Monday, March 2, 2009

Home Dominance Key to Wildcat Success

Northwestern’s home success this year is a major reason why they should make the postseson.

Northwestern’s 13-4 record at home this year is the best ever at Welsh-Ryan Arena. It is the second best home record ever for a Northwestern team. The 1982-83 Wildcats posted a 14-2 record at home, but played their home games at DePaul’s Alumni Hall and the Rosemont Horizon. If Northwestern hopes to continue the success they have had this season next year, and potentially in a postseason tournament this season, winning at home will be critical. Dropping early season home games has kept Northwestern out of the postseason in the past. If Northwestern makes the postseason this year, the reason for their appearance may very well be traced back to the 7-0 record they posted at home in the non-conference season. Perhaps the most impressive win was beating BCS conference opponent Florida State. In the past, the Wildcats have struggled at home against BCS conference opponents in the non-conference season. Losses like a 67-56 home loss to Colorado in the 2003-04 season where NU finished a game under .500 and a 48-44 loss to Virginia the next year when NU again finished a game under .500 makes clear how critical each game is. NU lost road non-conference games in those years as well, but if those home results would have turned around NU would have made the NIT in those two seasons. If that happened, who knows how much farther along NU’s program could have come.

Similarly, winning Big Ten games at home could be the difference in NU at some point moving into the first division of the Big Ten standings. Obviously the home losses to Purdue and Illinois from this season stand out. If NU had pulled off those two wins they could have a shot at the #5 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. A similar disappointment occurred during Bill Carmody’s Coach of the Year season in 2003-2004. Northwestern lost 63-56 at home to Michigan on the final day of the season. If NU could have won that game they would have posted a modern day school record 9 Big Ten wins, perhaps held the #5 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, and made the postseason at the year’s conclusion. Though we will look back at the losses to Illinois and Purdue as disappointments this year, we may also look back and see NU’s win Saturday over Iowa in a similar situation to the 2004 game vs Michigan as what clinched the postseason for NU. That victory is a major step forward for NU.

As we look to the future, Northwestern might play a postseason home game this year. The Wildcats are 2-3 all time in the postseason. Not surprisingly, two wins occurred in home games. The one true home postseason win, 93-94 against DePaul, is regarded by most NU fans as the best home atmosphere ever at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Given this year’s difference in road and home record, it seems reasonable to believe a home game for NU in the NIT, CBI, or CIT would significantly improve their chances of advancing deep into the postseason.

Realistically, unless they pull several upsets, Northwestern’s odds making the NCAA Tournament this season are not great. However, if they make any sort of postseason push at all, they will have to be considered a serious contender for the Big Dance next year. To do so, though, they will need to mirror their success this season and win the tough home games they will have against Butler and Stanford.

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