Northwestern has lost 10 games in Big Ten play. Six of those losses were by less than five points or in overtime and four of them were against ranked teams. In other words, Northwestern has had plenty of heartbreak this season, and it only makes things worse that the Wildcats are about as bubbly as a bubble team can get.
That’s why their win at Iowa on Saturday was so impressive.
Northwestern, which has never made the NCAA tournament, was down 15 in the first half before they could even blink. Playing against an Iowa team that has sprung more than their fair share of upsets this season, the Wildcats easily could have packed it in and not a soul would have blamed them. We all saw the look on the faces of John Shurna and Drew Crawford after Wednesday’s loss to Ohio State. That kind of disappointment is a tough thing to overcome, and the pervasive mentality of losing is not easy to overcome.
But Northwestern (18-12) rallied, closing the half on a 31-9 run to take a seven-point halftime lead. Iowa made things interesting down the stretch — Josh Oglesby had a good look at three that would have given the Hawkeyes a one point lead with five seconds left — but he missed it, and Bill Carmody’s club lived to fight another day with a 70-66 win. They still have plenty of work left to do, and as the seven seed in the Big Ten Tournament, they’ll have another chance to notch a marquee win against one of the top three teams in the conference if they can get by Minnesota in the first round.
Depending on where you look, Northwestern is either one of the last few teams in or the last few teams out. They have to make it at least as far as the semifinals to have a real shot at getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. But with a tough win under their belt, maybe they’ll have the confidence to finally land that marquee win they need so badly.
Other bubble winners:
Cincinnati: Cincinnati (22-9) should be able to feel pretty comfortable about their bubble standing as it followed up its dominating win over No. 8 Marquette with a hard-fought, 72-68 victory against Villanova.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers (19-12) still have some work left to do, but beating fellow bubbler South Florida 50-44 certainly helped their chances. If West Virginia ends up playing UConn in the second round of the Big East Tournament, it may end up being a knock out game.
UConn: The Huskies (18-12) got Jim Calhoun back on the sidelines for the first time in eight games and pulled out a tough win over Pitt, 74-65, as a result. The Huskies probably need a win or two at Madison Square Garden to feel comfortable, but it is a good sign they were able to win despite blowing a 15-point lead.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs (21-10) followed up an overtime win at South Carolina by easily handling Arkansas at home to the tune of a 79-59 win. Mississippi State is is good position right now, but losing their first round game in the SEC Tournament might change things.
St. Louis: The Billikens (24-6) were in a good spot when they beat Xavier last week, and a 75-60 win at Duquesne just about locks up a bid.
Dayton: The Flyers (19-11) bounced back from a loss at Richmond by beating George Washington at home. Dayton still has some work to do, but heading into the A-10 tournament, winning their first round game may be enough to keep them on the right side of the bubble.
Xavier: The Musketeers (19-11) have been maddeningly inconsistent down the stretch of the season, but pulling out a 72-63 win over Charlotte keeps them in the mix for the time being.
Colorado State: The Rams (19-10) finally picked up a road win in league play, going into Colorado Springs and knocking off Air Force 75-65. I wouldn’t feel comfortable quite yet if I were Tim Miles, but with wins over each of the top three teams in the league and a strong computer profile, one MWC tournament win should get the job done.
Tennessee: Winners of eight of their last nine, its time to start seriously considering the Vols, who currently sit at third in the SEC after beating Vanderbilt 68-61. If Florida loses to Kentucky, Tennessee (18-13) will be the No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament. Who predicted that?
Related: Saturday’s bubble losers