When Pete Nance and Ryan Young transferred to North Carolina and Duke, respectively, during the 2022 offseason, slotting Northwestern men’s basketball as a bottom-tier team in the Big Ten appeared to be a relatively easy prediction to make. Yet, as the ‘Cats showed this past winter, everyone was dead wrong.
Nevertheless, a Round of 32 appearance without two of the team’s best frontcourt players from the previous year might make some wonder: what would have happened had they stayed? As unrealistic as they may be, hypotheticals are fun, and I had the chance to play around with this one on WhatIfSports.com.
Before diving into the logistics of this, I want to heavily stress that this is completely unrealistic and just for fun. Regardless of what the results are, I’m not suggesting a greater takeaway from this. It’s impossible to make a valid conclusion about Nance and Young’s impact on Northwestern basketball — or any other aspect of the team for that matter — based on the results that a website spits out. The facts are that they are very good players who made great impacts in Evanston, and NU had an excellent season that no one is ever going to forget in 2022-23. That’s reality, and that’s what matters.
The easiest thing to do here would be to throw in an NCAA Basketball video game... if we had one. So, I decided to use WhatIf Sports for this.
It’s a site that allows you to pit historical teams against each other in a simulated game. Using database entries from Sports Reference, WhatIf Sports takes various players’ profiles from hundreds of real-life teams, and places different values on their respective impacts. From there, you can do things like pit the 2019 Massachusetts football team against 2019 LSU to get play-by-play action and detailed box scores like this:
It allows you to do this for NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL franchises, as well as NCAA football and men’s basketball teams (not having women’s basketball is especially criminal, as the fitting sequel to this would have been simulating how the 2019-20 NU team would’ve fared). But what takes this to another level is that the site permits users to make “dream teams,” or manually construct rosters using other historical players. And, beyond that, one can adjust the depth chart and rotations for their squads as they’d like.
That brings us here. I took the 2022-23 Northwestern roster, and replaced Blake Smith and Tydus Verhoeven with Nance and Young. The reasons I chose those two players were simple: Smith played the fewest minutes on the team last season, and there’s almost no chance Verhoeven would have transferred to NU if Nance and Young were at the top of the depth chart.
With the roster set, I had to make a rotation. I asked around to get some others’ thoughts, and I got different answers. To an extent, I tried to balance 20-20 hindsight and a realistic prediction of what Chris Collins would have done had he only known what he did in October. The rotation is fluid, though, and is subject to change based on how the team performs in real-time. Assuming Julian Roper plays out the full season healthy, here’s the rotation I started out with below:
The starting five is the same one Collins often ran with in 2021-22. With everyone back, there wouldn’t be a huge reason to change that immediately. That frontcourt is clearly very crowded, and it’ll be worth seeing how Beran, Young and Nicholson fare early on. It’s also worth noting that Nick Martinelli, Luke Hunger and Roy Dixon III are all on the team, but they didn’t receive minutes (yet). Now, without further ado...
Pre-Big Ten Slate
For the fun of it, each game will be simulated only once, because what is college basketball without randomness?
Game 1: vs. Chicago State (W 97-75) (1-0) — Player of the Game: Boo Buie (22 points, five rebounds, five assists, two steals, 8-of-17 shooting)
The ‘Cats actually sleepwalked early in this one, as they only led by three at the half. NU had no answer for Jahsean Corbett, who dropped 26 points and 10 rebounds. But Northwestern pulled away thanks to Buie and a wonderful performance from Brooks Barnhizer, who poured in 17 points and three three-pointers in just 20 minutes. Young was also hyper-efficient with 10 points, eight rebounds and five assists on 3-of-4 shooting.
Game 2 vs. Northern Illinois (W 94-70) (2-0) — Player of the Game: Pete Nance (20 points, seven rebounds, three assists, 6-of-10 FG, 3-of-5 3PT)
This time, Northwestern started really quickly, putting up 53 points in the first half. They were lights-out on offense all night, making eight of 17 three-pointers. Nance, Audige, Buie, Beran and Berry all reached double figures on good shooting.
