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Lunardi: Wildcats still in -- barely

ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi still has Northwestern in the tournament after losing to Ohio State on Wednesday, but it was close to being the other way.

“I think they’re in by a finger nail,” Lunardi said by phone on Thursday. “I mean I could easily make a case to take them out and probably take more effort to keep them in. I just couldn’t with good conscience take them out with not enough teams winning under them in the out group.

“I couldn’t in good conscience torture them any further after that game. It may be an emotional decision more than anything else.”

Northwestern’s loss to Ohio State may not have eliminated it from its first NCAA tournament invitation, but the Wildcats’ situation is now dire. With a 17-12 overall record and 7-10 mark in the Big Ten, the Wildcats still have some winning to do if they’re going to get in.

Northwestern travels to Iowa on Saturday and then will either play Illinois, Iowa or Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten tournament on March 8.

“They obviously have to beat Iowa,” Lunardi said. “If they tread water, say they win at Iowa, beat a middle team in the Big Ten tournament and then lose, they’ll be where they are now, and it won’t be good enough because the bubble shrinks. It shrinks by 2.1 spots every year because of upsets.

“Being the last team in today this week may give you a giddy up, but it wouldn’t likely be where you stay. The minute someone steals a bid, it steals one last spot. That could be Murray State losing or there could be someone pulling a Gerry McNamara.”

Lunardi believes there are a handful of teams which could spoil Northwestern’s hopes, including Cincinnati, Connecticut, Mississippi State, South Florida, St. Joe’s, Tennessee, VCU and West Virginia.

“The Big East has an uncanny ability for the teams who are a lock to lose to the right bubble teams,” Lunardi said. “It’s not an accusation, but an observation.”

If Northwestern was among the final teams on the bubble, Lunardi didn’t think it would win out because it was the sentimental pick by the selection committee.

“I don’t think so,” Lunardi said. “Yes, they do have loud voices in the public media arena. But nobody’s louder in this arena than Virginia Tech. It hasn’t helped them yet. If anything, it’s gone the other way.”