After taking sixth overall as an individual at the Big Ten Men’s Golf Championships over the weekend, sophomore Dylan Wu was named to the All-Big Ten second team today.
Wu has been Northwestern’s best player this season, leading the team in stroke average and notching a pair of third-place finishes at the Windon Memorial and most recently at The Boilermaker to close the regular season. He ended his Sunday round in the Big Tens with two birdies in his last three holes to shoot 69, helping NU to a sixth-place team finish in the tournament.
Wu’s consistently solid play all season and strong finish to the year clearly impressed the Big Ten coaches, who select six players apiece for the conference’s first and second teams. Now, Wu and his teammates will wait to see if their performance this year impressed the NCAA Tournament selection committee enough to earn a bid and continue their season.
After winning a second-consecutive Big Ten Championship, Northwestern’s women’s golf team has swept the conference’s individual honors.
Sophomore Hannah Kim was named the conference’s Player of the Year for the second consecutive season, becoming the first player to win the award twice in school history, while coach Emily Fletcher was named Coach of the Year and freshman Stephanie Lau was awarded Freshman of the Year.
On top of those awards, four Wildcats were named to the eight-player All Big Ten first team, with Kim and Lau joined by sophomore Sarah Cho and junior Kacie Komoto.
It’s been an excellent few days for the program, as Lau sank a clutch putt to secure a conference title for the team on Sunday and the conference awarded all three individual honors to members of the team for the second consecutive year today. The team will now look ahead to the NCAA Regionals, beginning on May 5.
Northwestern’s cross country team is now roughly a month away from the end of its second outdoor track season since gaining NCAA sponsorship for track — a move that opened up huge new opportunities for the team. The track seasons in the winter and spring were once merely a chance for the Wildcats to stay sharp in the offseason, but NCAA sponsorship allowed the team to travel to run in high-profile meets and turned track into a main event after fall’s cross country season ended.
The sponsorship also allowed NU runners to qualify for the NCAA Championships at the end of the season. Last year, then-sophomore Andrea Ostenso qualified to run the 10,000m in the NCAA West Preliminary Championships after achieving a season-best of 34 minutes and 46 seconds during the outdoor season.
But this season, the now-junior Ostenso and fellow junior Jena Pianin, NU’s top two runners from last year, have battled injuries, jeopardizing the chances of sending a runner to the NCAA Regionals in coach ‘A Havahla Haynes’first season at the helm of the team. And with the outdoor track schedule nearing its end, the Cats have a lot of work to do if they want to change that.
NU’s best hope for a regional qualifier is senior Elena Barham,who currently owns the 59th-best season-best in the 10,000m in the West region at 35 minutes and 52 seconds. While only the runners with the top 48 times in each event from a region receive an initial invitation to the NCAA Regionals, runners who qualify in multiple events often choose to focus on one event, opening spots for other runners. For example, Ostenso received her invitation last year after posting the 52nd-best 10,000m time in the West region.
But even with the potential of moving forward as runners turn down invitations, Barham might still be too far back to qualify. Last year’s final qualifier for the West Regional’s 10,000m race was Colorado State’s Rachael Rudel, who owned the 55th-best time in the region.
And historically, Barham’s time in the 10,000m would not put her near qualification for the NCAA Regionals. Her current time would have been the 87th-best in the West last year and the 88th-best in 2014. As the season comes to a close, it is likely that Barham’s current season-best time will fall back in the pack.
Ostenso is a dark horse to make a run for NCAA Regionals qualification, as she nearly broke 17 minutes in a 5,000m race this weekend and has personal-bests in both the 5,000m and 10,000m that would have given her a good chance to qualify this season. But after missing the entirety of fall’s cross country season with injury and with not much time left to get back to the heights of last year, the task might be too much to ask of her.
It seems that if Barham, Ostenso, or any other NU runner wants to make the NCAA West Regionals, they will need to improve their times before the end of the season. But with only two meets left on the schedule, it might be too late to stretch the Cats’ regional-qualifier streak to two years.
