Is this the year?
With an ugly win over Rutgers on Thursday night, Northwestern moved to 14-4 on the season and 3-2 in the Big Ten, good for a share of fifth place in the conference standings. In other words, the Wildcats are right in the thick of things. Chris Collins’ team has no bad losses and has picked up a few decent wins, although no truly impressive ones.
If the season ended in mid-January, Northwestern would most likely be in. The Wildcats are 37th in KenPom and 47th in RPI, both of which will carry weight with the selection committee this year. The Wildcats have two top-50 RPI wins (Wake Forest, Dayton), two top-100 RPI wins (Penn State, Nebraska) and all four of their losses are against RPI top-25 teams. RPI numbers will fluctuate a lot as teams get further into conference play, but it’s certainly a solid résumé at the moment.
National experts seem to agree. All three of the major bracketologists who update their projections on a weekly basis have Northwestern in their field of 68 at this point in time.
Obviously, there are still 14+ games (13 regular season and at least one in the B1G tournament) that will ultimately determine the Wildcats’ fate. But for now, where’s the harm in doing some speculating? Here’s how the experts see things shaking out for Northwestern in March.
Joe Lunardi, ESPN
Opponent: Notre Dame
Last updated: January 12
The premier name in Bracketology has Northwestern as one of his “last four byes,” meaning it would avoid a Dayton play-in game and go straight to the round of 64. Lunardi has the Wildcats taking on the 6-seeded Fighting Irish in a rematch of the thrilling Legends Classic championship game. Chicago-area Northwestern fans would have an easy trip north to Milwaukee, too.
Chris Dobbertean, SB Nation
Opponent: Saint Mary’s
Last updated: January 10
Dobbertean also has Northwestern narrowly avoiding Dayton at the moment. His projections require a lot more traveling for Wildcat faithful who want to watch this (very hypothetical) game in person. It’s a 7-10 matchup seed-wise against the talented Gaels of the West Coast Conference, whose campus is just 90 minutes from Sacramento.
Jerry Palm, CBS Sports
Opponent: Southern Methodist (SMU)
Last updated: January 13
We’ve got a single-digit seed projection for Northwestern! Palm sees the Wildcats taking on the Mustangs of the American Athletic Conference in one of the classic 8-9 matchups that are so tough to pick on your bracket. Playing in Tulsa would also favor SMU, but something tells me Northwestern fans aren’t too concerned with that at the moment.