It saddens me to have to play devil’s advocate, but Northwestern’s men’s basketball team won’t find themselves at the big dance that is the NCAA Division I basketball tournament in March.
I know the Wildcats landed an impressive catch in freshman JerShon Cobb. I know Michael “Juice” Thompson (12 points per game) and Drew Crawford (10 points per game) make for a strong backcourt complement to big John Shurna‘s 18 points per game and 6 rebounds per game. I know Northwestern received an USA Today Coaches Poll vote this preseason.
Another writer disagrees and thinks that the ‘Cats could make it to the NCAA tournament this year.
But it’s still not enough to overcome our historical absence from the tourney. The Wildcats are one of only five division one teams (Army, The Citadel, St. Francis and William and Mary) to never make the tournament, since its founding in 1939 — actually held at Northwestern. This notoriety places them in a group of pedestrian teams. Army’s too busy training to fight for our country so they’re off the hook, and “tradition” has never been mentioned in the same sentence as the names of those other programs.
Despite our above .500 record last season, the Big Ten is too strong this year for us to repeat those results, despite our weak non-conference opponents. Other than Georgia Tech, no other non-conference foe would be more competitive than a local high school team.
Five other Big Ten teams are in the USA Today Coaches Poll: Michigan State (2), Ohio State (5), Purdue (8), Illinois (16) and Wisconsin (24). Of those, Ohio State landed the second-best recruiting class in the country, while Illinois had the 13th.
The selection committee won’t look favorably on our tournament resume unless we make some serious noise in the Big Ten, which is going to be hard with so many ranked conference members. They ultimately decide who dances and who doesn’t, and our weak non-conference schedule combined with our historical promise for mediocrity is a sour recipe for exile come March.
So while we’ll certainly be competitive, it won’t be enough to turn the tide of past failures and the strong Big Ten conference. But hey, at least we’re smart enough to realize that.