Conference: Big Ten (At-Large)
NCAA Tournament Seed: 8 (West)
How they got to the Big Dance
After a solid 11-2 record in non-conference play, the Wildcats proved this wasn’t a fluke in Big Ten matchups. Northwestern dropped its first two conference games before going on an impressive six game winning streak, including three games on the road. However, still without a season-defining win, the Wildcats were on the bubble entering the final stretch of the regular season. A seven-point road win at Wisconsin certainly helped their case for legitimacy while a miracle buzzer-beating win against Michigan all but secured the Wildcats first NCAA Tournament in school history.
Then, in the Big Ten Tournament, Northwestern crushed Rutgers and upset Maryland in the Terps’ backyard. It was the first time that the Wildcats won multiple games in the Big Ten Tournament.
Why they’re a legitimate contender
For a team that does not have the talent as some of the other teams in its conference, Northwestern has thrived this season by doing all the little things right. That is exemplified in its ability to take care of the ball. In the regular season, the Wildcats were ranked second in the Big Ten and ninth nationally in fewest turnovers, averaging just 10.3 per game. Not only do they make smart passes, but they often make good passes. Northwestern’s 15.5 assists per game ranked fourth in the Big Ten during the regular season and it posted the eighth best assist-to-turnover ratio in the country.
Additionally, it allowed its opponents to score just 64.7 points per game, the second-best mark in the Big Ten. These abilities have been integral to its success and the reason why, despite having just one member of the All-Big Ten Media Teams, the Wildcats made the tournament.
Why they’re not a legitimate contender
While Northwestern’s inexperience has made them a cinderella story throughout the season, it is also worth mentioning as a weakness. The Wildcats are also not a great shooting time, as they rank 10th and 11th in the Big Ten in field goal percentage and 3-point percentage, respectively. Only one player, reserve forward Nathan Taphorn, has made over 33 percent of his 3-point attempts in regular season conference play.
Player to watch: Guard Bryant McIntosh
Bryant McIntosh is the Wildcats’ leading scorer at 14.4 points per game and was named to the All-Big Ten Second Team by both the conference’s coaches and the media. However, his most impressive contribution to Northwestern might be his playmaking ability. On March 5 against Purdue, McIntosh became Northwestern’s all-time assists leader. He also leads all non-seniors in the nation in career assists and has the most assists in the Big Ten. Aside from dishing out dimes, McIntosh is one of the Big Ten’s best at converting his chances at the free throw line, as he has made 86 percent of his free throws this season.
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