After loss to Rut­gers, NU should turn at­ten­tion from NCAA to NIT

Chicago Sun-Times - - COLLEGE BASKETBALL - BY STEVE GREEN­BERG Staff Re­porter Email: sgreen­berg@ sun­times. com

It’s the Bucket List — 10 rapid­fire ob­ser­va­tions on the col­lege bas­ket­ball sea­son:


If North­west­ern had any chance at all to win its way back onto the NCAA Tour­na­ment bub­ble be­fore Tues­day, that chance drowned in the Rar­i­tan River, never to be heard from again. The only way the Wild­cats end up back in the Big Dance now is by win­ning the Big Ten tour­na­ment a lit­tle more than two weeks from now in New York, which is about as likely as All­state Arena be­ing mistaken for Madi­son Square Gar­den.

Se­ri­ously, blow­ing a six- point last- minute lead and los­ing at Rut­gers? Even with se­nior point guard Bryant McIntosh in­jured, it was an un­con­scionable gag. The 2016- 17 Cats would’ve put the pedal down in the sec­ond half and won by 20.


NU still has games to play, but it might as well turn its at­ten­tion to the Na­tional In­vi­ta­tion Tour­na­ment. This al­most cer­tainly will be its eighth ap­pear­ance in that event, but only once — in 2011 — did it make it as far as the quar­ter­fi­nals. A trip to the semis at MSG wouldn’t be the worst way for se­niors Scot­tie Lind­sey, Gavin Skelly and ( if he can play) McIntosh to go out.


You didn’t hear this from me, but Rut­gers’ victory — which lifted the Scar­let Knights to 3- 12 in con­fer­ence play — left Illi­nois alone in last place. The Illini fell to 2- 12 in the Big Ten with their loss Wed­nes­day at In­di­ana.


Illini coach Brad Un­der­wood spoke with re­porters this week about lead­er­ship and de­sire.

‘‘ That’s what I’m fight­ing ev­ery day to try to iden­tify,’’ he said. ‘‘ I’m putting my heart and soul in try­ing to help lead them and be pas­sion­ate for them, but I also can’t want it more than they do.’’

Isn’t part of a coach’s job to make them want it as much as he does?


Rea­son No. 1 Loy­ola, the Mis­souri Val­ley Con­fer­ence’s top team, is so good: Clay­ton Custer, Donte In­gram and their team­mates shoot the lights out. The Ram­blers shoot better than 50 per­cent from the field and better than 40 per­cent from three­p­oint range and are among the na­tional lead­ers in both cat­e­gories. They re­mind me of many re­cent Notre Dame squads.


Re­mem­ber coach Kevin Stallings’ fine work at Illi­nois State in the 1990s? It was fol­lowed by a lot of fine work in his 17 sea­sons at Van­der­bilt. But now Stallings is 4- 27 in At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence play as the coach at Pitts­burgh, in­clud­ing a hard- to- be­lieve 0- 13 this sea­son. I would bet part of him wishes he were back at Red­bird Arena in Nor­mal.


It’s over: Just give Ohio State’s Chris Holt­mann ev­ery Big Ten coach- of- the- year award — OK, throw in the na­tional ones, too — and be done with it. From where the Buck­eyes were a year ago to first place this sea­son? Un­real.


Buck­eyes star Keita BatesDiop, the shoo- in for Big Ten player of the year, gets a lot of credit, too. Give me Michi­gan State’s Miles Bridges, Pur­due’s Carsen Ed­wards, Penn State’s Tony Carr, Ne­braska’s James Palmer Jr. and Diop and get the heck out of our way.


Good luck find­ing an NBA gen­eral man­ager who wouldn’t rather have Michi­gan State’s Jaren Jack­son Jr. than any­one else from the con­fer­ence. A 6- 11 fresh­man who shoots threes, puts the ball on the deck and fin­ishes with author­ity at the rim? Giddy up.


Don’t know if North Carolina is go­ing to sneak into the NCAA ti­tle game for the third year in a row, but the rea­son I’m lean­ing that way is the vastly un­der­rated up­per­class­man duo of Joel Berry II and Luke Maye. Show me two blue- chip fresh­men, and I’ll show you two guys who don’t have a prayer against Berry and Maye.

Fol­low me on Twit­ter @ SLGreen­berg.

Coach Chris Collins hasn’t had many of the an­swers for his North­west­ern team this sea­son.


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