This year looked like it was going to be different for Northwestern.
In the first season of a “NU Era” in Evanston, first-year head coach Chris Collins engineered a midseason turnaround that at one point saw the Wildcats win five of seven games. But then Northwestern returned to its more historic ways, losing its next seven games before avoiding finishing in last place by beating Purdue on Sunday.
It puts the Cats in familiar territory, at the bottom of the Big Ten with the No. 11 seed in this week’s Big Ten Tournament, which tips off Thursday in Indianapolis.
But hope is not all lost, as perhaps the Cats — who found a way to beat two ranked opponents and win three road games in that midseason stretch — have a couple more miracles in them.
The draw is what seems to be worthy of an eyebrow raise for Northwestern. A few weeks ago, a first-round date with Iowa and a potential second-round date with Michigan State would have seemed the tournament’s most difficult. But the Hawkeyes are in an absolute tailspin, losers in five of their last six, and the Spartans are alternating wins and losses, posting a meager 5-7 to finish their regular season. There’s something to be said about catching these teams at the right time.
This still is Northwestern, the Big Ten’s lowest-scoring team. But if there is one player who could lead the Cats to a shocking upset or two, it’s Drew Crawford. This week will be the senior’s swan song, the final games in purple and white for one of the Big Ten’s all-time most prolific scorers. Crawford, who dropped 27 points on Purdue in his final regular-season game, finished his career with 1,884 points. That’s good for second on Northwestern’s all-time scoring list, ninth on the Big Ten’s.
This year wasn’t quite as high-scoring for Crawford as the one that landed him on the All-Big Ten Team in 2012, but he still ranks in the top 10 in the league in scoring. One thing going for Crawford as the tournament starts, too, is the fact it’s being played away from Evanston. His home/road splits are dramatic, with the senior averaging 19 points on the road and fewer than 11 at home.
Crawford is certainly capable of catching fire, putting on a show as he ends his collegiate career. And given the way Iowa and Michigan State are stumbling into this tournament, a couple of upsets aren’t out of the question. Granted, the Cats went 0-4 against those two teams this season.
But if March were predictable, it wouldn’t be mad.