The Northwestern Wildcats (16-7, 7-5 B1G) are on pace to make their second March Madness in as many years.
After dropping road overtime games to #2 Purdue (21-2, 10-2 B1G) and Minnesota (15-7, 6-5 B1G), the ’Cats had a golden opportunity to turn their fortunes around when the Nebraska Cornhuskers (16-8, 6-7 B1G) came to town. Northwestern capitalized on it with an 80-68 win that instilled confidence in the team and kept their March Madness chances alive and well.
“Needless to say this was a big game for us … Last week was a very difficult week for us emotionally,” head coach Chris Collins said after the win.
Northwestern kept Nebraska at arm’s length for the entire game, spending all of 52 seconds tied and leading the remaining 39:08. Graduate guard Boo Buie led all scorers with 22 points and moved within striking distance of Northwestern’s all-time scoring record – just 60 points shy.
Boo Buie. That’s it. That’s the post. 😮💨 pic.twitter.com/lsrgHMqdPb— Big Ten Men's Basketball (@B1GMBBall) February 8, 2024
Three other Wildcats broke double digits on Wednesday night – third-year guard Brooks Barnhizer with 14 points, second-year forward Nick Martinelli with 15 points and graduate guard Ryan Langborg with 18 points. Barnhizer notched a second consecutive double-double while Martinelli played a career-high 31 minutes in the absence of fourth-year guard Ty Berry. Berry left the game with a knee injury after just nine minutes of action.
Northwestern pummeled Nebraska in the first half, taking a 16-point lead into the locker room and scoring a season-high 47 first-half points. The Cornhuskers may have outscored the Wildcats in the second half, but Northwestern took advantage of Nebraska’s 17 turnovers throughout the game, scoring 26 points off of them. The ’Cats exacted their revenge from a Jan. 20 loss in Lincoln with a dominant showing and ended their two-game losing streak.
Northwestern currently sits at a nine-seed in Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology, meaning they control their own destiny as to whether they make the tournament or not. The Wildcats need to continue to take care of business at home in their final four home games, which shouldn’t be a tall order. The more difficult part is they also need to win at least one of their final four road games.
The ’Cats have won just two games on the road and only one in the Big Ten, against Penn State (11-11, 5-6 B1G), whom they have a rematch with in Evanston on Sunday. Winning on the road, especially quality games, is important to a team’s NET ranking. NET is an organizational tool the selection committee uses that ranks teams based on a variety of factors including the strength of the opponent and the location of the game. Away games are generally considered to be more difficult than home games.
A road win coupled with four home wins, i.e. finishing 5-3, is most likely all the ’Cats would need for a tournament bid. Finishing the season 6-2 would be even better. This team has a chance to do what no Northwestern team has done before: make back-to-back tournament appearances. They’re a juggernaut at home (minus Chicago State (11-16 overall), a very bad loss that hurt their NET ranking, which currently sits at 55); they just need to put together the pieces on the road. Doing so could cause this team to go down in history.
WILDCAT WEDNESDAY 😼 pic.twitter.com/E8d28pRWv5— Northwestern Basketball (@NUMensBball) February 8, 2024
Thumbnail by AJ Anderson / North by Northwestern