Not so fast, Northwestern.
Two games into league play, we’re seeing how the Wildcats could be headed for another back-breaking Big Ten season. Sure, a 13-1 start is nice. It signals you’re a competent team, at the very least. But when you’re non-conference schedule ranks 340th out of 351 teams, and you have not defeated a team ranked in the top 120 on KenPom, there will rightfully be skeptics. If this is going to be the year Northwestern ends its hard-to-believe NCAA Tournament drought — the program has never played in the Big Dance — then it’s going to need to defeat the good teams often.
And it has not played the good teams often, let alone defeated any of them.
Almost two months into the season, NU is 0-2 against said good teams. Prior to its bumpy home defeat (72-59) to Maryland on Saturday night, the only other quality club Chris Collins’ team played this season was North Carolina. It also lost that game by double digits.
This was a big chance for Northwestern to prove its mettle against a Final Four contender. It had the game on its home floor. But Maryland led wire to wire on Saturday. Melo Trimble, one of the best guards in the country, came close to notching a triple-double by scoring 24 points, dishing eight assists and grabbing eight rebounds. It was a 40-20 game at the half. Northwestern was done in by shooting an absymal 10 percent from 3-point range (2 for 20).
I’d love to see this program finally break through, but it’s a tough ask to end the hex when you get a schedule that will do a team zero favors come selection time. The Big Ten is still really good, and if Northwestern wants to factor into that, it’s going to have to win on its home floor. It can change people’s minds plenty in the near future, then. Ohio State comes to town on Wednesday, and after a road game against Minnesota, Wisconsin and Penn State are the next ones in at Welsh Ryan Arena.
If Northwestern can go from 13-2 to 16-2, expectations can slowly begin to creep in for the big ticket.