Next Year Looking More and More Like “The Year” For Northwestern

Posted by KTrahan on December 18th, 2012

Every year, the question remains the same for a Northwestern team perpetually on the bubble: Can the Wildcats sneak into the NCAA Tournament? Last summer, it certainly seemed like this could be the year that NU would make the Big Dance for the first time in school history. Bill Carmody finally had two big men, an impressive recruiting class, a graduate transfer, and a solid group of returning stars including Drew Crawford, Dave Sobolewski, Reggie Hearn and JerShon Cobb.

The Loss of Drew Crawford Leaves Northwestern Searching For Answers

The Loss of Drew Crawford Leaves Northwestern Searching For Answers

However, things don’t always go as planned in college basketball, and NU certainly learned that quickly this year. Cobb was suspended for the season due to academic problems, the new players haven’t adjusted as quickly as fans had hoped, and Crawford wasn’t playing at all like himself. Now, we at least have an answer for the latter issue, as NU announced over the weekend that Crawford will miss the remainder of the season to have surgery on a torn labrum. Adding Crawford’s injury to the doubts following an inconsistent start to the season, it’s looking more and more like this won’t be “the year” for the Wildcats. But could that be a good thing for NU?

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On Butler-Indiana, Arizona-Florida, Jim Boeheim, and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 18th, 2012

tuesdayscribblesBrian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. After enduring the dreaded finals week, we college basketball fans were given a treat on Saturday afternoon courtesy of two teams who call basketball heaven, otherwise known as the state of Indiana, home. In what was the game of the year to date, the Butler Bulldogs overcame a second half deficit and tons of foul trouble and knocked off the top-ranked Indiana Hoosiers. While an unranked team beating #1 is always an amazing accomplishment, nobody should be surprised by this result. Butler has done this time and time again over the last few seasons with a variety of different players (although this was the program’s first victory over a #1-ranked team) who embrace the same unselfishness and winning culture. The Butler Way, as it has been deemed, is the reason why Brad Stevens is considered among the top coaches in the college game. This meteoric rise for the 36-year-old Stevens, in only his sixth year as a head coach, doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. Butler won the game by torching Indiana from deep and dominating inside, consequently exposing preseason All-American Cody Zeller’s deficiencies. Roosevelt Jones and Andrew Smith took it to Zeller all game and made him look like a very average center in the process, one who struggled to rebound and had difficulty scoring against the physical Butler defense. Zeller’s stat line may look alright (18 points, five rebounds), but 10 of his points were scored at the foul line. He wasn’t a major factor on either end of the floor, a credit to Stevens and his preparation as well as Butler’s personnel. This is a blueprint for future opponents with the proper personnel on how to attack Zeller and Indiana. The Hoosier defense, which up until Saturday’s game had looked much improved, did not look all that impressive on this day. Aside from Victor Oladipo (who is quickly becoming Indiana’s most important player), the Hoosiers didn’t defend the way they needed to against Butler’s deliberate offensive sets. Indiana has plenty of time to fix the problems and remains a legitimate national title contender but Saturday’s result was a good reality check. There is no truly dominant team in college basketball this season and we will see more results like this as the year progresses.

