Will this be the year?
The question is brought up every season for the Northwestern Wildcats, which is the only men’s basketball program in the power six conferences to have never been to the NCAA Tournament.
Once again, Coach Bill Carmody’s club finds itself on the bubble and in a position to play its way into the tournament.
Finishing the regular season 18-12, 8-10 in Big Ten play, Northwestern can significantly help its chances of punching its ticket to the Big Dance by making noise in the Big Ten Tournament.
The best win on the Wildcats’ resume was at home against Michigan State, as Northwestern senior forward John Shurna scored 22 points in an 81-74 victory.
The Wildcats also claimed wins at Illinois and Iowa. However, when facing a ranked squad, Northwestern is just 1-7, including a pair of overtime losses against Michigan.
Although wins and losses do much of the talking in a team’s resume, many of the Wildcats’ losses could have easily been wins. They lost by one against Illinois, two at Michigan, two against Purdue, five at Indiana and a two-point heartbreaker on Senior Night against Ohio State. That’s half of Northwestern’s Big Ten losses coming by an average of 2.4 points.
Wins against Illinois in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament and Michigan in a marquee upset would help give the Wildcats’ senior leader something special.
Earlier this season, Shurna became Northwestern’s all-time scoring leader, and what a proper send-off it would be for the Wildcats to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in his final season.
Teams with the most to lose: Ohio State and Michigan State
It’s all about seeding in the NCAA Tournament for the Big Ten’s best.
For much of the latter half of the season, I thought for sure either the Buckeyes or Spartans would be receiving a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Maybe with strong finishes, even both would be able to sit atop their own brackets.
After beating Purdue on Feb. 7 at home to cap a six-game win streak, Ohio State stood at 21-3 and was clearly one of the best teams in the nation. But since then, the Buckeyes have gone 3-3, losing at Michigan and against Michigan State and Wisconsin at home.
Michigan State, meanwhile, looked to take advantage of Ohio State’s missteps and win the Big Ten’s regular season title. Starting with a win against Michigan on Feb. 5, the Spartans went on a seven-game win streak before losing at Indiana on Feb. 28.
Now the logjam at the top of the conference has Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State all vying for a top spot.
The Big Ten Tournament will be a great opportunity for one of these three to emerge on top. And in the case of the Spartans and Buckeyes, an early exit in the conference tournament could cost them in seeding for the Big Dance.
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