29 March 2009

Final Four 2009

Let the buildup to Saturday begin. Michigan St and Carolina joined UConn and Nova in the Final Four as the NCAA Tourney peeled off another layer to its cube root. Carolina was expected to win and did so handily. The story of the day belonged to Sparty which upset Louisville with surprising ease down the stretch , and for now put on ice the coronation of this year's Big East as the best conference in college basketball history.

Michigan St has everything going for it at this point. They have nothing to lose as they were not expected to get past Louisville, the Beast of the East. Plus, they get to play in Detroit which they can easily drive so long as they remember to hold their noses at the Ann Arbor exit off I-94. MSU's opponent on Saturday will be UConn which has a bit of history on their side -- this year fits with UConn's five-year pattern in which it rides a #1 seed in the Phoenix Regional to a national championship. Logic says this history should be meaningless to a completely different UConn squad, but athletes are notoriously superstitious so this historical anecdote can't be entirely dismissed.

In the other game, Nova takes on Carolina. Carolina came into the season as the unanimous pick for NCAA champion with unabashed talk of an unblemished record. Carolina has not performed up to those lofty expectations but are where they need to be now. Still, the pressure is clearly on Carolina as they are now the highest remaining seed (Louisville and Pitt were higher seeds), and they are now at the stage where they lost last year. Plus, they have to overcome Nova which is looking like a team of destiny.

Like UConn, Nova can point to history to gain an unneeded boost to confidence. Back in 1985, the Big East's previous pinnacle, an underdog Villanova squad overcame all odds and toppled more highly regarded Big East foes on its way to a national title. Villanova has already toppled Pitt in what was easily the best game of this tournament. Though MSU's victory over Louisville threw into doubt whether another Big East team would stand in Nova's way in the finals, UConn very well could be this year's Georgetown and Hasheem Thabeet playing the role of Patrick Ewing (sans grey undershirt).

Oh, and Northwestern can now claim not only that it beat a Final Four team, but that it was able to do it in East Lansing -- something none of the rest of the Final Four will be able to claim.

27 March 2009

Elite Eight is Set

We are now at the square root of the original tourney field (after play-in game), and this tourney continues to go largely as expected. The Big East has lived up to its lofty billing, the Big XII has exceeded expectations, the Big Ten has acquitted itself and set the stage for next year, the Pac 10 went about as expected. In short, all the major conferences have performed about as expected except for the ACC which has been exposed as a fraud (Duke, which bowed out after the S16, is the latest ACC team to come up short of expectations).

Elite 8 by conference:

Big East (4) -- 1 Pitt, 1 Louisville, 1 UConn, 3 Nova
Big XII (2) -- 2 Oklahoma, 3 Mizzou
Big Ten (1) -- 2 Michigan St
ACC (1) -- 1 Carolina

Looking forward, will all the 1 seeds advance? I say not. Most likely candidate for falling short? All are vulnerable, but I think UConn is most vulnerable -- especially with the recruiting violations distractions swirling about.

26 March 2009

Down to 12

Memphis is out (Calipari's lack of coaching skill once again trumped his recruiting prowess) after losing to surprising Mizzou, Xavier nearly pulled out the upset over Pitt, UConn pulled away from undersized Purdue, and Nova blasted Duke (always brings a smile to my face to see the Vitales get waxed).

The ACC continues to disappoint (somehow Vegas still has UNC as the favorite to win despite this revelation and Lawson's injury????), the Big East continues its Tour de Force, and the Big XII has proven that it had more to offer than Oklahoma and Blake Griffin.

Big Ten fans are down to pulling for MSU. They can pull it out tomorrow night, but at some point Sparty's defensive deficiencies will doom their run.

22 March 2009

NCAAs Round 2 Analysis

We're down to the Sweet 16, and it looks like this year is shaping up much like last year with the "power conferences" dominating. The two remaining dance crashers are Gonzaga and Xavier, two 4 seeds that have been ranked most of the year and were seeded to make it this far. Ho hum.

Why have the last couple of years gone more or less according to plan? Why hasn't a George Mason come out of the woodwork to captivate the college basketball nation? I am of the opinion that this is just part of the randomness of college basketball and athletics more generally (some sports are more random than others, but that is neither here nor there). What we have seen the past couple of years are simply a couple of observations in which things went according to plan. I don't think there is any trend here, and the chances of next year going "mad" is just as likely as it was this year, last year, or in all the years since the rules for the entry into the NBA changed (one of the key exogenous variables that I think does affect NCAA teams differently -- there are others but this is the biggest recent shock to the system -- the economy may be another if things continue to go down the crapper).

I will say that I find the results disappointing since it is more fun to root for the underdog. You have to suspect that "small school" fans are chagrined by this year's results, particularly since Arizona, their poster child for the undeserving bid that was stolen from a smaller school, is still standing. With results like the past couple of years, these fans can probably expect more bias towards the major conference schools for the at-large bids (which is good news for Northwestern, I guess).

Below is a continuation of the Round 1 Analysis I posted a couple of days ago...

Actual Predicted Difference
Round 2 (based on Round 1 results and seeds)
BgE 5-1 5-1 +0
B12 3-3 3-3 +0
ACC 2-1 2-1 +0
B10 2-2 1-3 +1
P10 1-4 1-4 +0
SEC 0-1 0-1 +0

Conclusion? Round 2 went largely to plan. I suppose that the Big 10 outperformed, but that is a bit of a stretch as the +1 is due to 5 Purdue beating 4 Washington, not exactly a stunner.

Another way to look at the tourney results so far is that 14 of the top 16 seeds made it to the Sweet 16. The two crashers are Purdue and 12 Arizona (4 Wake Forest flamed out in the first round to Cleveland St). I guess this suggests that the Big Ten has done slightly better than expected while the ACC has done worse (see my Round 1 analysis, plus WF's absence from long weekend #2 of the tourney). The Big XII and Pac 10 have done slightly better than expected primarily because of their Round 1 results. Again -- Ho hum.

I have to say that I was uber-impressed with Memphis. They look like an NBA team again with their length on the perimeter and girth down on the blocks. Weren't they decimated by NBA defections after last year's loss in the national championship game (which reminds me --Calipari is such a bonehead for allowing Kansas to hoist a three to send the game into OT)? It is impressive that they could reload so quickly. Thad Matta is good at stocking his roster with elite athletes, but it seems Calipari has outdone even him.

21 March 2009

NCAAs Round 1 Analysis

It is a common pastime for fans to look at results in the NCAAs as an indicator of conference strength. I am no different. Below is a comparison of actual first round results by major conference compared to predicted results (by seed).

Actual Predicted Difference
Round 1
B12 6-0 5-1 +1

BgE 6-1 7-0 -1
P10 5-1 4-2 +1
B10 4-3 4-3 +0
ACC 3-4 6-1 -3
SEC 1-2 1-2 +0

Round 2 (based on Round 1 results and seeds)
BgE ??? 5-1 ??
B12 ??? 3-3 ??
ACC ??? 2-1 ??
B10 ??? 1-3 ??
P10 ??? 1-4 ??
SEC ??? 0-1 ??

Biggest conclusion from Round 1 -- ACC was overrated.

20 March 2009

At last some March Madness!

Last year was a dud. The first round this year was a dud until the Big Ten livened things up at the very end with a 2OT thriller in which 9 Siena squeaked by 8 Ohio State. Moments earlier 12 Wisconsin "upset" 5 FSU in OT in a battle between teams that lost to Northwestern this season. Perhaps after the game they swapped horror stories of their visits to Welsh-Ryan?

God how I've missed those times when CBS had to switch furiously back and forth between nail biters!

The crazy things talking heads say

The Seth Davis Edition (Part I of many):

What a tool this guy is. At the end of "CBS at the half", Gumbel asked Davis if Wisconsin had any chance of coming back against FSU when trailing 19-31 at half. Davis scoffed.

Wisconsin 61
FSU 59
Final OT

Of course, no mea culpa's after the game were offered by Seth. It's probably good that he didn't start the habit as it would get old fast with how often he is wrong. Good call, you ACC-apologist douchebag. Fock you, Seth!

PS: NCAA First Round Results:
Big Ten 4-3
ACC 3-4
Head-to-Head: Big Ten 2-0 (both "upsets")

19 March 2009

The crazy things fans say

The Crystal Ball Edition:

"If we don't make [the NCAAs] next year, it'll be another 3-4 year rebuilding process, and we've seen how those go . . ."

I'm as big a Kevin Coble fan as the next guy (Nash and Ryan will also depart after next year, but context suggests this comment was motivated only by Kevin's departure), but to insinuate that NU will fall off the map after he graduates is at best giving the guy too much credit and at wost giving the current sophomores (Juice, Capocci, Peljusic) and current frosh (Shurna, Mirkovic, Rowley, Fruendt, Curletti) too little credit.

It's hard enough to predict from year to year, let alone two years out. There are too many x-factors which no one can say pin down with any degree of certainty. These x-factors include:

  • How strong will the Big 10 be (injuries, transfers, early departures for NBA, etc...)
  • How the current players on the roster will develop next year (and the following year)
  • How strong will the incoming frosh be (Crawford, Marcotullio)
  • Who will be in the Class of 2010 (currently looks like 3 scholarships will be available)

Crystal balls are fun and add to message board fodder. However, I always find it remarkable how confident some people are in their prognostications. I realize that I have my own crystal ball which forecasts NU in the NCAAs next year. I honestly believe this to be the case, but my projected confidence in that forecast is made in jest. Perhaps this fan is bluffing his crystal ball confidence? It's possible, but this poster's history suggests otherwise.

The crazy things fans say

NCAA Tournament Edition:

"If NU wants to be in the top 34 teams in the country (which is where you essentially have to be in order to get at least an at-large bid to the NCAA) the Cats must start attracting at least top 40 recruiting classes. Can Carmody and Hardy combine to do that? I have my doubts. "

The top 34? Really? Funny, the lowest at-large this year was a 12 seed. Other years it has been as low as a 13 seed and (to my recollection) no higher than a 12 seed. Perhaps this fan is no math major, but last time I checked the highest 13th seed translates into the #49 team in the country. It would be more accurate to say that NU needs to be in the Top 50 with some compelling wins on its dossier and Top 45 if not.

I do agree that recruiting is the key to the future. Top 40 classes are doable for NU once it gets over the hump. The old chicken and egg thing... Good thing that NU will be breaking through the glass season next season and dancing in the NCAAs.

18 March 2009

Thank you seniors

You have helped turn this ship around at long last. Unlike previous visits to the NIT, the next season has as much if not more promise than how the current one ended.

Craig Moore was a great senior leader, both by example and vocally. He will be missed. Here's to winning the 3-point contest at the Final Four, Craig.

Sterling Williams was selfless and paved the way to local recruiting success, the key to NU's future. I was very happy for Sterling when he played a key role in a stirring victory @ Purdue this year.

Lastly, much appreciation to Patrick Houlihan and Marlon Day who did much of their worked behind the scenes and helped made our starters and bench stronger through their dedication and hard work.

THANK YOU! I hope you take great pride in what is to come for this program. You truly were the pioneers and played a key role in leading NU out of its 70+ years in the wilderness

NU loses 68-59

The halftime bad news outweighed the good news as Tulsa heated up from outside while Thompson got into foul trouble and handicapped our offense. Moore did about all he could, knocking down NBA threes. It came down to an open look down three points with about 30 seconds to go which came up short for Moore. Tulsa pulled away from there knocking down all their FTs.

The biggest difference was the presence of Jordan down low. We couldn't get points in the paint except for a couple of backdoors and some real difficult shots. That allowed Tulsa to press on the perimeter which really shut down the shorter Thompson and took away one of our offensive weapons. Mirkovic needed to step up from distance to draw out their big man, but he was shy on the shot. Let's hope next year that changes.

NU lead 30-28 at the half in Tulsa

Good news is that NU got this lead despite both Thompson and Moore sitting the last 10 minutes of the half after picking up two fouls each. Mirkovic also hit a bomb, as did Shurna.

Bad news is that Tulsa's Jordan is having his way inside and Tulsa is getting o-boards like they're a poor man's MSU (no big coincidence given NU's lack of rebounding skills, Wojcik's learning from Izzo). Also, NU tends to play worse with the lead at half for whatever reason.

What kept NU in this was cold shooting from distance from Tulsa. Uzoh only knocked down one bomb by my count, and their sharp shooter had one, too. Will this continue? Will Thompson and Moore picked up where they left off with NU clicking while they were in? Let's hope so.

Game Day: NIT 1st Round @ Tulsa

NU begins its fourth NIT tonight at Tulsa. Odds makers set NU as a 7.5 point underdog, and the betting public ate that line up like a juicy low-hanging fruit. The line is now down to 5 points, and that is still too generous. NU has played well in the underdog role, a trend that NU fans hope will continue tonight.

Tulsa is led by Coach Wojcik, a Tom Izzo disciple. Yes, this is the same Izzo who lost to this resilient band of Wildcats earlier this year in E. Lansing. On the other hand, Wojcik hasn't faced a team like NU with its Princeton O and its switching 1-3-1 and matchup zone. Given that Tulsa has had only three days to prep for this game, NU has a decided tactical advantage in this game.

On Tulsa's side of the ledger, NU may not have an answer for their behemoth, 7'0" Junior Jerome Jordan, down on the blocks. Some NU fans have said this is the time for our own behemoth, Kyle Rowley, to step up and neutralize Jordan. While that sounds all well and good, Rowley has shown no hints that he is ready to do so as his better efforts have come against smaller centers. No, Luka Mirkovic will need to be called upon to set up camp at the top of the key, KNOCK DOWN A COUPLE OF BOMBS, draw the shot blocking phenom outside his comfort zone, get him into foul trouble in space. Davide Curletti may need to see some court time to give Mirkovic a spell and body up the Tulsa big man.

Penetration from Tulsa's Junior PG Ben Uzoh will also need to be kept in check, a task easier said than done. The hope is that NU's defenses will confuse and neutralize Uzoh's driving ability. If not, Jeremy Nash will need to see extra court time to match up with his athleticism.

Tulsa has the home court advantage which could possibly tilt this game in their favor. I think this can compensated for, however, as NU is hungrier (10 years have passed since NU's last post season tourney, Tulsa has been in the NCAAs recently). Plus, Craig Moore has been waiting his entire career for postseason play, and he doesn't want it to end just yet.

I'm inclined to think NU wins this one primarily due to the tactical advantage. The game will be a slow, Big Ten style slugfest. Hopefully we get some ACC-type refs who are used to calling ticky tack fouls which will open up our cutters and our offense.

NU 56 Tulsa 52

16 March 2009

The crazy things fans say

The NIT-Style Historical Revisionism Edition...

I've seen several claims that NU has a history of futility in the NIT, that NU typically goes "one and done" or bows out when matched-up against a local opponent. Well here are the facts:

NU 71 Notre Dame 57
Depaul 65 NU 63

NU 69 Depaul 68
Xavier 83 NU 79 (OT)

Depaul 69 NU 64

NIT Summary:
vs Depaul (1-2)
vs Notre Dame (1-0)
vs Xavier (0-1)
Overall (2-3)

Conclusions: Once upon a time when NIT was an independent tournament (it is now run by the NCAA), the NIT must have had an unwritten rule that NU would be invited only when Depaul was in the NIT and that NU had to play Depaul or Notre Dame. NU went "one and done" once out of three berths, and NU was 2-2 against "local" programs.

15 March 2009

Better Know An Opponent: Tulsa

The first installment in the (potential, annual) 344 part "Better Know an Opponent" series (series title and description inspired by and credited to eminent fellow NU alum Colbert, Stephen of The Colbert Report. All associated royalties will be remitted to Mssr. Colbert)...

Get your kicks on Route 66 and learn about NU's first round NIT opponent:

University of Tulsa
Location: Tulsa, OK
Type: Private
# of Undergraduates: ~3K
Campus: "Urban" (ahem)
Motto: Wisdom, Faith, Service (don't they teach Latin in OK?)
Nickname: Golden Hurricanes (Ummm, how many hurricanes do they get in Tulsa? Perhaps they got confused and meant the Golden Tornadoes -- Tulsa is located in Tornado Alley)
Mascot: Captain Cane (this guy?)Official Colors: Old Gold, Royal Blue, Yellow, and Crimson (with so many, why not jump in with both feet and go with ROYGBIV?)
President: Dr. Steadman Upham (name sounds snooty enough for NU!)
Conference: Conference USA (USA! USA! USA!)
Notable Alums: Paul Pressey, Hank Haney, Steve Largent, Nancy Lopez, Lovie Smith, Gus Frerotte, Ray Rhodes, Dennis Byrd

Basketball Team:
University of Tulsa (24-10, 12-4)
2008-09 Regular Season Finish: 2nd (1st: Memphis)
2008-09 Conference Tournament Finish: (2-1, 2nd place: L 39-64 Memphis)
Sagarin: #61, 0-6 vs Top 25, 1-7 vs Top 50 (NU: #54, 3-4, 6-10)
RPI: #53 (NU: #76)
Pomeroy: #58 Overall, #101 AdjO, #33 AdjD, #299 Consistency (NU: #66, #55, #83, #305)

Drilling down into the Pomeroy statistics, Tulsa is very good at eFG% defense (#5!) especially 3P% defense (#1!), is a good rebounding team (20th best at protecting the defensive glass), likes to play at a slow pace (#252 pace), and is a good shot blocking team (#32). Tulsa also appears to attack the rim as they are good at getting to the charity stripe (#47 in nation FTA/FGA).

On the flip side, they don't appear to be very good at protecting the ball. On offense, they are susceptible to ball pressure as they are the #229 worst team in turning the ball over and #271 in giving up steals. On defense, it's a similar story with an abysmal #329 ranking in forcing turnovers and #284 ranking in steals.

Sounds to me that Tulsa is a slow, tall team that doesn't take many risks on defense and is very deliberate about forcing the ball inside or driving the lane on offense.

Individually, they are led by Jerome Jordan, a 7'0" 240lb Junior center who is a rebounding, shot blocking, foul drawing, good free throw shooting fiend. Jordan is complemented by Ben Uzoh, a 6'3" 195lb Junior guard who is a workhorse with decent range and draws his fair share of fouls, too. Tulane has a couple long range bombardiers in Ray Reese and Justin Hurtt. The 5th player of note is Bishop Wheatley, a 6'6" Junior who does most of his work on the interior. Jordan subs out for Steven Idlet, a 6'10" frosh who isn't shy about shooting the ball but isn't nearly as efficient from the field or the charity stripe. Glen Andrews, a 6'3" sophomore, is their 7th man but does not shoot particularly well for a guard.

NU tussles with Tulsa in NIT first round

First and foremost, congratulations are in order to Coach Carmody for his first NIT berth at NU and to the team for persevering this year after a couple of difficult years. It would be nice to have a little run and make it farther than any other team in NU history (i.e., past the 2nd round of the NIT).

So much for the NU-ND NIT match-up speculation. NU got the #5 seed and travels to #4 seed Tulsa for a Wed night battle @ 8pm central. Game will be broadcast on ESPNU and WGN Radio. Tulsa was the #2 team in Conference USA finishing a distant second to Memphis. Common opponents are a neutral site game vs Illinois (L 44-48), Texas A&M CC (W 66-43), and SMU (W 64-55 at home, W 74-64 @ SMU). NU had similar results so the transitivity property suggests this will be another vintage NU nailbiter.

The winner will then take on the winner of #1 Auburn (2nd place in SEC West) and #8 UT Martin (regular season Ohio Valley champion).

The crazy things fans say

The first installment in the Carmody Court original series, "The crazy things fans say"...

Here is a complete recap of a misguided fan's post on Wildcat Report earlier on this Selection Sunday (with my reactions in bold):

" [NU] has proven that it has the ability to play very well or very poorly. I would be more surprised if we ended up in NY than losing in round 1."

How can anyone make this type of statement before the brackets are even set? I'm not saying this notion is necessarily wrong, but it is ridiculous to reach such a conclusion before even analyzing NU's potential road to MSG.
Gotta love blatant ignorance!

"From top to bottom there will be more good teams in the NIT than in the NCAA due to automatic bids from lower conferences in the NCAA."

Speaking of blatant ignorance... this is one of the most ridiculous statements I've ever read from a college basketball fan. First of all, the NIT has automatic bids, too, for the regular season conference champs that lost their conference tourneys and were not invited to the Big Dance. Secondly, if you want to make an apples-to-apples comparison, you have to compare the fields at the same size. The NCAAs will be down to 32 teams, the same size as the NIT field, by the first Saturday (i.e., Round 2). Does anyone seriously think that the NCAAs would have an inferior set of 32 teams, top-to-bottom, to the NIT?!?!?!? Holy shit! An "NCAA-NIT Challenge" that lined up the seeds to play each other would be a slaughter, possibly a complete 32-0 skunking. Throw the names in a hat and draw randomly and the NCAA still wins over 85% of those games.

"Also, basketball is a game of matchups and we might not match up well to an opponent."

A good point (which was somehow missed in the fan's first point) that is not fully appreciated by many fans. Hurrah!

14 March 2009

Vanquished foes streaking towards the NCAAs

Purdue will battle Ohio State on Selection Sunday for the Big Ten Tournament title. The game will mean not much more to the college basketball world other than some bragging rights and possibly a small bump in the NCAA tourney seedings to the winner. But, to Northwestern fans, this matchup is yet another piece of evidence of how large a step forward the program took this year and how close NU is to the Promised Land of the NCAA Tournament. As NU fans will recall, NU beat both Purdue (@ W Lafayette) and OSU @ the Welsh within the last few weeks.

Also of note was Florida State's victory over #1 UNC today. Yes, this is the same FSU team that NU buried during a memorable second half sparked by a series of inspired play from Ivan Peljusic.

12 March 2009

Unconventional Lineup Comes Up Short Against Minnesota

Coach Carmody went to an unconventional lineup of Williams, Nash, Mirkovic, Thompson, and Shurna last week in a move to rest his big guns for the stretch run at #19 Purdue in West Lafayette. Surprisingly, this lineup not only managed to hold onto a slim NU lead but actually built upon the lead thanks in no small part to offensive contributions from Williams.

Against Minnesota in today's Big Ten Tournament game, with 4 fouls for Coble and Thompson late in the second half, Carmody opted for a similarly unconventional lineup of Nash, Williams, Moore, Ryan and Peljusic during a pivotal late second half stretch. Carmody gambled to ensure Thompson and Coble would be available for the closing minutes, but perhaps Carmody also wanted to get a little breather for his stars as Thompson had exerted a lot of energy to get NU back into the game, and Coble was hounded by multiple Minnesota defenders after a stellar first half.

This move proved less successful than the Purdue game lineup as Minnesota opened up a 3 point lead while Thompson and Coble sat. There is some overblown criticism to Carmody's decision because of this 3 point gap, but this was not the reason NU lost. No, NU lost because it could not make a bucket even once the stars came back into the game. Had NU won this game (like the Purdue game), there wouldn't be much attention paid to this at all. It just goes to show that winning is a great salve.

