different. If it is, it might very well displace the wins at Michigan State and Purdue as the biggest of the year for the ‘Cats—at least until the first game in the Big Ten Tournament.