You're a Northwestern fan, so you know what it means to hope against the odds. Well, tonight, the NU women's basketball team showed that their hopes of making the NCAA tournament, long as they are, aren't completely dead yet. The Wildcats went into Lincoln, Neb., and upset the No. 16 Cornhuskers, 63-51, behind 19 points from Dannielle Diamant and 17 points from Kendall Hackney.
Our Wildcats are now 14-12 overall, 4-9 in the Big Ten. Their RPI coming into the game was 108. To make the tournament, they pretty much have to win out the rest of the way in the regular season, which would get them to 17-12 overall and 7-9 in the conference, then win at least one game, probably two, in the Big Ten tournament. Improbable? Sure. Impossible? Well, never say never. That's what being a Northwestern fan is all about, right?
Tonight's game should be credited to NU's defense. The Wildcats held the 'Huskers to 29% shooting from the floor. After a back-and-forth first half that ended up tied 29-29 at the intermission, Nebraska came out hot and built a 38-33 lead, but the Wildcats, untrue to recent form, did not fold. They battled back and, tied at 40-40, Inesha Hale gave NU the lead for good with a pure three pointer, her only score of the game. Nebraska kept it close, but NU iced it with free throws down the stretch.
So, looking at the Big Ten landscape, four teams look to be definitely in the NCAA tournament: No. 9 Ohio State, No. 12 Penn State, No. 16 Nebraska, and No. 17 Purdue. Michigan is unranked and just 7-5 in conference, but the Wolverines are 18-7 overall and have an RPI of 29, so they look to be in decent shape for an at-large berth. On the bubble are Iowa (16-10, 8-5) and Michigan State (15-10, 7-5). Iowa has an RPI of 50, while MSU has an RPI of 72.
The three remaining regular season games for NU are at Illinois on Monday, then home against Iowa next Thursday, and home against Michigan State on Feb. 26. Illinois, after a terrible start, has been playing very well as of late, winning four out of their last six, including a huge upset of Ohio State. Iowa and MSU, as I said above, are on the bubble, so beating both those teams would help NU's cause.
It is definitely not an easy road. NU squeaked out a one-point win against Illinois in their first meeting in Evanston, while Iowa and MSU both blew out NU in their first meetings. But NU is in a position where it has to win. Not only do the WIldcats' NCAA tournament hopes ride on it, but they must also maintain at least a .500 record if they want to be considered for an NIT berth, so there is a lot riding on these next few games.