Northwestern is going to the NCAA Tournament, and they might stay awhile.
The sixth seeded Wildcats scored a huge 72-64 upset win over number three seeded Maryland in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament on Friday Night.
The win gives Northwestern back to back victories for the first time since January 29th. That also coincides with the last game guard Scottie Lindsey played before missing two weeks with an illness.
The Wildcats led 35-23 at the break and were never challenged in the second half.
Let’s look at the takeaways from this big quarterfinal game.
What We Learned:
1. Scottie Lindsey is a back.
While guard Scottie Lindsey returned to the team in February after missing four games, he has not been his usual high scoring self until recently. Lindsey scored 17 points, giving him 33 points over his last two games, the first back to back double digit scoring performances for him since January 22nd.
Lindsey did not play in Northwestern’s only previous meeting with Maryland, a 74-64 home loss on February 15th.
With Scottie Lindsey back and playing to his normal high level, the Wildcats are a legitimate contender to win the Big Ten Tournament. An amazing thought since Northwestern in the only original Big Ten member to have never even reached the championship game.
2. Northwestern’s defense is a silent killer.
Head coach Chris Collins deserves National Coach of the Year attention for getting the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.
But he also deserves credit for assembling a strong defensive unit.
Teams struggle to reach 70 points against the Wildcats. Friday’s 72-64 win over Maryland marked the 14th time in the last 17 games that their opponent failed to reach 70 points. The Wildcats are top 35 in adjusted defensive efficiency (KenPom), and rarely give the opposition many extra possessions (10th in the nation in fewest turnovers).
Combine a strong defense with a turnover-free offense, and you have a Northwestern team that controls their opponents and will force high level offensive execution to beat them.
3. Maryland is running out of gas.
The Terrapins (24-8) were an after thought to make the NCAA tournament before the season began. But it’s hard to celebrate Sunday’s impending announcement when Maryland was 20-2 overall back on January 31st.
The Terrapins are now looking like a prime first round upset candidate.
Head coach Mark Turgeon will have to find a way to jump start a young team that has lost four of their last six games. His trio of freshman starters Kevin Huerter, Anthony Cowan, and Justin Jackson have underperformed down the stretch and look tired.
Melo Trimble (16.9 ppg) has been tremendous, and is a legitimate All American candidate, but he will need support to survive a first round upset in next week’s NCAA tournament.
This game featured two teams with momentum going in opposite directions. Northwestern has completely recovered after a bumpy middle of the season, and looks to be in a position to possibly win the Big Ten Tournament.
While Maryland has still exceeded preseason expectations, but now hopes a few days rest will recharge their once lethal and diverse scoring offense.