    Alex Barlow's Game-Winner Knocked Off Indiana

    Alex Barlow’s Game-Winner Knocked Off Indiana

  2. Another fantastic game broke out later Saturday night in Tucson where Arizona overcame a six point deficit in the final minute to shock Florida and remain undefeated. In a 40-minute game, the Wildcats led for only a stunning one minute and 24 seconds, out-played in their own building for the vast majority of the game. What did I draw from this game? Not much except that it was fun to watch and both teams are legitimate top ten outfits. Who is the better team? I’m sticking with Florida. The Gators went into the McKale Center and methodically dismantled Arizona for 37 of the 40 minutes played. The problem for Florida was meltdowns at the end of both halves which proved fatal. The Gators held an 11-point lead with under two minutes remaining in the first half but two turnovers and a blown defensive assignment on Nick Johnson allowed Arizona to cut the lead to three at the half. Florida weathered the storm and slowly built up a comfortable lead in the second half before Arizona charged back. A Scottie Wibekin triple with 2:44 remaining seemed to be the dagger but Florida would not score again. In a final minute disaster, the Gators committed three turnovers and 90% free throw shooter Kenny Boynton missed the front end of a one-and-one. Mark Lyons still had to hit a tough shot off the glass to give Arizona the win but this was a total giveaway by Florida, a team that had no business losing this game given the way it played out. What did I like about the Gators? A lot, from Patric Young’s smooth touch and suffocating defense to Mike Rosario’s newfound self-control and poise. Billy Donovan’s team does a great job in zone defense and I thought they should have played some more possessions in it. After a made basket, I really liked Florida throwing on some light full court pressure before settling back into the 2-3 zone. It served them well by confusing Arizona for the better part of the game. Offensively, Florida has nice balance and utilizes Erik Murphy in the perfect way with pick-and-pops as well as a series of staggered screens that really confused Arizona’s defense. Rosario and Boynton play more under control this year and don’t chuck as often as in the past. This is a team that should win the SEC and contend for a national championship. As for Arizona, this is a very good team but not one I’m sure can contend for a national title. Sean Miller’s club must cut down on its turnovers (which it did against Florida) and improve its three point defense. I mentioned Arizona’s poor opponents three point percentage in a previous edition of this column and the Wildcats failed to stop Florida’s shooters on Saturday. That has to get better in the long run if Arizona wants to go deep in March. Kaleb Tarczewski is a tremendously talented young center but he was exposed by Young. Tarczewski will keep getting better but any team with a skilled big should be able to handle Arizona inside. Don’t get me wrong, Arizona will likely win the Pac-12 and advance deep in the NCAA Tournament but this team is flawed, as are many. This was a great resume-building win for Arizona but I’m not so sure the Wildcats would have beat Florida if the game wasn’t in Tucson. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 12.17.12 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on December 17th, 2012


  1. Michigan redshirt sophomore Jon Horford injured himself again during the Wolverines’ game with West Virginia game on Saturday. Horford, who had already missed 25 games last season because he broke his foot, dislocated his knee cap against the Mountaineers and had to be helped off the court into the locker room. The Michigan coaching staff hopes that Horford can return to action within three weeks, but because of his history with injuries, John Beilein may take his time to put his big man back into the rotation. Horford has averaged 2.1 RPG in 8.7 MPG so far this season, but he is experienced and his injury puts more pressure on freshman forwards Mitch McGary and Max Bielfeldt to continue to produce.
  2. More injury news, as Bill Carmody and the Northwestern coaching staff believe that Drew Crawford will be granted a fifth year of eligibility by the NCAA after being sidelined this season. Crawford described his back and neck injury as “searing pain” and will not have an opportunity to push the Wildcats towards their first NCAA Tournament bid this year. The Wildcats are 7-3 and will need seniors Reggie Hearn (14.1 PPG) and Jared Swopshire (9.1 PPG) to step up in Crawford’s absence. Without Crawford on the floor, Carmody needs a go-to guy who will take the clutch shots and provide leadership, and besides his seniors, sophomore Dave Sobolewski (11.4 PPG) also has the potential to step into that role.
  3. Indiana head coach Tom Crean was not in a good mood after the Butler Bulldogs upset his team on Saturday, 88-86. The Bulldogs’ Alex Barlow drove the ball into the lane during the final 10 seconds for the go-ahead basket but the Hoosiers did not have their big man, Cody Zeller, in the paint to alter the shot. Crean had substituted Remy Abell for Zeller and said that they were in a defensive set where everybody “switches up” and made it clear that he does not regret his decision to keep Zeller on the bench. Zeller scored 18 points in 37 minutes against the Bulldogs and shot 10-of-14 from the charity line. But without Butler’s Andrew Smith in the game (he fouled out), Zeller would have had to defend quicker players on the switches during the final seconds, making it a tough call for Crean. When a #1 ranked team loses to a smaller school from the same state, it is likely that the coach’s decisions will be questioned afterward by the assembled pundits and writers.
  4. After 12 games this season, it is increasingly obvious that Tubby Smith’s guards – Austin Hollins (11.2 PPG), Andre Hollins (13.5 PPG) and Joe Coleman (10.0 PPG) – can score with the best of them. But Austin Hollins has grown into a very tough defensive player for the Gophers as well and cherishes his role as a defensive stopper while his fellow guards carry the offensive load against tougher competition. Hollins has the length that allows him to guard opposing point guards and also taller wings in the half court as Smith’s Gophers continue to impress with an 11-1 record heading into conference play.
  5. Speaking of guards who understand their role and are intense on the defensive end, Michigan State’s Brandan Kearney has quickly become one of Tom Izzo’s favorite players this season. The sophomore guard has averaged 18.2 MPG and even though he only scores a couple of points per contest, he plays within the offense and has the “team-first” attitude which Izzo appreciates. With the recent injuries to guards Gary Harris and Travis Trice, Kearney has stepped into every spot as needed and done all of the little things such as grabbing a key offensive rebound or taking the wide-open shot off the double team. Kearney may not carry the scoring load for MSU this season, but he will continue to grow in Izzo’s system as long as he improves his game and stays committed to defense.
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B1G Weekly Question: Which Player Needs To Step Up?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on December 13th, 2012

