As major conference tournaments get under way this week, it seems to be consensus that Northwestern currently ranks among the "last four teams in" the field of 68 for the NCAA tournament.
Of course, all that can change -- and likely will -- based upon the outcome of the conference tournaments.
Here's why I'm skeptical about Northwestern's NCAA tournament worthiness: The Wildcats are 1-10 against the RPI top 50.
You read that right: 1-10.
Northwestern's only quality victory all season was an 81-74 homecourt triumph over then-No. 6 Michigan State on Jan. 14. To me, a team that is 18-12 overall and 8-10 in the Big Ten must boast some quality wins in order to have a solid case for a tournament bid. The Wildcats just don't have those wins -- at least not yet.
Northwestern's best nonconference victory was over Seton Hall at the Charleston Classic in November. That hardly qualifies as a signature win, especially since Seton Hall is a bubble team in its own right, having closed the regular season with an embarrassing, lopsided loss to DePaul.
Here's the good news for Northwestern fans: The conference tournament provides another chance to get that much-needed high-profile win. The Wildcats, seeded seventh in the Big Ten field, play 10th-seeded Minnesota (18-13, 6-12) at 4:30 on Thursday. For Northwestern, this is the definition of must-win. The Wildcats lose that one, they're relegated to the NIT for sure.
But, if Northwestern wins, it earns a Friday date with Michigan (23-8, 13-5) -- which was one of three teams to share the Big Ten regular season championship. The Wildcats played the Wolverines tough in the regular season. Michigan won by two in overtime on Jan. 11. The Wolverines also needed overtime to prevail in Evanston on Feb. 21.
If you're the Wildcats, you have to beat Minnesota on Thursday. Then, you have to go out there Friday and beat Michigan to prove your tournament-worthy. Coming close or being competitive aren't good enough. You have to win.
Without a signature win this weekend, I can't make a case for Northwestern being in the NCAA tourney.