Is This Finally Northwestern’s Year?

Photo Credit: BT Powerhouse

There are only five original Division I NCAA basketball teams that have never been in the NCAA basketball tournament. Those teams are the Army Black Knights, the Citadel Bulldogs, the Northwestern Wildcats, the St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers, and the William and Mary Tribe. Of those, only the Northwestern Wildcats play basketball in a major conference. Is this their year to finally make it into the NCAA basketball tournament, becoming the final major conference NCAA basketball team to make their first appearance in an NCAA basketball tournament?

Men’s basketball came to Northwestern in 1901. Over 115 years later, the Wildcats are still the only major conference team that has never played in an NCAA basketball tournament. Their all-time record is a lowly 1,054-1,475-1 in the 112-year history of the program with an awful 503-1,034 record in conference play (Western Conference from the 1908-1909 season to the 1952-1953 season and Big Ten Conference from the 1953-1954 season to the current 2016-2017 season).

However, this season, the Wildcats have an 18-4 overall record with a 7-2 record in Big Ten Conference play, which puts them just half a game out of being in a three-way tied for first place in the conference with the #10 Wisconsin Badgers (18-3, 7-1) and the #17 Maryland Terrapins (19-2, 7-1). The Wildcats are also currently ranked #25 in the AP Poll and are riding on a six-game winning streak. It is the first time that they have been ranked in the top 25 of the AP Poll since the 2009-2010 season. In fact, it has been so long since the Wildcats have been in this position that the Associated Press did not even have access to the Wildcats’ logo when this week’s rankings were released on Monday afternoon!

Photo Credit: Twitter

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Photo Credit: Twitter

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The last time the Wildcats were ranked in the top 25 in the AP Poll prior to today, it was their first time being ranked in 41 years. They were ranked #25 in the AP Poll that was released on Monday, December 28th, 2009. They were ranked #25 with a record of 10-1, but immediately lost their following two games, consequently their first two Big Ten Conference games of the season, and have not been ranked ever since until now.

This season is different from any other, and the Wildcats are hoping that continues to hold true. As it stands now, the Wildcats are soundly into the NCAA basketball tournament field, meaning they are well above the teams that are currently “on the bubble”, and there are only nine more games for them in the regular season, all Big Ten Conference games. However, four of those nine games are against teams currently ranked in the top 23 in the AP Poll, with two of them being home games and two of them being road games for the Wildcats.

Through 22 games so far this season, Northwestern has only faced one team ranked in the AP Poll at the time of the matchup, and that was the #22 Texas Longhorns back on Monday, November 21st, 2016, a game won by the Wildcats. However, Texas turned out to be an extremely terrible team totally unworthy of that #22 rank, as they currently sit with an 8-13 overall record and a 2-6 record in Big 12 Conference games. None of the Wildcats’ first nine Big Ten Conference games were against teams ranked in the AP Poll at the time of the matchup.

In reality, Northwestern has really not faced much tough competition so far this season. These final nine games of the season as well as the Big Ten Conference tournament will really test them and will really be an indicator as to whether or not this year will be the first in school history in which Northwestern gets into the NCAA basketball tournament. However, up to this point in the season, they have definitely earned their rank of #25 in the AP Poll, and if the selection committee were putting together this season’s NCAA basketball tournament bracket right now, Northwestern would be a lock to get in.

If they can keep playing at the level at which they are currently playing, then this year, 2017, will be the first year ever that a Northwestern Wildcats basketball team makes it into the NCAA basketball tournament. If that happens, there will be no more major conference NCAA basketball teams that have never made it into the NCAA basketball tournament. Could this finally be Northwestern’s year?

-Asher Fair

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