Northwestern still needs three wins to make NCAA Tournament

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In our latest NCAA Tournament bracket projection, we have Northwestern as a #12 seed, one of the last four teams in. Of course, this isn’t a place you want to stay right now as Selection Sunday approaches.

Even though this is a supposedly “weak bubble,” bracket projections don’t and can’t factor in the “bid-stealing” that will occur next week when small conference favorites lose in their in their league tournaments. How many of these “one-bid league” upsets will we have? Who knows, but you need to get above that last #12 seed line to be safe, and the ‘Cats need to beat the Iowa Hawkeyes in Iowa City and then pick up two more wins in Indy.

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Northwestern’s Surprisingly Good RPI, Tournament Profile

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RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) is an algorithm based on opponents’ winning percentage, opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage, and opponents’ opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage. This is the truth, I’m not trying to sound like Dr. Seuss here. So RPI is like the BCS, a very controversial number that certains groups of people ascribe meaning to; other groups of people resent.

That fact is, RPI is taken very seriously by the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and from a numerical standpoint, it’s all about “who have you played?” Then there’s the eye-test with RPI, which asks “who have you beaten?”

And these numbers are what gives the Northwestern Wildcats a stronger than you think tourney profile. A 12-5, 2-3 in conference team with two 28+ point losses doesn’t seem like a good candidate to go dancing at first glance. But when you look at their #30 RPI and strength of schedule, the picture completely changes.

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Wildcats Approach School Record for Wins.

By Paul M. Banks

f you saw the highlights of Northwestern’s shocking upset at #20 Purdue on the Big Ten Network last night, you might have seen the line reading “17 wins by Northwestern ties school record.” That’s incorrect. Their next victory, which could come Sunday at Ohio St., would be their 18th. That would tie the school record set by the 1982-83 squad led by Jim Stack. Yes, the Jim Stack.

His group beat Notre Dame in the NIT first round before losing to DePaul in the 2nd round. Lots of local representation in the 1983 National Invitational tournament. NU’s 1931 Big Ten championship team has the best record in school history (16-1), and if you vividly recall that- congratulations on living a long and healthy life!

Getting back to today, the Cats have won three in a row, partially thanks to Big Ten player of the week, sophomore point guard Michael “Juice” Thompson. “I feel myself and the rest of my teammates are playing their best basketball right now. People say it’s good to be playing your best basketball going into March and tournament time,” Thompson said.

Despite what some pundits are saying a win in Columbus will NOT equal the program’s first NCAA tournament berth. Not with an 81st ranked RPI, 61st strength of schedule and below .500 conference record. In order to avoid saying a Cublike “just wait till next year,” about March Madness, they’ll need to run the Big Ten Conference Tournament table in Indianapolis. If they had effectively closed the deal in at least two of the four games in which they blew double-digit second half leads…they’d likely have a ticket to the Big Dance.

However, the school which hosted the first NCAA tournament yet never played in one (with apologies to Alanis Morrissette, “Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?”) will obtain a postseason berth of some sort. Northwestern Wildcats does include the letters N-I-T. After last year’s horrid 8-22, 1-17 in conference debacle, any postseason berth is greatly appreciated in Evanston. “I may be their biggest fan. I love what Northwestern does and I’ve always had great respect for the way Bill’s {Carmody} teams execute to precision,” Iowa Coach Todd Lickliter said after his Hawkeyes lost to the Cats last Saturday.

The Real Bracket Busters

By: David K.

Last weekend, ESPN featured their “Bracket Buster” day in which some of the best mid-major teams went head-to-head as to make a statement to the committee come Selection Sunday.  This got me thinking (which is always dangerous when it involves college basketball.)  What if there was a true Bracket Buster day featuring the major conferences?  This would give the committee a true look at which of the real bubble teams deserve to be dancing.

Here is how it would play out:
First, I would try to get all six of the BCS conferences to be eligible (Big East, Big Ten, ACC, SEC, Big 12, and Pac-10), as well as the Atlantic 10, Conference USA, and Mountain West which always seem to have a couple teams on the bubble.

Of course, it would be quite the task to get those nine conferences to agree before the season on setting a day in which of all of their teams were off to possibly be included in the Bracket Buster (BB) game.  So you would have to agree on a day and then a few weeks beforehand, pick the teams that appear to be bubble teams come tourney time to participate in the BB.  That time span would be needed to arrange travel and allow your fans a chance to get tickets so they could see the game.

