Stanford at Northwestern NCAA Hoops – Free Pick Dec 21

Maybe North Carolina is just lousy this year…

I rationalized away the loss to Butler, chalking it up to the fact that the game was early in the year and in Maui.  Plus, ask Indiana, Butler is a sneaky-good big game team who is as well coached as any team in the country.  Speaking of Indiana, that thirty-point blow out loss in Assembly Hall was ugly, and a little jarring…. But again, it is a road loss in a raucous building against the #1 team in the country.  Also excusable.

Last night’s 18-point loss to a Texas team that has been terrible, highlighted by their loss to Division II Chaminade, leads me to one conclusion Tarheels fans probably won’t like; UNC is lousy this season…

Let’s move on to an interesting matchup tonight between two schools with decent athletic programs, but much more celebrated for what happens inside the classroom.

Stanford Cardinal -3 at Northwestern Wildcats

Stanford entered the season with NCAA Tournament expectations.  Fresh off last season’s NIT win, the hope in Palo Alto was that Johnny Dawkins’s team would continue the next step in their path and be a part of the Big Dance.  The results so far this season have been a bit of a mixed bag.  They are only 7-4, but it is hard to find too much fault with their losses, especially the last three.  They lost last week in a well-played game at NC State.  They also own a three point loss to Minnesota and an eight-pointer to Missouri on a neutral floor.   I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of those teams playing on the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.  Their first loss this season was to Belmont, a good if not great team with NCAA experience.

But at some point, you have to BEAT those type of teams, at least once in a while, if you want to be considered a big-time program.  Their best wins this season are Northern Iowa, Cal State Fullerton and Denver.  Not exactly a tourney-ready resume.  That makes tonight’s game against a very similar team, Northwestern absolutely dire.

The Northwestern lifetime NCAA draught is legendary, most fans know they are the only BCS Conference program to have never punched their ticket to the Dance.  They are off to an 8-3 start this season, and tonight’s game is VITAL as it is hard to see them escaping over .500 in the absolutely loaded Big Ten.  They have dropped games to Butler and Maryland, both are tourney-bound, but the margin didn’t inspire confidence.  There is also the albatross off a loss to Illinois-Chicago, 50-44 at home, hanging around their neck.

However, the “good” has been far better than Stanford’s “good.”  The Wildcats went down to Baylor last week and beat them, a game that tells me that on a good day, this Northwestern team can compete.

I think today is going to be that good day.  They are at home and getting points against a team that hasn’t beaten a top 100 opponent all season.  I like Northwestern to control tempo tonight and use good team defense to keep the more athletic Cardinal off the glass.

It will be a close game, but give me Northwestern at home with the points.

Free Pick:  Northwestern Wildcats +3

Chris Scheeren / Author