Northwestern to the NCAA Tournament?

Northwestern Wildcats Men's College Basketball Drew Crawford

Northwestern to the NCAA Tournament?

Short answer…probably not. We have been down this road before and Northwestern remains a program that has never, ever been to the NCAA Tournament. Coach Bill Carmody has led the Wildcats to three consecutive NIT appearances, so there are some expectations, or at least hope in Chicago; or at least the north part of Chicago. Or maybe the hope is only in Evanston. Four starters return, including the senior frontcourt duo of John Shurna and Luka Mirkovic and it is those two who will need to lead the way.

But it will come down to the record. Three years ago the Wildcats managed to go 8-10 in Big Ten play, but lost too many non-conference games. Two years ago they went 7-11 against conference opponents and lost a couple non-conference games. Last year they were again 7-11 and their only non-conference loss heading into the postseason was against St. John’s. Unfortunately, there were not any big resume building wins either. Beating Georgia Tech and Creighton is nice, but that is expected from an NCAA Tournament team.

Georgia Tech and Creighton will be on the schedule again this year and those are a couple of the games the Wildcats will need to win. This time around those two games are on the road, which not only makes them more difficult, but also makes them more impressive wins. The other tough non-conference game is against Baylor in the friendly confines. Northwestern will also participate in the Charleston Classic. They play LSU in the first round, which should be good for a win. VCU, Seton Hall, Tulsa and Western Kentucky are in the field as well, so in all likelihood the Wildcats will lose at least one game in Charleston. They will probably lose two of three against Baylor, Georgia Tech and Creighton as well. That is their standard three non-conference losses.

Those will not be bad losses and beating a team like Baylor or Creighton will look nice by the end of the year. That makes the important thing getting the win total up in conference play. So how does that schedule shake up? Northwestern plays Michigan State, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Indiana just once. Playing Nebraska twice and Ohio State once would be nice, but one cannot complain about that schedule. The Spartans and Nebraska visit Evanston and the Wildcats have a nice history of beating Michigan State when they shouldn’t. A road trip to Wisconsin is never good and the Indiana game could have major implications for both teams. The problem is the bottom of the Big Ten is better, except for Penn State, and the middle is not as good. That makes every game tough. Even a road trip to Penn State will not be easy. Last season Indiana and Iowa were as close to easy wins as it gets in the Big Ten and four of Northwestern’s victories came against those two. Indiana and Iowa will be not be as easy to get past this year.

That means Northwestern has to show up every game and protect the home floor against mid-level Big Ten teams like Illinois and Minnesota. Those teams will be looking at Welsh Ryan Arena as a place they can steal a road victory and Northwestern cannot let that happen. But they probably will one too many times and that is all it takes to be on the outside looking in.


Read the in-depth men’s basketball preview for this team