Game 3 at Georgetown (W 90-79) (3-0) — Player of the Game: Buie (19/6/9, 8-of-11)
The offense continued to fire on all cylinders in D.C., as Buie was red-hot from all over the floor. Nance also had another great game, making six of eight field goals for 14 points. The Hoyas had the game tied at 24 late in the first half, but an NU run created a 10-point gap at halftime that the Wildcats wouldn’t relinquish. Once again, five players got into double figures (Buie, Audige, Nance, Barnhizer, Young).
Game 4 vs. Purdue Fort Wayne (L 81-70) (3-1) — Player of the Game: Buie (18/5/2, two steals, 7-of-13)
This game was too close for comfort in real life, and this was... beyond that. The Mastodons stunned NU early, jumping out to a 48-32 lead at the half. They punctuated it with a buzzer-beater three from the right corner. Northwestern’s offense, on the other hand, went ice-cold. Berry missed all six of the shots he took and went scoreless, and the team went 6-of-25 from deep.
The ‘Cats staged a furious comeback that pulled them within two points with four minutes to go, but Berry missed a jumper and an ensuing tip-in that would’ve tied the game. That flipped the momentum, and Purdue Fort Wayne closed the game out without much trouble. Northwestern will head into Thanksgiving hungry as can be.
Game 5 vs. Liberty (L 92-81) (3-2) — Player of the Game: Audige (21/7/5, 8-of-15)
The offensive fireworks were there in the first half; both teams put up 53 points. No one necessarily played badly for the ‘Cats on offense, but their defense just couldn’t get stops. Liberty set NU aflame with a 57.1% mark from the field and a 14-of-27 clip from three-point land. Kyle Rode led the way with 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting. Berry had a nice bounce-back game, scoring 10 points and three treys, but it wasn’t enough. Collins and Co. kept it at a one-score game deep into the second half, and finally faltered.
It’s also worth noting that because of this result, NU would not have played Auburn in the Cancun Challenge.
Game 6: vs. Pittsburgh (L 84-76) (3-3) — Player of the Game: Buie (15/2/9, 6-of-11)
For those who criticized Northwestern’s ability to finish games, this would, um, add fuel. Both teams went back and forth throughout the second half until Second-Half Audige™ took over. He nailed two straight midrange jumpers, and then fed Berry with a no-look pass on the next possession to go up 76-70 with 2:42 to go. Then, the offense shut down. The ‘Cats missed their final nine shots, and a go-ahead three-pointer from Pitt’s Blake Hinson with a minute to go sealed it. The Panthers finished with a 14-0 run.
While the score might suggest otherwise, both teams struggled to shoot well; the game was just fast-paced. Regardless, the defensive struggles are clear, and with Michigan State up next it will not get any easier.
Game 7: at Michigan State (W 77-67) (4-3, 1-0 B1G) — Player of the Game: Buie (22/4/3, 8-of-13)
Well, what do you know? Even in an alternate universe, some things just don’t change. Despite a rough game from Audige, who went 2-of-12, Buie and Nance (13 points on 4-of-6 shooting) go up to East Lansing and shock everyone. NU controls the game the whole way.
Game 8: vs. Prairie View A&M (W 79-63) (5-3, 1-0 B1G) — Player of the Game: Nance (16/9/1, 6-of-13)
Much like how the actual game went, Prairie View A&M stuck around deep into the second half. But the ‘Cats exploded down the stretch, putting up 47 in the second period to surge away. Buie wasn’t tremendous, shooting 4-of-11 for 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists, but Barnhizer was an X-factor after a quiet stretch. In 22 minutes, he put up 12 points and nine rebounds on a 5-of-7 mark. Nicholson — who had six points in 10 minutes — also shined with some thunderous dunks.
