Today marks another important day in the annals of Northwestern Athletics. Today begins our run for our first-ever NCAA Tournament berth under the newly-"expanded" 68-team bracket. Those of you that have watched over recent years know that this team, under Coach Bill Carmody, has finally obtained the talent to make the Big Dance. Unfortunately, injuries and other issues (such as playing something that resembles defense) have prevented us from qualifying the last two years. Many of you might remember the lickings we took against Iowa and Penn State, the two teams that most likely cost us our tournament berth last year.
This year, however, we hope to change that trend. The team had an opportunity to travel and play European basketball (slightly different rules) overseas, and we all hope that that practice time will transfer to the hardwood for this season. We'll possibly get a glimpse of that as the season kicks off tonight on the road against Northern Illinois. For a preview on the team itself, check out Loretta8's post at fellow Northwestern blog Sippin' on Purple.
Northwestern's nonconference schedule this season is, well, soft. In a tough and very deep Big Ten, we are not doing ourselves any favors to the RPI by scheduling such easy games. A more detailed look after the jump:
Nov. 12 @ Northern Illinois (10-20, 6-10 MAC) - This team has been awful under Coach Ricardo Patton, amassing a 26-62 record in his three years there. They won their exhibition game by beating... Division III Coe College. Last year at home, we beat them by 22.
Nov. 17 @ UT Pan-American (6-27) - The Broncs are breaking in a new head coach this year, and last year's record shows it was for good reason. By far, this will be the easiest game on the schedule.
Nov. 19 v Arkansas-Pine Bluff (17-15, 14-4 SWAC) - Don't let the winning record fool you: The Southwestern Athletic Conference is awful. ESPN has the conference ranked 31st in their preseason speculations. If we don't start the season 3-0, there's something very wrong with our 'Cats.
Nov. 28 v Creighton (16-15, 10-8 MVC) - Finally the schedule starts getting a little more interesting. Creighton has been a minor-league powerhouse in the Missouri Valley, having made the Big Dance a total of 16 times (that's 16 times more than NU). Former Iowa State coach Greg McDermott takes the helm this year after four years with the Cyclones. This one might be competitive.
Nov. 30 v Georgia Tech (22-12, 7-9 ACC) - The Yellow Jackets finished 7th in the ACC last year, making them our opponent in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge for this season. They replace seniors Zachery Peacock and D'Andre Bell, but look to have reloaded from last year. Arguably our toughest game.
Dec. 13 v Long Island (14-17, 11-7 NEC) - Our first of three tilts against teams from the Northeast Conference. This team is expected to do well in its conference this season, but that doesn't say much -- ESPN has the NEC ranked 29th overall.
Dec. 16 v American (11-20, 7-7 Patriot) - This team returns most of its top players from last year. But this is another middling team in a mediocre conference. Move along.
Dec. 20 @ St. Francis (11-18, 8-10 NEC) - Not expected to see much improvement this year. Although this game will be played in New York, the 'Cats shouldn't feel like a road team here. This game is the first of two games the 'Cats will play in the Madison Square Garden Festival.
Dec. 21 @ St. John's (17-15, 6-12 Big East) OR Davidson (16-15, 11-7 Southern) - As part of the two-day MSG event, NU will face the winner of the St. Johns v Davidson game if the 'Cats win against St. Francis; otherwise they play the loser. St. John's has fallen on some rough times in recent years, but expect a good fight from them. Davidson's only a so-so team now that Stephen Curry plays in the NBA.
Dec. 23 v Mount St. Mary's (16-15, 12-6 NEC) - This game should be similar to the one against Long Island. This team's replacing three seniors with significant playing time, including their leading scorer. Another strong win for the 'Cats predicted here.
I don't give projected wins & losses for the games above. However, I predict that the 'Cats go 9-1 in this stretch of the schedule. This means that the 'Cats will likely need to go 10-8 this season and win their mid-season non-conference game to make it into the NCAA Tournament this season. Well, we'll probably need a win or two in the Big Ten Tournament as well. The Big Ten is deep this year, but I think the 'Cats have the experience and the will to pull it off this season. Go 'Cats!