By now, you know that Northwestern shocked the college basketball world with a 64-58 victory against then-ranked No. 1 Purdue in Evanston Sunday. While the win was massive for Northwestern’s NCAA Tournament resume, it also marked the first time in program history that the ‘Cats had knocked off the top dog, if you will.
The victory sets up a colossal matchup with Indiana (18-7, 9-5 Big Ten) Wednesday night, a nearly impossible game to get into, let alone catch a glimpse of from the upper deck of Welsh-Ryan Arena, as the winner moves into second place in conference play. That got us thinking, ‘Where does this win rank all-time in Northwestern men’s basketball history?’
Even though NU (18-7, 9-5 Big Ten) does not have the richest basketball history or a pattern of consistency, it should be noted that the Wildcats have had their handful of program-defining wins that have shaped the direction that the team hopes to reach eventually – contending for and winning a national title.
Here are six games that have taken place across 60 years and have seen NU come out as the rightful winner when the chips were down.
6. Northwestern upsets No. 4 Michigan State – December 2020
Despite no fans in the building due to COVID-19, the Wildcats took on a Michigan State team primed for a run at the Final Four. Northwestern, which entered the game 4-1, was destined for an early-season upset. The game was far from competitive, as the Wildcats dominated the likes of Joey Hauser, Rocket Watts and Aaron Henry, as Pete Nance’s 15 points led the Wildcats to a 79-65 upset victory.
5. Northwestern slays the dragon – January 2023
Northwestern got off to a hot start to begin the 2022-23 campaign, which included an upset against the Spartans. But where the season took a turn toward destiny was what took place on Jan. 4, as the Wildcats welcomed Illinois into Welsh-Ryan Arena. In a stunning turn of events, the Wildcats controlled the tempo from the opening tip, as the Illini gave up 15 turnovers and Boo Buie scored 21 points in a 13-point upset. It was the first victory against Illinois for the senior class and marked a small turning point for how Northwestern’s season is currently playing out.
4. Northwestern undoes “The Fab Five” – March 1994
As noted above, the Wildcats have not had many happy moments for their fanbase to cheer about. Still, a regular-season finale win against the Michigan Wolverines propelled the Wildcats and prevented Michigan, led by “The Fab Five,” from a chance at a conference title. Although Michigan consistently made the tournament in the '90s, the Wildcats got the last laugh that year, winning 97-93 in an overtime thriller.
3. Derek Pardon sends Northwestern to the NCAA Tournament — March 2017
Michigan appears twice on this list, and it’s for a good reason. The 2016-17 season was a whirlwind of epic proportions for Northwestern, and it all culminated with a matchup against the Wolverines, both of which were fighting for tournament positioning. A back-and-forth affair saw the 'Cats with the ball last and ended with Nathan Taphorn making a quarterback-style pass to Derek Pardon that won the game at the buzzer in what would be the last court-storm at Welsh-Ryan Arena, as NU prevailed 67-65.
2. Northwestern upsets No. 1 Purdue – February 2023
This one goes without saying. A court-storm for the ages ensued at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Super Bowl Sunday after Chase Audige hit a late-game three-pointer to give the Wildcats the lead for good, as Zach Edey & Co. were dashed from college basketball’s top spot while also giving ‘Cats Nation hope that yes, maybe yes, this Wildcats team is something special and can make a run in March.
1. Northwestern wins its first NCAA Tournament game – March 2017
The Wildcats finally had the monkey come off their back as they knocked off Vanderbilt 68-66 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to earn the program’s first modern-day postseason victory. The game was a slugfest, as Bryant McIntosh carried the ‘Cats with 25 points while going head-to-head with Matthew Fisher-Davis of the Commodores, as the game was won in the final seconds.
So, there’s a little backstory ahead of arguably the biggest game in new Welsh-Ryan Arena history. Will the 2022-23 Hoosiers get added to this list? We’ll soon find out.