With the 2019-’20 college basketball season wrapping up, it’s a great time to look back on the decade for the Big Ten. While the league didn’t win a national championship during the 2010s, it did send a variety of teams to the Final Four and had plenty of quality play.
So, in that mindset, BTP is looking at the most memorable games for each Big Ten team during the 2010s. These aren’t necessarily the most significant or the most fiercely contested games. Rather, they’re the most memorable. So, just because a game came in the postseason doesn’t guarantee it a spot on this list.
But before we jump in, a few other notes on our criteria. To qualify for this list, a game needed to happen sometime between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2019. I realize that cuts between two seasons, but that’s the criteria we’re using. A team also didn’t have to win a game for it to make this list. For instance, Michigan’s loss to Louisville in the 2013 title game was certainly memorable, even though the Wolverines didn’t come out on top.
With that, let’s look at the 10 most memorable games for the Northwestern Wildcats over the last decade.
The Most Memorable Northwestern Games During The 2010s:
-Northwestern vs. Ohio State (March 11, 2011) — OSU 67, NU 61 (OT)
Let’s be clear. Taken in a vacuum, this probably wasn’t an extraordinarily memorable game. There were four or five games with similar circumstances I could have picked here. And by that, I mean games where Northwestern suffered a crushing loss to fall painfully short of making its first-ever NCAA Tournament. This is just the one I decided to pick.
Between 2010 and 2017, Northwestern had four seasons where the team finished with at least 19 wins, but failed to make the NCAAs. Those painful finishes are telling about what Wildcat fans had to endure before finally breaking through in 2017 and how the first portion of the last decade started for the Wildcats.
And the 2010-’11 season was certainly a painful one. Northwestern was far from perfect that year, but the team finished the regular season at 17-12 overall and was in the NCAA discussion heading into the Big Ten Tournament. And after beating Minnesota in the opening round, one had to wonder whether an upset win over a loaded Ohio State team (29-2 at the time) could push the Wildcats on the right side of the bubble.
Unfortunately, that wouldn't happen as Ohio State narrowly pulled out the game in overtime. Northwestern would then head to the NIT in disappointing fashion. It was a cycle that would repeat multiple times in the years to come.
-Michigan State at Northwestern (January 14, 2012) — NU 81, MSU 74
This is easily the biggest upset on this list. The Spartans entered this game as substantial favorites, but found themselves on the wrong side of things at game’s end. Michigan State had won 15 in a row before tip.
Few things are better than a good upset and this one definitely qualifies.
-Minnesota at Northwestern (February 18, 2012) — NU 64, Minnesota 53
The result here wasn’t memorable, but the game itself is one of the most notable on this list. During Northwestern’s 64-53 win over Minnesota, John Shurna became the program’s all-time leading scorer, passing Bill McKinney’s record of 1,900 points. Shurna scored 18 points and would finish his career with a ridiculous 2,038 career points. He also finished his career as Northwestern’s all-time leader in games played (130) and blocked shots (136)
-Northwestern vs. Iowa (March 14, 2013) — Iowa 73, Northwestern 59
After getting so close to the NCAAs in the years before, Northwestern took a significant step back during the 2012-’13 season. And unfortunately, that meant the end of Carmody’s time in Evanston. This would be the final game with Carmody as head coach. Fans had hoped he could get things back on track to close the season, but Northwestern went out with a whimper, losing its last nine games of the season. Carmody’s final win with the Wildcats would come on February 2, 2013 against a mediocre Purdue team.
-Eastern Illinois at Northwestern (November 9, 2013) — NU 72, East Ill. 55
The game itself here wasn’t particularly notable. But it marked the first game of the Chris Collins era in Evanston. Outside of a few spots, the 2013-’14 season would be largely forgettable for fans, but Collins would go on to change Northwestern basketball forever. As such, it deserves a spot on this list.
