Coach Joe McKeown's team keeps chugging along with two more wins this week, dismantling Virginia Tech on the road, 70-45, in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, and following that up with a dominant 70-33 win over crosstown Loyola.
Our Wildcats are now 7-0, the program's best start since 1995-96, a year in which the 'Cats finished 23-11 and reached the third round of the NIT. The team would go on the next year to make the NCAA Tournament, the last year the Wildcats have done so.
Anyway, Northwestern is now up to 14 votes in the AP Poll, which unofficially puts them at #28. The USA Today Coaches Poll will be released tomorrow. Nebraska (7-1) is the top Big Ten team in the AP Poll, coming in at #12, followed by #14 Maryland (7-2), #17 Rutgers (7-1), #19 Michigan State (5-2), and #24 Iowa (7-2).
The Wildcats are off this week for finals, so probably no chance to move up in the polls, barring a bunch of losses by the teams ahead of them.
Looming is a December 15 game at home against Gonzaga, which at one point was ranked #24 and has beaten then-#22 Dayton and hung very tough with #16 Iowa in a loss Nov. 29. The Bulldogs will be a very dangerous opponent, so hopefully Northwestern doesn't have too much rust from finals week.
Incidentally, with that win against Loyola, our Wildcats are now the unofficial champions of Chicago, having also beaten UIC, Chicago State and DePaul.
Some stats to impress you with, though the usual caveats of non-conference opponent strength apply:
NU has been getting the job done defensively, leading the Big Ten in scoring defense at 49.6 ppg. The Wildcats also lead the conference in field goal defense (allowing 30.2%), blocks (7.1 per game), and steals (13.1 per game).
Offensively, NU is executing efficiently, ranking second in the conference at field goal pct. with 47.4%.
If there's anything to be concerned about, it's turnovers, which have been the Wildcats' bugaboo under McKeown. Part of that is McKeown's up-tempo, run-and-gun offense that gets a bit spastic and, shall we say, high risk without the high reward at times, and part of it is just sloppy ball-handling and lazy passing.
The Wildcats lead the Big Ten in turnovers, committing 19 per game. But they've made up for it so far with their defense, forcing 23.6 per game, which puts NU fifth in turnover margin. All things being equal, I'd expect the turnover margin to decrease as the competition gets tougher in Big Ten play. My #advancedstats instinct tells me this will be one stat to watch.
Individually, smooth operator forward Nia Coffey ranks 12th in the Big Ten in scoring at 15.6 ppg, while guard Maggie Lyon is 16th at 14.6 ppg. Coffey is also seventh in the Big Ten in rebounding, with 7.9 rpg, while Lyon has shot an amazing 52.5% from behind the arc.
Energizer bunny point guard Ashley Deary, who is only 5'4" but covers the entire court, is fourth in the conference in assists with 4.4 per game, and tops in the conference in steals with 5.1 per game.