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DePaul-Northwestern, Penn State-VCU, Ohio State-Kentucky Canceled. Who should you schedule now?

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Let’s pull out the atlas and speculate wildly.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The latest rash of COVID cancellations to hit college basketball had a particularly strong impact on the Big Ten matchups this weekend: Penn State at VCU (h/t BSD), Ohio State vs. Kentucky in Las Vegas (h/t LGHL), and DePaul at Northwestern have all fallen by the wayside due to positive tests in the Penn State, Ohio State, and DePaul programs.

Above all, I hope those players who tested positive make a speedy recovery, of course, and that everyone all of them are vaccinated to mitigate the worst effects of COVID. For the rest of the basketball season, and with Delta or Omicron or whatever’s next on the way, I’m sure this won’t be the last we hear of this. Get vaccinated, wear your masks, and help stop or slow the spread, for the love of God.

In the meantime, it leaves Northwestern with an open (preferably home) game this Saturday to fill, and per an email from the Northwestern ticketing office, they’re “actively pursuing an alternative opponent” and will update fans tomorrow afternoon:

So I thought I’d play some hypothetical scheduling to find a prospective opponent for the ‘Cats—shout-out to my friend PUREWildcat for the email and playing the speculation game with me via text. I’m sticking to the usual NCAA rules of a maximum of 31 games, and I’ll explain the prospective options below.

Option 1: Lower-Division Buy Game

This one is the boring option—find a local program from the D-II or D-III ranks: Wheaton College (they of the legendary 41-39 Northwestern win in 2006) and McKendree have both shown up as games that counted on NU schedules in the last couple decades. Wheaton’s busy, but local D-II Lewis University (go Flyers!) is free.

Such a game would keep the ‘Cats fresh, but it wouldn’t be competitive and wouldn’t help Northwestern’s RPI like DePaul would have—particularly important because Northwestern might(!) have NIT aspirations. Making this option even dumber is that Northwestern plays D-II Illinois-Springfield (shoutout the Prairie Stars!) between Christmas and New Year’s.

A past edition of this erroneously placed the Prairie Stars in D-III—they are in the D-II Great Lakes Valley Conference. I regret this and only this error and thank UIS Public Relations for the correction!

Option 2: Find a Local Low-/Mid-Major

This one’s more difficult, because a number of good options fall into one of a couple categories: they’re already playing on Saturday (Loyola, Northern Illinois, UIC, Illinois State, Bradley, Eastern Illinois, Western Illinois, Northern Iowa) or they’re already at 31 games (Drake, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Valparaiso, Chicago State, Evansville, IUPUI, Fort Wayne, even St. Thomas, Western Michigan, Oakland, and Detroit Mercy).

From this train of thought, I come up with two sub-options:

2A: Expand What “Local” Means

Find a team from across the country who’s only playing 30 games in their 2021-22 schedule, then pay for a few to and from Evanston this weekend.

The only team on this list I can find is the Kansas City Roos. They’ve got 30 on the schedule, but it’s probably Finals Week, so who knows their availability. Still, if you’re Northwestern, maybe it’s worth a call?

But that’s a lot of work to find other teams like the Roos. I’m not going to pull out the map and speculate wildly, because that way lies madness. Instead...

2B: Buy Out a Low-Major’s Buy Game

I don’t know the logistics of buying a school out of its buy game, but if the ‘Cats threw a few (tens of) thousand(s) at a local school to give up a home game, they could nab a quick refresher that’d be a relatively easy W. A few options remain here from that above list of schools offer some intrigue:

  • St. Thomas (MN): the Tommies host local Bible-thumpers North Central on December 29, but that’s a quick MSP-ORD flight. UST just bombed D-III Northland College (WI) out of existence on the 14th and surely doesn’t need another random D-III tuneup in the middle of their conference schedule.
  • Milwaukee: the Panthers have Saint Xavier scheduled for the 23rd, but assuming they’re not knee-deep in Finals Week, Evanston’s a quick ride down I-94. Making this one more intriguing to Northwestern fans: ‘Cats legend Pat Baldwin coaches UWM, and his son, 5-star recruit Pat Baldwin Jr., stayed in the 414 to play for dad.
  • SIU-Edwardsville: Ho-hum. The Cougars host someone named William Woods on Sunday, and making that poor guy play 1-on-5 is just cruel.
  • Southern Illinois: the Salukis have not one but two buy games remaining, starting with a Saturday tilt with Maryville and a December 28 game with Missouri Baptist. SIU isn’t a bad squad (KP 127 to DePaul’s 89) and would make for a decent, if slow, matchup.

