There's a lot of hating and naysaying and poo-pooing surrounding Northwestern basketball, which seems a little premature, don't it? Come on, y'all: Northwestern's season isn't even over yet! The Wildcats could still go dancing if things just play out for them in the Big Ten Tournament, and all it would take is a historically shocking run after the team failed to win any of their last regular season games.
But the season isn't over. Until the final whistle, Northwestern has a chance at the upset.
Okay, we'll be honest: it's a long shot.
Okay, we'll be honest: it's probably one of the longest shots eve.r After injuries and Drew Crawford, Northwestern seemed not ready to compete at any level, let alone in the Big Ten, the strongest conference in college basketball. But still, it's a single-elimination tournament with the winner going to the Big Dance - NU could hypothetically do it, right? Liberty made he NCAA Tournament out of the Big South, and KenPom's Log5 gave them just a .5 percent chance of winning - that's 1-in-200. He hasn't done the Big Ten yet, but I imagine Northwestern would be somewhere in that .5 percent range. (Note: Pomeroy has now done the Log5 for the Big Ten Tournament, and he gives Northwestern a .02 percent chance of winning, or about 250 times worse than Liberty had.) One incredibly unlikely thing happening is just a sign that another incredibly unlikely thing will also happen, right? That's how probability works?
Oh, and let's not forget something really important: home court advantage. As you may know, this tournament is being held at the United Center in Chicago, and Northwestern is Chicago's Big Ten Team. It'll be packed with Wildcat fans all week long, right? Kenpom sure seems to think so, as his numbers consider all the games Northwestern plays in the Big Ten Tournament to be "Semi-Home" games, giving Northwestern a higher probability of winning. Well, yeah, sure. Does it matter that there will be maybe, like, 10 percent Northwestern fans there at any given time? OF COURSE NOT. That's why it's just a semi-home advantage. Regardless, I know I would've gone if I was still a student, and I hope something along the line of the six buses we sent to Indy last year is being organized - although that really didn't work out so well.
Let's take a look at NU's potential run to glory.
Round 1: vs. Iowa, 8 p.m., Thursday
We wrote about how much we want Northwestern to win this game the other day, and it's not crazy. Sure, Iowa is one of the best teams in the conference at defending the three, something Northwestern needs vitally to survive, and Aaron White and Melsahn Basabe is the perfect combination of center-dude-who-can-step-out-and-hit-jumpers-and-center-dude-who-can-block-shots that gives Northwestern nightmares, but let's move past that: Northwestern had a chance at Iowa, but then Alex Olah got a concussion and Swopshire suffered his season-ending injury a few minutes later. Had that not happened, NU would've been right in the game against them.
Let's ignore the 70-50 beatdown Iowa gave Northwestern earlier in the year - I think we can all agree that was TOTALLY just due to some unbelievably bad shooting rather than anything great Iowa did.
Basically, this is a win.
Quarterfinals, vs. Michigan State, 8 p.m., Friday
Northwestern just played these guys, and it was awful close. NU got the deficit down to two points, but they couldn't get the final piece to pull ahead in the last few minutes.
Again, let's ignore the fact that Adreian Payne could eat every player on Northwestern as a salad topping and also shoots better than most of them, and that Gary Harris is a revelation as a freshman, and that Keith Appling probably has more points in the last minute of close games than Northwestern does as a team.
Now, let's shift the scene from the Breslin Center to the United Center - A SEMI-HOME ENVIRONMENT - and it's tough to see how Northwestern doesn't knock off the No. 7 Spartans. The last time these two teams played before that game was last year, when the Wildcats upset a team that finished the year ranked No. 3 on Kenpom. The year before that, NU lost once by just three points thanks to a Draymond Green rebound off a free throw and once in an ugly game that ended up in overtime in a game NU led by as much as eight. Two years before that, Northwestern beat Michigan State in East Lansing thanks to a ridiculous performance by Kevin Coble.
You're probably thinking: wait, doesn't that make Northwestern just 2-7 in his last nine outings against Michigan State? Sure. But look at how close those losses were and how big of an underdog Northwestern was in those two wins, and I think it's clear you can construct a narrative that Bill Carmody "has Tom Izzo's number", or something.
My point is, this is basically a win.
Semifinals: vs. Ohio State (or the winner of Purdue/Nebraska), 3 p.m., Saturday
Oh, these guys again, huh?
Again, let's ignore that Deshaun Thomas is one of the top two or three players in the conference and that he can score against pretty much anybody at will, meaning he can score against Northwestern literally without even having to concentrate on the fact that he's playing basketball.
Both of Northwestern's games against Ohio State this season ended the same way. Both were after all the injuries, and both were surprisingly not murderous. In the first game, at Ohio State, Kale Abrahamson and Tre Demps brought some buckets and Northwestern had the game tied with a few minutes to go, before the Buckeyes went on a 10-0 run, and Sam Thompson did a super-cool 360 dunk with his team up eight when he could have just run out the clock. The next game, Northwestern kept pace with Ohio State despite four threes from Lenzelle Smith Jr. on four attempts and DeShaun Thomas going off, and although it was close until the last few, Ohio State ended up winning by ten and Sam Thompson threw down a monster slam on a fast break with his team newly ahead by a comfortable margin when he could have killed clock.
And of course, let's not forget the last few years: in last year's only game between the two teams, Alex Marcotullio hit an ONIONS three to tie the game up, but Jared Sullinger made a bank shot with the clock running down to give Ohio State the 75-73 victory. The year before, Northwestern had Ohio State, then the No. 1 team in the country, tied in the last few seconds, but Jared Sullinger hit free throws for the 59-58 win. They met again in the Big Ten Tourney, where they pushed Northwestern to overtime, but Jared Sullinger shot something like 453 free throws in overtime as Northwestern lost 67-61.
So many close losses, so many losses where if things had just been slightly different, Northwestern would have made the NCAA Tournament. Northwestern has shown over the past few years the can hang with Ohio State, now they just need buckets and calls at the right time.
My point is, this is basically a win.
Finals: vs. ????, 2:30 p.m., Sunday
Who cares who Northwestern is playing? At this point, they're the team of destiny, it's Selection Sunday, and they're practically guaranteed a win, even if they're playing the '96 Bulls, which is a distinct option.
My point is, Northwestern is going to win the Big Ten Tournament, and there's nothing anybody can do about it.