Every week the Big Ten Microsite writers – Deepak Jayanti, Joey Nowak and Kevin Trahan – will address a specific question about the conference. This week’s question: which player needs to step up his game to improve his team? 

Amir Williams (left) needs to be more consistent in the paint for the Buckeyes.

Amir Williams (left) needs to be more consistent in the paint for the Buckeyes.

  • Ohio State: Amir Williams – Sooner or later, teams are going to recognize that if they shut down Deshaun Thomas (observe Kansas in last year’s Final Four) the Buckeyes’ scoring ability wanes dramatically. Both Lenzelle Smith Jr. and LaQuinton Ross can both do more to share the scoring load, but the Buckeyes need production in the post from the sophomore Williams. He came to Ohio State as a highly-touted recruit and hasn’t blossomed in his time in Columbus thus far. He’s averaging just under 16 minutes a game this year, but scoring fewer than 4 PPG isn’t going to do enough to keep opponents’ big men honest.
  • Indiana: Maurice Creek – There isn’t really anybody on Indiana’s team that needs to be doing much better than they are right now, but if we’re picking someone who could potentially give the Hoosiers a little more, it would be Maurice Creek. Creek sat our last year due to a ruptured Achilles tendon, but he has been slow to get back into the swing of things and win minutes from the players ahead of him. IU already has tremendous depth, but Creek could provide yet another strong option for the Hoosiers at guard.
  • Michigan: Jordan Morgan – This is nitpicking, really, because Michigan has played just about as well as anyone could ask up to this point. The highly touted freshman class has lived up to its billing so far, which has caused a drop in minutes and stats for Jordan Morgan. Of course, if everyone else in front of him is playing well, it’s tough to fault Morgan, but he needs to make sure he keeps improving in case the Wolverines need to call on a veteran at some point. Morgan could help Michigan by becoming more of a scorer when he’s in the game, as he’s seen his scoring average drop in each of the past two years. Read the rest of this entry »
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Two Key Observations From Northwestern’s Huge Win Over Baylor

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on December 5th, 2012

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

Northwestern visited Baylor Tuesday night after losing a game to Illinois-Chicago over the weekend, a bad loss on the Wildcats’ resume in their quest to finally receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament. While a 20-point loss to Maryland at home in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge looks bad on paper, a defeat to an opponent who will likely be competing for a bid in March can be written off as an anomaly. Baylor, on the other hand, was coming off a surprising road win at Kentucky over the weekend. The Bears controlled the tempo against the Wildcats and convincingly beat them by forcing numerous tough shots, 64-55. Tuesday night’s match-up between these teams meant more to Northwestern than the Bears and they played like it, utilizing a heightened sense of urgency right from the tip. Their defense was excellent for a majority of the game and even though they struggled to hold on during the last five minutes, a 74-70 road win against a potential top five seed in March potentially neutralizes the bad loss to the Flames when evaluating their non-conference performance. Here are two key observations from the Wildcats’ big road win:

Drew Crawford played with a sense of urgency against Baylor on Tuesday night.

