Big Ten Non-Conference Schedule Analysis: Northwestern WildcatsPosted by KTrahan on October 19th, 2012
The Big Ten microsite will be analyzing the non-conference schedules for all of the Big Ten teams in the coming weeks. Today, we continue with the Northwestern Wildcats. Check out their full schedule here.
Where we left off: Last year, Northwestern coach Bill Carmody thought he had put together a solid non-conference schedule. There weren’t any marquee wins, but there were good wins against Seton Hall, Tulsa and LSU, respectable losses to Baylor and Creighton, and no bad losses. That didn’t turn out to be a winning formula, as the NCAA selection committee favored teams that had some marquee wins and forgave their bad losses. This year, there is a chance for several marquee wins — some even in Evanston — and NU must take advantage of those opportunities in order to finally make the NCAA Tournament.
Major tournaments: Last year, Northwestern won the Charleston Classic, which isn’t a huge tournament but a respected one nonetheless. This year, NU heads to the South Padre Island Invitational to face TCU, and then either UAB or Illinois State. That’s…um, well… a terrible schedule. Luckily for the Wildcats, they’ll have other chances pick up big wins, but that set of games certainly won’t be the most entertaining group we’ll see this season.
Toughest opponent: Last year, Northwestern was utterly embarrassed at home by Baylor, and this year, the Wildcats have to go to Waco for what will undoubtedly be their toughest non-conference game. Last year’s game was probably the biggest mismatch NU faced all year, as Baylor was dominant on the boards and has athleticism down low, while the Cats couldn’t do anything in the paint offensively or defensively. This NU team will be better inside and Baylor isn’t quite as talented as it was last season, so it shouldn’t be as much of a blowout but it will still be NU’s toughest non-league game by far, especially coming on the road.
Most important game: You can really pick one game here out of Stanford, Butler and Maryland, but I’ll go with Stanford. It’s tough to say what NU’s record absolutely has to be against its four respectable non-conference foes — the popular guess is 2-2 — and while Bill Carmody’s squad needs to win more than one of them, the Stanford game is the Wildcats’ best chance to make a name for themselves. The Cardinal looks like an NCAA Tournament team this year, with a lot of talent coming back from its NIT Championship team last year, and this would certainly qualify as a marquee win, whereas wins against Butler and Maryland may just be “good” wins by the time March rolls around. If NU can take down Stanford, it will have a resume-booster better than anything it had last season.
Trap game: It probably shouldn’t be considered a trap game, because the Bulldogs certainly won’t be overlooked by Northwestern, but the Butler game could be the most dangerous game on the non-conference schedule. The Wildcats will be coming off the Baylor game, which could very possibly be a crushing loss. A loss to Butler a few days later would put NU on a two-game losing streak that could kill momentum. If the Cats actually manage to upset Baylor on the road, the Butler game is still dangerous, as it could be a letdown game following a big win.
Analysis: Ultimately, this game comes down to the Baylor, Butler, Maryland and Stanford games. The rest of the schedule is very winnable and Northwestern does a good job of avoiding bad losses. However, the Wildcats desperately need to pick up a marquee win this year, and Stanford and Baylor might be the only chances to get that win, though Butler could potentially count as well. If the frontcourt is as improved as advertised, going 2-2 in that group of games is certainly a reasonable goal.