Game 9: vs. DePaul (W 70-51) (6-3, 1-0 B1G) — Player of the Game: Buie (19/9/4, 6-of-12)
It’s Northwestern’s best defensive game yet. Audige and Beran each pluck three steals (No. 31 also blocked two shots), and no DePaul player scores more than 10 points. NU also lit it up from three; the team shot 13-of-28. Audige dropped 16 points and drained four of his eight shots from beyond the arc, while Beran and Nance were both efficient in supporting roles.
Also, in garbage time, Martinelli hit Nicholson with an alley-oop for the last basket of the game. Just imagine watching that unfold with the ‘Cats in their Chicago’s Own jerseys.
Game 10: vs. UIC (W 90-84) (7-3, 1-0 B1G) — Player of the Game: Nance (17/4/5, two steals, 4-of-7 FG, 4-of-6 3PT)
This is a game that everyone would like to forget. UIC put up 53 points in the first half to take an eight-point edge into the locker room. It looked like NU would inexplicably drop another non-conference game well into the second half before Audige erupted for six straight points. That tied the game at 73, and a Barnhizer trey put Northwestern ahead.
The defense may have struggled (again), but the offense rolled apart from Buie, who only made five of 16 shots from the field. Nance and Audige (who fouled out) put up 17, while Beran and Barnhizer had 14 and 12, respectively. Young also had six points and nine boards in his 16 minutes of action.
Game 11: vs. Brown (W 65-51) (8-3, 1-0 B1G) — Player of the Game: Audige (19/6/5, three steals, one block, 7-of-19)
Defensively, it was a good game for NU. It held Brown to just 20 first-half points. The Bears also went 4-of-18 from three-point land, and Kino Lilly (their leading scorer) hit all of them. Buie was efficient in a slow-paced game, as he converted five of seven looks, and Young played well off the bench. After a bumpy three-game losing streak, the ‘Cats righted the ship — especially defensively — heading into January. The 8-3 record is worse than the 10-2 real-life one, but NU is still 1-0 in the conference.
Game 12: vs. Ohio State (L 81-70) (8-4, 1-1 B1G) — Player of the Game: Audige (19/4/5, three steals, one block, 6-of-13 FG, 5-of-9 3PT)
This one played out in the exact opposite way the real-life game did. NU started off really strong, building a 36-27 lead with three minutes to go in the first half. Audige was in the middle of putting up yet another good game, as he erupted for 17 points and five threes in the first half. But OSU awoke. A quick run and a Brice Sensabaugh buzzer-beating trey gave the Buckeyes a 42-41 lead at the break, and an 11-0 run with the game tied at 55 put it away.
Nance and Berry both thrived shooting the ball with 15 and nine points, respectively, but Beran (1-of-5 from the field) struggled. Buie wasn’t great either, as he shot 6-of-17 for 13 points. It was a great first half followed by a cold second one, as has typically been the case for the ‘Cats.
Game 13: vs. Illinois (L 85-80) (8-5, 1-2 B1G) — Player of the Game: Buie (32/5/6, 11-of-19)
One can call this the Ripped Jersey Buie game, but at home. Illinois got off to a 42-30 start, but Buie and Audige would not go away. Soon enough, after the Coram, New York native dropped seven points in a row (which included an and-one), NU tied the game at 67. Nance blocked a Matthew Mayer shot, and Buie scored on the next possession to go ahead with six minutes left. It’s easy to picture the white balloons in Welsh-Ryan Arena flying all over the place.
The two teams traded buckets for a few minutes, until Nicholson missed a layup down 77-75 with about 1:25 to go. Jayden Epps hit a crowd-silencing three on the other end, and that just about sealed the game. Buie and Audige (who had four steals) were phenomenal, combining for 56 points. But Terrence Shannon Jr., who scored 24, was just as good. His supporting cast thrived, while Berry, Beran and Barnhizer all shot poorly. A trip to Bloomington awaits...
