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ROUNDTABLE: Northwestern March Madness 2023 Predictions

Everyone is all over the place, but someone’s (almost) guaranteed to be right!

Northwestern v Penn State Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

The madness begins for the ‘Cats in a little over 24 hours. With Northwestern’s second NCAA Tournament appearance on deck, our staff predicted how far NU will go in the Big Dance.

Gavin Dorsey: Loss in Round of 32

There are a lot of factors that played into this pick, starting with the fact that NU was placed into the “Region of Death,” as it has been called. Not only are many of the teams in the West Region legitimate title contenders, the Wildcats will likely have to face No. 2-seeded UCLA — which probably would’ve been a No. 1 seed if it hadn’t lost in the Pac-12 Championship — in just the second round if they can get past Boise State. I do like NU’s chances against the Broncos, even with the ‘Cats stumbling down the stretch, as Boise State has done the same with three losses in its last five games. I’m really hoping I’m wrong about this prediction and Northwestern plays like the team-that-can-beat-anybody that it looked like in mid-February, but it’ll take everyone playing their A-game, not just Boo Buie.

Bradley Locker: Loss in Round of 32

Boise State will be a tough matchup for Northwestern in the first round. Both the Wildcats and Broncos rank top-14 in KenPom in defensive efficiency. At the same time, I trust in Boo Buie and NU’s offense to make enough significant shots to scrape by — that, and the oft-referenced vaunted Big Ten schedule that the ‘Cats played in. However, a date with 2-seed UCLA is extremely challenging. Factoring in the Bruins’ talent, defensive prowess and the fact that Chris Collins’ team has lost four of five entering the Tournament, I’m not super bullish. I will say, though, that if Chase Audige can return to pre-February offensive form, the Wildcats could put on their Cinderella slipper.

Zain Bando: Loss in Round of 32

As other people have alluded to already, I’m just along for the ride with this Wildcats team. They’ve given us so many good memories throughout the late-Fall and winter. For them to just even be in this position is unbelievable. However, I do think UCLA is a bad matchup for Northwestern, just given the fact that it has much more tournament experience and simply a better roster. However, Northwestern has proven us wrong time and time again, so I would not be surprised if the Wildcats advance to the Sweet Sixteen or even further. Because in the Big Ten, you just never know, and that's what Northwestern has done game in and game out, all season long.

Iggy Dowling: Loss in Round of 64

Boise State has two guards who are shooting over 40% from three-point land in Max Rice and Chibuzo Agbo. One of its starting forwards, Naje Smith, has a clip from deep that’s over 38%. None of those players lead Boise State in scoring. Obviously, given how much of an onus Northwestern puts on trapping in the post, that’s not a great matchup. We should see a lot of smaller lineups featuring Robbie Beran at the five on Thursday to help Northwestern rotate quicker, as we did in NU’s loss to Penn State last Friday. I think that’s going to force the ‘Cats to really depend on racking up perimeter points on the other end, which has been anything but a sure bet for this team. When you consider that Boise State held its opponents to just 31% from long range and has been almost as stout defensively as Northwestern has been, it’s even worse.

Then again, I predicted this team to win four Big Ten games this season, so it’s definitely a great idea to listen to me.

John Olsen: Loss in Final Four

First, I’d like to say that whatever happens, just enjoy the experience. Given Chris Collins’ track record and the makeup of this roster, no one should be under the illusion that what lies beyond this season will be something resembling anything like what has transpired over the last five months.

Second, don’t let what happens in this variance machine impact your perception of the team. Whether it loses to Boise State by 20 or manages to win the region, none of it matters with regards to evaluating the performance of the players and the coaching staff. The unpredictability of a competition format like this puts a cloud of uncertainty over any conclusion you might want to draw from it.

So, with that in mind, do I know how the ‘Cats are going to do? The answer is no, and anyone who claims they do is lying. However, what I do know is Northwestern is a turnover monster that plays at a slow tempo and has a phenomenal defense. That profile has shown to be effective in this setting in the past, so why not think the Wildcats can make it to the third weekend?

Ryan Cole: Loss in Sweet 16

Bold? Yes. Definitely. I have no problem picking Northwestern over Boise State. Even as a 7-seed, somehow the ‘Cats are underdogs, but they weren’t supposed to be here anyway. Who cares what Vegas thinks? They’ll handle the Broncos. Getting through the Round of 32, though, would likely require the ‘Cats to take down No. 2-seeded UCLA. That is no easy feat by any stretch of the margin. But I’ll take Chris Collins and Boo Buie to get the job done. Who knows, maybe first-half Chase Audige will make an appearance. Despite the brutal Big Ten Tournament loss, this feels like a team that has more left to do. It’s okay to believe.

Oh, also, #startBrooksBarnhizer.

Ben Cooper: Loss in Round of 32

It seems difficult to imagine the ‘Cats’ opening game against the Broncos being anything other than a nail-biter, but Boo Buie should give Northwestern an edge down the stretch. NU’s next opponent is likely to be No. 2-seed UCLA, who should have a much less difficult opening game against No. 15-seed UNC Asheville. The emotional and physical toll of Thursday’s game, coupled with the talent and tournament experience the Bruins have, will be too much for Northwestern to overcome. That said, if they can muck up the game and hit some outside shots, the ‘Cats could easily find themselves in the second weekend. It’s March, after all.

Mac Stone: Loss in Elite Eight

Yeah, it’s bold, but who cares, it’s March. Let me make this simple. Boise State? No offense. UCLA? Beaten up, would play the ‘Cats without the Pac-12 DPOY. Gonzaga? Stuck their hand through the net and Northwestern wants revenge. Can the ‘Cats’ offense look like it’s stuck in molasses at times? Sure. Can their defense carry them through? Absolutely. Until they meet Kansas. They won’t beat Kansas.

