Livin’ B1G: Northwestern Still Has Tough Road Ahead

    Northwestern is back in the AP Top 25 for the first time in seven seasons, but the upcoming schedule poses plenty of challenges. We also discuss Ethan Happ and Peter Jok in the Happy Birthday Tom Izzo Edition of Livin' B1G.

    January 30, 2017

    Northwestern is back in the AP Top 25 for the first time in seven seasons, but the upcoming schedule poses plenty of challenges. We also discuss Ethan Happ and Peter Jok in the Happy Birthday Tom Izzo Edition of Livin’ B1G. 

    Northwestern’s story continues to get plenty of attention across the country. And what should we expect when the Wildcats literally have never once made the NCAA Tournament and appear to be a virtual lock to do so.

    It’s one that hits home for me personally being from Chicago, hating Notre Dame and identifying Northwestern as Chicago’s Big Ten team before the school made that its official slogan. My dad used to take me to games at a 3/4-empty Welsh-Ryan Arena, plus matchups with top-tier Big Ten teams that had more fans in the crowd than the Wildcats. I’m one of the happiest that the old barn is getting a facelift.

    Despite being a closet Northwestern fan, though, I’m trying to remain subdued. Sure, the job Chris Collins has done is remarkable, as the Wildcats are 18-4, 7-2 in conference play and ranked No. 25 in this week’s AP poll – their first ranking since the 2009-10 season – after Sunday’s win over Indiana. But now is when Northwestern gets to prove how legitimate of a Big Ten title contender it really is with the toughest portion of its schedule upcoming.

    The Wildcats will immediately have their new ranking tested as they travel to West Lafayette to face Caleb Swanigan and No. 23 Purdue on Wednesday night. Rival Illinois visits Evanston six days later before Northwestern face the current Big Ten co-leaders – No. 10 Wisconsin on Feb. 12 in Madison and No. 17 Maryland at home Feb. 15.

    Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey, Vic Law and Dererk Pardon have helped the Wildcats become a hot ticket as they beat the Hoosiers in front of a sold-out crowd. But now it’s time for them to handle the increased expectations of being viewed as a Big Ten contender. Coming out of that stretch with two or three victories would go a long way in silencing any remaining doubters.

    … Tom Izzo celebrated his 62nd birthday on Monday after receiving an early gift with the Spartans’ 70-62 home win over Michigan the day before. The Hall of Fame coach has made the NCAA Tournament for 19 consecutive seasons, but some are wondering if 13-9 Michigan State is worth of a spot this year.

    It would be a shame if Miles Bridges’ only season – and lets be serious, he’s going to leave for the NBA – ended in the NIT. Bridges was named the conference’s Freshman of the Week after scoring a Michigan State freshman record 33 points in a loss to Purdue and following that with 15 points and 13 rebounds against the Wolverines.

    Should the Spartans be left hanging on the bubble Selection Sunday, this would seem like an appropriate reaction from the birthday boy:

    … Ethan Happ continues to thrive for Wisconsin, which shot up five spots in this week’s AP Top 25 to No. 10. Happ earned his second straight conference Player of the Week honor after finishing with 32 points, six rebounds and four steals in the Badgers’ overtime win over Rutgers on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

    Happ is averaging 24.7 points and 8.7 rebounds while shooting 60.9 percent over his last three games. Obviously, Livin’ B1G isn’t too surprised that Happ has gone from having to redshirt his freshman year to being the Big Ten’s best big man not named Biggie Swanigan.

    … Peter Jok immigrated to the United States with his family from Sudan after his father, a general in the Sudanese army, was assassinated. He grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, discovered basketball and now is a senior for the Hawkeyes leading the Big Ten in scoring at 21 points per game.

    So when Donald Trump issued an immigration ban that included his native country, Jok bravely spoke out against the executive order in an Instagram post. Jok’s brother runs a foundation that helps children of South Sudan through education and sports.

    A loss to Nebraska on Sunday was not how Purdue expected to start this week with back-to-back matchups against ranked opponents looming. The Boilermakers fell 83-80 in Lincoln as Swanigan finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds but shot only 5-of-15 from the field. He also had four turnovers and struggled to get going all day.

    Now they’ll have to contend with a Northwestern team that has won six in a row before a road date Saturday with No. 17 Maryland, which also has won six straight.

    … Indiana will need to navigate the final part of its schedule successfully to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. And it’ll need to get James Blackmon Jr. back after he sat out Sunday with a lower leg injury. The Hoosiers were no match for Northwestern without their top scorer, and they’re still trying to recover from losing O.G. Anunoby for the season because of knee surgery.

    Indiana has a lot of talent and showed as much in wins over Kansas and North Carolina. But loses to Fort Wayne and Nebraska, plus the injuries, are putting their chances of getting to the Big Dance in jeopardy.

    MORE: NCAA Men’s Basketball AP Top 25 Rankings – Week 13


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