Wednesday’s 76-63 road win against Nebraska meant a culmination of preseason predictions meant absolutely nothing. Well, at least this season.
The Wildcats now find themselves on a quest to have their best season since the Cinderella 2016-17 campaign, where Northwestern stunned the nation and earned an NCAA Tournament appearance. Names like Vic Law, Bryant McIntosh and Dererk Pardon packed the old Welsh-Ryan Arena on a nightly basis to witness the next history-making moment, upset win, or to make the NU fanbase proud of their institution.
Six years later, something is brewing in Evanston that has not been seen since. I’ll admit that I was dead wrong in my season preview for men’s basketball, and thankfully, I am grateful that the current Wildcats squad is making me eat my words as January winds down.
The ‘Cats currently sit in third place in a crowded Big Ten league that has seen many surprises, but the biggest has to be the sudden turnaround of Northwestern and its never-say-die approach to basketball. Let’s look at the last month for a broader perspective on where this team is headed.
The Wildcats welcomed an Illinois team that had been the class of the Big Ten for the last several seasons, including winning the regular season’s conference title in the spring of 2022. If you were to ask me just four months ago if Northwestern had any chance of upsetting the “Goliath” of the Big Ten, I would have replied, “no way.” And boom, a stunner ensued. When the buzzer sounded, the final score read 73-60 — the first win against the Illini for the senior class and only the second win against its in-state rivals since the new WRA was built. Little did anyone know what would come next, and a re-invention of the modern-day “Cardiac Cats” was born.
Fast-forward about a week or so later. Northwestern travelled to then-ranked Indiana for a weekend showdown in Bloomington. Again, experts gave the Wildcats little to no respect whatsoever, but a nail-biting 84-83 win sent a message to the rest of the Big Ten that maybe, yes, just maybe, “Chicago’s Big Ten Team” could hang with the best.
Close losses to Michigan and Rutgers followed, but ever since, NU has found a critical formula to string together some key wins as the home stretch of Big Ten play draws closer to fruition. It seems that the team has jelled well. None of them are headline-printing superstars (except on Inside NU, of course), but the leadership of Buie, Chase Audige, Robbie Beran and Ty Berry has been the glue that has kept this team together.
Back-to-back wins against Wisconsin and the Cornhuskers have set up NU for what could be a potentially memorable month of February, all culminating with a Super Bowl weekend tilt against No. 1 Purdue. There’s a great chance that 19-20 wins get you into the dance and a high seed in the Big Ten Tournament come March.
For now, sit back, relax and enjoy the ride, because the ‘Cats are coming.