Ty Berry dribbles the ball up the court. Berry suffered a season-ending knee injury and the Wildcats have been looking to find their identity in the absence of one of their best shooters. Photo by AJ Anderson / North by Northwestern

The 2023-24 Northwestern Men’s Basketball team (19-8, 10-6 B1G) is on the precipice of something never before seen in its history: back-to-back NCAA March Madness tournament berths. Joe Lunardi’s Feb. 27 Bracketology has Northwestern as a 9-seed, staring down a spot in the Big Dance.

The team has fought long and hard this season, and while they’re not done yet, they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. But to reach that light, they have to spend a little more time in the dark and string together a few more wins.


Northwestern beat then-#1 Purdue (25-3, 14-3 B1G) in early December as part of their dominance at home in Welsh-Ryan Arena (WRA). They have four Quadrant 1 (Q1) wins in 10 attempts. The only B1G schools with more Q1 wins are #2 Purdue sitting at 9-3 and Wisconsin (18-9, 10-6 B1G) at 7-6. The Wildcats fare well in Quadrant 2 (Q2) and 3 (Q3) games, sporting a combined 8-2 record, and are a perfect 3-0 in Q3 games.

There’s a slight hiccup in Quadrant 4 (Q4), however, as the Wildcats dropped a game to Chicago State (12-18 overall), at home no less, in mid-December. Northwestern is one of the highest-ranked teams by NET metrics with a Q4 loss, a loss that drastically hurts a team’s NET ranking. Only four higher-rated schools have a Q4 loss. The ’Cats are 52rd in the NET ranking as of Feb. 27.

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. Northwestern does not have many road wins at all, let alone quality road wins. They have had several golden opportunities in Q1 and Q2 games including at #2 Purdue, a Q1 overtime loss; Minnesota (17-10, 8-8 B1G), a Q2 overtime loss and most recently Rutgers (14-13, 6-10 B1G), a Q2 three-point loss.

Northwestern recently beat Indiana (14-13, 6-10 B1G) on the road, which used to mean something, but since the Hoosiers are having an off-year, the Wildcats are going to need something more in the games to come.

Remaining schedule

Four games remain on the Wildcat’s schedule, two at home and two away. As of today, the home game against Iowa (16-12, 8-9 B1G) will be a Q2 game and Minnesota will be a Q3 game. Both are must-win games because if you can’t win at home, then where can you win?

The road tilt will prove to be much tougher. Trips to Maryland (15-13, 7-10 B1G) and Michigan State (17-11, 9-8 B1G) will both be Q1 matchups, and the Wildcats need to win one for that sought-after tournament-quality road win. If they can’t do that, then their last hope will be in the B1G Tournament, where they will most likely need at least two wins. Win on the road and that number comes down.

The team

Until very recently, the lineup has been rock steady. However, the untimely season-ending knee injury suffered by fourth-year guard Ty Berry threw a wrench in the original plans. Second-year forward Nick Martinelli has been elevated to the starting lineup, while second-year guards Justin Mullins and Blake Smith, along with first-year guard Jordan Clayton, have seen meaningful minutes off the bench.

Mullins, who transferred from Denver, proved to be crucial in the ’Cats almost pulling out the win at Rutgers, tallying eight points and four blocks while playing good defense. Martinelli, for his part, has posted double-digit points in three of the past five outings.

In the absence of Berry, graduate guards Boo Buie and Ryan Langborg have stepped up. Buie put up 27 points against Rutgers, including knocking down six three-pointers. Langborg recorded a career-high 26 points in the win over Indiana and 20 more against Michigan (8-20, 3-14 B1G) as Buie was largely slowed down, showing that his presence might have changed the tide against Rutgers had he not been ejected 10 minutes in.

So, odds?

If Northwestern wins three of its next four games to reach 22 total wins, then the NCAA tournament is almost a sure thing, likely as an 8- or 9-seed. Lose both road games and the conference tournament plays a larger role. Lose at home and you can almost kiss March Madness goodbye, barring a deep run in the B1G tournament.

At the end of the day, the Wildcats need to take care of business to reach the Big Dance. This is a resilient, gritty team that can grind out wins when it comes down to it. They control their own destiny. Here’s hoping that their destiny is to make the tournament.

Thumbnail photo by AJ Anderson / North by Northwestern