Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Midweek Watch: Northwestern's big chance
By Jason King
Selection Sunday is always filled with tension and angst for a handful of the nation’s “bubble” teams. It doesn’t have to be that way for Northwestern. Not this year.
The Wildcats -- who have never made the NCAA tournament -- can end the drama surrounding their potential bid by defeating Ohio State tonight in Evanston, Ill. Beating the No. 11 Buckeyes is certainly a tall task -- especially considering Jared Sullinger & Co. whipped Northwestern by 33 points earlier this season.
Still, if the Wildcats want to make the 68-team field, they need to turn some heads, especially after squandering an excellent opportunity in last week’s home loss against Michigan in overtime.
Ohio State certainly isn’t playing as well as it was when these two teams faced off in Columbus on Dec. 28. The Buckeyes have lost three of their last five games, although all three of those setbacks were against ranked teams (Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin). And Northwestern did beat Michigan State earlier this season, so it’s not as if it isn’t capable of knocking off a top-10-caliber team.
Throw in the fact that it’s Senior Night in Evanston, and it would seem the Wildcats and John Shurna, who averages 20.1 points, would at least have a chance.
A victory would give Northwestern an 8-9 record in the Big Ten. Even if the Bill Carmody’s squad were to lose its regular-season finale at Iowa and finish below .500, there’s a strong chance it could make the field with victories over Michigan State and Ohio State.
Could be a good game tonight. Don’t expect another blowout.
Prediction: Ohio State 75-67
Other Wednesday games:
Maryland at North Carolina - With the Duke matchup looming Saturday, this would seem like the classic “look-ahead” game. But don’t expect the Tar Heels to get caught off-guard here. It’s Tyler Zeller’s Senior Night -- and, frankly, the Terrapins simply aren’t good enough to beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
Prediction: North Carolina 82-68
Marquette at Cincinnati - Normally I’d be worried about the Bearcats’ psyche coming off of a 46-45 loss at South Florida. Eesshh! But it’s Senior Night for Dion Dixon and Yancy Gates, so Cincinnati should be in the right frame of mind. The problem for Mick Cronin’s team is that it’s playing one of the country’s hottest programs in Marquette. The Golden Eagles have won 12 of their last 13 games. And Jae Crowder is averaging 26.3 points in his last four contests.
UNLV at Colorado State - This is a huge game for the Rams, who are among Joe Lunardi’s “First Four Out” in the NCAA tournament watch. Colorado State lost to UNLV by 19 points last month in Las Vegas. And it failed to capitalize on an excellent chance to enhance its résumé by losing at San Diego State on Saturday. With two games remaining, UNLV is in a three-way tie for first place in the Mountain West Conference standings.
Prediction: UNLV 72-69
South Florida at Louisville - South Florida has held its last six opponents to 56 points or less and is 5-1 in those games. But the Bulls have lost their last four road games against upper-tier Big East teams, and three of those setbacks were by double digits. A victory over the No. 18 Cardinals would greatly enhance USF's chances for an NCAA tournament berth. Louisville has won eight of its last 10 games, and the two losses were by a combined five points.
Prediction: Louisville 54-47
Massachusetts at Temple - The Owls could clinch at least a share of the Atlantic 10 title with a win tonight. They’re catching Massachusetts at just the right time, as the Minutemen have lost three of their last four games.
Prediction: Temple 80-68
Oklahoma at Texas - The Longhorns probably need to finish with a 9-9 conference record to earn an NCAA tournament berth. Right now they’re 8-8, and they’ve got no shot at beating Kansas on Senior Night Saturday in Lawrence. So they’ve got to beat Oklahoma tonight in Austin. They will.