  1. Alex Olah played a perfect role in the half court: Olah was heavily involved in the offense during the second half. He was active around the high post and helped move the ball from one side of the court to the other as the Wildcats set up the backdoor cuts which are an integral part of their Princeton offense. Olah racked up six assists during the game and he was involved in most of the plays that resulted in scores on those cuts. There were a handful of plays where Olah received the ball from Dave Sobolewski at the top of the key, took a couple of dribbles towards the other side of the court, and handed it to Drew Crawford or Reggie Hearn on the perimeter. The play usually then resulted in either Crawford or Hearn receiving the pass while the other slid towards the basket during the handoff. Hearn had a couple of easy layups using this backdoor as Baylor’s Brady Heslip was thoroughly confused with the cutting movement among the three Wildcats. When Heslip or A.J. Walton tried to play the backdoor cuts conservatively by staying back, the play resulted in Crawford nailing two key three-pointers from the perimeter because his defender gave him space. Olah also held his ground in the low post while defending Isaiah Austin who is taller but lacks the weight to back down for easy baskets in the paint. Because Austin was forced away from the paint, he had to settle for mid-range jumpers and only scored eight points. Read the rest of this entry »
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Northwestern’s Loss To Maryland Won’t Help Its Case In March

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 28th, 2012

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

A loss in November should not be a huge factor when determining a team’s destiny for an NCAA bid in March, especially if it is to another team from a power conference like ACC. But for Northwestern, it is a big deal. The Maryland Terrapins are talented and they have two potential first round NBA picks in Alex Len and Dez Wells. Mark Turgeon is one of the better coaches in the business and barring a breakdown defensively, they will be in the hunt for an NCAA bid in March. So, why is this loss bad for the Wildcats? Because they could have had a chance to pull away in the first half and potentially boost their resume with a solid win for the selection committee as they make their case for the postseason. The Wildcats may not win more than nine games during the Big Ten season, so they need to bank on beating other “good but not great” teams at home before January. It is very likely that Maryland won’t run away with the ACC and they will be on the bubble too in March, but the Wildcats will be right up there in the conversation about resumes and RPI rankings. The selection committee will look at these kinds of inter-conference match-ups to determine which team took advantage on its home court and Bill Carmody could have helped his case with at least a strong showing on Tuesday night. Let’s examine how the Wildcats could have kept the game closer than a 20-point blowout loss.

Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire (ball) was ineffective against Maryland. (Chicago Tribune)

  • Alex Len Didn’t Get Enough Touches in the First Half: The game was much closer during the first 20 minutes because the Terps could not figure out how to take advantage of the Wildcats in the paint. Len was guarded by Alex Olah for most of the first half until he caught an elbow in the head which forced him to come out of the game. Olah did a good job of holding his ground against Len and the Terps’ wings – Dez Wells and Pe’Shon Howard – had a tough time feeding the post. Len got the ball a couple of times and got around Olah but he was fairly quiet until the second half. Even after Olah left the game, Wells and Nick Faust could not find a way to get Len the ball, making him very ineffective. With Len out of the equation, Drew Crawford and Dave Sobolewski should have taken advantage of their backdoor cuts and secured a lead, but instead, they were mostly flat-footed and lethargic on the offensive end. Crawford in particular settled for jumpers rather than driving to the hoop. Overall, the Wildcats shot just 24% from beyond the arc for the game and most of those shots went in during the second half. Carmody’s team had its chance to pad a little bit of a lead in the first half but once Turgeon made adjustments to get Len more touches, the game was out of their hands. Setting the tone in the first half against a younger Maryland team was extremely crucial for the Wildcats, but they did not fully utilize the Terps’ early mistakes. Read the rest of this entry »
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Some Predictions for Individual Big Ten Awards This Season

