OK, the polls are closed: Northwestern IS the greatest team in college basketball history

OK, the polls are closed: Northwestern IS the greatest team in college basketball history

Posted by Lindsey on Wed, 03/04/2009 - 23:02
As I start this blog, it's 10:24 local time. I'm sitting courtside at Mackey Arena where, nearly two hours ago, Northwestern wrapped up its 64-61 victory over No. 19 Purdue. Purdue's Robbie Hummel has been shooting free throws for the last 20 minutes. No teammates in sight. No manager to rebound his shots. He's wearing a bulky plastic brace on his back to protect his fractured vertebrae. Simply, Hummel's living up to his postgame words. He blamed himself for going 3 for 5 from the line on Wednesday night -- he missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 14.6 seconds left and NU clinging to a 60-57 lead -- and he vowed to work to correct it. I start with this because, well, it's really cool. And, also, it explains what kind of team Northwestern vanquished tonight. I'm not saying the Wildcats (17-11, 8-9) deserve their first NCAA Tournament berth just yet, but let's look at their resume. --They own six wins over teams in the RPI Top 50 at the start of the day: At No. 6 Michigan State 16 Florida State At No. 23 Purdue 31 Wisconsin 37 Ohio State 38 Minnesota --They also have 8 losses to Top 50 teams, a 4-point loss at No. 66 Penn State and road losses at No. 110 Stanford and No. 112 Iowa. Those two losses were by a combined 11 points. --They've won four of their last five games going into Sunday's regular-season finale at Ohio State. --They can point to the 2006 NCAA Tournament, when the selection committee gave Air Force (then a Princeton-style team) the last at-large bid with a 13 seed. "The questions that were asked (by the committee) were similar to 'Who is a tough team?' and 'Who is a team you wouldn't want to play?' " NCAA committee chairman Craig Littlepage said at the time. "We felt Air Force provided us with a very unique thing." Then the Falcons, who had a mere 50 RPI, backed it up by getting as close as 3 points midway through the second half before falling 78-69 to fourth-seeded Illinois in the NCAA opening round. Now, Northwestern isn't quite up to a 50 RPI. Jerry Palm, the CollegeRPI.com guru, just e-mailed to say that, as of 10:43 EST, the Cats have risen from No. 81 to 70 on the strength of tonight's win. (By the way, Hummel's still shooting. He has gained a pair of rebounders -- one of whom runs the program). Who knows what can happen to NU's RPI with a win at Ohio State on Sunday? As you know, a road win counts for twice as much as a home win. So, Kevin Coble, do the Cats deserve to be in the conversation about NCAA bubble teams right now? "That's tough. I think we feel that we are. I think you see glimpses of us. If you could take that glimpse and make that a consistent thing where it's night-in and night-out, then I don't think there's any question. It's just a matter of us continuing to get better...it's going to be really important that we're just focused on each game. Are you guys at a season-high in terms of confidence right now? "I think we're still growing. You know, (the win at) Michigan State was impressive just given the numbers of what that was, how hard it is to play there and teams don't win there that often -- and we've never gone down there and done well. "That was big, but this was a little bit more validation for us. It wasn't just a fluke. Any team can beat anybody any night, but we've put together some nice wins this year and we're playing some good basketball and I think we're on a good trajectory." By the way, Coble pointed out a huge play that I had forgotten about during the course of NU's 14-0 run that made the difference in the second half. NU took a 49-47 lead with 8:10 to go on Jeff Ryan's layup (nice wraparound feed by Kyle Rowley), then Bill Carmody made the massive substitution that was only supposed to keep Coble and Craig Moore off the floor for a minute. But on Purdue's first possession after it called a timeout with 8:05 to go, E'Twaun Moore threw a lazy behind-the-back pass toward JaJuan Johnson. Juice Thompson dove for the ball, corraled it and got a timeout before Purdue could tie him up. "I think that really fired us up," said Coble, meaning both Juice's play and the demeaning nature of Moore's pass. In any case, here's what NU did for the next few minutes: --Sterling Williams slashed the baseline for a layup while drawing a blocking foul from Johnson as the shot clock nearly ran out. I haven't seen every NU game this year, but I can't believe any of Williams' nine previous baskets this season came on such an aggressive play. --Williams' free throw missed, but the ball went out of bounds for the Cats. John Shurna drove and hit the glass with his shot, but Luka Mirkovic rebounded on the weak side. He fed Williams, who cashed a 19-footer with 3 on the shot clock. "They pressure really hard, so I saw an opening the first time and just took it to the basket. The second time, Coach actually said from the bench, "Shoot, shoot,' and I saw the shot clock going down. I was open, so I just took it." (FYI...Sterling Williams hadn't had 2 baskets in the same game -- much less the same minute -- since Feb. 26, 2008 when NU won at Michigan for its lone Big Ten victory last season) --Purdue's Chris Kramer airballed an open 3-pointer, then Juice Thompson airballed a 3-pointer. This time, Jeremy Nash came away with the weak-side rebound and he found Thompson for the 3-pointer that made it 56-47 with 5:34 to go (once the officials finally determined it was a 3 rather than a 2). From there, Northwestern held on as the Cats never let Purdue get closer than 2. The only time they could have gotten within 1 point was when Hummel missed his 1-and-1 with 14.6 seconds to go. OK, enough from here. It's 11:01 p.m. EST. The game ended at 8:32 p.m. Hummel's still shooting free throws. LW
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