Game 14: at Indiana (W 76-59) (9-5, 2-2 B1G) — Player of the Game: Audige (18/3/2, 6-of-14)
This is... nothing short of unbelievable. Northwestern went down 38-24 at the half, just to outscore the Hoosiers 52-21 at Assembly Hall to storm back and win by 17. Yes, you read that right. NU wasn’t even that hot offensively — Indiana just couldn’t hit a three. It went 3-of-16 from deep, with Miller Kopp hitting two of them to score 11 points. Jalen Hood-Schifino was really quiet with eight points on 3-of-9 shooting, while Audige enjoyed another solid game on the other end.
No one else for the Wildcats played especially well on offense, but the comeback was a team effort. Nance, Young, Beran, Berry and Nicholson all chipped in with key buckets along the way, and the team played through Audige. To outscore Indiana by 31 in the second half on the road though... that is insane. It could be an inflection point.
Game 15: vs. Rutgers (W 68-63) (10-5, 3-2 B1G) — Player of the Game: Buie (24/2/3, 9-of-22)
Northwestern finally steals a game it lost in real life. Similar to the actual game, this too was a rock fight. NU shot 31.8% from the field, while Rutgers was at just 37.7%. After a string of great games, Audige struggled mightily with a 1-of-10 shooting performance, while Berry missed all seven of his shots.
The Wildcats started well, going up by as much as 15 early in the second half. But little by little, the Scarlet Knights chopped away at the lead. With 50 seconds to go, Derek Simpson cut the deficit to one with a midrange bucket off a nice pass from Paul Mulcahy. Buie brings it back to three with a midrange pull-up, but Simpson scores again. It’s 64-63 with 12 seconds to go, and Rutgers fouls Barnhizer. With ice in his veins, the sophomore nails both, bringing up another crucial possession.
Fittingly, it’s Cam Spencer (again) who got the ball with a chance to silence the crowd. But this time, he came up short. Young snared the rebound with three seconds left, got fouled and drained two at the line to end the game. Northwestern has a chance to seize some serious momentum now.
Game 16: at Michigan (W 85-68) (11-5, 4-2 B1G) — Player of the Game: Buie (26/5/4, two steals, 9-of-14 FG, 4-of-7 3PT)
Again, Northwestern flipped the script and threw down a lethal second half, outscoring Michigan 46-29 to win a game that was tied at 39 after 20 minutes. This was Nance’s first bad game in a while — he missed seven of eight — but Buie was terrific. Audige also put on a defensive clinic, totaling three blocks and three steals to go along with 17 points. He and Buie held Kobe Bufkin to just nine points on 3-of-10 shooting. Beran, who added 16, was also great. The best part of this game came late, when Roy Dixon converted an and-one and Luke Hunger followed it up with a dunk and a three. Tournament dreams are starting to form, and Northwestern is still undefeated on the road.
Game 17: vs. Wisconsin (W 93-78) (12-5, 5-2 B1G) — Player of the Game: Beran (15/3/1, 5-of-5 FG, 3-of-3 3PT)
This is starting to get magical. Six players reach double figures this time: Buie (16), Beran, Nance (13), Barnhizer (13), Audige (11) and Young (10). NU shot above 63% from the field and made 10 of 17 threes. In 15 minutes, Young put up a 10-point, 10-rebound double-double and made four of five shots. The only player to shoot under 50% from the field was Buie, who went 5-of-11. NU went up by 12 in the first half, putting up 49, and never let Wisco get within single digits. Things are looking real bright in Evanston right now, and it’s not just one player carrying the load.
Game 18: at Nebraska (W 80-74) (13-5, 6-2 B1G) — Player of the Game: Nance (19/2/0, two blocks, 4-of-8 FG, 2-of-3 3PT, 9-of-10 FT)
NU picks up another comeback win on the road. Nebraska led deep into the second half, but Nance got hot with about four minutes to play. He put up seven straight points to take the lead, and he iced the game down the stretch with some big free throws. Northwestern made 11 of its 22 threes in another good shooting performance. Audige, who had 20 points, four assists and two steals, was also great. Barnhizer and Berry (3-of-4 from three) came up huge with 13 and 12 points, respectively. They all picked up the slack for Buie, who went 3-of-12. The winning streak ticks up to five.
Game 19: vs. Minnesota (W 71-70) (14-5, 7-2 B1G) — Player of the Game: Buie (15/1/4, three steals, 5-of-14)
A win’s a win, right? Northwestern went up 20 points with 8:32 to go and nearly blew it. Dawson Garcia became red-hot, as he spearheaded a 21-0 run. Remember how everyone at this game in real life was so excited because Northwestern had sealed the game before the second half even began? And how with about 8:32 to go, everyone’s greater concern was about clinching free Chick-fil-a? Imagine Minnesota following all that up with a 21-0 run.
Mercifully, Jamison Battle fouled Buie on a jumper, and he made both free throws to take the lead. Nance nailed a huge fadeaway jumper, and Minnesota missed its next couple shots only to drain a three-pointer down four at the buzzer. Barnhizer, Young and Nicholson played well off the bench. A slightly discouraging game, but NU continues to march toward the top of the Big Ten.
Game 20: at Iowa (L 82-78) (14-6, 7-3 B1G) — Player of the Game: Buie (24/1/6, 7-of-16 FG, 4-of-9 3PT)
Northwestern finally loses on the road, and it’s a tale of two halves. Iowa exploded for 51 points in the first half, closing out the period with an 11-0 run to head into halftime up 18. The Hawkeyes then went up by 22 early, but Northwestern chopped away at the deficit. Beran drained two threes and Berry hit one on three consecutive possessions to bring NU to within nine with about 15 minutes to go. Iowa held strong for a while, but eventually Audige hit a shot from deep to make it 76-73 with 2:27 left. Barnhizer stripped Filip Rebraca on the next possession, but the big man responded by swatting a Buie three after getting switched onto him on a pick.
Kris Murray and Rebraca followed that up with buckets, but Buie stayed resilient. He drained two free throws, and delivered a three-pointer from the corner with a minute remaining to make it 80-78. However, as the shot clock ticked down, Ahron Ulis knocked down a stepback jumper to halt the comeback effort. The ‘Cats just couldn’t stop Rebraca, who had 23 points and 10 rebounds on 10-of-13 shooting, or Murray, who put up 22 points.
Game 21: at Michigan (L 78-76 in OT) (14-7, 7-4 B1G) — Player of the Game: Buie (18/3/2, five steals, 6-of-16)
This one was close the entire way, but Northwestern found itself up 65-62 with the ball and less than a minute in regulation. Michigan had to foul Roper, who missed the front end of a one-and-one. On the next possession, Dug McDaniel rattled home a three with 10 seconds to go, and the ball somehow ended up in Young’s hands for the last shot, which clanked off the rim to send the game to overtime.
Down three, Audige sent the crowd into a frenzy with a game-tying trey with nine seconds to go. But Jaelin Llewellyn, who was 1-of-5 at that point, found himself with some space in the paint and found the net with a second to go. NU had to rush out of its timeout, and Beran couldn’t get a good look. Despite Audige’s 21 points, Michigan got revenge. Heading to Madison next, this team finds itself in almost the exact same position Northwestern was at this point.
Game 22: at Wisconsin (W 81-69) (15-7, 8-4 B1G) — Player of the Game: Nance (17/4/2, 7-of-14)
It’s another great shooting game. Nance, Audige, Buie and Beran all score 10 or more, while Barnhizer puts up nine on 4-of-5 shooting. Nicholson chips in with four points and four rebounds in six minutes of action, and the ‘Cats pull away for a huge road win heading into the toughest part of their Big Ten schedule.
Game 23: at Ohio State (W 77-68) (16-7, 9-4 B1G) — Player of the Game: Nance (18/2/2, 4-of-8)
Northwestern continues to thrive on the road with adversity. Down eight at the break, the ‘Cats went for 47 in the second half. Buie and Audige struggled from the field, but Berry and Barnhizer stepped up with efficient games. The duo combined for 24 points and six threes to propel Northwestern to a 13-of-29 three-point clip and the win. March is on everyone’s minds, and a win in this next game could make those thoughts a reality.
