The Northwestern Wildcats have still never experienced the thrill of playing in the NCAA tournament.
A year ago, it seemed like the drought would end. The Wildcats won 10 of their first 11 games, but bad luck soon followed, ultimately leading to the popping of their NCAA bubble.
First, it was a stretch of seven losses in nine games. Then came the end of the year stretch where Northwestern lost five of eight games, including a loss to the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the Big 10 Tournament.
Northwestern did make the NIT for the fourth consecutive year and ended the year at 19-14 overall and 8-10 in the conference.
A trip to the NIT isn’t the worst thing in the sports world, but it certainly doesn’t compare to getting an opportunity to play in the NCAA tourney.
Perhaps this will be the year the Wildcats finally break through. They appear to be deeper than in seasons past and a big key to their success will be the play of Drew Crawford.
Crawford is a senior and his leadership will be valuable to the Wildcats. He averaged 16.1 points per outing last season and pulled down 4.7 rebounds per game.
Crawford also drilled 41 shots from beyond the arc and tallied 40 steals. With John Shurna gone, it appears it’s time for Crawford to take his game to an even higher level.
He will be counted on to consistently score in double figures every night and he will also be counted on to be one of the better defenders on the team.
The Big Ten is obviously going to be tough to survive this year, but with Crawford back, Northwestern has a chance to be one of the better teams in the league and finally get to the NCAA tournament.
Another strong start will be important, but it will be just as important for the Wildcats to play well in the middle of the season. The last thing Northwestern can afford is another mid-season slump.
If they can avoid such a slump, Northwestern will be talking NCAA instead of NIT when March rolls around.
Brian Lester is a featured Big Ten columnist and college basketball writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @BLester1993 or send him an email at email@example.com.