Saturday, January 31, 2009
I have to admit that before tonight, I hadn't caught two consecutive Northwestern University basketball games all season. Now, having been raised in Evanston, where we used to run around in a 3/4 empty Dyche Stadium (now Ryan Field) on Saturdays, that is just plain sad. Because this... just maybe... could finally be the year that Bill Carmody's Wildcats break the curse. NU has never (NEVER) made the Field of 64. Okay, so they won the National Championship back in the early 30's. And they've shown up to the NIT's a few times in recent memory. Evan Eschmeyer, anybody?
I don't want to jinx this club. But c'mon now! Tonight, on the Big Ten Network, announcers Jim Jackson and Dave Revsine showed NU basketball fans the unthinkable. An actual tournament resume for the Wildcats, who are now almost twenty games into the season. They've beaten Florida State of the ACC. Okay, not exactly giants, but these are the same Seminoles that took a fantastic UNC squad down to the wire. Then they beat Michigan State at the Breslin Center, right after taking down Tubby Smith and Minnesota! Those are some no-joke wins, over ranked opponents. And while this is admittedly a down year for Wisco, you know that is not a terrible squad either. Squeaking past IU wasn't gorgeous, but hey, it's the Big Ten. Every win counts. And Craig Moore, the scrappy senior guard for the 'Cats, has really impressed me in these two games. Both he and Kevin Coble have the veteran savvy that holds a team together in the closing minutes of close games. You can't undervalue plays like Coble stealing the final inbounds pass from IU's Verdell Jones with 5 seconds remaining, or the cold-blooded calm of Moore sinking what seemed like dozens of free throws in the final seconds against Wisconsin to ice the victory (Actually I think it was only six. Close enough).
I guess this is what I'm driving at. NU now stands at 12-7, 4-5 in league play. Halfway through the conference schedule, they have already split their season series with the Badgers and Spartans. They play at Iowa next (after a gimme - hopefully - against Chicago State), then against #20 Illinois in Evanston, where the crowd will do its usual split-personality act (see: games vs IU, Wisco, and any other Big 10 program with thousands of grads living in the Chi). Northwestern already has solid, bubble-worthy RPI and SOS numbers. All they need to do now is keep winning against a stout but certainly not impossible remaining schedule. I'm no bracketologist, but I'd say five more Big Ten wins and there is no way to keep this team out. Four more and at least one win in the Big Ten Tourney, and they've gotta be in the conversation! There are at least four winnable games there.
Anyways, here it is, not even February and I'm getting way ahead of myself. For now, let's just say... Go Cats! If there can't be any IU in the tourney this year, it would be nice to go for broke and just turn the whole thing on its head. Some Northwestern action in late March would do the job perfectly.