After setting a school record for regular-season wins last season but failing to be selected for the NIT, let alone the NCAA Tournament, Northwestern’s men’s basketball team had one thing to blame: its non-conference schedule.
By RPI, the Wildcats ranked 334th in non-conference strength of schedule. There are 351 teams in Division I.
NU’s problem was clear going into the season: the Cats lacked opportunities for signature victories (outside of a non-conference tournament matchup in Kansas City with eventual national runner-up North Carolina), leaving a 20-win NU sitting at home in March.
Non-conference scheduling is an ongoing process — last season’s finalized non-conference slate was officially announced on June 24 — but news of the higher-profile games on the docket for the Cats has been trickling out. And if those games are any indication, coach Chris Collins might finally have the resume-boosting opponents out of conference to push NU into the first postseason appearance of his tenure.
The Cats have been announced as a participant in the Legends Classic, a four-team non-conference tournament in Brooklyn that will also feature three NCAA Tournament teams from last season: Texas, Colorado and Notre Dame, who made the Elite Eight. NU will play two of the three schools as a part of the tournament, with exact matchups to be announced at a later date.
Additionally, the Cats are reportedly slated to travel to Butler as part of the Gavitt Games, a series pitting Big Ten and Big East opponents against each other, and will take on Dayton in the United Center on December 17, according to a report from CBSSports’ Jon Rothstein. Both teams were selected for the NCAA Tournament last season.
Although much is still up in the air, NU is in line to take on at least four NCAA Tournament teams from 2016. But how does this compare with past non-conference schedules under Collins, based on performance in the previous season?
Top four opponents, by KenPom rankings from prior season: North Carolina (No. 11), DePaul (No. 167), Columbia (No. 175), Virginia Tech (No. 184)
NCAA Tournament qualifiers from prior season: 1 (North Carolina)
The game against North Carolina was a big opportunity for NU to break out, but ended in a predictable defeat. Columbia was a trendy choice in the Ivy League before the season, and a road win at Virginia Tech looked better for the Cats as the Hokies snagged a spot in the NIT. But any schedule with DePaul as its second-best team from the prior season has limited upside.
Top four opponents, by KenPom rankings from prior season: Northern Iowa (No. 94), Butler (No. 104), Georgia Tech (No. 109), Western Michigan (No. 127)
NCAA Tournament qualifiers from prior season: 1 (Western Michigan)
Northern Iowa and Butler turned out to be two of the better teams in the country in 2014-2015, but weren’t as impressive the season before they appeared on NU’s schedule. The sole NCAA Tournament team on the non-conference docket going into the year was MAC champion Western Michigan. Overall, this year’s non-conference schedule ended up having several solid chances at signature wins, but it wasn’t as obvious before the season.
Top four opponents, by KenPom rankings from prior season: Missouri (No. 31), North Carolina State (No. 34), Stanford (No. 44), UCLA (No. 45)
NCAA Tournament qualifiers from prior season: 3 (Missouri, North Carolina State, UCLA)
Collins’ first year as coach featured what appeared to be a tremendously difficult non-conference schedule at the top, with the Cats taking on NC State and Stanford on the road and Missouri and UCLA at a neutral site. Unfortunately for NU, the team wasn’t up for the challenge; the Cats lost all four of these games by a combined 61 points.
From what we know now, the Cats’ 2016-2017 non-conference schedule is shaping up similarly to their schedule for 2013-2014, where NU played a host of quality teams from the previous season.
But Collins’ first squad serves as a reminder that scheduling big games is not the same as winning them, as the Cats went 14-19 that season. With four NCAA Tournament qualifiers scheduled and the potential for another solid non-conference opponent out of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, NU will certainly have the chances for a signature win that it lacked last year. But to return to the postseason, the Cats will need to win some of those games, a feat easier said than done.