After getting to .500 on the season and securing third place in the Big Ten by sweeping Purdue last weekend, Northwestern has more work to do.
The Wildcats travel to Penn State this weekend for the all-important Big Ten Tournament, needing at least one win to ensure NCAA Tournament eligibility but hoping for a résumé-boosting win that gets them over the at-large hump.
Northwestern (25-25, 15-8 B1G) entered last weekend at fifth place in the conference. The ‘Cats climbed to third thanks to their sweep of Purdue and losses by Penn State and Ohio State.
The late-season standings climb is important for two reasons.
First, Northwestern receives a bye in the first round of the tournament and can save pitching for a potential run in University Park.
And second, by rising all the way to third place in the standings, Northwestern dodges a potential semifinal matchup with first-place, and No. 2 nationally, Michigan (41-4, 21-2 B1G).
The Wildcats await the winner of No. 6 Ohio State and No. 11 Rutgers, who play today at 11 a.m. NU did not face either team in the regular season.
If Northwestern wins their quarterfinal matchup, they will take on the No. 2 seed Minnesota in the semifinals. A win over Minnesota, who is ranked No. 23 nationally, would likely clinch an NCAA tournament at-large berth for Northwestern.
And if the ‘Cats upset the Gophers, they would likely take on Michigan on Saturday night, with a chance to secure an NCAA tournament berth with the program’s third all-time Big Ten Championship.
Northwestern’s quarterfinal matchup with either Ohio State or Rutgers will be played at 11 a.m. on Friday. If the Wildcats advance, they will play again on Saturday at noon. The tournament’s championship game is slated for Saturday night at 5 p.m.
All Big Ten Tournament games will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.