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ACC/Big Ten Challenge preview, early season Northwestern basketball review

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Sippin' on Purple legend Loretta8 makes a dramatic return to assess the early-season state of Northwestern and Big Ten basketball.

What up, suckaaaas! It's been a while since I wrote anything on here, but with the basketball team looking somewhat respectable, the time was right for a dramatic return.

Before I get started: shout-out to everyone in this community, you're a truly special bunch. There hasn't been a collection of egomaniacs, self-promoters and insufferable know-it-alls like you guys in the same place since the last time Dan Dakich dined alone. But seriously, I love you all.

Okay, on to basketball.

The annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge begins tonight, an event that marks the first time many fans start paying attention to basketball. The football regular season is over, and its time to see how your favorite team stacks up against the ACC. Unfortunately, the answer to that question is probably "not well". Here are the KenPom win probabilities for each Big Ten team, in three categories:

ACC favored by 3 points or more

Maryland 25% at UNC
Indiana 19% at Duke
Wisconsin 32% at Syracuse
Ohio State 25% vs Virginia
Nebraska 32% vs Miami
Penn State 30% at Boston College
Rutgers 34% vs Wake Forest

Either Big Ten or ACC favored by 2 points or less

Purdue 52% at Pittsburgh
Michigan 47% at NC State
Northwestern 51% at Virginia Tech
Illinois 40% vs Notre Dame
Minnesota 55% vs Clemson

Big Ten favored by 3 points or more

Michigan State 68% vs Louisville
Iowa 76% vs Florida State

On the surface, that doesn't look too good. The Big Ten has gone 4-0-2 in the challenge the last six years, after losing to the ACC the prior 10 years, but the Big Ten's unbeaten streak will likely end this year; add up the win probabilities and the B1G can only expect 5.86 wins.

While this is partially due to the ACC's strength this year, there's no denying the Big Ten is off to a terrible start, particularly outside of the top three of Michigan State, Purdue and Maryland. Those three are unbeaten, but several Big Ten teams have suffered embarrassing home defeats. Wisconsin lost to Western Illinois; Penn State lost to Radford; Ohio State lost to Texas-Arlington and Louisiana Tech. And, of course, our friends in Champaign lost to North Florida and Chattanooga, and needed a buzzer-beater to take out lowly Chicago State. While the refs were reviewing that buzzer-beater, John Groce looked like a man who'd just escaped the guillotine, and with good reason, because whoever's in charge of Illinois athletics these days was probably waiting in the locker room with a pink slip in case the Illini couldn't pull that win out.

But it hasn't just been the weaker teams at the bottom of the league. Iowa, Michigan and Indiana, all expected to make the NCAA tournament, had disappointing showings in eight-team preseason tournaments, losing in the first round and finding themselves relegated to the losers bracket against weaker opponents. The three combined to go 4-5, and only Michigan's win over Texas in the 5th place game of the Battle for Atlantis appears to be a win over an NCAA tournament team. (Wichita State, whom Iowa defeated to avoid last place in its tournament, is off to a terrible start).

Which brings us to Northwestern. The Wildcats have gotten off to a solid 5-1 start, beating everyone they were supposed to beat and hanging in there against North Carolina. If NU can get past Virginia Tech on Tuesday, only DePaul will stand between NU and a 12-1 non-conference record (a home loss to any of the other scrubs on the non-conference schedule would be a disaster). So if NU can start 12-1, how many Big Ten wins would they need to make the tournament?

Unfortunately, the answer is probably at least 10, and I think they'd need 11 plus a win or two in the conference tournament to truly be safe. This is because of what I just broke down: the Big Ten as a whole is stinking it up, meaning that there will be fewer chances than usual at quality wins (much needed given the soft non-conference schedule), and more chances than usual for bad losses.

Now, let's get way, way, way ahead of ourselves and look at a hypothetical scenario, where NU goes 12-1 in non-conference and 10-8 in conference, with the 10 wins being:

Nebraska twice (KenPom projection: 16-15 overall, 7-11 in the B1G)
Penn State twice (10-20, 4-14)
Ohio State twice (15-16, 8-10)
Minnesota twice (15-15, 7-11)
Rutgers (10-21, 3-15)
Illinois (15-16, 8-10)

That would leave NU at 22-9, and 10-8 in the Big Ten, but with nothing even approaching a good win. Forget about a win over an NCAA tournament team, there probably isn't an NIT team among the 22 wins. If you were thinking, like I was, that Columbia might turn into a decent win, they're now 3-4 and just lost at home to Longwood. So yeah, that's not looking good.

It certainly wasn't realistic for NU to make the tournament going into this year, and it was even less realistic after Vic Law went down, but the rest of the conference is making an already difficult task even more difficult. NU is currently projected to go 19-12, 8-10 (with 9 conference wins more likely that 7), so it looks like the program will make a major step forward this year, but not the step we're all hoping for. Still, an NIT bid is very much within reach.

OTHER NEWS AND NOTES

  • Bill Carmody is back in Division I at Holy Cross, and is off to a 3-3 start in 2015-16. He's already up to his old tricks: Holy Cross is 350th in adjusted tempo, 25th in turnover percentage, 330th in offensive rebounding percentage, and 15th in three point attempt rate. Best of luck to Bill in the Patriot League this year, especially on that road trip to Kansas in a couple weeks.
  • Speaking of former Northwestern people, remember Kale Abrahamson? Played two years at NU, didn't appear to be a Big Ten caliber player, transferred after the 2014 season? Well, he went back to his home state of Iowa and now plays for Drake, and he is balling out. In his two-year career in Evanston, he scored in double figures seven times. In seven games for Drake, he's scored in double figures...seven times, highlighted by a 41-point (!!!!!!) explosion in an overtime win over Western Kentucky.
  • There is a new bar to clear for most ridiculous bench celebration:
  • And finally, this isn't college basketball related, but if you loved Jason Williams as much as I did and tried these moves while goofing around playing ball with your friends, enjoy: