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Wildcat Shootaround: Northwestern as a NCAA Tournament bubble team?

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Our writers discuss whether or not the Wildcats should be considered a fringe tournament team at this point of the season.

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

With the Northwestern men's basketball team currently 9-1 with a few more non-conference games left before Big Ten play, our writers discuss whether or not the Wildcats deserve to be thrown into NCAA Tournament consideration as of mid-December.

Josh Rosenblat: Go ahead and say it. It's okay. This is a safe space.

Northwestern could make the NCAA Tournament.

This doesn't mean the Wildcats will, and odds still overwhelmingly favor Northwestern missing out on the big dance for yet another season. But, now a month into the season, Northwestern hasn't messed up yet. At 9-1 with three very, very, VERY winnable games remaining in the non-conference slate, the Wildcats could be looking at 12-1. After that, we'll see what happens, but as of now the NCAA Tournament is still in the picture for Northwestern.

Zach Pereles: NO NO NO NO. At least not yet. I think every NCAA Tournament team would be at least 9-1 at this point if it played Northwestern's schedule. I think 23 wins is necessary for this team to get to the Big Dance, which would require winning out the rest of its non-conference schedule (something that should be done but very easily may not) and then 11 or so conference wins. This is something I suppose is possible, but highly, highly improbable.

Even though the Big Ten is off to a rocky start, I still doubt the Wildcats' ability to beat the middle-tier teams consistently AND not slip up against a lower-tier team AND beat an upper-tier team to boost the resume. This resume right now wouldn't get NU in, and it certainly won't in March if the Wildcats don't pull off some big conference upsets.

Henry Bushnell: I'm all for hoping and dreaming. Seriously, I am. That's what makes sports great. And Northwestern fans have every right to be dreaming of the NCAA Tournament. But I haven't seen enough yet to make that a reasonable discussion. Northwestern really hasn't put together an impressive 40 minutes in any of its wins. It still looks very flawed, and very limited. On the one hand, it's great that the Wildcats are putting away teams like Chicago State and Mississippi Valley State with ease, as opposed to struggling with Elon or losing to Illinois State. But to me, that still doesn't mean much for NU's prospects in Big Ten play. As down as the Big Ten is, I still can't see Northwestern winning 11 conference games, much less 12. And the fact that the Big Ten is down isn't a good thing. It doesn't offer as many opportunities for résumé-building wins as originally thought, so 11 or 12 wins, and 23 or 24 overall, is what it's going to take.

Basically, I want to put this discussion on hold until we're three games into conference play. I haven't learned much over the past month. But right away, at Nebraska, home against Maryland, and home against Ohio State will be a really nice stretch of barometer games. If NU wins two of three, then let's talk.

Lyndsey Armacost: It is going to take A LOT more convincing for me to jump on this bandwagon and believe that Northwestern is anything close to NCAA Tournament ready. It's looking like the Wildcats may very well finish their non-conference schedule with a 12-1 record, but who cares? Last season, the Wildcats had 10 wins in non-conference play and then lost 10 straight games in the Big Ten, starting on January 4th. The game that will make or break this team's momentum comes on January 2nd against No. 6 Maryland. The Wildcats will need some big upsets if they will be considered to play in March and this is a great opportunity. If Northwestern can win the next four games and then give Melo Trimble a good, hard-fought battle at home in two weeks, then maybe I'll have this discussion.

Ian McCafferty: Before the season, I thought Northwestern would both go 12-1 in non-conference play and be a bubble tournament team, so I'd like to formally invite anyone and everyone onto the NU bandwagon. Also be warned that I'm completely irrational sometimes -- like when I said I thought Northwestern football could win 10 games this year (wait.....) Anyway, due to its schedule, Northwestern has a chance to get into the tourney through brute force.

There's been talk about how Northwestern could win 20+ games and not have a "good" win, which may be true. I mean look at the Big Ten Standings right now, who between No. 5 and No. 14 really scares you? Indiana or Michigan? Northwestern only plays the teams currently between 1st and 6th in the standings a total of six times which means 12 conference wins may be in play. Eventually, if you rack up enough wins, the Committee has to put you into the Big Dance. And if the Wildcats can pull off a top-ten upset along the way? Even better.

Sam Brief: Echoing what most others have said, it's unfair to put an NCAA Tournament label on this team after going 9-1 with such a weak non-conference schedule. Folks, we made the same mistake with football. Remember the College Football Playoff chatter after the team started 5-0? Let's not do this again. If Northwestern wins a few meaningful Big Ten games then (and ONLY then) can we ignite the tournament talk. For now, let's this team keep winning and putting itself on the national radar. Despite what Chicago State head coach Tracy Dildy said, calling Northwestern a "tournament team," let's not get carried away too early.

David Gernon: What's nice about this year's team is you know it's going to go into every game with a chance. The Wildcats played North Carolina tough in Kansas City for most of the game and even had a lead late in the first half. UNC might be inconsistent -- note the loss to Texas -- but is a team that is going to have a chance for a No. 1 seed when March rolls around. Even with a fluff schedule, Northwestern only has one loss so far and, as Ian mentioned above, the Wildcats should not be worried by anyone in the middle of the Big Ten.

Hopefully, this translates to mostly wins against the middle-of-the-pack Big Ten teams, although there will almost assuredly be some head-scratching losses mixed in there. Then, if NU can steal a victory or two from one of the top teams in the conference, maybe one on the road, then the Wildcats will be the classic Power 5 team sitting slightly above .500 in conference play with a couple big wins on their resume. That resume gets it done for a lot of teams and there is no reason to think Northwestern can't be at least sitting on the bubble come March.

Tristan Jung: Sorry in advance, I'm still recovering from watching Northwestern's 78-48 win over Mississippi Valley State last night. Northwestern is a solid basketball team, which is a welcome change from previous years, but you can't talk about them as contenders until conference play starts, thanks to the smokescreen provided by games against teams like MVSU. I don't have a unique angle that differs from my fellow writers, and I'm a bit consumed with matters out of this galaxy at the moment. Thus, I have decided to combine them. Without further ado, here are Northwestern's tournament chances described in seven Star Wars quotes:

My reaction to the team being 9-1 in nonconference play:

"Great kid, don't get cocky." - Han Solo

My reaction to people, like the Chicago State coach, who think this team is a sure bet to get into the tournament:

"IT'S A TRAP!!!" - Admiral Ackbar

On the other hand, this is what NU fans should say to anyone who thinks Northwestern has no shot at the tournament:

"I find your lack of faith disturbing." - Darth Vader

Princess Leia's reaction to Gavin Skelly (or a Stormtrooper):

"Aren't you a little short to be a backup center?" - Princess Leia

C-3PO on the chances of Northwestern going 12-6 in Big Ten play with four games against Michigan State, Purdue, and Maryland (or an asteroid field):

"Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating the Big Ten is approximately 3,720 to 1!" - C3PO, Empire Strikes Back

Northwestern fans on Bryant McIntosh:

"The force is strong with this one." - Darth Vader

If Northwestern actually makes the tournament:

"Great shot kid, that was one a million!" - Han Solo