Record: 15-13 (6-9 in Big Ten)
Tournament Seed: 9
First Round Opponent: #8 Maryland
Season Summary: 2016-2017 marked the first year in program history that Northwestern made the NCAA Tournament, and they even managed to win their first ever tournament game against Vanderbilt. The Wildcats followed up that campaign with lofty expectations, checking in at 19th in the AP preseason poll, and then made fools of all the voters by starting out 4-3 in non-conference play. Since then, it hasn’t been pretty. Northwestern has dropped games to Nebraska, Penn State, Indiana, Rutgers, and Maryland, none of which are exactly conference powerhouses. Additionally, in the team’s most recent loss to Michigan State, they scored only 11 points in the second half, which resulted in a blown 27 point lead. The team’s most notable win came against Michigan in early February, but that is just about the only impressive game on this team’s resume.
Players to Watch: This Northwestern team is led by Bryant McIntosh. Surprisingly, the Wildcats actually returned all five of their top scorers from last season, so there are many questions to be asked about why the team has fallen as short of expectations as they have. McIntosh is not the answer to any of these questions. McIntosh is third on the team in points per game and third in the B1G in assists per game. McIntosh, in addition to his solid three point shooting (33.6% from deep), has had seven games of at least seven assists, including a career-high 16 assists versus Minnesota in January. Derek Pardon has also continued his success from last season, chipping in 11.3 PPG on nearly 63% shooting and 7.0 RPG. Pardon ranks in the top five in the conference in blocks per game (1.9) and FG%, and in the top-10 in rebounds per game.
X-Factor: The problem with this Northwestern team might be that they do not really have an x-factor. On any given night, people know how Northwestern is going to play and who their key contributors are. The team ranks in the bottom-three of the B1G in points per game and is decidedly middle of the pack in scoring margin. Unless the Cats can catch fire from three, which is possible considering the plethora of three-point shooting prowess this team has, and play lockdown defense, their prospects of going anywhere in the B1G Tournament are slim.
Verdict: Considering that the Wildcats are 11-5 at home and 3-8 on the road, Northwestern is not likely to make a big dent in the B1G Tournament, which is taking place in Madison Square Garden. It’s possible the team squeaks out a first round win against Maryland, and anything beyond that would be a good finish to a disappointing season for Northwestern.
(Image Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports)