The difficult and improbable road to the NCAA tournament starts Tuesday for Northwestern when the 'Cats open Big Ten play at Rutgers at 11 a.m.
Northwestern wrapped up non-conference competition with a win over Northern Kentucky on Saturday. Following the victory, coach Chris Collins called NU's 9-4 record "a great start." But he also made sure to mention that Big Ten play is a completely different animal.
What's more, the 'Cats have what Collins called "by far the most difficult [conference] schedule in the league. It's like double the second-toughest." While this statement is debatable, there is no question wins will be hard to come by the rest of the way, starting today against conference newcomer Rutgers.
Even though KenPom ranks Northwestern (No. 136) ahead of the Scarlet Knights (No.152), the website only gives the 'Cats a 38 percent change to win. Nonetheless, on paper today's game is one of the more winnable ones on Northwestern's schedule.
KenPom predicts the Wildcats will lose their first seven conference games, but lists this game as the one Northwestern has the best chance to win, with Rutgers favored by just a bucket.
What to watch:
- The Mack and Jack Attack: The duo of Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack leads the way for Rutgers. Mack averages 13.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game and Jack averages 13.1 points and 6.7 boards.
- Cobb's Health: JerShon Cobb was supposed to return to action against NKU, but a last minute scratch kept the senior out of his fifth straight game. Is Cobb healthy enough to go today? If so, how much will he play and how effective will he be?
- Freshmen Focus: Part of the reason Vic Law and Bryant McIntosh chose Northwestern was to experience the challenge of Big Ten basketball. How will Northwestern's coveted first-years fare in their first test?
How to watch:
Radio: WGN, 720 AM in Chicagoland; Sirius 92, XM 195
Line: Rutgers opened as a 3-point favorite, and is now a 2.5-point favorite.
KenPom: With a projected score of 61-59, Rutgers has a 62 percent chance to win.
Check back here shortly before the game begins for the gamethread to follow along with the action.