Men’s Basketball: Non-conference win over Dayton an early boost to Wildcats’ resume


Daily file photo by Jacob Swan

Chris Collins yells from the sideline. The coach hopes to lead Northwestern to its first NCAA Tournament appearance.

Dan Waldman, Reporter

Men’s Basketball

As of Thursday, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi projected Northwestern as one of the first four teams to be left out of the 2017 NCAA Tournament. But with their 67-64 win over Dayton Saturday, the Wildcats could be putting themselves on an inside track to their first-ever NCAA Tournament visit.

Following the win over the Flyers — and a pair of previous wins over a then-ranked Texas team and a respectable Wake Forest squad — NU appears to boast the type of non-conference victories it lacked a year ago, when the Cats went 12-1 against a soft slate of out-of-conference foes.

NU (9-2) and Dayton (7-3) both entered Saturday’s game boasting five-game winning streaks. The Flyers claimed the No. 25 RPI in the country — a metric that ranks teams based on performance and strength of schedule — while NU came in at No. 36. Coach Chris Collins has made it a point to schedule stronger opponents in non-conference play this season, and said he sees his team approaching games with a new mentality.

“We’re a team that believes we’re good,” Collins said. “We come into games like this believing we’re going to win … In the past we’ve had good attitudes and come into games like this hoping we’ll play well — we certainly don’t play to lose —but maybe not having that belief we’re supposed to win games like this.”

Following their win over Dayton, the Cats now have quality wins over three teams ranked in basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy’s top 100 — including the victories over Texas and Wake Forest. NU could have further helped its tournament chances with early wins against now-No. 18 Butler and now-No. 21 Notre Dame, but the near-wins could still attract the selection committee’s attention come Selection Sunday.

But Collins said even with the two losses, he is pleased with where the team sits as the close of non-conference play approaches.

“We have a lot better basketball to play,” Collins said. “From what we’ve been through, the schedule we’ve played through 11 games — I think we’ve played like six major opponents in 11 games — to be 9-2 and with the two losses to be last-second losses to teams like Butler and Notre Dame, you have to feel good about where we’re at.”

The Cats still face IUPUI and Houston Baptist before starting Big Ten play. But the two teams have a combined record of 9-12 and provide little opportunity for NU to strengthen its tournament resume. Still, the two upcoming contests will give the team tuneups before the heavy lifting of Big Ten play begins.

Despite a shooting slump from junior point guard Bryant McInotsh, and injuries to sophomore center Dererk Pardon and to forward Aaron Falzon — who is out for the season — the Cats are set to exit non-conference play as a legitimate contender to make the Big Dance.

NU will need to take care of business in conference play — something it struggled with last season — to solidify its case for a bid. But as senior forward Sanjay Lumpkin noted, the win over Dayton is a positive sign for the Cats.

“This a great step in the right direction for us,” Lumpkin said. “Obviously we’re going to use this experience.”

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