Game 24: vs. No. 1 Purdue (W 101-96 in OT) (17-7, 10-4 B1G) — Player of the Game: Audige (23/4/3, four steals, 8-of-14 FG, 4-of-7 3PT)
I swear this isn’t rigged.
All you need to know is that Northwestern pulled another incredible comeback. Purdue led 83-78 with 34 seconds to play. Beran nailed a three, Trey Kaufman-Renn missed the front end of a one-and-one and Nance drilled a contested three-pointer with 15 seconds left. Kaufman-Renn then got the ball again for the final shot and missed, sending it into overtime.
Beran had struggled in regulation, but got a huge three to go that gave NU control with 2:32 remaining. From there, the ‘Cats sealed it. The court-storming and the blackout still happens on Super Bowl Sunday. But this time, it’s not just March that becomes a probable outcome... it could be a Big Ten title.
Game 25: vs. Indiana (W 77-71) (18-7, 11-4 B1G) — Player of the Game: Barnhizer (13/11/1, 4-of-7)
This continues to get better. Tied at 65, Beran and Roper drain two big threes to give Northwestern a nice cushion with about 2:30 to go. The senior and Barnhizer both delivered good games on a night when Buie and Audige weren’t at their best. The ‘Cats shot 8-of-19 from three and limited the Hoosiers to 20% from beyond the arc. At this point, a tournament berth is a near-certainty as it was in real life after this game; Northwestern would probably be ranked by now.
Game 26: vs. Iowa (W 83-80) (19-7, 12-4 B1G) — Player of the Game: Buie (20/7/1, 7-of-18 FG, 4-of-8 3PT)
Kris Murray put on a stellar performance, scoring 32 points and snagging 13 rebounds, but Northwestern just has too many offensive threats. It’s the same story; the role players stepped up for one of the co-stars. Audige only scored 13 on 4-of-10 shooting, but Berry hit four three-pointers. When the game was tied at 78 with two minutes left, Barnhizer connected for a go-ahead triple. Nance missed a one-and-one up three to give Murray a chance to tie it, but his game-tying attempt fell short. Northwestern has now won five in a row, and is in prime Big Ten title contention.
Game 27: at Illinois (W 77-70) (20-7, 13-4 B1G) — Player of the Game: Barnhizer (15/3/1, 4-of-7)
Northwestern headed to Champaign, went down by six at the half, and proceeded to put up 51 points. It wasn’t a great shooting night for the ‘Cats, but they made 20 of their 21 free throws while the Illini only went 10-of-17 from the stripe. Given what happened to the rest of the Big Ten in real life, NU has at least clinched a two-seed in the conference now.
Game 28: at Maryland (W 83-64) (21-7, 14-4 B1G) — Player of the Game: Nance (13/11/3, 4-of-8)
Northwestern just went into the XFINITY Center and blew out the Terrapins. Is this team a cheat code? Who knows. If NU wins another game, it clinches the Big Ten regular season title.
Game 29: vs. Penn State (W 79-75) (22-7, 15-4 B1G) — Player of the Game: Audige (17/2/4, five steals, 5-of-10)
Jalen Pickett, Seth Lundy and Andrew Funk were on fire. They combined for 55 of Penn State’s 75 points, and shot 21-of-33 in the process. Northwestern’s trio of Audige, Buie and Nance was good but not great, which allowed the Nittany Lions to go up by four with about five minutes to go. That didn’t deter the ‘Cats though, as Nance and Barnhizer each drained go-ahead three-pointers to take the lead with 2:15 to go. NU got the stops it needed in the final 135 seconds, and will head to the United Center as the No. 1 seed. In real life, Purdue had lost five Big Ten games by now, so the Northwestern students would have known a clinching scenario was in effect. In this hypothetical, that would set up a Senior Night for the ages, court-storming and all.
Game 30: at Rutgers (L 75-62) (22-8, 15-5 B1G) — Player of the Game: Buie (20/3/1, 6-of-14)
Northwestern finally has an off-night, losing its first double-digit game since the Ohio State game on New Year’s Day. Berry and Audige both shot poorly (1-of-11 and 1-of-8) and the team made about 34% of its field goals. NU went down by 16 in the first half and cut the deficit to just three points, but Rutgers held on for the victory.
