In December, the Northwestern Wildcats got off to an 8-2 start, the best beginning during head coach Bill Carmody’s time in Evanston. The Cats' pre-conference performance yielded votes in the polls and a national RPI climbing as high as 11 that month.
But that hot start turned as cold as the recent weather when NU dropped their next five, including the first four of Big Ten play. On Sunday, the Wildcats stopped the slide by upsetting #18 Minnesota who came into the game 16-1.
It was disappointing that none of the fans in Welsh-Ryan stormed the court! The 74-65 victory was redemption for squandering second half leads in home losses to #7 Michigan State and #19 Purdue earlier this month.
"You just have to win one so you know how winning one feels," Carmody said, describing how his team bounced back from recent late game collapses.
It was Northwestern's first win over a ranked opponent since February 2006 when they beat #18 Iowa 51-48.
Although this fact sounds made up, Northwestern has actually never made the NCAA Tournament. Could 2009 be the year they win three (or if necessary) four games in a row during the Big Ten tournament and make history as the first March Madness entry in school history?
Legendary Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has described this year's squad as "the best team that Carmody's ever had here."
Minnesota head man and three-time national coach of the year Tubby Smith described them thusly: "They're going to win a lot of games. They have as much toughness as any of the other teams in the league."
NU features the nation's 10th best scoring defense (56.9 PPG) which will keep them in most of their games down the stretch. They're currently 9-6, and only one of those losses (at Wisconsin January 7th) was a blowout.
Northwestern dubiously joins The Citadel, Williams & Mary, St. Francis of New York and Army as the only five programs in all of Division I (there are 341 total) never to have reached the NCAA tournament. NU is the only one from a big six power conference. And you thought Cub fans were long suffering! Could this be the year?