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Northwestern non-conference recap, Big Ten preview, Tournament talk and more

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Guess who's back, back again? Loretta8's back, tell your friends.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Let's put a whuppin' on the SEC speed and put Daddy in the truck and beat down Tennessee*

*may not be the actual lyrics

Alright, that's it for my astute football analysis.

At long last, the cupcake gauntlet is complete, and the real games start on Wednesday at Nebraska. If you've watched these games, you've mostly seen Northwestern get whatever they want on the offensive end, and when the threes are falling like they were against Sacred Heart, it's gotten ugly for the opposition.

Obviously, things will be more difficult in conference play, and not just because the opponents will be more talented. Big Ten basketball programs don't just have better players than the average mid-major, they also have better coaching and better scouting, and thus the ability to exploit Northwestern's weaknesses.

One of NU's major weaknesses right now is depth in the back court behind Tre Demps and Bryant McIntosh. In the six games that have been competitive, Demps and McIntosh are averaging 41 and 37.1 minutes respectively, and McIntosh's average would be higher were it not for foul trouble against Missouri. Chris Collins is playing these two such absurd minutes because he feels they are both much better than what's behind them, and it's hard to argue with that: Scottie Lindsey is too mercurial and too prone to mental lapses on both ends of the court, and Jordan Ash, despite his garbage-time domination of Sacred Heart, is simply not ready for prime time. At this stage of his career he will get eaten alive by Big Ten guards.

So how will smart Big Ten teams exploit this? First, by pressuring them both for 94 feet. It would be a major mistake for any opponent, particularly an opponent with a deep guard rotation, to ever allow McIntosh to walk the ball across half-court. Pester him the whole game and gradually wear him down. You also might see the occasional hard foul at the rim. Assuming both can stay healthy, I wouldn't worry too much about them wearing down in late February. There are no back-to-backs in college basketball except for tournaments; you play just about once every four days over the course of Big Ten play. The larger concern is getting tired within the game, particularly as the opponent rotates in fresh bodies.

You can also expect opponents to attack both Demps and McIntosh off the dribble and either wear them out or get them in foul trouble. This shouldn't be a problem for Demps, who is one of the least foul-prone players in the entire country and has never fouled out of a game in his career, but McIntosh will have to very careful about not picking up fouls, particularly since he's been the better player of the two thus far.

Collins may try to counter by having NU play zone to keep Demps and McIntosh from running around too much, but that may not be an option against most Big Ten opponents, almost all of whom have shooters who can rain threes over the top of any zone and have the physical ability to hit the offensive boards hard. Playing zone leaves you prone to giving up offensive rebounds.

Way too early NCAA Tournament Talk

This breakdown of how Tubby Smith has improved Texas Tech's NCAA chances through creative scheduling was interesting. A quick perusal of Minnesota's schedules when Tubby coached there shows a similar strategy. This is the type of thing Chris Collins needs to start doing immediately. I love his overall approach to building a program. As he's stated, his goal isn't simply making the NCAA Tournament, but rather build the program to the level where it gets into the NCAA Tournament every year. That's the right way to approach it. Trying to play a name opponent at the United Center every year is a good move. Playing in the Legends Classic in Brooklyn next year is a good move too. But there's no reason you can't have a non-conference schedule with both marquee games and almost no games against atrocious RPI 300+ opponents. At the very least, schedule such that the committee won't actively punish you for it, like it will this year.

There's been some debate around these parts about how many games Northwestern needs to win to make it, and it's great that we're even in a position to have this conversation. But some restraint is needed here, particularly for those who think being .500 or better in the Big Ten with a good non-conference record is some sort of "Get Into The NCAA Tournament Free" card.

Here are the power conference teams (plus a mid-major whose presence on the list I'll explain shortly) with 20+ overall wins and .500+ conference records who've been snubbed since 2009. All records are as of Selection Sunday:

  • 2009 Penn State, 22-11 (10-8)
  • 2009 Davidson, 26-7, (18-2)
  • 2009 Kansas State, 21-11 (9-7)
  • 2009 South Carolina, 21-9, (10-6)
  • 2009 Florida, 23-10, (9-7)
  • 2009 Auburn, 22-11 (10-6)
  • 2010 Arizona State, 22-10 (12-6)
  • 2010 Virginia Tech, 23-8 (10-6)
  • 2010 Mississippi State, 23-11 (9-7)
  • 2010 Mississippi, 21-10 (9-7)
  • 2011 Virginia Tech, 21-11 (9-7)
  • 2011 Alabama, 21-11 (12-4)
  • 2012 Arizona, 23-11 (12-6)
  • 2012 Oregon, 22-9 (13-5)
  • 2013 Kentucky, 21-11 (12-6)
  • 2013 Tennessee, 20-12 (11-7)
  • 2013 Alabama, 21-12 (10-6)
  • 2013 Virginia, 21-11 (11-7)
  • 2014 Arkansas, 21-11 (10-8)
  • 2014 Clemson, 20-12 (10-8)
  • 2014 St. John's, 20-12 (10-8)
  • 2015 Miami, 21-12 (10-8)
  • 2015 Texas A&M, 20-11 (11-7)

As you can see, it's a long list, and all six major conferences are represented. There are historically weak programs like Penn State and South Carolina, defending national champions like 2013 Kentucky, and a 26 win mid-major with Steph Curry, the guy who was the star of the prior NCAA tournament. But all of these teams came up short, either because they didn't beat enough good teams, they were penalized for playing a horrible non-conference schedule, or both. I hate to have to defend the NCAA on anything, but they do deserve credit for having a consistent selection criteria that fans can use to accurately predict what will happen. And Northwestern played a horrific non-conference schedule (expected to be 326th in the country per RPI Forecast), will get at most seven opportunities to pick up an RPI top 50 win (five of which will be on the road), and will have at least eight games against bad teams where a loss will be considered "bad" for the resume.

We don't know how strong the bubble will be and how many bid-thieves will emerge during the conference tournaments, but here's my best guess. Keep in mind that if NU finishes between 9-9 and 11-7 in Big Ten play, they will likely play one of the conference bottom-feeders in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.

  • 9 conference wins or fewer (including the Big Ten tournament): no chance
  • 10 conference wins: unlikely
  • 11 conference wins: right on the bubble
  • 12 conference wins: likely
  • 13 or more: stress-free Selection Sunday

I've spending so much time breaking this down as an act of community service. Please, fellow Northwestern fans, do not delude yourselves into thinking a .500 conference record is enough. If that happens (and it is the most likely scenario per the current KenPom rankings), do not sit on your couch on Selection Sunday eagerly anticipating a Northwestern at-large bid. Don't have faith in the committee having a Big Ten bias, or in handing out a sympathy bid to our historically inept program, or sneaking us into the tournament because it will help ticket sales. Nothing will be given to us. When Chris Collins eventually gets us to the tournament, and I think it's a matter of when given what I've seen from him in two-and-a-half seasons, it will be earned. We will defeat the Big Ten dynasties that have held us down for generations, straight up, paying the iron price for every win. And when the bid finally comes, no one will be able to say we didn't deserve it.

Obligatory Gambling Section

MNWildcat, couldn't believe I didn't include anything about gambling last time, so I will rectify that egregious error going forward.

Here are your boy's daily fantasy picks for the bowl games on Monday and Tuesday. Follow again and laugh at how poorly these guys do!