By Astasia Williams
Nothing has changed in the Brown Family Basketball Center. The balls are still orange rubber; The ‘N’ logo is still large and purple at center court. The practice jerseys are still the same.
And there still is no talk of the NCAA tournament.
“We never talk about the NCAA Tournament. We talk about the next game,” said coach Chris Collins Tuesday. “That’s not just coach speak. We talked about it at the beginning of the year. What were are our goals? To be good enough, to be in that mix at the end of the year.”
Collins and the Wildcats want things to remain the same even though their resume got longer and their story got bigger Monday. The Associated Press Top 25 Poll had Northwestern ranked at No. 25. It was the first time the Wildcats were ranked in the poll since 2009.
“For these guys all this is new,” Collins said. “For them to be able to stay focused and eliminate outside chatter, be with each other, be excited, and having fun along the way is something I worried about. You don’t know how they are going to handle it, but they have been great and excited to play well and be our best each game.”
Northwestern, though, did send a message to the AP Poll graphics crew. They needed a reminder from the men’s basketball twitter account on what logo to use:
— Northwestern Basketball (@NUMensBball) January 30, 2017
They eventually got it together:
— Brian Chappatta (@BChappatta) January 31, 2017
The Cats are now 18-4, 7-2 in Big Ten play. What’s growing? Their swag and confidence.
“In past years, we always felt like we think we can win. I feel like this year we know we can win,” sophomore Center Derek Pardon said. “I feel like we can play with anybody in the conference or anybody in the country. We just believe in ourselves and we can go a long way a with that.”
As far as these Wildcats are concerned, being ranked is good. But it’s important to not look too far into the future.
“Right now, it’s just a number,” redshirt sophomore forward Vic Law said. “Because if we lose, then we are right back out of it. I just think we have to keep doing what we’ve been doing the past couple weeks, take it one game at time, and win the game that’s in front of us.
The road to the big dance in March won’t be easy, especially with four Big Ten teams being ranked in the AP Top 25 Poll: Wisconsin (10), Maryland (17), Purdue (23). The Cats will try to maintain their new ranking in tough test at Purdue Wednesday.
The challenge got even tougher since Northwestern will be without junior guard Scottie Lindsey (illness), and senior Nathan Taphorn. Taphorn injured his left ankle during the Wildcats’ 68-55 victory Sunday against Indiana.
“We’re going to have to really execute our game plan. Be sharp offensively and we are just going to have to let everything take care of itself,” Law said. “I think if we go in there with the right mindset, things will come out positively.”