The NCAA Tournament committee didn’t put a single Big Ten team in its top-16 bracket released this past weekend, but the Big Ten will of course get several teams in the tournament, including – perhaps for the first time in program history – Northwestern.
The Wildcats (19-6) beat then-No. 7 Wisconsin, 66-59, in Madison on Sunday. Does that win assure Northwestern of an NCAA Tournament bid?
“I think pretty much,” CBSSports.com bracketology expert Jerry Palm said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “There’s still enough time for them to screw it up, but it would take a pretty significant slide at the end of the season for them to do that. The thing about Northwestern’s profile is before (Sunday), their best win was Dayton. I think if they would have gotten to Selection Sunday and their best win was still Dayton, then they would be in trouble. But Wisconsin really does a lot for them. They’ve got four games at home out of their last six before the conference tournament, so unless they lose six out of seven or something like that, Northwestern has got to be feeling pretty good about themselves right now.”
Elsewhere in the Big Ten, Palm believes that No. 20 Purdue (20-5) could reach the Final Four.
“Yeah, if they get a good draw,” he said. “Purdue is capable of beating anybody, but they’ve also shown at times that they don’t finish the deal well at the end of games. That happened at Nebraska. That happened at Iowa. They did finish it at Maryland and they finished it at IU, so maybe they’re getting better in that regard. I think sometimes at the end of a close game, Purdue gets a little too focused offensively on (Caleb) Swanigan and becomes one-dimensional when really, if they just run their offense, they’re a good three-point shooting team and they would be fine.”
Swanigan, a 6-9 sophomore from Fort Wayne, is averaging 19.0 points and 12.8 rebounds per game – both team-highs. Purdue has five players averaging double figures, including freshman guard Carsen Edwards (11.0 points per game).
“He’s the man,” Palm said. “He’s fearless. He won the game at the free-throw line at Maryland, put it away at the free-throw line at Indiana. In both of those games, Swanigan had fouled out and Purdue had to be more versatile on offense, and it worked out better for them.”
No. 1 Gonzaga (26-0), meanwhile, is very much in the hunt for the top overall seed in the tournament.
“They’ve been very impressive,” Palm said. “Really dominant team. They beat Florida, they beat Arizona, they beat Iowa State. They don’t get any of those guys at home, of course, but those are pretty good wins.”