The Northwestern Wildcats basketball team is attempting to relinquish one of the most infamous records in college basketball: Its record number of NCAA Tournament appearances. Standing at zero, they are the only power conference team to have never gone dancing.
The tournament consists of 68 teams and has included 64 since 1985. With the number of Division I teams fluctuating every year near 340, that means approximately 19% of teams make the tournament every year. An overwhelming number of bids go to the power conference teams. Some of the big conferences have eight, nine, or even ten teams punch tickets in a given year. The Big East put in 11 teams in 2011, which is the current record. The fact of the matter is that there is a huge advantage for teams in a big conference.
Yet, even with all of this in their favor, the Wildcats have never made the tournament. Not winning a World Series for a century is bad, but when only one team completes the feat every year it pales in comparison to this. The men in purple have been close a few times but never able to get that signature win or finish the fight toward the end of the season.
Northwestern has not been ranked since the 2009-10 season and that was only a brief stint at the 25th spot. This year they are on the verge of entering the fray once again as they are receiving votes and continuing to win games.
Since Chris Collins took the helm in Evanston, the team has been trending upward. Last year the team finished with its best record since 2010-11 at 20-12. Their current record is 16-4 (5-2) after a close 74-72 win at Ohio State.
They are moving ever so much closer to solidifying a spot in the NCAA Tournament and also to the school record of 20 wins in a season.
With the Big Ten having a bit of a down year, there are not a lot of opportunities for Northwestern to get that statement win. Essentially, the rest of the year they will work to avoid a “fall from grace”. They are 38th in the RPI and have not lost any games to teams outside the top 50. They have a few more opportunities for good wins against teams like Maryland (21), twice against Purdue (27) and Wisconsin (24).
If the Wildcats take a must-win against Rutgers (130) and three others they will be guaranteed a .500 record in the Big 10. That should be enough to push them into the field, but another win or two would push them over the top. Obviously, winning the conference tournament would do the trick as well, but they have never accomplished this either.
An additional factor in their favor is that down the stretch they will not have to do a lot of traveling. Seven of their last 11 games are at home. This includes two of their best opportunities for key wins against Purdue and Maryland.
A lot of things are in the Wildcats favor. They are currently in the field for many bracketologists including The Game Haus’ Joe DiTullio. DiTullio has them at a nine seed in his most current edition. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi agrees with their current placement in the field.
Northwestern has very little standing in their way at this point. They just need to take care of business and finish the job. It is about time the program lift this weight from its shoulders.