There might be others, but these are the schools who could be persuaded to be “free” on Saturday—or, perhaps, Sunday.

Option 3: Scour the Other Cancellations

Pretty straightforward, no? This breaks out into a few categories, which I’ve taken from Thursday through Sunday’s canceled games:

3A: Who’ll come to Evanston? (Low-Major Option)

Find any of the low-majors of the world. Offer them the flight and buses, whatever, to come to Evanston. Options so far:

  • New Orleans Privateers (canceled Friday game with Dillard College): this one’s almost 0%, as UNO didn’t specify why the game was canceled AND the ‘Cats already beat the Privateers once this year.
  • Bryant Bulldogs (canceled Sunday game with Cornell): this would be about par for the course—the Bulldogs are KP 237, have featured on the NU schedule in the past, and have the weekend open now.
  • Grambling Tigers (canceled Saturday game with Tulane): seems like this one’s got some legs to it—their game in New Orleans was a pay game, and if Northwestern can match it and get them to Evanston, it’s a reasonable ask. Of course, Grambling’s 329th in Kenpom, so it’s nice and safe for Chris Collins and Co., too.
  • Iona Gaels (canceled Saturday game with Seton Hall): OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD. RICK PITINO. IN EVANSTON. Please please please please please.

3B: What can we work out? (Mid-Major Option)

The attractive option here is the VCU Rams (KP 82), sitting idle since Penn State canceled. The big problem is that the PSU-VCU game was supposed to take place in Richmond, meaning one of the two teams would have to give up a home game, something neither is likely to do. Still, it would be a good resume-builder for whichever team won.

3C: Picture This:

Northwestern Wildcats vs. Kentucky Wildcats

4:15pm | CBS | T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, NV

Would this go horribly? OF COURSE IT WOULD! Would notoriously risk-averse college basketball coaches ever go for it? OF COURSE THEY WOULDN’T!

That said, it’s a chance for Kentucky to get another Q1 win and Northwestern to rack up a moral victory and Good Loss for the various March Madness committees.


So what’ll Northwestern do?

It’ll be Grambling. I predict a 27-point win.

Poll

What SHOULD Northwestern do?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Option 1: time for another non-D1 team. Give Lewis a call...
    (2 votes)
  • 3%
    Option 2A: Expand "local" low-major, call the Roos.
    (3 votes)
  • 3%
    Option 2B: Buy out a game from UWM or SIU.
    (3 votes)
  • 10%
    Option 3A: Grab someone like Grambling or Iona.
    (10 votes)
  • 31%
    Option 3B: Good risk-reward balance if you can work out a game with VCU.
    (30 votes)
  • 32%
    Option 3C: What do you have to lose? GO PLAY KENTUCKY.
    (31 votes)
  • 15%
    Option 4: Just take the cancellation.
    (15 votes)
  • 1%
    Option 5: SOMETHING ELSE ENTIRELY (comments)
    (1 vote)
95 votes total Vote Now

Poll

What WILL Northwestern do?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    Another D-III game
    (8 votes)
  • 6%
    Get the Roos to Evanston
    (5 votes)
  • 3%
    Buy out a local low-major’s buy game
    (3 votes)
  • 8%
    Hello, Grambling.
    (7 votes)
  • 8%
    Hello, Iona!
    (7 votes)
  • 7%
    Wow—hey, VCU!
    (6 votes)
  • 8%
    HELL YEAH, IT’S KENTUCKY, WHAT UP BBN
    (7 votes)
  • 45%
    They’ll just take the cancellation.
    (36 votes)
79 votes total Vote Now