-Iowa at Northwestern (February 15, 2015) — NU 66, Iowa 61 (OT)
If you speak with any coach, they’re going to tell you success depends on a variety of factors, including hard work, dedication, and drive. But one category they’ll also likely acknowledge is luck. And by “luck,” I don’t mean to imply someone didn’t work hard or is otherwise undeserving. Rather, the reality of the college sports is that teams and programs need to catch a break or two along the way to get things rolling. After all, it’s not like anybody else is going to let off the gas to let you catch up.
And for Northwestern, the Iowa game on February 15, 2015 was just that.
After an underwhelming and inconsistent debut season for Collins in 2013-’14, the Wildcats regressed significantly to open the 2014-’15 season. Collins wasn’t on the hot seat, but many were certainly wondering if he was starting to slide down the long list of Northwestern coaches to fail to deliver on the court in Evanston. By Valentine’s Day, the team had fallen to 10-14 overall and had lost 10 straight.
But then Iowa came into town. And while the Hawkeyes weren’t elite, the team was 15-10 and ended the season ranked 23rd nationally on KenPom. The game would swing back and forth in the closing minutes with Bryant McIntosh making some major plays. Eventually, Northwestern won in overtime, which started a really nice run to end the season. This win didn’t cause everything to fall in line moving forward, but it can be circled as the game when things finally started clicking under Collins.
-Northwestern at Ohio State (January 22, 2017) — NU 74, OSU 72
By the time we got to the 2016-’17 season, we knew Northwestern had improved significantly. The roster was good enough to do some serious damage and the only question would be whether Northwestern could deliver on the court. And despite some encouraging results early on, by the time we reached January, many were still waiting to see if the team could deliver some marquee wins.
But that changed in this one, as Northwestern went on the road and beat Ohio State. And even if the Buckeyes weren’t what they were in years past, it was still a big win.
-Michigan at Northwestern (March 1, 2017) — NU 67, Michigan 65
If the win over Ohio State (referenced above) was the proof things would be different for Northwestern this time, the win over Michigan was the followup. The Wildcats had won some key games down the stretch, but reached March still looking for the last win or two to lock up an NCAA spot. And after a really competitive game, things came down to the final seconds:
The result itself would have been memorable even in a vacuum, but when you take the historical impact into account as well, it becomes even more notable. What a night for fans in Evanston.
-Northwestern vs. Vanderbilt (March 16, 2017) — NU 68, Vandy 66
After more than a century, it finally happened. Northwestern finally made the NCAA Tournament and had a chance to compete for a national championship. It was a momentous ocassion for fans and certainly was a time none of them will forget.
And the Wildcats would end up delivering in the first round as well, knocking off a solid Vanderbilt team in a tightly contested game. McIntosh finished with 25 points and four rebounds. This should easily go down as one of the biggest wins in program history.
-Northwestern vs. Gonzaga (March 18, 2017) — Gonzaga 79, NU 73
Unfortunately, this is where the magical 2016-’17 season came to a close. After making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history and knocking off Vanderbilt in the first round, Northwestern didn’t have quite enough to get past a really tough Gonzaga squad. Nigel Williams-Goss led the Bulldogs with 20 points and eight rebounds.
But outside of the historical context, this game will also be remembered by Wildcat fans for its controversial finish. With approximately five minutes remaining, the officials missed a basket interference call on Gonzaga that played a key part in the result. The NCAA subsequently admitted to the mistake.
Fans will have to hope the program can get back to the Big Dance in the years to come to avenge the NCAA’s mistake.
-Northwestern vs Penn State (March 1, 2018) — PSU 65, NU 57
After four years and thousands of minutes, this would mark the final outing for a legendary group of seniors, highlighted by Scottie Lindsey, McIntosh, and Gavin Skelly. They and their teammates changed Northwestern basketball forever. And while the exit wasn’t pretty, this was a big night for the Wildcats. It’s a magic the program is still searching for today and fans hope will return in the years to come.
Disagree with our list? Tell us your picks in the comments below.