Is Northwestern basketball boring?


Does this look like boring basketball to you?

When the Big Ten basketball schedule was released it included just one national game for Northwestern on CBS or ESPN. That game is February 25, 2010 at Iowa. Now, this will be a very important game, but as the Daily Herald's Lindsey Willhite astutely points out, the Big Ten has 70 open game slots between ESPN, ESPN2 and CBS. That's an average of 6.36 national television opportunities per team. Northwestern gets exactly 1. Is this because Northwestern basketball is boring?

Well, last season Ken Pomeroy created FanMatch. In the blog post announcing the addition he wrote:

"Actually, the games are rated for competitiveness and level of play with a lean towards higher-scoring games without using any cookies. Because that's what I like to see, and basically, everybody likes what I like. And I don't tell you what network each game is on or what time it's played at. You have to do a little work to figure out how to see the game. But once you do, you're almost guaranteed* to enjoy your viewing experience!"

Now, most fans do have a tendency to gravitate towards higher scoring games, which is a reason that Northwestern - and it's 63.5 points per game (268th in the country) - is often cited as a team that shouldn't be on national television representing the Big Ten. But there are a number of other reasons why the Wildcats deserve more attention.
What are some other categories besides points scored that matter to fans? Here's a list of six things I think are interesting in a college basketball game:

  • Efficient offense
  • Superstar players
  • Competitiveness
  • Good passing
  • Lots of three-point shots
  • Big stakes - NCAA Tournament bubble, rivalry games, etc.

These things are all things that make a game really exciting. Just think, when's the last time you watched a basketball game and something other than these six things drew your attention. So how does Northwestern do in each category? Let's break it down real quick.

Efficient offense - The Wildcats had one of the most efficient offenses in basketball last season. The Princeton offense, when it works well, is a beautiful thing to behold. Northwestern's adjusted offensive efficiency was 110.6, or 49th in the country, according to KenPom. If you want to see good offense Northwestern is a team to watch.

Superstar players - Due to the nature of the Princeton offense Northwestern doesn't have any big name superstars. Kevin Coble is the biggest "name" on Northwestern after the graduation of Craig Moore. It is possible that Michael Thompson could be another player fans gravitate towards, but, in general, there's nobody on the Wildcats that's a must-see athlete or a guaranteed NBA first round pick.

Competitiveness - Last season, Northwestern had seven games decided by three points or fewer. A number of others were decided by fewer than six points. The Wildcats' games all seemed to come down to the final few possessions. You're on the edge of your seat the entire game when watching a Wildcats game. It surely is exciting basketball from that standpoint.

Good passing and lots of three-point shots - These two relate to the first criteria of offensive efficiency, but there's something about pretty feeds and long-distance treys that get fans excited. Northwestern has both of these in droves. The Wildcats were second in the country in assists per field goals made last season. They also were 40th in the country in three-pointers attempted per field goals attempted.

Now, all these wonderful things about offense are all well and good, but it's not everything. Chicago State is an exciting team offensively, but no one is clamoring to have the Cougars on national television. This brings me to the final point.

Big stakes - The games have to matter! Northwestern's haven't mattered much, well... ever. The fact that the Wildcats don't have a perfect regional rival in the
Big Ten doesn't help either. It seems like Illinois and Purdue, while
"rivals," view other games as more important. So do the television
networks. Still, with the majority of the team's core returning and a possible run at NCAA Tournament berth expected, Northwestern games are about to mean an awful lot. That's the best way for games to have impact, by being on the bubble.

Willhite put it best when he said:

"Here's the other thing: One of these years -- maybe this one -- Northwestern basketball is going to have its Rose Bowl epiphany. The Wildcats never have been to the NCAA Tournament, but they were in the ballpark down the stretch last year and I believe they're going to get closer and closer as time goes on.

The networks are going to wish they had a chance to do one of these late-season games when Northwestern is on the NCAA bubble. Or maybe not. They probably have a bunch of numbers to prove otherwise."

Still, the networks won't know until they try. Northwestern basketball - made for television.

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