Northwestern will definitely make the NCAA tournament this year.
November 23rd, 2016. I was sitting courtside covering the Legends Classic at Barclays Arena, witnessing a great championship game between the Northwestern Wildcats and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. With under four minutes left, the Wildcats were up by six points and I was sure that this game would make them a NCAA tournament team. But the Wildcats’ defensive struggles came back to hamper them and Notre Dame battled back, which in return was another close devastating loss.
Now, I’m not a die hard follower of Northwestern basketball, but over the years I have watched them blow big opportunity after big opportunity to secure that signature win. Northwestern has been a tournament bubble team plenty of times in the past few decades, but even after seeing them lose that game back in November, I felt that there was no way they could be on the wrong side of the bubble this year. In their prior game against Notre Dame they got a statement win against a young Texas team out of the Big 12.
Fast forward two-and-a-half months with the regular season is winding down, and Northwestern is in great shape to make their first NCAA tournament appearance in school history. Consider: this team is in one of the best conferences in college basketball and has yet to make the tournament. Something like this is only common among mid and low majors.
The Wildcats are in fourth place in the Big Ten with a overall record of 19-7 and a 8-5 record in conference play. They have picked up quality wins against Texas (when they were ranked 22nd in the country), Wake Forest, Indiana, and Wisconsin. The Wildcats have played other ranked teams such as Butler, Notre Dame, Michigan State, and a few others. Currently bracketology has Northwestern as the seventh seed in the East region.
The Wildcats have a great backcourt in point guard Bryant McIntosh and shooting guard Scottie Lindsay. McIntosh averages 13.8 points and five assists per game while Lindsay averages 15.4 points per game on 44% shooting from the field.
The Wildcats defense and passing are two things that have been the keys to their great season and it could help them in the tournament. The Wildcars are 35th in the country in points allowed per game (64.7) and 47th in assists per game (16.1). According to Ken pom, Northwestern is ranked No. 31 in the country with an adjusted offensive rating of 111.6.
With some key games against Michigan, Indiana, Purdue and a potential trap game against Illinois — not to mention the Big Ten tournament — the Wildcats have a ton of work to do to lock their bid to the NCAA tournament. With how they have played in most games this season, it’s a sure thing that they will get the job done. When the Wildcats go to the NCAA tournament it would be great to see if they can make a big run. If they don’t, this will still be the best season in school history because they finally ended the drought.
Edited by Jeremy Losak.
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