Wildcats Not Hiding From High Stakes

The stakes are high for each of Northwestern's remaining games. The Wildcats face the chance to get off the bubble -- either by winning their way into NCAA Tournament contention, or losing and having that bubble pop. The 'Cats aren't hiding from the constant talk of the Big Dance, they're embracing it.

The Wildcats know what's at stake, and they're not hiding from it. Partially, because they can't.

The talk of Northwestern's NCAA Tournament hopes are all over campus, everywhere in the news, and even on the television in the team's locker room.

"It's always there," said Northwestern guard Reggie Hearn. "We always have sports shows on in the locker room, they're always talking about bubble teams. This is the time of year where that talk is going on. It's always there."

NU players and coaches aren't turning off the televisions and running from the tournament talk. Instead, they're focusing on each game with a 'one-game-at-a-time' mentality, though each game has become more important than the previous one.

"I don't think we can think much differently, you just prepare for an opponent, in this case, Ohio State," head coach Bill Carmody said. "The guys as a team know what's in front of them."

Carmody has yet to break into a Knute Rockne-like motivational speech to invoke the importance of making the tournament, and doesn't feel the need to do so. His veteran-laden team doesn't need a rah-rah pep talk to understand the high stakes.

Northwestern players are excited about the opportunity to make history and end the program's long streak of disappointment.

"I would say, as a team, we're definitely embracing it," Hearn said of NU's chances to make the NCAA Tournament. "We know we have a chance to make history. For each and every one of us to be a part of that, it's something really special. We're looking forward to make it happen."

The Wildcats have just a few chances to boost their tournament résumé, with the next one coming Wednesday against No. 10 Ohio State. After squandering multiple chances for key victories -- most recently, against Michigan last week -- Northwestern players know the importance of each remaining game.

"We've tried to keep the attitude one game at a time, but we set high expectations for ourselves coming into the Big Ten year," senior guard Nick Fruendt said. "We weren't able to achieve what we wanted to as far as wins in the regular season. We definitely could have with the close games we had. I think now, it's just win every game that's left."

NU is aware of its status on the bubble, and isn't hiding from it. Of course, wins in each crucial game could help silence the madness as March approaches.

"We only got couple more games to hear about (the NCAA Tournament speculation), especially if we take care of business agaist Ohio State, Iowa, and in the Big Ten tourney," Hearn said. "Within the next week or so, we can kind of swelter that. It's going to be there, it's not going to go away, so we just have to do it."

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college football, college basketball and college baseball for Fox Sports & Scout.com since 2009. He served as a writer for Big Red Report, covering Nebraska athletics, and is now the Publisher of PurpleWildcats.com, covering the Northwestern Wildcats.
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