NIT Bound?

So much for the hope of a 2 game run in the Big Ten Tournament and an invitation to the NCAAs. NU went one and done thanks to a 16-0 Minnesota run in the first half and Northwestern turning ice cold down the stretch. NU did manage to take a small lead late in the second half, but the momentum seemed to switch on a dime as Jeremy Nash clanked 2 free throws and Moore couldn't land a long range dagger. NU's first ever NCAA berth will just have to wait 'til next year (for a change, NU fans can mean it when they say it).

Northwestern took large strides this year but in the end came up just a bit short of the mark. I feel for Craig Moore who stepped up his play once again this year and took on the leadership mantle and thrived in that role. I expect to see Craig sitting right behind the bench next year in our first round game in the Big Dance with a big smile on his face.

The NIT awaits NU as a reward for a 17-13 and 8-11 season. The question of whom will be NU's opponent and where the first game will be answered in due time. NU fans have reason to be optimistic for an NIT run. Many NU fans have eyed Notre Dame as a potential first round foe. That would be a fun match-up and give us a chance to get a close look at former Wildcat recruit Luke Harangody who received much preseason praise.

11 March 2009

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

Did ya know that NU was just two victories shy of finishing in a tie for 2nd in the Big Ten this year? Yes, I realize that NU was 3 games behind Illinois and Purdue in the final regular season standings, and, no, I do not need my head examined. Had NU hung onto late 2nd half double-digit leads and pulled out the home games against the Illini and the Boilermakers, that would've bumped NU up to 10-8 for the season and knocked both Illinois and Purdue down to 10-8. Hence, NU was two victories away from a tie for 2nd place finish in the conference.

That just goes to show how close NU was to breaking through to the first tier of the Big Ten this year and how closely grouped the 2nd through 9th place teams were. There's some food for thought for those NU fans who are gnashing their teeth over yet another finish in close proximity to the Big Ten cellar.

Two wins away from the Promised Land

NU men's basketball is just two wins away from its first invite to March Madness. Long suffering followers of the program have awaited this day and would be cause for spontaneous rejoice and perhaps even combustion. Can NU make the leap? Absolutely.

This feat would be accomplished by defeating Minnesota and Michigan State at the Big Ten Tournament this Thursday and Friday. Note that NU already vanquished both foes earlier this year including a victory over MSU at the Breslin Center. Thus, it is reasonable to think that NU can climb this last little bit of the NCAA's mountain.

The Big Ten is projected by the bracketologistensia to have anywhere between 6 and 8 invitees to the Big Dance. NU, as the 9th seed, is currently on the outside looking in. A victory over Minnesota could conceivably leapfrog NU over Minnesota in the eyes of the selection committee and in of itself persuade the committee that NU is worthy of an invite. However, I don't think this victory alone would do the deed and would most likely result in Big Ten cannibalization with both NU and Minnesota NIT-bound.

A second victory over MSU would really raise the eyebrows of the NCAA selection committee and add enough substance to NU's case for an invite to seal the deal. More specifically, a victory over MSU would mean:

1. NU defeated 8 top 50 programs. This statistic alone compares favorably to other bubble teams (and even to many NCAA locks);
2. NU defeated MSU, a likely 2 or 3 seed, both at Breslin and on a neutral court;
3. NU finished the year strong. At worst, NU would have won 5 of its last 7 and 6 of its last 9 including 2 road victories and 2 neutral court victories;
4. NU's record, at worst, of 19-13, 10-11 including a top 4 finish in the conference tourney; and
5. Improved RPI, Sagarin, strength of schedule, and Pomeroy ratings. All but the RPI statistic currently are NCAA-worthy with possibly all four in the no red flag territory after a victory on Friday.

These are compelling arguments to the NCAA selection committee. The last leg of the NCAA push begins Thursday @ 11AM Central. Just win, baby!