For as much as the national media pounded B1G football this past season, they are now rightfully singing the praises of just how stocked the conference is in basketball. Did you see Illinois’ comeback upset buzzer-beater over #1 Indiana last night? I know what you were thinking. We absolutely throttled that very same Illini team on that very floor. Then again, the Iowa team we face tomorrow at Carver-Hawkeye Arena throttled us on our home floor AND nearly did the unthinkable and win a game in Bo Ryan’s house on Wednesday night. The Hawkeyes lost in a 2OT thriller and that was way down on the list of thrilling games this week. The Indiana-Michigan game last Saturday night was one of the most entertaining B1G games in recent memory. Then, Michigan-Ohio State’s OT thriller, thanks to another amazing comeback, may have topped the Indiana game. Bottom-line, this conference race is up for grabs as is every single game not featuring Penn State.
I’m not afraid to admit I’ve managed my expectations for tomorrow. Northwestern (13-10,4-6) desperately needs to win games against unranked teams to get to the magical .500 mark, which I’m confident is the Mendoza line for punching a ticket to the Big Dance. I can’t allow myself to go there emotionally. Sure, I’ll be rooting hard for the ‘Cats as always, but I’m going in expecting to lose and hopeful I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Sorry. It’s just the way I have to operate at this point. If you let yourself “go there” and we beat Iowa, we’ll be one game under .500 with a four game stretch that includes @#11 Ohio State, Illinois and Wisconsin at home and then at Purdue. Prior to last night’s significant Illini upset, even cynical ‘Cats fans would look at those four and say “at least 2-2”.
The ‘Cats simply have to win games against the B1G unranked and cannot get swept against these teams. They absolutely have to take care of business at home as well. Getting swept by Iowa, a team that will finish in the bottom third of the B1G standings, simply is a knock on the resume. So yes, some games are bigger than others. ESPN analyst Dan Dakich pounded home this point while on the mic for Northwestern’s crushing win over Purdue last week.
Pat Fitzgerald’s Take On 2013 Class & Moving Forward
Kudos to ESPN.com’s Brian Bennett for this interview with Fitz on multiple topics stemming from the ‘Cats 2013 class of 19 scholarship players. There are a couple of interesting takeaways for me in this interview, specifically Fitz’s assessment on team speed and how that has been atop the physical trait list from his team of coaches and how much they believe they’ve made progress in that regard. I also got the sense that Fitz is leaning towards Godwin Igwebuike moving to the secondary, but then again, I’m no master in tea leaves interpretation. You can just sense the enthusiasm and optimism for the upcoming season in each Fitz interview. A year ago, Fitz’s rhetoric of being “right on the door of winning a B1G title” seemed like silly talk. Now, after a 10-win season, he has media types aligned and saying it for him. Considering the fact that all but two of this class were locked up when we were 0-0 in 2013 and coming off a 6-7 season, you’ve got to believe we’re going to make another big step in 2014 recruiting thanks to the airlift of a 10-win, Gator Bowl championship season.
Sip on This
There are few things that make me happier as it relates to LTP then when I have an idea for a post that I know is going to be extremely time consuming (read: painful) and someone else writes it. Well, such is the case with the always colorful Rodger Sherman of Sippin’ On Purple fame. He took NU’s recruiting class and looked at the overlap of schools that we went head-to-head with and noted the actual wins and losses. It’s a fantastic litmus test for brand perception. You know me. I often look at the “chose Northwestern over…” as the single intangible bellwether or benchmark of our recruiting. Of course, when you do this, you must keep the Martin Bayless factor in mind, as the former ‘Cat WR chose NU over Ohio State and Florida, never saw the field and then transferred.
Sherman highlights the fact that we crushed Boston College (went 7-0) and handily beat the likes of Purdue, Minnesota and Illinois (Illini was 5-3, so not so handily) and Wisconsin (2-0), yet we got our bell rung by Vanderbilt, Stanford and of course, Ohio State, Michigan and Notre Dame. Definitely check out Rodgers’ hard work here.
WildcatReport.com’s Future Is Very Bright Perspective
One of the things that I really should start doing is tracking each unit and get a firm grip on how many years of eligibility each player has left. It really paints a no-brainer picture of where the recruiting needs are and also hints at what future rosters will look like. Well, thanks to Louie Vaccher of WildcatReport.com, I don’t have to! Louie had a phenomenal post (one that we as writers look at and say “you have no idea how long that took to write”) outlining every player in every unit along with their eligibility. This will be a future post, thanks to Louie, but the key takeaway is that we are not only in great shape for 2013 in terms of experience, but aside from the obvious losses of Kain Colter, Venric Mark and Mike Trumpy, along with a pair of starting LBs, we are pretty loaded with experience for 2014. Here is one snapshot/excerpt of Louie’s work, specifically on the offensive line (scholarship starred, years of eligibility in parenthesis):
The players: Brandon Vitabile*(2), Jack Konopka*(2), Paul Jorgensen*(2), Hayden Baker(2), Alex Pietrzak(3), Geoff Mogus*(3), Shane Mertz*(3), Matt Frazier*(3), Kenton Playko*(4), Ian Park*(4), Eric Olson*(4), Adam DePietro*(4), Sam Coverdale*(4), Blake King*(4), Brad North*(4)
Take a look at that list for a second… EVERY SINGLE PLAYER RETURNS IN 2014! This could make things rough next season, it should pay dividends in 2014. We also have a slew of young guys to build depth, but it may take a while for them to develop. I’m very anxious to see how Cushing can develop this group of highly-regarded youngsters over the next few years.