Making this idea even more difficult is my belief that any home court advantage should be eliminated because the game would clearly favor the home school.  Therefore, you pick eight neutral sites spread throughout the country that could host a game as well as draw a decent crowd to make the event financially beneficial, which in this day of age is always a major factor. And again why having regional seeding would be necessary.  Since bigger NBA-type arenas would be preferred, you would have to make sure the venue is not being used that day or plan an early afternoon game so as to not interfere with the already scheduled event.

You then pick 16 teams that are considered “on the bubble” and strategically place them in the designated neutral sites based on location.  There would be rules where you cannot play a team in your conference or a team that you have already played earlier in the season on the BB day.


So let’s pick 8 neutral sites:

Philadelphia (Spectrum)
Charlotte (Time Warner Cable Arena, Bobcats home court)
Atlanta (Phillips Arena, Hawks home court)
Indianapolis (Conseco Fieldhouse, Pacers home court)
Chicago (All-State Arena, DePaul’s home court)
Denver (Pepsi Center, Nuggets home court)
San Antonio (Alamo, Spurs home court)
Sacramento (Arco Arena, Kings home court)

Now you place the 16 bubble-type teams in the pre-determined venues:

Philadelphia
Penn St. vs. Providence

Charlotte
Virginia Tech vs. Temple

Atlanta
Tennessee vs. Miami (FL)

Indianapolis
Cincinnati vs. Michigan

Chicago
Wisconsin vs. Notre Dame

Denver
Kansas State vs. BYU

San Antonio
Oklahoma State vs. UAB

Sacramento
USC vs. San Diego St.

A couple bubble-caliber teams would be left out like Georgetown, Texas A&M, and Maryland, but I think adding a ninth or tenth game would be too much.

The biggest advantage to creating a BB day for the big conferences would be to have one program prove without a doubt that they are better than the other in case it comes down to choosing one school over the other.  It would also serve as an indicator of strengths of conference.  For example, if the four Big East schools went undefeated and the three Big Ten schools did not win a game, you should favor a Big East school instead of a Big Ten school come selection time.

The odds of this actually happening are probably 1-100,000.  But with the amount of debate that is now rampant during two months prior to Selection Sunday about bubble teams, RPIs, strengths of schedules, bad losses, and good wins, this would serve as a definitive determining factor of why to pick one bubble team over another.

Illini Lose Ludicrously Ugly Game

By Paul M. Banks

When you saw the box score of #16 Illinois’ (21-6, 9-5) 38-33 home loss to unranked Penn St. (19-8, 8-6) on Wednesday night, you might have thought you were glancing at a Girls’ high school basketball result. In football, the two schools combined to score 62 points last fall, in roundball just nine more.

If you ever wondered why the Big Ten, the 2nd highest rated conference in RPI, doesn’t nationally receive the respect it might deserve, it’s because of ugly games like these.

Wednesday night’s affair made the Dick Bennett “stall-ball” era at Wisconsin look like Magic Johnson’s “Showtime” years at the Great Western Forum. This contest was about defense, but it was much more about ludicrously bad offense. The Illini motion attack stood still, and the Nittany Lions (notice how their team name starts with N-I-T) got an offensive boost from the officials.

The home crowd at the “House of Paign” were boisterously critical of the refs, and perhaps rightfully so, given the disparity in free throws: Penn State attempted 11, Illinois zero. “Very flat, not moving, didn’t get good cutting,” Illini coach Bruce Weber said of his team’s non-existent “O.”

Illinois Senior guards Trent Meacham and Dr. Chester Frazier “led” (I can’t make air-quotes strong enough to invoke the necessary sarcasm) the Illini with 7 points apiece. The other three starters contributed 6, 5, and 4 points. But at least the scoring was balanced. “They played good defense all night, we missed some shots we usually make, it was a combination of both,” Meacham said. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn was in attendance for this game: which was to offensive fundamentals what his predecessor Rod Blagojevich was to ethical governance. In the nearly 50 year history of Assembly Hall, this game broke records for: lowest winning score, fewest combined points, worst combined field-goal accuracy, and fewest point scored by Illinois.

Penn State Coach Ed DeChellis was asked if he had seen anything like this in all his years of college basketball. “It was uncharted water, sometimes I looked up at the score and I didn’t know what half we were in. At the end, we set this back a few years, Naismith must be rolling over in his grave,” the winning headman replied.

