EVANSTON, IL— November 16, 2016 was a gloomy night. Maybe the weather wasn’t gloomy, but it sure felt gloomy in the Chicagoland area.
Northwestern men’s basketball was on the road. They were in the historic Hinkle Fieldhouse to be exact. The ‘Cats were on the floor battling a back-and-forth game against Butler. The Wildcats were ahead 32-29 at halftime, but lost 70-68 in the final seconds.
That game came at such a pivotal moment for the men’s team in the non-conference schedule. It was one of their first games of the season, a game against a perennial NCAA Tournament team, and a game that showed fans what they thought would be a preview of the upcoming season: another season of heartbreak.
Months later, a close loss a Butler would show up on Northwestern’s resume as the team embarked on their first March Madness in program history. Bryant McIntosh may have turned the ball over in the final seconds against Butler, but fans will remember his leadership and dominance as he helped Northwestern win their first NCAA Tournament in program history.
The Gavitt Games are the annual Big East vs Big Ten non-conference slate of games. Last year, Northwestern’s experience in the Gavitt Games ended in heartbreak in the final seconds.
This year, they will have the opportunity to participate again. Northwestern will host Creighton at their home away from home this season, Allstate Arena, on November 15.
Creighton is a solid match-up for Northwestern. The Bluejays made it all the way to the Big East finals, falling to Villanova in March. They also danced, but lost to Rhode Island in the first round.
Creighton was led by senior Maurice Watson Jr. last year, until he tore his ACL in a game against Xavier in January. The team struggled a bit after his injury, but held on to dance in March. Following Watson’s injury, Marcus Foster stepped up and lead Creighton through March. He averaged 18.2 points per game, which lead the team. He finished the season shooting at 46%. Foster, a transfer from Kansas State, will be returning to Creighton for his senior season in 2017-2018 to lead the team.
Kyhri Thomas, a junior guard, will join Foster in the backcourt. He averaged 12.3 points per game last season and shot 50% overall. He also averaged just under 6 rebounds per game on the year.
Like Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey, Creighton will bring a veteran backcourt when they arrive in Chicago. Both teams are coming off of successful seasons and both teams have the opportunity to be competitive in their leagues this season. A win for Northwestern would look great on their non-conference resume.
Northwestern is a different team from when they played in the Gavitt Games last year, and they’ll be a different team when they play Creighton in November. Jon Rothstein has Northwestern ranked at #21 in the early top 25 rankings. According to Rothstein’s poll, they will be ranked third in the Big Ten, behind Michigan State and Minnesota. Purdue is also ranked in the top 25, just behind Northwestern at #22.
The Gavitt Games will tip again this year, almost exactly one year after Northwestern experienced heartbreak. Can the ‘Cats come away with a win this season?
We’ll have to wait until November to find out.