Posted by jnowak on November 12th, 2012

With the season getting under way, the Big Ten Microsite writers put their heads together and predicted who will come away with some conference hardware this season. Take a look:

  • Big Ten Player of the Year: Cody Zeller, Indiana — A pretty easy choice, all things considered. Zeller is the best player returning to the consensus No.1 team in the country, and a near unanimous selection to be an Associated Press preseason All-American. The sophomore center has it all — good hands, smarts, a nose for the ball around the basket, and runs the floor well. This is his award to lose.
  • All-Big Ten First Team: Cody Zeller, Indiana — see above; Trey Burke, Michigan — the conference’s best point guard who had a breakout season as a freshman and flirted with the NBA; Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State — another AP preseason All-American poised to be a star with the departure of Jared Sullinger; Tim Frazier, Penn State — the conference’s most dangerous scorer, but with plenty of pressure on his shoulders; Drew Crawford, Northwestern — Crawford should be the go-to guy in Evanston this season, with the perimeter all to himself to do what he does best.

No surprise here: Indiana’s Cody Zeller is our preseason Big Ten Player of the Year (Sandra Dukes/US Presswire)

  • All-Big Ten Second Team: Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota — a constant double-double threat on the mend from ACL surgery; Aaron Craft, Ohio State — perhaps the best floor general and defensive player in the league; Keith Appling, Michigan State — a true scorer who can find his groove in Michigan State’s fast-paced offense; Brandon Paul, Illinois — the best player on an Illinois team trying to find itself; Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa — a big part of the resurgence in Iowa City. (Others considered: Mike Bruesewitz, Wisconsin; Derrick Nix, Michigan State; Terone Johnson, Purdue)
  • Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Craft, Ohio State — A predictable choice for a guy who has already won the award once and has been on the All-Big Ten Defensive Team each of his first two seasons in Columbus. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Team Previews: Northwestern Wildcats

Posted by KTrahan on October 18th, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Big Ten microsite will be rolling out these featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the Northwestern Wildcats.

Where we left off: The NIT. Again. For yet another year, Northwestern inched closer to the NCAA Tournament — this year closer than ever — and the Wildcats fell short again. NU’s season was defined by close losses to Michigan (twice), Ohio State, Indiana and Illinois. Had the Cats won just one more of those games, they could have potentially made the Tournament. Heck, if they had just beaten Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament — another close loss — maybe they could have gotten there. Now, with a number of new faces, they begin this season firmly on the bubble once again.

Positives: I did an interview with coach Bill Carmody earlier in the offseason and he remarked that, with its new lineup, NU will “have some scoring inside.” That will be a much-needed addition after last year’s centers — Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti — struggled mightily. This year, 7’0″ freshman Alex Olah is expected to start at center and the Wildcats will also have 7’2″ freshman center Chier Ajou, who provides depth, even if he doesn’t play much initially. Additionally, senior Drew Crawford returns and Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire is expected to make a big impact right away. It will be a very big frontcourt for NU, something that has seemingly happened overnight and hasn’t occurred in Evanston for a long time.

Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire (ball) will be a key player to watch for Northwestern fans this season (Chicago Tribune)

Negatives: Can this team play defense? The Wildcats have added a lot of potential inside scoring with Swopshire and Olah, but the jury is out on whether the team can defend and grab rebounds, unlike last year’s squad. The perimeter defense is questionable, as well, as the team’s best perimeter defender — JerShon Cobb — was suspended for the year. And can this team find someone to take the last shot? Last year it was Crawford, and even though that didn’t work very well, this year it seems likely to be either Crawford or Swopshire. The Big Ten will be very strong again this year, meaning NU will be involved in a lot of close games. It must find a way to make big shots and play good defense in crunch time.

