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NIT Bracketology: Comparing Northwestern to other major conference NIT contenders

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How does the Wildcats' resume stack up?

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Another week, another look at the dark, dark world of NIT Bracketology. Northwestern's NIT resume didn't change much after a win over Illinois on Saturday and a loss at No. 17 Purdue on Tuesday night. The Wildcats now sit at 17-10 (5-9 Big Ten) and also remain on the outside of the NIT bubble, according to John Templon's latest NIT projection, which he published on nycbuckets.com Wednesday morning.

Templon, again, has Northwestern in his "also seriously considered" section, along with Arkansas, Charleston, Davidson, Georgia Tech, Illinois State, Rhode Island, UNLV and Texas-Arlington. Below that group, sits other teams worth mentioning but with records that are "projected below .500." Those teams include North Carolina State, Stanford, Tennessee and Virginia Tech.

As we wrote in last week's bracketology update, here's something to keep in mind about the projections:

The important note about Templon's projections, though, is that they don't factor in automatic bids. The NIT gives auto bids to regular season conference champions that don't win their conference tournaments, and don't receive at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament.

So while Northwestern currently resides out of Templon's projected field, but seemingly close to it, NU is further away than he makes it appear. Last season, somewhere between eight and 10 mid-majors that wouldn't have earned at-large NIT bids made the NIT as automatic qualifiers. Essentially, the actual "last eight out" are the 7- and 8-seeds in Templon's recent bracket.

Northwestern, then, is safely a long shot to make the 32-team tournament at the moment. It will likely need to make some major noise in the Big Ten Tournament to build its resume enough to grab a bid. The teams Northwestern will likely be competing with are fellow Power 5 squads and teams from the Big East that find themselves on Templon's 4-seed line and below. Comparing the Wildcats' résumé with those teams can give a pretty accurate picture of how far Northwestern has to climb to make the NIT.

Below, I compare Northwestern's resume with various groups of the Power-5 teams. I have included each team's current record, KenPom's projected record and each team's current RPI (according to ESPN.com). I also added each team's expected RPI, current strength of schedule and expected strength of schedule, all according to rpiforecast.com. (Note: ripforecast.com's numbers are only updated through games completed by Feb. 15, 2016.)

Group One: Quality (and Quantity) over Quantity

Kansas State (projected 4 seed), UCLA (4), Georgetown (5)

RECORD PROJ. RECORD RPI EXPECTED RPI SOS EXPECTED SOS BEST WIN(S)
NORTHWESTERN 17-10
(5-9)
19-12
(7-11)
101 116.8 125 127 Wisconsin (Home)
KANSAS STATE 15-11
(4-9)
17-14
(6-12)
59 79 17 24 Texas Tech (Home), Oklahoma (Home)
UCLA 14-11
(5-7)
17-14
(8-10)
80 62.5 18 7 Kentucky (Home), Gonzaga (Away), Arizona (Home)
GEORGETOWN 14-12
(7-6)
16-15
(9-9)
80 76 30 15 Wisconsin (Neutral), Syracuse (Home), Xavier (Away)

Argument against Northwestern: While each of these teams is projected to finish with at least two fewer wins than Northwestern at the end of the regular season, the Wildcats just can't measure up in terms of quality wins. Northwestern has just one win against an RPI top 100 team: Wisconsin. In comparison, Kansas State has four. UCLA has seven. Georgetown has five. The Wildcats have had chances to beat decent teams in conference play, but haven't been able to find success in the form of wins.

Argument for Northwestern: Northwestern has a much better shot of getting to 20 wins before its conference tournament than any of the other teams. And 20 wins is a nice benchmark to hit. Other than that, Northwestern can also boast about its lack of bad losses, but only Georgetown really falters in that category compared to the Wildcats. The Hoyas lost to Radford and UNC-Asheville early in the year.

Group Two: Out-Northwestern-ing Northwestern

Clemson (4), Marquette (6), Mississippi (8)

RECORD PROJ. RECORD RPI EXPECTED RPI SOS EXPECTED SOS BEST WIN(S)
NORTHWESTERN 17-10
(5-9)
19-12
(7-11)
101 116.8 125 127 Wisconsin (Home)
CLEMSON 15-10
(8-5)
18-12
(11-7)
87 100.8 74 96 Louisville (Home), Duke (Home), Miami (Home)
MARQUETTE 16-10
(5-8)
18-13 
(7-11)
114 125.4 101 94 Wisconsin (Home), Providence (Away), Providence (Home)
MISSISSIPPI 16-10
(6-7)
19-12
(9-9)
84 103.7 118 125 Alabama (Home)

Argument against Northwestern: The teams in this group all have expected strength of schedules ranked between 94 and 125 in the country. That means that they followed a similar schedule-building plan as Northwestern. Yet, each team did a better job than the Wildcats. Clemson has racked up in-conference wins in the ACC. Marquette took advantage of the few opportunities it had to make noise in non-conference play with wins over Wisconsin, LSU and Arizona State, even while falling off in the Big East. Mississippi, like Clemson, has relied on a solid conference record.

