Just what the schedule ordered

Northwestern is mired in a nasty first month of the conference slate. But with a visit Thursday from 1-15 Texas-Pan American, the Wildcats are almost certain to snap their two-game skid. Because this one seems jinx-proof, Purple Reign looks at the frightful season that the Broncos have had thus far.

It looks like Texas-Pan American is just what Northwestern needs right now.

After two consecutive losses to Illinois and Michigan State, and with a brutal Big Ten schedule resuming Sunday at Michigan, the Wildcats could go for a win. And there is nary a team in the country that looks more likely to oblige than Texas-Pan American, which visits on Thursday.

The Broncos – whose unfortunate color scheme is green and orange – are 1-15. They are ranked 317 out of a possible 335 by Ken Pomeroy's "Pythagorean Ratings"; their RPI ranking is No. 276 according to Statsheet.com; and RealTimeRPI.com has UTPA at No. 314. Granted, these might be somewhat obscure ranking systems, but there aren't that many rankings that go below 25, even fewer than go below 50, and almost none that go down to 300.

Still, by whatever metric you use, UTPA has had a rough season.

At 1-15, UTPA is one of just 15 teams in Div. I with one or zero wins that has already played at least 12 games. And UTPA is the only team to have one or zero wins that has played at least 16 games. Every other team* has played fewer games and therefore had fewer chances to nab that elusive second W.

* The others: North Dakota (0-13), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (1-11), Presbyterian (1-14), Georgia Southern (1-12), Florida A&M (1-11), South Carolina Upstate (1-12), Norfolk State (1-11), Marist (1-13), Maryland-Baltimore County (1-12), Mississippi Valley St. (1-13), Houston Baptist (1-12), Bryant (0-14), Alcorn State (0-14), N.C. Central (0-12).

By that measure, UTPA is struggling as much as any team in the nation, maybe more so. And that is just what NU needs to end a two-game skid.

Now, UTPA deserves some credit for playing a relatively tough schedule. While the Broncos have twice given up at least 100 points and failed to score 45, both of those contests were against 2009 Tournament teams – a 100-44 loss to Missouri and a 104-42 loss to Texas. Other losses include Air Force, Mississippi State and, most recently, Virginia. Overall, StatSheet has dubbed the Broncos' strength of schedule No. 59, and RealTimeRPI has them at No. 56.

Not bad. But it doesn't change the fact that UTPA has had a brutal season. Here is the game-by-game carnage:

Louisiana Tech 80-62 0-1
at Lamar 77-72 0-2
at Texas A&M CC 77-55 0-3
at Missouri 100-44 0-4
at Miss. State 75-50 0-5
vs Chattanooga 61-50 1-5
vs Bethune-Cookman 67-64 1-6
at Nebraska 81-53 1-7
at Texas State 80-70 1-8
at Texas San-Antonio 84-58 1-9
at Texas 104-42 1-10
Texas San-Antonio 72-48 1-11
at La. Tech 81-60 1-12
N. Arizona 64-59 1-13
at Air Force 72-65 1-14
at Virginia 72-53 1-15
at Northwestern ???? 1-16*

*We can only hope.

Eight of the team's losses have been by at least 19 points, and its lone win came way back on Nov. 17, a 61-50 victory over Chattanooga. The Broncos have failed to score more than 55 points in seven games, and failed to score more than 60 in nine. Texas State, which beat UTPA by 10, is 2-10. Texas A&M C.C. is 2-8.

What's more, the Broncos rank exceptionally low in numerous statistical categories. Out of 347 teams, StatSheet has them at:

340th in scoring
338th in field goal percentage
329th in free throw percentage
278th in Ass-to-TO ratio*
339th in rebounds per game
325th in offensive rebounds per game
334th in defensive rebounds per game

* NU is No. 1 in Div. I in A-to-T ratio. The Cats dish out 1.69 assists for every turnover, UTPA dishes out .75 assists for every turnover.

There's more. Not a single Bronco averages double figures in scoring. In seven games, the Broncos haven't gotten more than 55 points. And in 10 games, they haven't gotten more than 60.

This doesn't mean that Northwestern is guaranteed a victory. Indeed, if an upset is looming, then one thing that UTPA has working in its favor is three-pointers. The Broncos shoot 21.3 threes per game. That is a pretty big number – good for No. 27 in the nation. Northwestern, one of the nation's most three-happy outfits itself, shoots 27.8 per game, No. 18 in the nation.

The Broncos' volume shooting means that 34.4 percent of their points come from behind the arc, more than all but 29 teams in the country. NU is No. 4 in the nation in three-point point percentage; 41.3 percent of NU's points come from downtown. So the Broncos will be chucking. And even if it's freezing in Evanston, there is always a chance that they'll get hot.

These two teams played not long ago. Northwestern hosted UTPA back in 2008. In that game – a 68-59 NU win – the Broncos actually led by eight in the first half, 24-16. But behind 29 points from Kevin Coble, NU pulled away for a victory.

Of course, the Cats won't have Coble this time around. They should, though, have a win.

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