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CBS Sports’ Top 100 Players: Who Are the Big Ten Omissions?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on October 12th, 2012

Lists are one of the best aspects about sports, especially in a sport with such a wide range as college basketball. Compiling a list of top 100 players is not an easy task but CBS Sports this week released one for the 2012-13 season. These type of lists are bound to to trigger debates among the fans, and as expected, there are some interesting picks and omissions from the Big Ten. A handful of players certainly deserve to be on the preseason list based on their body of work over the last couple seasons: Cody Zeller (Indiana), Christian Watford (Indiana), Deshaun Thomas (Ohio State), Aaron Craft (Ohio State), Trevor Mbakwe (Minnesota), Rodney Williams (Minnesota), Trey Burke (Michigan), Tim Hardaway Jr. (Michigan), Keith Appling (Michigan State), Branden Dawson (Michigan State), Tim Frazier (Penn State), and Brandon Paul (Illinois).

There are however, a few interesting selections especially if you consider some others from the B1G who were left out. Before we jump into the discussion about those players, the basis of evaluation for this list is up for judgment. It could be the best 100 players in terms of talent or it could also mean that these players purport to add the most value to their respective teams. Their teams’ performance last season could have also impacted the selection committee. Keeping those points in mind, let’s jump into the B1G players on this list that could potentially be replaced by some of their fellow conference counterparts.

Is Drew Crawford one of the top 100 players in college hoops?

Victor Oladipo (#84 on the list from Indiana) vs. Drew Crawford (Northwestern)

Oladipo averaged 10.8 PPG last season and clearly showed his athleticism on the court as the Hoosiers revived their program under Tom Crean. His ferocious dunk during the Kentucky game on ESPN was essentially his coming-out party. Regardless of his diverse offensive game, he was still the third scoring option on the team (at best) last season and will continue to play that role this year. If you take away Oladipo from Indiana’s squad this season, they may not necessarily be a top five team but will still be considered a strong Final Four contender.

If the overall contribution to their team this season is used to evaluate the players, then Northwestern’s Drew Crawford may have a better case to be on this list over Oladipo. Crawford averaged 16.1 PPG and 4.7 RPG while shooting 41% from beyond the arc last season. Crawford was clearly the second scoring option for the Wildcats after John Shurna but he will undoubtedly be the heart and soul in Evanston this season. He will also have to pick up the best offensive player on defense as NU tries to make the postseason after falling short again last season.

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Big Ten Summer Check In: Northwestern Wildcats

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on July 25th, 2012

The Northwestern Wildcats play their home games at the Welsh-Ryan Arena which is located about 10 miles north of Wrigley Field — home of the “lovable losers,” the Chicago Cubs. Over the last two seasons, Wildcats and Cubs fans have something in common: Both fan bases are used to the phrase, “there is always next year.” The Cubs have not been to the World Series in over six decades and Northwestern hasn’t received a bid to the NCAA Tournament in 74 years. Despite being competitive for three seasons runnin, the Wildcats have not been able to seal the deal during key stretches of February and March, and as a result have left their fans second guessing several key possessions or officiating decisions at the end of the season.

John Shurna’s graduation creates huge holes for the Wildcats next season.

Evaluating Last Year: Last season stung the Northwestern fan base more than ever before because they had their chances, especially at home. Bill Carmody’s crew lost three games at home by fewer than four points — to Illinois, Purdue and Ohio State. Their two losses to Michigan might have singlehandedly cost them a bid to the NCAA Tourney. During both of games against Michigan, the Wolverines came from behind to tie the game in regulation and hammered the Wildcats during the overtime period. On February 21, the Wildcats were 16-10 with five games remaining in the conference season. Three of those games were at home and included tough but winnable games against Michigan and Ohio State. But an overtime loss to Michigan and a two-point loss to Ohio State essentially popped their bubble as they finished the season 18-12. The phrase “control your destiny” might be cliché in the world of sports, but the Wildcats had their shot over the final several games but couldn’t take advantage, which resulted in an NIT bid and a second round loss to Washington to finish the season at 19-14.

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