Welcome back, Northwestern

December, 29, 2009
12/29/09
11:46
AM ET
What's purple and black and actually pretty good at basketball for the first time in, oh, 40 years? You get one guess. All right, all right: It's Northwestern. If you didn't guess that, I don't know what to tell you.

Not only did you have the headline for assistance; you have the now day-old news that Northwestern made an appearance in this week's Associated Press top 25. This would not be a big deal for any other program. For Northwestern, it is, because it's the first time the Wildcats have been in the top 25 since -- get this -- 1969. 1969! That is not usual, but that is Northwestern basketball. In Evanston, a top 25 appearance lands somewhere between "noteworthy" and "ecstasy-inducing."

That's what happens when you build a 10-1 non-conference record, though, which is exactly what the Wildcats have done. But the next step is getting in the tournament. That will be slightly more challenging, and slightly more momentous; Northwestern has never gone to an NCAA tournament. (That's what happens when you're only ranked in the top 25 once every 40 years. Or maybe it's vice versa. Very chicken-egg, isn't it?)

Anyway, the Northwestern fans at Sippin' On Purple are already doing mathy projection-type things in the hopes of calculating NU's chances of surviving the Big Ten and pushing into postseason play. The RPI projections are favorable if the Cats win 11 of their 18 Big Ten games; 12 would lock them into the tournament, while 10 or below makes things pretty sketchy. The problem for Northwestern is the Big Ten's underwhelming performance in non-conference play. (Thanks, Michigan!) But Wildcats fans can begin the countdown: 21 wins or bust. Given star Kevin Coble's injury before the season even really began, such vivid hope in Evanston is a major, major bonus.

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