After a rough two-game stretch against Nebraska and Michigan, Northwestern (6-2, 4-2 B1G) has bounced back to put itself in a position to play for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament in San Antonio.
The Wildcats started off hot, bolstering their resume with two double-digit conference wins, pulverizing Minnesota and Purdue. In conjunction with their success last year, as well as wins over Eastern Illinois and Eastern Kentucky, the expectations for the ‘Cats were high.
Then, things faltered. Northwestern didn’t play well at Nebraska for 35 minutes. To the Huskers’ credit, they are a very good team. But Northwestern didn’t defend, rebound or shoot the ball as well as it usually does. You would think that a loss like that would put some extra pep into their step for the Wildcats’ next game, but it didn’t, and NU struggled at home against Michigan, as the Wolverines were able to connect on all the shots they wanted and cruise to a dominant win.
A Big Ten road loss isn’t going to kill your resume, especially against a team like Nebraska that has played well this season. But losing to Michigan at home the way Northwestern hurt the team’s stock.
However, NU bounced back by beating Wisconsin and a talented Iowa team. Not only did they beat a very good Hawkeye team on national television, but they also did so in a unique fashion. The ‘Cats held freshman phenom Caitlin Clark, who was averaging 27.5 points per game, to just eight points, fouling her out in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to follow up on their masterpiece, as Thursday’s game against Rutgers was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test within the Scarlet Knights’ program.
Northwestern’s two losses are to top-35 RPI teams, and they have two top-100 wins to go along with them. NU has six games against top-50 RPI games to go, so the toughest part of its schedule is ahead.
Here’s a look at where the experts expect Northwestern will end up in this year’s NCAA tournament.
ESPN’s Charlie Creme: No. 7 seed
ESPN’s women’s bracketologist isn’t too high on Northwestern but gives the Big Ten, in general, a lot of credit. Maryland is projected to win the conference and earn a two seed, while Michigan and Indiana each have four seeds at the moment. Michigan State and Iowa are both projected as eight seeds, and Rutgers as a 10 seed. Notably, he has Rutgers in the last four in and Nebraska in the first four out, though Nebraska certainly has a better resume than Rutgers at this point.
The ‘Cats fell to a seven seed in last week’s rankings, with the taste of the Michigan loss still fresh in Creme’s mouth. With that said, this also accounted for the Nebraska loss before Nebraska barely lost to Michigan and beat Michigan State in East Lansing. However, the wins over Iowa and Wisconsin weren’t enough to move Joe McKeown’s team up in this iteration. Northwestern would play Georgia Tech in the first round and move on to face the winner of Texas A&M vs. Austin Peay/OVC.
College Sports Madness: No. 4 Seed
This bracket projection has seven Big Ten teams making it in, with Maryland getting a two seed, Michigan getting a three seed and Northwestern, Indiana, Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan State following behind. It’s strange not to see Nebraska listed, especially with two ranked wins and a close loss to Michigan.
This ranking feels somewhat high for what we’ve seen from Northwestern thus far. Yes, the win over Iowa was impressive. But with that said, Northwestern has a 21-point loss. The makers of this bracket only have Michigan — who dominated Northwestern — as a three seed. They also have UCLA and Arkansas, who both have far better resumes than the ‘Cats, as five seeds. As a four seed, Northwestern would be facing Troy in the round of 64 and could get the victor between UCLA and FGCU with a win.
FanSided’s High Post Hoops and RealTimeRPI.com have yet to release projected brackets for this season.
Northwestern still has the opportunity to forge its own destiny, whether it be good or bad. They have a tough stretch coming up, facing Maryland once, Ohio State twice, traveling to Iowa and hosting Indiana. It’s going to be difficult to win all of these matchups, but it’s do-able. With 12 games left, if Northwestern can go 9-3 while winning a few of the games listed, they could easily find themselves not only with a high tournament seed but near the top of the Big Ten standings.