With only two games remaining on the regular-season schedule, Northwestern women’s basketball (13-5, 11-5 BIG) is in a position to make its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2015. The ‘Cats put the disappointment of last year’s tournament cancellation behind them and picked up right where they left off. The team is ready to do some serious damage on the national stage.
However, the ‘Cats success hasn’t come without some recent struggles. Having cruised through most of January and the beginning of February, Northwestern sat at 9-3 in conference play, and it looked like the Wildcats could still compete for the conference title.
But two lackluster performances against Rutgers and Nebraska derailed any hopes at the crown. Both were winnable games in which the ‘Cats shot themselves out of the game, especially in the second half.
Northwestern’s last two games had better results, albeit against the two worst teams in the Big Ten. Last Saturday, the ‘Cats beat Wisconsin after forcing 26 turnovers and leading most of the game. Then on Wednesday, they beat a miserable Illinois team after surviving a scary first quarter.
Heading into March, Northwestern has some great opportunities to improve its resume, with tough games against Maryland and Michigan coming up, and of course the Big Ten Tournament. For the moment, the experts seem to agree on where Northwestern should be seeded if the NCAA Tournament started today.
ESPN’S Charlie Creme: No. 6 Seed
Creme, who was perhaps the highest on the ‘Cats earlier in the season, has now dropped them to a six seed, where all of the other bracketologists also have them.
In this bracket, Northwestern would face North Carolina, a team that has struggled in the ACC but has an impressive win against second-ranked NC State. If the ‘Cats win, they would potentially face Baylor, the Big 12 champions and current winners of 11 straight.
College Sports Madness: No. 6 Seed
The ‘Cats have remained in the sixth seed in CSM’s bracket for a few weeks now, so their struggles don’t seem to have had too much of an impact. In fact, CSM seems to view the Big Ten favorably, as Maryland, Indiana and Michigan are all top-16 teams in the latest iteration.
In this bracket, Northwestern is projected to play BYU, a team that has performed well in the WCC but isn’t even in the top 50 of the NET rankings, since it has only played one ranked team. A Northwestern win would likely set up a difficult matchup against Georgia, which sits third in the SEC.
The Next’s Russell Steinberg: No. 6 Seed
Rounding out the list, even Steinberg has the ‘Cats slotted in as a six seed. It’s clear the experts think Northwestern is a top-25 team, but NU’s sub-standard play of late is keeping it from rising in anyone’s bracket.
Northwestern’s predicted opponent here is Marquette, which has steamrolled the bottom half of the Big East but was dominated by top-ranked UConn, the only elite competition in the conference. A win there would also set up a matchup with Georgia.
Northwestern seems to have a solid spot locked down in the NCAA Tournament, but there’s still room to rise or fall in the coming weeks. The ‘Cats have upcoming games against eighth-ranked Maryland, the top dog in the Big Ten (and projected two seed in the tournament) and against No. 12 Michigan, led by Naz Hillmon, who averages nearly 26 points per game on the season. Coming out of these games with at least one win would significantly boost Northwestern’s resume and send it into March Madness with some momentum.