Illini-Northwestern Sort of a Rivalry

Paul M. Banks

If there’s one game that Northwestern circles on the schedule each year, it’s Illinois. The Illini directly compete with them within the city of Chicago on all levels: for coveted recruits, building a dedicated fan base, and the publicity of coverage from the nation’s third largest media market. While NU fans utterly despise Illinois, Illini Nation abhors Indiana, the only Big 10 program with more tournament appearances and wins than Illinois, the most. Eric Gordon certainly turned that up a notch!

It may not be Duke/North Carolina, but it’s unfortunate that this season sees our in-state rivals meet just once: Thu 8PM at Welsh-Ryan Arena, ESPN2.

Illinois-Northwestern is an exciting rivalry in football, but in basketball it’s EXCEEDINGLY one-sided. UI leads the all-time series 125-34, with a 60-21 advantage in Evanston. Illini Nation also carry a nine-game series winning streak into Thursday’s game.

However, nothing is certain for opponents game-planning against the Wildcats’ unique style on both ends of the court (Princeton set on offense, 1-3-1 zone on defense) Despite the recent records overwhelmingly in Illinois’ favor, Illini senior point guard Chester Frazier expressed caution towards the Wildcats, who enter the game with an 11-2 home record and the nation’s 20th ranked scoring defense. “That’s gonna be one of the roughest games of the year in my opinion. Their style of play is very different, very unorthodox. With the 1-3-1 they cause a lot of turnovers and create a lot of havoc, so we gotta take care of the ball and be ready to play every possession,” Frazier said.

Northwestern senior two-guard Craig Moore is NU’s emotional and scoring leader. He’s also second nationally in 3pt field goal percentage. Moore discussed the Illini’s upcoming visit to the North Shore. “It’s a good rivalry, they’ve handled us a bit the past couple times we’ve played them,” NU’s all-time three point scorer said. Even though Illinois has looked uglier than Michael Phelps’ recent PR on the road, I predict they’ll win 61-59. They have an impressive RPI of 15, according to all 3 (Real Time, ESPN Inside, and Jerry Palm) ratings percentage indices. The Illini slaughtered the Wildcats 70-37 in their only meeting last year and Cats coach Bill Carmody is just 1-14 against the Orange and Blue.

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the Washington Times and The Sports Bank

Illini Need a Closer!

By Paul M. Banks

Remember the Bulls glory years, when Michael Jordan was the finest late game finisher? When somebody had to be the team’s go-to guy and knock down the big shot, MJ was the Bulls’ assassin. The 21st ranked Illini lack this quality- a true ‘balla” to close games out, a star carrying this team on their back when necessary.

I asked Head Coach Bruce Weber if the team’s current leading scorer and most athletic player, Demetri McCamey can be the guy- “Our team doctor mentioned to me before the Michigan State game, the one thing we don’t have is someone who can just take it over and make a play when we need it, Alex {Legion, Weber’s highest rated recruit} jumped up and made some shots against Michigan St. but if one guy would made a couple plays in gut check time, we could have found a way to win that thing. I think he {McCamey} has the potential. He’s got to learn the game: how to use screens, how to play without the ball, and if he could do that he could be the guy. He passes well, shoots the three, he’s got a big body and can pull-up,” Weber responded.

Another reporter followed up my question by asking “if not McCamey, then who?” Weber reiterated that it could be Legion, the transfer from Kentucky or forward Mike Davis. “I’m not sure right now, I think Alex has the potential to make big shots because he can just jump up and shoot it over people and maybe Mike Davis can continue to develop a triple-threat game so he can beat somebody by doing his little half-hooks and turnarounds, but Demetri has the most potential no doubt,” Weber answered.

Currently, Illinois (18-5, 6-4) is nationally ranked: 17th in RPI, 16th in Sagarin, 23rd in the AP and 21 in the Coaches poll. They appear to be a #5 or #6 seed come tournament time. Illinois has great balance -four different players: McCamey, Davis, Mike Tisdale, and Trent Meacham are or within a point-per game of being the team’s leading scorer- and resembles the 1998 team, who used balanced offense to go 13-3 and win the Big Ten, but imagine what they could be with a true closer? Their struggles on offense the past three games accentuate the urgency.

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the NBC Street Team, the Washington Times and The Sports Bank