As the Wildcats travel to Wisconsin this weekend they might not be in the NCAA Tournament hunt, but they are in the postseason hunt. Others might disagree, but at this point I think Northwestern could fall anywhere from a top seed in the NIT to out of that tournament all together. It really depends on what happens here on out. NU’s last chance (other than the Big Ten Tournament) at getting another quality win on their resume is this weekend. They Wildcats other contests (Iowa, at Penn State, Chicago State, and at Indiana) are all games which NU is expected to win. In fact, a loss in one of those contests is probably on par with the losses NU has the last two weeks at Iowa and home against Penn State. NU will likely make the NIT as long as they do better than 1-4 in their last four games. However, right now the bracket project and NIT-ology the two most respected (and about the only two) NIT-projection websites have NU as a #7 and #8-seed respectively. That means according to those who study the NIT closely, NU would be on the road facing a #1 (Cincinnati) or #2-seed (Washington) if the NIT started today. To some NU fans this might seem unreasonable, but the truth is this is about right. Yes, last year NU did get a #5-seed with a 17-13 record, however, NU won at #7 Michigan State and at #19 Purdue. They also beat a top-20 Minnesota team in Welsh-Ryan and while the team suffered some crushing losses in which they blew large leads, their only “bad” loss was at Iowa. That was an Iowa team which pushed the .500-mark and almost made it to the postseason themselves.
As much as I hate to say it, those sites are currently on the money. I trashed the NIT-selection committee last year, but things are a little different this season. It’s not NU’s fault that many Big Ten teams, such as Michigan and Minnesota, have underachieved. Or that several “good” non-conference opponents haven’t actually been that good. Bottom line, though, Northwestern’s resume isn’t as impressive this year. If the Wildcats don’t pull off the win at Wisconsin or rock the Big Ten Tourney, I’ll lay off the NIT-selection committee this year. Why? Aside from the two bad losses these past couple weeks which came at a time (last 10 games) when committees are watching, right now NU’s only win that is nearly as impressive as the triad of victories they pulled off last year is beating #6 Purdue at Welsh-Ryan. NU’s next best win is probably beating Illinois in Welsh-Ryan. Illinois is the mythical #29 spot in this week’s AP Poll. NU’s best road win is at Michigan, and that should help in Big Ten Tournament seeding, but that’s not like beating a top-10 that eventually played for the National Title. That’s why Sunday’s game at #14 Wisconsin is so important. If Northwestern pulls the upset that win is at least on par with the Purdue win last year and maybe even the MSU win given how tough Wisconsin is at home. It’ll also move NU up in the conference standing and potentially allow the ‘Cats to get a rematch will an Illinois team they can beat in the Big Ten Tournament. What also might help NU is that by then the Illini might be ranked.
Hopefully, that’ll be the case and the Wildcats will be able to beat not only the Illini, but all their Big Ten Tournament opponents, or at least they’ll win enough to bring postseason basketball back to Welsh-Ryan for the first time since 1994.