Northwestern found a way to win a tough one against Minnesota in overtime on Sunday and thus the Wildcats are still alive for an NCAA Tournament berth - well at least sort of. Northwestern is on the outside looking in with almost every conceivable scenario, save one - a win at Wisconsin on Sunday.
Oh what a win that would be. It would b a true road victory. It would be a win over a Top 50 RPI team. (Actually, according to ESPN's InsideRPI it would be a win over a Top 25 team as Wisconsin is currently ranked 18th.)
But first Northwestern has to beat Penn State on Wednesday. The Nittany Lions are 0-12 in the Big Ten this season. Of course, this isn't the game that worries me. If the fans show up at Welsh-Ryan Arena the Wildcats should take care of business at home. It's not this game that worries me, it's the final three of the regular season, and here's why.
Reason at Penn State on February 28 worries me: Northwestern is going to likely be Penn State's last chance to get a win in the Big Ten and the Nittany Lions are going to know that. Penn State finishes with a game at Michigan State and a game versus Purdue. If Taylor Battle and company don't get a win against Northwestern, it isn't going to happen. Thus expect Penn State to come out hungry.
Reason versus Chicago State on March 3 worries me: I'm all for the Chicago area teams playing against each other. Heck, I've championed this many times before. But why this late in the season? Why couldn't Chicago State have replaced Texas-Pan American? This game is going to be a lose-lose for the Wildcats. Right now the Cougars are ranked 347th in RPI. (That's last by the way.) If Northwestern wins so what. If Northwestern loses, well wow, it would be just unbelievable how much damage it would do to the credibility of the program. I doubt there's any way Northwestern loses. Chicago State turns the ball over too much and doesn't have the height to handle the Wildcats at any position on the court. Still, this game isn't going to help the NCAA Tournament case.
Reason at Indiana on March 6 worries me: The Wildcats won in Bloomington for the first time in seemingly forever last season. Now comes the recap. Sure, Northwestern easily handled Indiana in Welsh-Ryan Arena, but the road is a different story. Indiana has already beaten Minnesota and Michigan at home. Assembly Hall is going to let the Wildcats hear it and if the NCAA Tournament is within reach then they'll be even more fired up. Also, the Hoosiers have to break out of their prolonged slump at some point. Let's hope it's not the final game of the regular season.
If Northwestern can survive all of these landmines, it will come down to the Big Ten Tournament. Chicago College Basketball will be in Indianapolis to see it through. Let's hope the Wildcats can keep the dream alive for the rest of the season.