The phoenix you see rising from the ashes is the NIT hopes of the Northwestern Wildcats. Some of you may know that the reason I started doing NIT Bracketology was because as a Northwestern graduate I wanted a good understanding if my alma mater was going to make it into the one tournament they had a chance to be selected for. While big things are expected of Chris Collins in the future, the expectations for this season were pretty low. They were lowered even further when the Wildcats lost to Illinois State and DePaul at home.
Of course then a funny thing started happening: The Wildcats started winning Big Ten games. And not just Big Ten games. Big Ten road games. In fact, after Saturday’s 55-54 victory over Minnesota the Wildcats have won three straight Big Ten road games for the first time since 1960. NINETEEN SIXTY! All of a sudden Northwestern is 12-11 overall and in 4th place in the Big Ten. Does it make any sense? No. Does it matter? Nope. The Wildcats are back into the NIT bracket for the first time this season. It’s sort of an annual tradition.
Now, Seth Davis made some waves when he suggested that the NIT might not be Northwestern‘s ultimate destiny. Could the Wildcats actually challenge for a spot in the NCAA tournament? Well, to be honest, stranger things have happened. The Wildcats currently have two Top 50 road wins. Not many teams in either tournament boast such a thing. And those two bad losses? Not so bad. The Redbirds and Blue Demons are 106th and 109th in RPI respectively. Still, NU is probably looking at an 8-10 record in the Big Ten (according to Pomeroy) and 15-16 overall. Right now it’s apparent that Northwestern deserves to be in the NIT, even if their record were to finish under .500. We’ll see how the rest of the season plays out, but the Selection Committee could be faced with a fascinating task.
Some Teams Not Appearing In The Bracket (Unordered):
Last Teams Into NCAA tournament: Providence, Xavier, Florida State, California, LSU, Baylor, SMU, Missouri
Also considered: Miami (FL), New Mexico St., UTEP, Wyoming, Missouri St., Seton Hall, Notre Dame, Middle Tennessee
5. St. John’s
6. Louisiana Tech
2. Ole Miss
7. Oregon St.
8. Indiana St.
5. La Salle
6. St. Bonaventure
8. Saint Mary’s
4. Saint Joseph’s
5. Wake Forest
6. Boise State
2. N.C. State
8. Penn St.
6. West Virginia
These are all “true” seeds. Though I could definitely see the Ohio/West Virginia game getting flipped so the Mountaineers are the host team. You might also notice if you’ve got an astute eye that the entire Big Ten is currently slated to play in either the NCAA tournament or the NIT according to these brackets. Barring the flukiest of fluky endings to conference play that’s virtually impossible. Nebraska, Illinois and Penn State are also sitting on what are traditionally “bubble” spots. The automatic bids (teams that won conference regular season title and didn’t make NCAA tournament) typically take between 8-10 spots in the bracket so anything from a 6-seed on down is highly vulnerable.
The toughest team to put into the bracket and seed is Boise State. As of Sunday the Broncos have no wins over a Top 100 RPI team. However, the Broncos also don’t have a single loss to a single team outside of the Top 100. What that exactly means is hard to figure out. Pomeroy thinks that Boise St. is the 62nd best team in the country, which would put the Broncos ahead of a number of teams they’re seeded behind, but right now the resume just doesn’t support it. Another team with a somewhat similar case? Louisiana Tech. Though at least the Bulldogs won at Oklahoma and beat St. Bonaventure on a neutral court. It’s just that by playing in the absolutely awful Conference USA LaTech has racked up 12 wins over 200+ RPI competition. Hard to build a resume that way.
One team that is pretty low in this bracket that I expect to have staying power? Indiana State. There’s just something about the Sycamores that makes them “feel” like an NIT lock at this point. Then again the same could’ve been said for Princeton about two weeks ago, but the Tigers’ 0-3 start in Ivy League play has them out of the bracket entirely. Middle Tennessee is a team sitting just outside that could slip into the bracket, as is New Mexico State if they can turn things around in the WAC.