Livin’ B1G: No Doubt About Northwestern

Northwestern’s win at Wisconsin should take the Wildcats off the NCAA Tournament bubble, but plenty of Big Ten teams still have work to do with Selection Sunday approaching.

Northwestern’s pursuit of its first-ever NCAA Tournament berth has been one of the most documented storylines this season. And rightfully so, given the fact that the Wildcats are the only major-conference team never to receive an invitation to the Big Dance.

Sunday night, they were effectively printed and are now just waiting to be sent out. Northwestern stunned No. 7 Wisconsin, 66-59, in Madison without leading scorer Scottie Lindsey, who is dealing with a case of mononucleosis. That enhances the Wildcats’ resume enough to be considered a lock at this point, especially when their losses are taken into account.

A two-point defeat at Butler. A four-point loss to Notre Dame on a neutral floor. Back-to-back defeats at Michigan State and at home to Minnesota, when the Gophers were playing their best ball of the season. Then Linsdey went down, and the Wildcats lost to Purdue and Illinois.

Northwestern’s victory over the Badgers improved it to 19-6 and put it in fourth place in the Big Ten at 8-4. Even if the Wildcats finish the regular season 3-3, that will be enough to send them to the NCAA Tournament.

It’s still unclear if Lindsey will be able to play when Northwestern hosts Big Ten leader Maryland on Wednesday, meaning Bryant McIntosh and Co. will have to step up again. McIntosh had no issues doing just that Sunday, finishing with 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists against the Badgers.

That helped the Wildcats join Wisconsin, Purdue and Maryland as Big Ten locks to play in the Tournament. Other B1G teams might not be so lucky.

Northwestern Wildcats guard Bryant McIntosh. Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

… The Big Ten was shut out of the NCAA Tournament committee’s top 16 seeds, which were released Saturday afternoon in a made-for-TV event. Then Wisconsin went out and proved the committee at least partially correct a day later. A case could be made for Purdue, but it has losses to Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska. Maryland? No wins over ranked teams and a recent loss to Penn State don’t help its cause.

… Tom Crean isn’t happy, and it’s perfectly legitimate to question his job security. The Indiana coach had plenty to say after the Hoosiers suffered a 75-63 loss to Michigan on Saturday, their third straight defeat and fifth in the last six games.

“I’ve never coached a team with this lack of maturity when it comes to being able to respond and rebound from when things aren’t going well for them personally,” Crean said in his postgame press conference. “And that includes the teams I’ve had that won six to 10 games. I’ve got to do a much better job because we don’t respond, our communication breaks down and it’s not even close.”

Playing without sophomore standout O.G. Anunoby and James Blackmon Jr. at times certainly has made things more difficult. But still, this is a team that beat Kansas and North Carolina early in the season and also has plenty of talent in Thomas Bryant, Robert Johnson, etc. Indiana is 15-11 overall, 5-8 in conference play and trending toward the NIT while looking more like the team that lost to Fort Wayne.

Will the Indiana brass be able to live with the Hoosiers missing the Tournament?

Michigan State Spartans head coach Tom Izzo talks with forward Nick Ward. Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

… Michigan State coach Tom Izzo certainly wouldn’t be pleased if he Spartans sat out the Big Dance for the first time in 20 years, but they helped their chances of receiving an invite with Saturday’s 77-66 home win over Iowa. The Spartans are clearly on the bubble with a 15-10 record and 7-5 mark in the Big Ten ahead of Tuesday’s home matchup with Ohio State, which beat them earlier this season.

Izzo stuck with tradition and a heavy early-season schedule, resulting in losses to Arizona, Kentucky, Baylor and Duke. Certainly the committee will take that into consideration, but that’s not something Michigan State would like to leave to chance. It would also be a shame if the Spartans’ bubble burst and the college basketball world wasn’t able to see Miles Bridges play in the Tournament.

… Michigan knows it has work to do in order get a Tournament invite and has done all it can lately. The Wolverines made easy work of Michigan State last Tuesday and then thumped Indiana in Bloomington on Saturday, improving to 16-9 and 6-6 in the Big Ten. Derrick Walton Jr. was named Co-Big Ten Player of the Week after his 25-point effort against the Hoosiers.

Michigan’s best win is a 22-point victory over SMU at Madison Square Garden back in November, leaving its resume pretty average. But strong performances against Wisconsin on Thursday, Purdue on Feb. 25 and at Northwestern on March 1 could change that.

… Minnesota’s five-game losing streak following a 15-2 start put the Gophers squarely on the bubble and wins over Iowa, Illinois and Rutgers since won’t exactly get the committee’s attention. However, they’re still 18-7 overall and can improve their resume with games against Michigan, Maryland and Wisconsin still left on the schedule. Minnesota might need a strong showing in the Big Ten tournament, though.

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