Bracketology: Breaking down Northwestern basketball’s chances to make NCAA Tournament


Gabe Bider/The Daily Northwestern

Boo Buie takes a free throw. Northwestern’s men’s NCAA Tournament chances are dwindling after recent losses.

Lucas Kim, Reporter

Selection Sunday is less than two months away. As the college basketball season enters its midway stretch, Northwestern women’s and men’s basketball continue to search for a way back to their respective NCAA Tournaments.

Coming off an unorthodox 2020-21 season in which both the women’s and men’s NCAA Tournaments were played in only one state — Texas and Indiana, respectively — and canceled the year before, this year’s season has nevertheless kept the unpredictable, engaging nature of college basketball.

So with bracketology in full swing, here’s a breakdown of NU’s chances of making the tournament come March: 

Women’s team: On the bubble after recent three-game slump

The women’s program has eight tournament appearances in its history. It has enjoyed success over the past few seasons, with its most recent tournament bid coming during the 2020-21 season. The team made the round of 32 before falling to No. 2 seed Louisville. 

In addition to their impressive showing last year, the Wildcats made a splash during the 2019-20 season under coach Joe McKeown and were on track to make the tournament with a 26-4 overall record and 16-2 conference record before its cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following a 87-59 loss against No. 12 Maryland on Sunday, NU currently has an overall record of 11-7 with a Big Ten record of 3-4. The team is tied for seventh in the conference standings. 

Considering the team’s past success, the Cats have underwhelmed with this year’s performance thus far. 

Led by senior guard and back-to-back Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Veronica Burton, NU went on a six-game win streak entering the new year, but it lost its next four out of five. With their most recent loss, the Cats have now dropped their past three games by an average of 17 points. 

With this slump in mind, it will take an extra win streak or two to put the team over the edge to make the tournament. 

NU will face another tough stretch with Iowa, Purdue and Penn State — all teams that are either tied with or above NU in the Big Ten standings — as three of its next four opponents. To avoid remaining “on the bubble” for tournament selection, the Cats must surpass a .500 conference winning percentage and show that they can handle competent opponents.

Men’s team: Tough Big Ten competition has left the team reeling

The men’s team looks to capture the magic from its historic 2016-17 season during which the team made its first and only NCAA tournament appearance and notched a tournament win, 77 years after the program’s inception. 

Finishing with a school-record 24 wins and a 10-8 Big Ten record, No. 8 seed NU beat No. 9 seed Vanderbilt before falling to No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the round of 32. 

Under coach Chris Collins, NU has not had a winning record since the 2016-17 season. However, this year has the potential to reverse the trend.

The Cats currently hold a 9-8 record approaching the halfway mark in the season and are 2-6 against Big Ten competition. However, despite what the standings might indicate, NU has held its own against top conference opponents.

Highlighted by a 64-62 upset win against No. 10 Michigan State, NU has kept it close against tough competition, including an eight-point loss and a six-point loss against No. 13 Ohio State and No. 8 Wisconsin, respectively. However, putting up wins is the name of the game, and NU has lost six out of its last seven games. It remains to be seen if key players like senior forward Pete Nance and junior guard Boo Buie can reliably carry the team down the stretch.

Being four games under .500 against conference opponents, it will be difficult for the Cats to gain traction among the selection committee voters. Similar to the women’s team, it will take Collins’ squad a hefty win streak and victories against its ranked Big Ten counterparts for the team to gain consideration come selection time.

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