There was some discussion on Twitter after Northwestern’s heartbreaking one-point loss to DePaul on Saturday night about whether the Wildcats, who host no. 4 Wisconsin on January 2 to open Big Ten play, will win another game this season.
You might be tempted to say no. Northwestern has zero good wins to speak of and has been competitive in only one of its games against above-average opponents (Stanford) so far this season. It has also lost to two objectively bad teams: Illinois State and DePaul. Worse, the late-game misfortune that afflicted the football team for much of its season seems to have found its next victim in Chris Collins’ squad.
The wild final five seconds of Saturday night’s loss, which included a redemptive three-point flourish from point guard Dave Sobolewski and a game-winning layup from DePaul guard Billy Garrett with 0.1 seconds to go, were devastating for Wildcats fans. But that sequence wasn’t nearly as crushing as this. Or what happened after this.
The basketball team has lost only one really close game. The rest of its losses might not even be close enough to induce typical Cardiac Cats heartbreak. The Big Ten is the toughest conference in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy’s ratings; it features five teams ranked in Kenpom’s top 25 and eight in the top 50. Northwestern is the league’s lowest ranked team, and it isn’t particularly close. The Wildcats (120) are ranked 31 spots below 11th-ranked Nebraska.
All of which makes Saturday night’s Twitter discussion totally reasonable. It wouldn’t be shocking if Northwestern doesn’t win another game this season. The Wildcats’ projected record in Big Ten play is 5-13, a mark Pomeroy formulates by drawing on “cumulative probabilities of winning each game.”
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Given how Northwestern has performed to date, projecting it to win five games in the toughest league in the country might seem a bit ambitious. Check out the individual probabilities Pomeroy lists for Northwestern’s conference games. The Wildcats are given at least a 50 percent chance to win in only three of them: home dates with Purdue (Jan. 21), Nebraska (Feb. 8) and Penn State (Mar. 6).
Northwestern could win one, two or all of those games. It could win none of them. Before you decide whether you agree with Pomeroy’s numbers, it’s worth pointing out that the Boilermakers (85), Huskers (89) and Penn State (84) all rank at least 45 spots higher on Pomeroy’s team ratings than DePaul (135). Northwestern fought tooth and nail just to push the Blue Demons to the final buzzer. Will the Wildcats be able to hang with the three eminently beatable Big Ten opponents on their schedule?
It’s not inconceivable that Northwestern could pull an upset at some point – home meetings with Illinois (Jan. 12, 42% win probability), Minnesota (Feb. 16, 36%) and Indiana (Feb. 22, 40%) are good opportunities. Whether or not it beats one of those teams, the Wildcats’ best chances for conference wins will come against teams that are far better than anyone they have already beaten this season, along with the team they lost to Saturday night.
So, Northwestern might win a Big Ten game. It wouldn’t be surprising if it doesn’t, though.
This is a bad team.