February is almost over, meaning March (!) is nearly here. And it’ll be a March in which we’ll be watching meaningful Northwestern basketball again. Oh, how I’ve missed you.
As the women’s team battles for a Big Ten title, they’re also jockeying for seeding in the NCAA Tournament.
But for the men, there’s way less intrigue. The only question remaining this season: will they get a second Big Ten win?
Let’s blame some things.
The machine that is the Northwestern women’s basketball program kept buzzing this week. Coming off a four-point win over Nebraska, the Wildcats blitzed Rutgers midweek, winning 82-65 in Evanston.
At the time of writing, the Wildcats are taking the floor against Wisconsin as they sit a half game out of first place in the Big Ten.
According to a leading bracketologist, Northwestern’s potential NCAA Tournament seed doesn’t have a wide range. In an interview with Inside NU, Russell Steinberg of High Post Hoops saw Northwestern’s floor as a five seed, and that’s if the rest of the season goes about as badly as possible. As for a ceiling, he has Northwestern getting up to a No. 3 seed.
Steinberg currently has Northwestern as the No. 3 seed in the Greenville region.
One of the really cool things about the women’s tournament is that if Northwestern is a No. 4 seed or higher, the program gets to host the opening two rounds in Evanston.
And it’s looking like that’ll happen, giving everyone a chance to see meaningful Northwestern basketball in March.
📵Blame the remaining schedule
As of writing, the Northwestern’s men’s basketball team is 6-19 and 1-14 in the Big Ten.
Finishing with just one win would put Chris Collins’ team in rare air. The last time the Wildcats went through Big Ten play with just a single win was 2007-08.
So, with five games left, where’s the most likely place for Northwestern to find a second win?
1. At Nebraska, Sun., Mar. 1
The Wildcats’ lone win in Big Ten play was a 62-57 victory over the Cornhuskers in January. Since then, Northwestern has lost 10 in a row. And, from Fred Hoiberg’s standpoint, that loss in Evanston kicked off an 11-game winless streak for Nebraska.
There’s a good chance that this matchup will feature two teams riding a combined 25-game losing streak.
Why Northwestern can win: I think Northwestern is just a flat-out better team. That win over Nebraska earlier in the season was without Boo Buie. But the Huskers have been able to take down both Purdue and Iowa in Lincoln. And Northwestern hasn’t won a road game in Big Ten play.
2. vs. Minnesota, Sun., Feb. 23
The Gophers are have lost six of eight. And they’ve been particularly bad on the road. Minnesota isn’t a good shooting team, but on the road their shooting efficiency dips to second-worst in the Big Ten in conference games, according to BartTorvik.com. On the other hand, Northwestern is third-worst in the conference in shooting efficiency in home games.
Why Northwestern can win: In my opinion, Minnesota is the worst non-Nebraska-or-Northwestern team in the conference.
3. vs. Illinois, Thurs., Feb. 27
The last five games between these two schools have all finished within five points either way, including a four-point win for the Illini in Champaign last month. Northwestern has a shot in this one, but not a good one.
Why Northwestern can win: Robbie Beran isn’t going to go off for 17 points again. But having Buie as another ball-handler could help put some pressure on Illinois’ guards.
4. At Wisconsin, Wed., Mar. 4
Wisconsin has been the best per-possession offensive team at home in conference play. The Badgers’ only home loss this season was a 71-70 loss to Illinois in early January.
Why Northwestern can win: Northwestern has stolen two of their last three games at the Kohl Center in Madison.
5. vs. Penn State, Sat., Mar. 7
Penn State … they’re good! Northwestern … they’re not! There’s a chance the Nittany Lions will be playing for a share of the Big Ten regular season title in two weeks. And I’m not too confident Northwestern will be able to do much to stop them.
Why Northwestern can win: There weren’t many positives for Northwestern during their 16-point loss at Penn State a week ago. The only chance the Wildcats have is to keep Ryan Young out of foul trouble. He was able to play just 21 minutes in that previous game.
That’s where we’ll end things this week. Thanks for sticking with another edition of 📵Blame the Phones.
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