By Eric Burgher
Northwestern is in uncharted territory. The Wildcats placed 25th in the Associated Press rankings Monday, the first time they have ever been ranked this late in the season.
The Wildcats have only been ranked four other times in the school’s history and have not been in the AP poll this late in the season since they were ranked 15th on January 25, 1955.
Additionally, Northwestern’s six-game conference win streak is their longest since the 1932-33 season, their 7-2 conference record is their best start since 1938 and their 18-4 overall record is the team’s best 22-game start in school history.
But even before the rankings came out on Monday head coach Chris Collins stressed the importance of keeping the team level as they face success like this for the first time.
“It’s a fine line because I love that people are taking notice of what these guys are doing, I’m very proud of that. I’m very proud of the success so far, the team that we’ve started to become,” Collins said after the game. “Yet I know how much basketball we still need to play and I understand the fine line between winning and losing in this conference. And the moment you let in the outside chatter, the noise, you soften up the littlest bit, you get crashed down to reality really quick.”
Northwestern is now looking ahead to a big road match against Purdue on Wednesday, with an opportunity to move up in the rankings.
New Year, New Ballgame
With seven seconds remaining in Sunday’s game, Bryant McIntosh lifted up and hit a jumper for is 20th and 21st points of the night. And as he ran back down the court he looked down and shook his head, knocking out any remaining memory of the Wildcats’ 89-57 loss to the Hoosiers last season that saw McIntosh score four points on 2-for-12 shooting in Indiana, just about 70 miles from his hometown of Greensburg.
“Last year I just felt really jittery,” said McIntosh, who played in front of a lot of friends and family when the teams met last season in Indiana. “It was the first time I had played in front of them in a long time and I just wanted to play well and got caught up in the emotion of that and not just playing the game. So this year I was just focused on trying to help my team win.”
Coming Out Cold
Northwestern got off to a slow start, beginning the game shooting 0-for-7 as Indiana jumped out to an early 10-1 lead. Sanjay Lumpkin finally broke the cold spell at the fifteen-minute mark of the first half sparking a 20-2 run that put Northwestern up for good as they held Indiana to 32% shooting and forced 13 turnovers.
“We really settled into the game and going into halftime we felt comfortable,” Lumpkin said. “We knew we were a little anxious at the beginning, but that’s just part of the atmosphere and going forward we know how important the starts of the game are.”
The way Northwestern has been playing this season has them on the verge of dancing in March for the first time in the school’s history. And given the potential historic nature of this season, it seemed only appropriate that the World Series trophy make an appearance in front of a packed Welsh-Ryan Arena on Sunday night. If Northwestern can finally crack the NCAA tournament, which many experts are already predicting, they will be the second Chicagoland team in the past year to end a long, long drought.
After losing OG Anunoby, who is out indefinitely with a knee injury, Indiana was playing their first game Sunday without leading scorer James Blackmon Jr. Blackmon is out indefinitely with a lower leg injury he sustained in Indiana’s 90-60 loss to Michigan earlier in the week.