Is Northwestern a basketball school now? Well, the men’s basketball program is certainly in a much better place than the football program right now. (Obviously, women’s lacrosse is the most successful sport at the university, by far).
NU men’s hoops are currently 3-1 in the Big Ten, and this is just the 3rd time that has happened in the past 55 years. And this is also the first time that they have beaten Illinois, Michigan State and Indiana in the same season since 1967-68.
Northwestern has a better resume https://t.co/KDoplStvRR
— Tre Demps (@tredemps14) January 7, 2023
It’s still too early to talk NCAA Tournament, but it is looking like the Wildcats could achieve their second postseason berth of the Chris Collins era. At 12-3, plus a big slate of conference games to go, in a year when the league is really down, the Cats should be able to claw their way to a very respectable record when all is said and done.
And yes, the Big Ten is down this year, period. No matter how hard the BTN tries to convince you otherwise. While “there are no off nights in this league” is one of the dumbest and oldest cliches around, for any sport and any league, the Big Ten Network is really amping that narrative up to insanely annoying proportions this season.
Watch any game on the BTN this year, and you’ll persistently hear the announcers continually tell you how strong and deep the conference is. Hey, they are propagandists for a reason, and those chosen to do that job know that they’re getting paid to be propagandists.
The league is deep, in the sense that almost everyone, other than Minnesota and maybe Nebraska, are at least decent. So about 12/14 teams are solid, or better, but that doesn’t mean the league is actually any good. While almost no one is really bad, the flip side of the coin is that no one is actually very good either.
The AP poll voters seem to agree, as that’s why you only have two sides ranked in the top 25 right now. Any Big Ten team with a number next to their name right now just isn’t anywhere near as good as that number implies. Purdue is not the third best team in the country. Wisconsin is not the 18th best team in the country.
Indiana and Ohio State didn’t deserve to be ranked.
That said, Northwestern basketball can only play the teams in front of them, and so far, while there is a lot of season left to be played, they have put together a nice body of work.
Besides the Big Ten having parity/being overrated/more mediocre than usual plays into NU’s advantage.
Let’s look at what the Cats have done so far, and what opportunities lie ahead of them.
Northwestern Basketball Season Resume
Net 48, KenPom 54, Road 3-0, Quad 1 2-2, Quad 2 2-1 RV in the AP poll, 21 of them, placing them 32nd overall.
Illini (Net 37, KenPom 34), Michigan State (Net 53, KenPom 43), Indiana (Net 25, KenPom 22)
Pitt (Net 67, KenPom 68) by over 30 points.
The Road Ahead
With 16 games left, all in the league, there will be numerous opportunities to rack up more Quad 1 wins. Of the 14 teams in the Big Ten, 10 were included or received votes in this week’s AP and USA Today Top 25 polls.
Eleven of the 14 Big Ten programs rank in the top 66 of today’s NCAA NET rankings, including six in the top 40: Purdue (#5), Ohio State (#14), Rutgers (#21), Indiana (#25), Illinois (#37), and Maryland (#39).
Currently in his 10th season at the helm, Northwestern basketball coach Chris Collins has only won 20+ games twice. The NCAA Tournament appearance year of 2016-2017, and the season before that, when they went 20-12, 8-10 in the league.
If the current trends continue, then it looks like this could easily be on track to be the second-best year of the Collins era.
Northwestern basketball back in the NCAA Tournament? We’ll see where we are in about a month from now and explore the idea at that time.
Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Sports Bank. He’s also the author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” and “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”
He’s written for numerous publications, including the New York Daily News, Sports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune. He regularly appears on NTD News and WGN News Now. Follow the website on Twitter and Instagram.
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