17 February 2016

State of the NUion - 2016 Stretch Run Edition

With last night's 10 point road loss to #17 Purdue now in the books, NU (17-10, 5-9) has entered the stretch run of the season.  A promising non-conference slate in which NU rose up the kenpom ranks had us dreaming of the NCAAs and falling back on the NIT.  But in B1G play NU has given back all of its non-conference gains and then some.  Time to take stock of NUs post-season prospects......

Below is NU's projected wins with just four regular season games to play.  It sucks, but with NU's laughably weak non-conference slate, even if NU were to win all of its remaining games (a 7.4% probability per the below chart) the NCAAs would still be a pipe dream barring a BTT championship. 

But it gets even more disappointing.  During the season BballbyNUmbers has tweeted a series of very interesting "Easy Bubble Solver" charts that project the NCAA and NIT fields by comparing teams' average kenpom and RPI rankings.  These types of charts are purely mechanical and are surprisingly accurate (better than many bracketologists).  At last look a couple of days ago NU wasn't projected to be in the NIT field or even among the first four out.  Since last night's Purdue game went more or less as expected it is reasonable to conclude that NU's NIT chances as of today remain unchanged.  

Expectations are for a 7-11 finish so that status quo result would likely spell no NIT.  An 8-10 finish improves NUs outlook somewhat, but would it be enough for NU to leapfrog at least four teams (and possibly many more)?  That sounds NIT-bubblicious to us.  Only a 9-9 finish would have us thinking an NIT bid is likely; that has a 7.4% chance of happening, but we'll know much more about that possibility in a week's time after NU faces its toughest remaining hurdle at Michigan (currently a 24% chance for an NU victory) .

On an expected basis NU has lost two wins relative to its late December forecast.  That is disheartening.  What was teetering on the edge of a promising 9-9 conference mark now looks like 7-11.  Some may feebly point out that would be a modest one game improvement over CCC's first two years, but it would be very easy to refute by pointing out that some gains were to be expected because a) the B1G is way down this year, and b) NU had a relatively favorable B1G slate.  

Final thoughts: barring a late season run it is hard to not be disappointed by Year 3 of the CCC era.  We do like what we see from most of CCC's recruits, and for this reason we are clinging to this intangible feeling that better days (read: NCAAs) are ahead.  Still is it really so much to ask for some actual tangible on the court evidence that CCC will indeed lead NU to the NCAAs?  He has a couple of more years of rope, but the clock is beginning to tick with the program currently mired in sub-NIT-level neutral.