Argument for Northwestern: Chris Collins should probably look at this group with immense frustration. Northwestern, if all went well, would have been right there with these teams. Grab that win at Maryland or either of the Ohio State losses and the Wildcats' résumé looks a lot different. Basically, Northwestern's best argument over the other teams in this group are in its lack of bad losses. Northwestern's only loss to a team with an RPI worse than 100 is a 9-point home loss to Penn State (ranked 117). In comparison, Clemson has losses to Virginia Tech (a team Northwestern beat), Massachusetts and Minnesota (a team Northwestern has dominated twice) on its schedule. Marquette fell to DePaul (another team Northwestern beat) earlier this season. Lastly, Ole Miss has lost to George Mason and Mississippi State, both teams that land outside the RPI top 150.

Group Three: Head-to-head woes

Ohio State (5)

RECORD PROJ. RECORD RPI EXPECTED RPI SOS EXPECTED SOS BEST WIN(S)
NORTHWESTERN 17-10
(5-9)
19-12
(7-11)
101 116.8 125 127 Wisconsin (Home)
OHIO STATE 17-10
(9-5)
18-13
(10-8)
78 90.5 69 41 Kentucky (Neutral), Michigan (Home)

Argument against Northwestern: Northwestern and Ohio State have played twice. Both times, Ohio State won.

Argument for Northwestern: The Wildcats were definitely in both games and if the two teams played 10 times, Northwestern would probably win three or four of those games. They could also potentially match up in the Big Ten Tournament, giving the Wildcats yet another opportunity to avenge those two losses.

Group Four: Scheduling matters

Arizona State (7), Georgia Tech ("also seriously considered"), Stanford ("projected below .500")

RECORD PROJ. RECORD RPI EXPECTED RPI SOS EXPECTED SOS BEST WIN(S)
NORTHWESTERN 17-10
(5-9)
19-12
(7-11)
101 116.8 125 127 Wisconsin (Home)
ARIZONA STATE 14-12
(4-9)
16-15
(6-12)
80 80.3 26 16 Texas A&M (Home), Oregon State (Home), USC (Home)
GEORGIA TECH 13-12
(5-7)
16-15 
(6-12)
85 95.1 21 23 VCU (Home), Virginia (Home), North Carolina State (Away)
STANFORD 12-11
(5-7)
14-15
(7-11)
72 87.3 1 3 Utah (Home), Oregon State (Away), Cal (Home), Oregon (Home), Arizona State (Home)

Argument against Northwestern: Arizona State, Georgia Tech and Stanford are all projected to finish with schedule strengths within the nation's top 25. Northwestern, on the other hand, will be fortunate to climb above the top 125. Each of these teams has been mediocre at best in conference play and will all likely finish with a record within a game of .500 overall. So why might they be picked for the NIT over Northwestern? Scheduling. The Sun Devils and Yellow Jackets have played just five teams with RPIs outside the top 150. The Cardinal have faced just three. The Wildcats, in comparison, have played a whopping 12 teams from that group.

Argument for Northwestern: At some point, win total has to trump scheduling, right? This might be that point. With this crop of teams struggling to stay above .500 overall and with similar in-conference records to Northwestern, if the Wildcats can widen the raw win gap, that may be enough to push them up and over this group.

Group Five: The bottom of the barrel

Arkansas ("also seriously considered"), North Carolina State ("projected below .500"), Tennessee ("projected below .500"), Virginia Tech ("projected below .500")

RECORD PROJ. RECORD RPI EXPECTED RPI SOS EXPECTED SOS BEST WIN(S)
NORTHWESTERN 17-10
(5-9)
19-12
(7-11)
101 116.8 125 127 Wisconsin (Home)
ARKANSAS 12-13
(5-7)
14-17
(7-11)
113 118.6 43 55 Vanderbilt (Home), Texas A&M (Home), Texas Tech (Home)
NORTH CAROLINA STATE 13-13
(3-10)
15-16 
(5-13)
99 116.9 40 45 LSU (Neutral), Pittsburgh (Away), Miami (Home)
TENNESSEE 12-13
(5-7)
14-17
(7-11)
127 127.9 60 48 Florida (Home), South Carolina (Home), Kentucky (Home)
VIRGINIA TECH 13-12
(5-7)
15-16
(7-11)
118 131.5 67 57 Virginia (Home)

Argument against Northwestern: The scheduling argument applies here, but it's not nearly as pronounced as with the last group. Each of these teams also has at least two RPI top-50 wins, aside from Virginia Tech. Both the Hokies and Wildcats have just one RPI top-50 win.

Argument for Northwestern: Northwestern beat Virginia Tech head-to-head this season, so that's taken care of. As far as the other teams, they all have more losses to teams with triple-digit RPI rankings than Northwestern. NC State has the best profile with just two losses to team outside of the RPI top 100, with one of them being to Virginia Tech, though. Arkansas has three losses to teams in this category. Tennessee has five. Northwestern has just one. Lastly, each of these teams is projected to finish below .500 on the season, a huge knock against them.