Don't Look Now, But Wildcats Could Go Dancing

With a few more wins, Wildcats could sneak into tournament for first time ever

On Wednesday night, the Northwestern Wildcats beat No. 19-ranked Purdue 64-61. That would have been impressive enough at Welsh-Ryan Arena. This particular win, however, happened in West Lafayette, where the Boilermakers have lost only one other game this season. It was the win of a capable, tournament-bound team. Surely we're not talking about Northwestern, are we?

Indeed we are. The Wildcats are perilously close to, for the first time in their basketballing history, attending an NCAA Tournament. Up is down, black is white, cats and dogs are lying down together ... mass hysteria.

We're not making this up, either. This is no local rah-rah session. ESPN's own Andy Katz sounded the bell first thing this morning, citing the Wildcats' road wins over Michigan State and now Purdue, as well as their wins over Florida State (No. 16 in the RPI), Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. (Northwestern also had two games in which they ceded 14-point leads -- to Illinois and Purdue -- that would have sealed this deal already.)

Katz isn't the only one asking questions about the 'Cats. (Unfortunate play on words unintended.) Basketball Prospectus' John Gasaway ran the numbers on Northwestern, and sees them as just slightly better, in terms of efficiency, than Penn State, and just slightly worse than Michigan. The Wildcats' main advantage is Wednesday's win over Purdue. Michigan doesn't have that, and neither does Ohio State.

At this point, and at-large bid remains a stretch, but the changes aren't remote. If Northwestern wins at Ohio State on Sunday and then puts together a respectable finish in the Big Ten Tournament, there's a likely 20 wins, a strong close to the season, and a season-long resume to back it up. That's not to say it will happen. Just that it could. Which makes this Northwestern team as close as they've ever been before.

Eamonn Brennan is a writer, editor and blogger hunkered down in Lincoln Park. You can also read him at Yahoo! Sports, FanHouse, MOUTHPIECE Sports Blog, and Inside The Hall, or at his personal site,

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