by Eli Boettger – January 15, 2018
In 2017, Northwestern made history.
In 2018, Northwestern is making history again.
This time, though, it’s not for reasons that will excite Wildcat fans.
After Sunday’s putrid 66-46 loss to Indiana in Bloomington, Northwestern fell to 11-8 on the season, including a 2-4 start to league competition. Chris Collins’ group only lost 11 games in last year’s regular season en route to its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
Northwestern’s poor first half this season is especially surprising. The Wildcats fresh off a tournament bid and round of 64 victory last March, and returned the bulk of 2017’s roster. Ten of 12 players that appeared in a game last season are currently on campus, including every player that averaged more than 6.0 points per game and four players that averaged more than 30.0 minutes per game. Despite its struggles in the past, there was every reason to believe this year’s Northwestern team had all the pieces to compete in the Big Ten in 2018.
Not only has Northwestern failed to contend, the Wildcats’ chances to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history have almost entirely vanished. According to college basketball statistician Bart Torvik’s database, Northwestern posted a sturdy 76 percent probability in the preseason of getting back to the tournament in 2018. On January 14, NU’s tournament likelihood has plummeted to a minuscule 0.8 percent. The net difference of minus-75.2 percent since the preseason is the worst mark in the country, according to Torvik’s site. Three other Big Ten teams (Minnesota’s minus-70.6, Wisconsin’s minus-55.2, and Maryland’s minus-51.4) round out the bottom six.
Northwestern isn’t the first AP top 20 preseason team to disappoint, but the fashion in which it will likely miss the tournament is almost unheard of. According to KenPom, Northwestern ranks in the top 75 nationally in both experience (a measure of college experience based on previous playing time) and continuity (a percentage of total playing time that remains on the roster the following season).
Over the last five seasons, 14 teams have ranked in the top 75 in experience and continuity the season after being a top eight seed in the NCAA Tournament. Northwestern, which was a No. 8 seed last season, is 55th in experience and 20th in continuity this year. Only two other teams that made the tournament last year, Wichita State and Saint Mary’s, have a higher average ranking in the two metrics. The Shockers and Gaels are a combined 32-4.
The list of teams that were No. 8 seeds or higher and ranked in the top 75 in experience and continuity the following season is below.
Northwestern is in jeopardy of becoming just the second team in the last five seasons to join the list while missing the NCAA Tournament. Georgetown, which was a No. 2 seed that fell to Florida Gulf Coast in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, went just 18-15 the following season and couldn’t sneak into the field.
Thirteen of the 14 teams made the tournament. Only two lost in the round of 64, five reached the round of 32, two made the Sweet 16, and two more advanced to the Final Four. Northwestern will very likely join Georgetown in a few months as the only teams to miss the tournament with the aforementioned requirements.
Less than a month ago, Northwestern was celebrating its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance in its 112-year program history. In two months, Northwestern fans will close the books on one of its most disappointing seasons ever.