When Illinois beat Wisconsin last night I sort of freaked out a little bit - for the sake of Northwestern. It is pretty obvious that the Illini are acquiring the necessary "good wins" they need to push them into the NCAA Tournament picture. Demetri McCamey is playing out of his mind and Illinois would have to really screw things up in order to miss out after beating both Michigan State and - more importantly - Wisconsin at the Kohl Center.
The more I thought about it though, the more it seemed like maybe this is a good thing. This is the advantage of power conferences. If a team rises up late in the season - one that you've already beaten - then you get the advantages of it as well.
Northwestern beat Illinois at Welsh-Ryan less than a month ago. The Illini looked to be reeling and in doubt of even making the NCAA Tournament. Now, 5 wins later, it's the exact opposite. Illinois is probably one Big Ten victory away from wrapping up an NCAA bid and the end of February at Michigan and home against Minnesota offers them two great chances.
So why is this a good thing for Northwestern? Well, the one thing the Wildcats need - and the one thing they really can't control moving forward - are good wins. There are just two chances remaining on the schedule - Sunday against the Gophers and next Sunday at Wisconsin. But Northwestern already has wins over Notre Dame and Illinois. If the Wildcats beat Minnesota on Sunday they can start rooting for the Gophers as well.
There is a chance that all three of these schools could be NCAA Tournament caliber teams come Selection Sunday. If that's the case, well, Northwestern's resume looks a heck of a lot better. With 0 bad losses - at least right now, there are a lot of traps along the way - three or four "good wins" might be enough to get the Wildcats off a weak bubble and into the dance.
Some people are skeptical. The backlash has really started to heat up, but Northwestern is certainly still alive. So Wildcats fans, root for Illinois. I know it's against your better judgment, but it's what makes the most sense.