(Would like to make it clear to everyone that as much as I would love for this to happen, I won’t be picking it in my bracket so that I don’t compromise my chances of making a few extra dollars).

Andrew Neville: Loss in Round of 32

The Round of 64 game against Boise State is going to be the definition of a rock fight. The Broncos, like the ‘Cats, are known for their defense and slowing the game down. Northwestern has played in a few of these games this year (see Auburn, Rutgers) so I think the added experience with a physical brand of basketball will give the ‘Cats just enough of a boost to buck the Broncos in Round One. UCLA in the second round is an entirely different animal, however. The No. 5 overall seed, the Bruins are talented at every position, and have the defensive ability to shut down Boo Buie. The ‘Cats will need a herculean effort to knock off UCLA, and I do not see it happen.

Sophia Vlahakis: Loss in Round of 32

Northwestern didn’t climb through the Big Ten to lose in the first round. The ‘Cats defied expectations this season, and honestly, that's what March is meant for. There is no need for an over-description of how good of a team UCLA is when that is plain and simple, but Boise State — that’s when the efforts of Chris Collins, Boo Buie and Chase Audige become internalized. It’ll be a defensive battle, and the ‘Cats will have their offensive work cut out for them, especially as the Broncos can defend the three. Yes, Northwestern hasn’t been shooting well; yes, the Penn State losses were demoralizing; yes, someone other than Buie will need to be a hero. But, the Tournament is a new slate, and Northwestern always finding itself as the underdog —even as the No. 7-seed against the No. 10-seed— is getting a little old. I don’t see a vulnerable team; I see no better time for Audige to return to peak form, for Buie to be himself and for the program’s second March Madness win.

Adam Beck: Loss in Round of 64

After five straight wins, Northwestern has dropped four of its last five. With that negative trend in the past couple weeks, I’m not confident in the ‘Cats to get it done against a well-balanced Boise State team. Although Boise State has struggled lately, the Broncos have five players averaging double-digit points. Therefore, when this first-round matchup inevitably ends up a defensive battle, I’ll take Boise State purely off the fact it has more players that can consistently score the basketball.

Brendan Preisman: Loss in Round of 32

Boise State’s five best guys could compete with anyone else in the nation (at least in my opinion). Tyson Degenhart, Max Rice, Chibuzo Agbo, Marcus Shaver Jr. and Naje Smith are all averaging double figures on the year, and those five are the main reason why Boise State has 24 wins on the year, including a 15-point victory over Texas A&M. But those five are basically the only players this team has, having scored a combined 85% of the Broncos’ points this year. That lack of depth has killed Boise State in lots of its losses, including last week, when the Broncos ran out of gas en route to a 26-point second half against Utah State. UCLA, though, is a borderline juggernaut. The stats have the Bruins in the same club as Houston, Gonzaga and Alabama, and Northwestern won’t be able to compete with that.

John Ferrara: Loss in Round of 64

Look, don’t kill the messenger, but let’s be real. Boise State is a gritty defensive team, just like Northwestern. The Broncos are inconsistent on the offensive end, just like the Wildcats. The biggest difference is that KenPom ranks the blue and orange 11 spots higher in its ratings than the purple and white. What gives? Well, Boise State played a tougher non-conference schedule and is less lucky than NU. Both might seem insignificant, but those metrics tell you a lot of what you need to know: Boise can play on the road against unfamiliar opponents, and it is less volatile on a game-by-game basis. Don’t get me wrong, this should be close, but I don’t love the ‘Cats’ odds.

Patrick Winograd: Loss in Round of 32

Pretty much all year long, Northwestern has been given the underdog label, and it has consistently outperformed expectations. The style of the first-round matchup with Boise State will feel familiar for the ‘Cats, and I think they will be able to squeak out a low-scoring, close victory over the Broncos. Unfortunately for NU, UCLA is one of the best teams in the country. Although Northwestern’s upset victories over Purdue and Indiana are proof that the Wildcats can take down very high-level teams, UCLA is extremely consistent, and I don’t see how Northwestern can beat two extremely experienced teams in a row on a neutral court. I would love to see the ‘Cats make a run to the Sweet 16 (or beyond that), but I think Tyger Campbell and Jaime Jaquez Jr. will be too much for the ‘Cats to handle.

Jake Mozarsky: Loss in Round of 32

Of all the teams Northwestern could have drawn for round one, Boise State is one of the more favorable. While the Broncos have scorers, they are heavily reliant on their starters, and Northwestern’s depth should cause them problems. Also, Northwestern has the height advantage, as only one Bronco that plays meaningful minutes is over 6-foot-7. Still, Boise State is a real threat to send the ‘Cats home. If the Wildcats do win (which I think they will), they will almost definitely be tasked with UCLA, which is top 40 in offense and defense for KenPom, a recipe for success in March. This UCLA team is good on all ends of the floor, and while Jaylen Clark’s health is in question, I do think the Bruins get the best of the Wildcats if Northwestern makes it that far.

Ethan Segall: Loss in Round of 64

It bums me out to say it, but there is a reason that the Broncos are favored on Thursday despite being the lower seed. Northwestern may have peaked too early, and the ‘Cats just have not been playing their best basketball as of late. I would love nothing more than to be proven wrong, but the half-court offense has been uninspiring recently, and the ‘Cats need the Chase Audige from the first half of the season to return if they have any chance at making a run. One win seems very possible, but two wins might be lofty.

Jason Boué: Win in National Championship

Why not?