Mailbag: Can the Wildcats Go Dancing?
You have questions, I have answers as I reach into my mailbag to answer your most pressing queries. This weeks’ questions: What does Northwestern have to do to get an NCAA bid for the first time ever? What do you think Nebraska needs to work on this year in spring football? What do you think Nebraska needs to work on this year in spring football? What’s your take on the new Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis? What Big Ten teams do you have in the NCAA tourney?
What does Northwestern have to do to get an NCAA bid for the first time ever? – Joe
The Wildcats entered the week with a 17-11 overall record and 7-9 Big Ten mark. Northwestern has some nice wins, including over the likes of Seton Hall and Michigan State. And they have an RPI in the 40s. But that loss last night to Ohio State was killer and may have been the end. Now, the Wildcats must win at Iowa on Saturday and then make a run in the Big Ten tourney. It won’t be easy. So many close losses really hurt NU, including dropping two overtime games to Michigan.
What do you think Nebraska needs to work on this year in spring football? – Alex
With players like linebacker Lavonte David, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard and tackle Jared Crick gone, the defense needs to find playmakers for a unit that honestly wasn’t that great last year. Coaches feel JC corner Mohammed Seisay will be a big boon in the secondary, and Chase Rome and Kevin Williams will help at tackle. Time will tell. And keep an eye on quarterback Taylor Martinez, who needs to become a more consistent passer. The two-year starter hit 56.4 percent of his passes in 2011 with 13 touchdown passes and eight picks in 2011. Decent, but not great. Plus, don’t forget about the offensive line, which needs three new starters.
What’s your take on the new Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis? – Jonah
A decent hire. Davis is a veteran coach who developed some good offenses as Texas offensive coordinator from 1999-2010. He is known as a good developer of quarterbacks, having worked with the likes of Vince Young, Colt McCoy, Chris Simms and Major Applewhite. Davis adapted his attacks to the skills of his passers, running a pro style with Simms and a zone-read scheme with Young. The one knock: Davis’ attacks tended to be predictable, which made critics howl. There aren’t a lot of formations or motion. Still, Davis is a top-notch coach who should take the Iowa passing game to another level working in concert with Kirk Ferentz’s ground-pounding style.
What Big Ten teams do you have in the NCAA tourney? – Mark
There are six locks in my mind: Michigan State; Ohio State; Michigan; Wisconsin; Indiana; Purdue, who erased any remaining doubt with that win last night vs. Penn State. Northwestern remains on the bubble–barley. The Wildcats must win at Iowa in their regular-season finale—and then make a run in the Big Ten tourney. And don’t fully shut the door on Illinois. The Illini have some nice wins (Gonzaga; Michigan State; Ohio State) and seem to have regained their stride. Illinois can impress by closing with a home win vs. Michigan and at Wisconsin. Iowa? Minnesota? Nebraska? Penn State? Their only hope is to win the league tourney, which starts March 8 in Indianapolis.
Who is the most underrated player in the Big Ten? – Tim
Good question. There are a few guys who I like for that title. Indiana’s Victor Oladipo has really come on as a defender, using his length and athletic ability. He’s also a steady force on offense, driving to the hoop and showing an ability to hit the open shot. And how about Purdue’s D.J. Byrd? He has come on in the second half of the season as a deadly shooter who has helped lift the Boilermakers down the stretch run. Northwestern’s Reggie Hearn is another player who flies under the radar. The former walk-on is a good athlete who can attack the rim and play good defense. And I don’t think Wisconsin’s Jared Berggren gets enough credit for his all-around game.
What do you think of the Penn State quarterback situation? – Walter
Quarterback play hasn’t been great in recent years in State College and remains a question. Matt McGloin hit 54 percent of his passes for 1,571 yards with eight touchdowns and five picks last season. Robert Bolden completed just 39 percent of his attempts for 685 yards with two touchdowns and seven picks for what was the ninth-ranked passing attack in the Big Ten in 2011 (177.0 ypg). Paul Jones also is in the mix after redshirting last season. The future could be brighter with news that Penn State recently received a commitment from four-star quarterback Christian Hackenberg, a 6-4, 215-pound star from Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia.
I have my doubts that Iowa can win out (vs. Northwestern on Saturday), win some games in the Big Ten Tournament and get to the Big Dance. But what are the chances for an NIT bid? – Mike
The Hawkeyes are 16-14 overall and 8-9 in the Big Ten with Northwestern coming to Iowa City on Saturday. Win that, and I would think Iowa would be very attractive to the NIT. A .500 league record in the top conference in America would be impressive. Plus, Iowa is hot, boasting a 5-3 mark in February. But don’t stop dreaming about the NCAA. Maybe the Hawkeyes can get hot in the Big Ten tourney and make a run to the title game. You never know. I’m not counting them out. Remember: Last season, No. 6 seed Penn State marched all the way to the Big Ten title game.
Tom Dienhart is a senior writer for BTN.com. Find all of his work at www.btn.com/tomdienhart, follow Dienhart on Twitter at @BTNTomDienhart, send a question to his weekly mailbag here, and click here to subscribe to his RSS feed.