The NCAA tournament drought has ended. Hopefully.
This has been an up and down season for Northwestern, but one that should end with the school’s first ever ticket to March Madness. The Wildcats ended the regular season at 21-10 overall and 10-8 in the Big Ten Conference. They finished in a four way tie for fifth place with Michigan, Michigan State, and Iowa. After years of frustration for Wildcats fans, the 2016-2017 season has been one to celebrate.
But just how successful can this season be?
As per the Big Ten's conference rules, every team is invited to the Big Ten Tournament. The Wildcats will be heading to Washington D.C. to start play on Thursday evening against the winner of the Ohio State and Rutgers first round matchup.
After a very successful season that should end with an NCAA tournament invitation, just how far can Northwestern go in the Big Ten Tournament?
Let's take a look.
With the team's 10-8 record in conference play, Northwestern finds itself with an opening round bye as the No. 6 seed in this year's Big Ten Tournament. This means the Wildcats will play on Thursday in a second round 9:00 pm game against the winner of No. 11 seeded Ohio State and No. 14 seeded Rutgers Scarlet Knights. The Wildcats will, deservedly, be favored in this game and have a great opportunity to open tournament play with a win.
As a result of the unbalanced Big Ten schedule, Northwestern played Ohio State only once this season. On January 22nd, the Wildcats came out with a 74-72 road victory in Columbus. Junior Scottie Lindsey paced Northwestern with 21 points in that game, and senior backcourt mate guard Sanjay Lumpkin scored 8 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
Northwestern played Rutgers twice this season and scored close wins in both games. Sophomore forward Vic Law led the Wildcats with 23 points in the first game, and leading scorer junior Bryant McIntosh paced Northwestern in the second win with 18 points.
If the Wildcats bring a strong defensive effort to Washington D.C., they should advance into the third round of the Big Ten Tournament.
If They Advance
If Northwestern advances, the team would then move on to face a No. 3 seeded Maryland team that, while successful, has been vulnerable this season. The Terrapins (24-7 overall, 12-6 in conference) finished the regular season tied for second place in the Big Ten, but enter tournament play having lost three of their last five games.
Maryland did defeat Northwestern in their only matchup this year, 74-64. While that game was at home for the Wildcats, they did play without Scottie Lindsey due to illness. That variable makes it difficult to project an outcome of a potential Friday night matchup with Maryland.
If Northwestern finds a way to upset Maryland, the Wildcats would then move on to have a potential semi-final game (likely) against No. 2 seeded Wisconsin and then a title matchup likely against Purdue, Illinois, Michigan, or Minnesota.
It would be difficult to see Northwestern winning four games in four nights, but with the parody in the Big Ten this season, it is certainly a possibility.
Realistically speaking, the best hope for Northwestern is to defeat the Ohio State-Rutgers winner, and then take their chances with Maryland. If the Wildcats face the Terrapins on Friday night, they should consider their Big Ten Tournament a success and great preparation to compete in their first ever NCAA tournament.