On Saturday night, Northwestern suffered its most devastating loss of the season. The Wildcats led Indiana by seven with a minute and a half to play, then watched the Hoosiers score eight unanswered points and win on a Thomas Bryant and-one dunk with 2.6 seconds to play.
A victory on Saturday would have put Northwestern one step closer to the first NCAA Tournament berth in school history. Chris Collins’ team already has 20 wins, including one over then-No. 7 Wisconsin, and many prognosticators figured the Wildcats needed just one more victory to lock up their bid. Northwestern could have sealed the deal Saturday at Assembly Hall. Instead, it lost to a slumping team and now looks as shaky as ever.
Northwestern (20-9, 9-7) closes its season with home games against red-hot Michigan and No. 14 Purdue, followed by the Big Ten Tournament. Wildcats fans are nervous that if their team loses its next three contests, they’ll be back to the NIT.
Is that fear justified? What are Northwestern’s chances of reaching the NCAA Tournament? Here’s a breakdown:
As of Thursday (so before the Indiana game), ESPN’s Joe Lunardi projected Northwestern as a No. 9 seed, facing Miami in the first round, and CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm pegged the Wildcats as a No. 8 seed.
Lunardi has not updated his bracket to reflect Northwestern’s loss Saturday, but Palm has, bumping Collins and company down to a No. 9, with VCU as the projected opponent. Still, both forecasts suggest there’s plenty of room between Northwestern and the bubble.
As of now, the Wildcats remain safely in the tournament.
Will Northwestern win another game?
Northwestern is not playing well right now. In part, thanks to the absence of Scottie Lindsey (who missed four games with mononucleosis), the Wildcats have lost five of their last seven games, losing to Illinois twice and Indiana once, and only narrowly beating Rutgers at home.
Now, with home dates left against Michigan (9-7 in conference) and Purdue (12-4), Northwestern does not have an easy win on the schedule.
In a way, however, all this losing has a silver lining: The Wildcats appear unlikely to get a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament, meaning they’ll likely wind up with a winnable second-round game against a team in the bottom half of the conference. That could provide the win they need.
Do the Wildcats even need to win another game?
Not necessarily. The NCAA Tournament bubble is incredible weak this year, with teams just above .500 still clinging to a spot in the dance.
And given that Northwestern has 20 wins, including nine in the Big Ten (albeit in a down year for the conference), the Wildcats might not have to do much more.
— Louie Vaccher (@WildcatReport) February 25, 2017
So will Northwestern make the NCAA Tournament?
If the Wildcats beat either Michigan or Purdue, they’re in.
If they win a game in the Big Ten Tournament, they’re in.
If they lose out but get help from the rest of the bubble, they’re in.
In other words, there are a whole lot of scenarios in which Northwestern gets a bid and very few scenarios in which it doesn’t.
So, although blowing this golden opportunity and missing out on the Big Dance would be a very “Northwestern” thing to do, petrified fans can take a deep breath. Things still look pretty good for the Wildcats.