Wildcats come to Iowa; Big Ten race tightens


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When the Northwestern Wildcats visit Iowa City on Wednesday, it won’t be the usual Northwestern squad coming into Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

The Wildcats might only be 5-6 in the Big Ten, but with a 16-7 overall record, there’s hope in Evanston that it may be the year that Northwestern qualifies for its first-ever NCAA Tournament.

Right now, the résumé may seem to suggest that. The Wildcats have wins over Big Ten title contenders Purdue and Illinois at home, as well as out-of-conference victories at North Carolina State during the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and over both Notre Dame and Iowa State during Thanksgiving break.

The lone non-Big Ten loss came at the beginning of the season to a Butler squad ranked 18th nationally.

Northwestern is on a two-game winning streak after disposing of Michigan and Indiana at Welsh-Ryan Arena last week.

But head coach Bill Carmody knows if the Wildcats are going to have any success with this pursuit of March Madness, a loss on Wednesday to Iowa can’t happen.

“We’ve played pretty decently, I would say, but we still have so much to get done,” he said on Monday during the Big Ten teleconference. “I saw [Iowa] dismantle Indiana, at Indiana, a week ago or so, and [Sunday] played a team that smacked us pretty good, Ohio State. It was a lot closer than when we played them.

“They’re very well-coached, and I like their individual players. It’s going to be a real tough game for us.”

Separation slowly taking place

After a week that saw Michigan State lose two road games to Wisconsin and Illinois and reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Kalin Lucas suffer an ankle sprain, the conference standings have tightened significantly.

The 10th-ranked Spartans remain atop the Big Ten with a 9-2 conference mark, but three teams — No. 11 Wisconsin, No. 13 Ohio State, and Illinois — are one game behind with 8-3 Big Ten records.
No. 6 Purdue, which did not have a game last weekend, sits 1.5 games back, with a 7-3 record in conference play.

Four of those five squads square off with one another this evening.

The Fighting Illini take a four-game winning streak into their game with the Badgers in Wisconsin’s Kohl Center at 6 p.m. The Boilermakers hope to hand Michigan State a third-straight defeat when the two teams meet at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.

As of Monday, Spartan head coach Tom Izzo said Lucas remains questionable for tonight’s game against Purdue. Before his injury, Lucas helped guide Michigan State to road wins at both Minnesota and Michigan with game-winning shots.

“We need to get him back, but then we need to get some consistency with our bigs,” Izzo said on Monday during the Big Ten teleconference. “We’ve been moving people around quite a bit, just trying to continually play those guys.”

Of the five Big Ten regular-season title contenders, Illinois has the most difficult week ahead. In addition to tonight’s contest in Madison, the Fighting Illini host the Buckeyes on Feb. 14.

“There are so many good teams in our league,” Illinois head coach Bruce Weber said on Monday during the Big Ten teleconference. “Nothing is easy, and it’s going to be a great finish.”

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