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Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Wildcat Watch: No room for error

By Scott Powers will evaluate Northwestern’s chances of reaching its first NCAA tournament on a regular basis throughout the rest of the season. This is the fourth installment of Wildcat Watch.

Northwestern coach Bill Carmody and his players were full of smiles and laughter after defeating Illinois on Saturday.

It has been a trying season for the Wildcats with injuries and close losses. They finally were able to enjoy a solid win, and they took advantage of it.

John Shurna
Northwestern would benefit if the selection committee takes into account the injury to John Shurna earlier this season.
But now, their celebration must cease. If Northwestern is going to have a shot at reaching its first-ever NCAA tournament, it has to take care of business in its final seven Big Ten games. There is little room for error.

“Very, very slim,” ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi said of Northwestern’s tournament chances on Tuesday. “Their next loss would probably have to be in the Big Ten tournament for positive at-large consideration.”

The Wildcats’ road ahead isn’t easy, but it also isn’t impossible. They don’t have to face Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue again. They host Iowa, Minnesota and Penn State and travel to Indiana, Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin. Outside of possibly defeating Wisconsin on the road, all of the games are winnable if Northwestern plays how it did in its narrow loss to Ohio State and victory over Illinois.

Carmody understands where his team stands, too.

“If we’re going to compete, get back in this race, we’re going to have to go on a run here,” Carmody said. “We’re not in the [tournament] discussion right now. We’re 4-7 in the conference. We’ll see where it goes. We’ve been playing decently of late. Now we have to take our stuff and go on the road at Michigan [Wednesday] and Penn State [Sunday] and see what we do there.

“Depending on how those games go, you can start saying we’re back to close to .500 in conference and some road victories if you got them, then you get back into the talk.”

Carmody also knows his players aren’t oblivious to it all.

“I think every kid is thinking about the NCAA tournament,” Carmody said. “It’s in the back there. We can’t think about it too much except there is an urgency there. If we want to get there, we have to start winning, and it has to start this week.”

Lunardi’s take: The ESPN bracketologist shares his views on Northwestern’s tournament chances.

Q: Outside of Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin, will beating any of the other Big Ten teams be considered a quality win? More specifically, does Northwestern's win over Illinois have any impact on the Wildcats' resume?
JL: Illinois is very much a quality win, as is Minnesota. Michigan State and Penn State are more like “comparable” opponents at this point.

Q: If Northwestern gets it together in the coming weeks, would the committee take into account John Shurna's recent injuries affecting the Wildcats’ previous losses?
JL: Very much so. Committee members can disregard non-Shurna results to whatever extent they feel is appropriate.

Tournament odds: The Wildcats have arrived into that do-or-die territory. As Lunardi said, their odds are very slim right now.