Big Ten Tournament
Since Northwestern beat a few teams it lost to during the actual 2022-23 season, it throws the standings into flux. Should NU advance in tournament play, I’ll simulate the other matchups that didn’t actually happen. Here’s what the bracket ends up looking like, with the tiebreakers in effect:
Maryland took down Rutgers 83-72 thanks to 18 points from both Jahmir Young and Donta Scott, which sets up the quarterfinal matchup.
Game 31: vs. No. 8 Maryland (W 78-64) (23-8) — Player of the Game: Nance (18/9/2, 7-of-13)
The Terps just couldn’t shoot well from deep, going 4-of-16. Northwestern controlled this one from the tip to the finish. Nance played well, and Audige patrolled the passing lanes all game to rack up five steals. He added 15 points, Buie dropped 14 and Beran added nine.
After some more simming, the adjacent quarterfinal matchup ended up being Michigan State-Iowa. The Hawkeyes surprisingly blew out the Spartans 94-74, due largely in part to a red-hot shooting game from Payton Sandfort, who poured in 20 points. That sets up a rubber match in the Big Ten Semis.
Game 32: vs. No. 5 Iowa (L 80-68) (23-9) — Player of the Game: Barnhizer (10/2/1, 4-of-7)
The Hawkeyes put the clamps down on a potent Northwestern offense. None of NU’s stars were downright awful, but everyone shot below 50%. On the other end, the ‘Cats had no answer for Murray, who put up a 27-point, 13-rebound double-double. Although Northwestern is basically a lock to go dancing, Iowa sends the team packing (for now) for a second straight year.
The other side of the bracket played out as expected. Indiana and Purdue faced off in the other semifinal, with the Hoosiers prevailing in a 94-91 showdown to defeat the Boilermakers for the third time. However, Iowa ended up defeating Indiana 87-83 to secure the Big Ten’s automatic bid.
With an extra road win over Michigan and two over Maryland, Northwestern’s resume is probably better than it was in real life here. However, without an objective NET ranking to go off of, it’s difficult to be precise about where NU falls in terms of seeding. Thus, it could help to compare the team to the rest of the Big Ten.
LOCKS: Purdue (2), Indiana (4), Iowa (6), Michigan State (7), Illinois (8), Maryland (9)
BUBBLE: Rutgers (11), Michigan, Penn State, Nebraska, Wisconsin
OUT: Minnesota, Ohio State
The third loss to Indiana and lack of a conference title in this universe is enough for me to move Purdue down to the two-spot in favor of UCLA. Iowa’s run — and extra victories over MSU, Northwestern and the Hoosiers — propel it to the No. 6 seed, while Maryland drops down a spot due to two extra losses to NU.
Northwestern is clearly a lock, and is likely on the same tier as Indiana if not higher. The question is, where exactly?
Although Northwestern’s Quad One record would have likely changed due to other NET shifts had this hypothetical actually played out, I’ll use the real-life quadrant designations as a framework. In this universe, the ‘Cats would have gone 9-4 in Quad One games, and 6-4 in Quad Two ones. That resume is similar to that of Xavier, a team that went 25-9 in regular season play and earned the final No. 3 seed.
Indiana’s Big Ten Tournament performance would have left it at 6-9 in Quad One games, giving NU a clear edge. However, I think the Wildcats would go down as a four-seed here. Xavier played a tougher schedule and finished with a better record (and likely a higher NET in this scenario).
That bumps everyone down a spot. Also, Penn State’s loss to NU and its early departure in the conference tournament would probably leave it on the wrong side of the bubble. That likely opens up a spot for Rutgers, and creates an entirely new bracket.
If this gets enough positive feedback, I’ll write a Part Two to this, but comment below how you’d think this team would fare in March, as well as some other Northwestern sports hypotheticals you’d like to see played out.