If you missed the Ohio State vs. Northwestern game last night, you missed some real life epicness. Desperately needing a win over the Buckeyes to secure an NCAA Tournament bid, Northwestern refused to give up even when it trailed by 12 points with just 5:39 remaining in the second half.
With 2:42 to go, JerShon Cobb found freshman Dave Sobolewski wide open in the corner for a three-pointer that made the score 73-68 Ohio State. Two possessions later, with Northwestern down just 73-70 and 21 seconds left, Reggie Hearn missed a hook shot in the lane that was rebounded by Deshaun Thomas. Just when it looked like the 'Cats were done, Cobb swooped in and ripped the ball from Thomas to give the Purple and Black another chance.
After a timeout, Northwestern of course tried to get the ball to John Shurna, who would finish the game with 22 points, but Ohio State denied him the ball. Instead, it was Alex Marcotullio who ended up with the ball in his hands with time winding down. Despite only having 3 points on 1 of 4 shooting up until that point, Marcotullio showed some serious guts and launched a 28-footer in an attempt to tie the score.
Amazingly, the shot went in. If Bill Raftry was announcing the game, he would perhaps have asked for a double order of ONIONS! Poor us, all we got was Gus...
Unfortunately for Northwestern, Marcotullio's incredible shot went through the hoop with plenty of time left for Ohio State to respond (7.3 seconds to be exact). Thad Matta drew up a brilliant play and Aaron Craft threw a perfect lob to Jared Sullinger for the go-ahead layup with 3 seconds left. John Shurna was able to get a last attempt from just past midcourt, but the ball hit the front of the rim, and Northwestern once again fell short.
That about covers the drama last night. What about the big picture? According to bracketologist Joe Lunardi of ESPN, the 'Cats are still in it, but they remain precariously on the "last four in" line. Big wins by USF and Colorado State last night certainly didn't help Northwestern's case.
The bad news is that even one Cinderella conference tournament run by a mid-major could be enough to knock Northwestern off the board. For example, if a team other than Murray State wins the Ohio Valley Conference tournament, that would mean one less at-large bid available for Northwestern.
The good news is that there are still games to be played. The 'Cats wrap up their season at Iowa on Saturday. That's certainly not an easy match-up, but it's more than doable. After that is the conference tournament. Because the Big Ten has been so strong this year, Northwestern will have a leg up on the other bubble teams, but only if it wins games.
Right now Northwestern is lined up as the 8 seed, but if they win the game versus Iowa, they should move up to the 7. That would likely match the 'Cats up with Minnesota or Illinois in the first round for another must-win game. Should Northwestern advance to the second round (and that would be expected versus either of those teams), it could very well be playing Ohio State or Michigan once again with a trip to the big dance on the line.
I'm of course reminded of Penn State's conference tourney run last season, when they plowed through Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan State to earn a bid. Here's hoping that Northwestern can pull off a similar trick this season.