Jochnau: Northwestern bound to fall short of NCAA Tournament

Garrett Jochnau, Sports Editor

Northwestern’s young season has seen a number of successes.

Non-conference wins over Texas, Dayton and Wake Forest gave the Wildcats’ resume some early strength, while close losses to Butler and Notre Dame showed the team’s ability to hang with tournament-bound opponents.

However, all momentum from the early schedule was lost when NU dropped back-to-back contests against Michigan State and Minnesota in late December and early January. The win over Nebraska was essential in preserving any tournament-related hope, but the reality is that the Cats are facing incredibly steep odds. Unless the team elevates its play to previously unseen levels, it will fall short yet again.

The Big Ten schedule is relatively friendly, but has its fair share of challenges. And with a number of the looming matchups — namely two against both No. 17 Purdue and an underperforming Indiana team, as well as one with No. 18 Wisconsin — looking like sure losses, NU has minimal room for error against the conference’s middle-tier teams. With a shaky track record thus far, that should worry coach Chris Collins.

The team could get a big boost if junior guard Bryant McIntosh snaps out of the slump that’s plagued him since the season’s start, but that’s looking increasingly unlikely. Injuries to sophomore forward Aaron Falzon and freshman forward Rapolas Ivanauskas have left the frontcourt thin, and NU has struggled to find consistent guard play off the bench.

For a team with a number of glaring flaws, the Cats require near perfection to reach the tournament. And while this season represents progress on the team’s part — the return of sophomore forward Vic Law and the emergence of junior guard Scottie Lindsey put NU in a good place to compete next year — it’s looking as though 2016-17 will be little more than a stepping stone in NU’s quest to secure a tournament bid.

Garrett Jochnau is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.