first Lunardi had NU on the bubble, now Jerry Palm has Northwestern IN THE FIELD. the Wildcats are a 12 seed in this week's version of Projecting the Field. interesting that he has NU in over Penn State, conceivably due to the difference in strength of schedule (although the RPI is about the same).
i don't care to get into whether Northwestern should be in the bracket if the season ends today, since it doesn't. but as we sit here on February 5 it is inarguable that NU has a chance to make the tournament, given the nine regular season games in front of them. obviously, if NU wins the rest of their games (heading into the conf tourney at 22-7, 13-5) that would be enough. just as obviously, that is not going to happen. so let's take a look at what's in front of them and make some assumptions.
five road games remain, and let's give them losses at Minnesota, Purdue and Ohio State. Iowa has lost 7 of 8, although their only home losses were to Michigan State and by three to Minnesota. i'll be generous and give NU wins @ Iowa and @ Indiana. (the fact that the Hoosiers took a victory lap last night tells me they don't foresee many more victories coming this season.)
i'll chalk up home wins against Michigan and Iowa. that gets them to 17-10. perhaps the hardest to predict are the home games against Ohio State and Illinois. the crowd will be amped up for the Illinois game, but something tells me OSU is better than everyone thinks. if NU wins one of those games, they finish at 18-11.
seeing 18-11 in print makes me think that win total is too high. Ken Pomeroy - who ditched his RPI ratings and now focuses on forecasting game outcomes - thinks NU will finish 17-12. that sounds about right.