Author: Herb Gould

Northwestern & ’69 Cubs? Ouch. But wait. There’s still time to break up that pairing.

Wow. This Northwestern quest is starting to feel more and more like the ’69 Cubs. Woke up Sunday morning after that 63-62 heartbreaker at Indiana, trying to remember. Was that a dream? Or just a nightmare? Exactly when did that black cat run across the Assembly Hall court? The Wildcats built a 12-point first-half lead, and gave up 22 straight points—including a three-quarter-court halftime buzzer beater to be down 10 at the break. They bounced back for a seven-point lead with 93 seconds to play. And still lost. Had to delete—well, postpone—that congratulatory Tweet. It’s pretty clear that one more regular-season win the will give Northwestern its first NCAA bid in the history of the tournament. Even with two daunting regular-season games left, I still think they are going to make it. But with five losses in their last seven games, what once looked like a given now looks problematic. The rest of this article is available to subscribers only – to become a subscriber click here....

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Can Illini save Groce’s job? Has Northwestern derailed its NCAA trip?

Illinois’ win over Northwestern on Tuesday—its second vs. the Wildcats in four games—doesn’t change everything. But it changes a lot of things. Who knew? All of a sudden, Northwestern’s triumphant march toward its first-ever NCAA tournament is not a given. All of a sudden, the resurgent Illini, who have won three of their last four, have a faint glimmer of hope for their own NCAA bid. It would be the first in four years, since John Groce’s inaugural season. And it would likely slam the door on the clamor for Groce to be fired. Take that, you cynics who say the regular season doesn’t matter. First, Northwestern. . . There’s no doubt that the Wildcats are laboring under a Cub-like burden of expectations. While the North Siders were trying to end 108 years of World Series solitude, Chris Collins’ team, just a short ride away on the Purple Line, is aiming for its first NCAA trip since the tournament began in 1939. After the first shocking loss to Illinois, in Evanston on Feb. 7, Northwestern bounced back with an historic win at Wisconsin. If they end their NCAA drought, I thought, that will long be remembered as the game that put the Wildcats over the top. Now I’m thinking, if the Cats don’t make the Big Dance, two epic toe-stubs against Illinois will be remembered as the reason. I...

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Big Ten Power Ranking: On-the-bubble Spartans, Wolverines need to be on their games

The league race is sorting itself out. The bigger question, though—the Big Dance—remains up in the air. Five teams are in good shape. Barring major collapses, Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland, Minnesota and Northwestern are mainly concerned about seeding. It won’t be a great year in that area; whether the Big Ten cracks the top 16 seeds is an open question. The big NCAA questions are with bubble teams Michigan and Michigan State, who both need strong finishes. The Wolverines will need to play well on the road, where they have struggled. And the Spartans will need to soldier on after losing another player to a knee injury. bracketologist Jerry Palm’s latest Big Ten seeding predictions (as of Monday, Feb. 20): Purdue 4, Wisconsin 5, Maryland 6, Minnesota 6, Northwestern 7, Michigan 9, Michigan State 10. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had it like this: Purdue 4, Wisconsin 5, Maryland 6, Minnesota 8, Northwestern 8, Michigan 9, Michigan State 10. In the league race, I’d give a slight edge to Wisconsin, based on schedule. But I would give a more significant edge to Purdue, based on the way the teams are playing. Maryland is lurking, especially if it can halt Minnesota’s five-game winning streak. At two games back with four to go, Northwestern is not in the hunt for the Big Ten. But its first-ever NCAA bid is more than enough of...

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Big Ten Playbook: Illini coaching candidates. A who’s who. And what’s up.

A lot of names are being thrown out there in the search for the next Illinois basketball coach. That’s not a bad thing. John Groce is nearing the end of a five-run that includes a 32-52 Big Ten record and what is likely to be the school’s first four-year NCAA tournament drought since the Big Dance had a field of 32. Groce has had his chance. And hasn’t measured up. I gave you eight names of possible candidates last week. This week, I’d like to update that—and cross off some potential candidates who would be shocking hires, as far as I’m concerned. I’m going to divide the names into three categories: I’ve got five guys who aren’t coming. Five guys who are the most intriguing candidates. And four guys I really don’t have a feel for at this point. The rest of this article is available to subscribers only – to become a subscriber click here.  ...

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Big Ten (lack of) Power Rankings: Top-16 shutout. . . At least there’s a Northwestern shoutout.

Quick now: Which is the biggest story? @ The Big Ten being shut out of the top 16 NCAA seeds for the first time since 2004? @ Northwestern playing in the NCAA tournament for the first time. Period? It probably depends on whether you like your eggs sunny-side up. What’s clear is that the Wildcats, with a huge win at Wisconsin on Sunday, have put themselves squarely in position to be the toast of the Big Dance. It’s equally clear that Big Ten will need to ham-and-egg it to sneak a team or two into top-four seeds by Selection Sunday. League-leading Wisconsin is not out of that hunt. But the Badgers’ loss makes Purdue the best bet. “It lets us know [we’re] a 5 seed and need to win to improve our position,” said Purdue coach Matt Painter, adding that he already knew they needed to win games. Wisconsin coach Greg Gard also downplayed the top-four snub in the inaugural early look given by the Selection Committee, saying so much can change in the next month. So much already has changed. Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan State and Indiana all were top-four seeds in Joe Lunardi’s pre-season bracket. But Michigan State has been done in by injuries and another ridiculously ambitious early schedule. Indiana handled its early challenges well, knocking off Kansas and North Carolina. But injuries and some head-scratching losses...

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