Sorry for the misleading dek. I got a little excited. Never hurts to relive the glory days of Northwestern vs. Michigan, right?
The Wolverines (14-9, 5-7) will be in town on Wednesday night for a matchup that has produced some memorable moments in recent years when played at Welsh-Ryan. The Pass obviously comes to mind as one of the greatest plays in Northwestern history, but we shouldn’t sleep on the game these two played in Evanston in December of last season’s campaign.
In what was probably the best atmosphere the new Welsh-Ryan has seen in its brief 1.5 year history, the Wildcats took an undefeated and No. 5 Michigan team down to the wire, falling just short of mounting what would have been an epic come-from-behind victory.
It was a phenomenal back-and-forth basketball game, and I remember leaving WR that night feeling like this program was headed right back on track despite the disappointing 2017-18 campaign. A new arena. A great crowd. Exciting young talent.
It was an easy case to make that the Wildcats were back on their feet and heading in the right direction.
Well, not so fast.
It’s astonishingly depressing to take a look back and see how much Northwestern has regressed in just the 13 months since that game.
Northwestern has won just five of the 27 Big Ten contests it has participated in from when it last met the Wolverines at home, and it’s hard not to feel that things won’t be getting better any time soon. The ‘Cats continually blow double digit leads and find remarkable new ways to lose games on any given night, with the two worst coming in their last two contests.
There’s still the somewhat valid argument that this team is young and will learn from these close losses, but it’s getting harder and harder to rationalize that case as the blown leads rack up.
As things stand, Northwestern is well on its way to its worst season under Chris Collins, unless they can somehow pick up three wins in these final eight Big Ten contests to match Collins’ previous low, last year’s 4-16 mark.
The Wildcats have already solidified a sixth sub-.500 conference performance in seven years under Collins, and this will likely be their worst campaign since Bill Carmody’s 2007-08 squad finished 8-22 overall and 1-17 in B1G play. They may well even finish worse than that squad, which would require taking things back to the infamous 1999-2000 dumpster fire that resulted in Kevin O’Neill’s departure from the program in order to find a group that struggled more.
All that being said, there are still eight games to go, and thus plenty of opportunities for Northwestern to still finish the season with some positive momentum. That doesn’t seem likely given the team’s recent trend of second half meltdowns, but the Wildcats have shown themselves to be more than capable of hanging around in this league given the way they’ve come out firing in recent impressive first half performances against Maryland and at Rutgers this past Sunday.
The Wolverines will head into Welsh-Ryan with some confidence on Wednesday night, though, as they’re coming off perhaps their biggest win of the season, topping in-state rival MSU 77-68 in Ann Arbor over the weekend. Juwan Howard’s team won’t come into Evanston cocky though, as they still sit below .500 in conference play and find themselves as just a No. 8 seed in Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology. An embarrassing loss to NU could offset this weekend’s win against the Spartans and place the Wolverines right back on the bubble.
Can Northwestern play spoiler, snap its seven-game losing skid, and begin to turn things around? Seems unlikely, but here’s how to follow along anyway:
Location: Welsh-Ryan Arena (Evanston, Illinois)
Tipoff: 8:00 p.m. CT
Radio: ESPN 1000 (or online at wnursports.com)
Betting line: Northwestern +6.5, O/U 137.5
KenPom Prediction: Michigan 72, Northwestern 67 (32 percent chance of NU win)