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Bucket List: Did Northwestern’s last hope disappear into the New Jersey night?

USA 4 days ago chicago.suntimes 2

It’s the Bucket List — 10 blink-and-you-might-miss-them observations on the college basketball season: 

1. If Northwestern had any chance at all to win its way back onto the NCAA Tournament bubble prior to Tuesday, that chance drowned in the Raritan River, never to be heard from again. The only way the Wildcats end up back in the Big Dance now is by winning the Big Ten tournament a little over two weeks from now in New York, which is about as likely as All-State Arena being mistaken for Madison Square Garden.

Seriously, blowing a six-point last-minute lead and losing at Rutgers? Even with senior point guard Bryant McIntosh injured, it was an unconscionable gag. Last year’s ’Cats would’ve put the pedal down in the second half and won by 20.

2. Northwestern still has games to play, but it might as well turn its attention to the NIT. This almost certainly will be school’s eighth appearance in that event, but only once — in 2011 — did NU make it as far as the quarterfinals. A trip to the semis at MSG wouldn’t be the worst way for seniors Scottie Lindsey, Gavin Skelly and (if he can play) McIntosh to go out.

3. You didn’t hear this from me, but Rutgers’ victory — which lifted the Scarlet Knights to 3-12 in league play — left Illinois alone in last place with a 2-11 mark heading into Wednesday’s game at Indiana. Yikes.

4. Illini coach Brad Underwood spoke with reporters this week about leadership and desire.

“That’s what I’m fighting every day to try to identify,” he said. “I’m putting my heart and soul in trying to help lead them and be passionate for them, but I also can’t want it more than they do.”

Isn’t part of a coach’s job to make them want it as much as he does?

5. Reason No. 1 Loyola, the Missouri Valley’s top team, is so good: Clayton Custer, Donte Ingram and their teammates shoot the lights out. The Ramblers shoot better than 50 percent from the field and better than 40 percent from the three-point line and are among the national leaders in both categories. They remind me of many a recent Notre Dame squad.

6. Remember coach Kevin Stallings’ fine work at Illinois State in the 1990s? It was followed by a lot of fine work over his 17 seasons at Vanderbilt. But now Stallings is 4-27 in ACC play as coach at Pittsburgh, including a hard-to-believe 0-13 this season. Bet part of him wishes he were back at Redbird Arena in Normal.

7. It’s over: Just give Ohio State’s Chris Holtmann every Big Ten coach of the year award — OK, throw in the national ones, too — and be done with it. From where the Buckeyes were a year ago to first place this season at 13-1? Unreal.

8. Buckeyes star Keita Bates-Diop, the shoo-in for Big Ten player of the year, gets a lot of credit, too. Give me Michigan State’s Miles Bridges, Purdue’s Carsen Edwards, Penn State’s Tony Carr, Nebraska’s James Palmer and Diop and get the heck out of our way. I’ll be watching from a safe distance, of course.

9. Good luck finding an NBA general manager who wouldn’t rather have Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. than anyone else from the conference. A 6-11 freshman who shoots threes, puts the ball on the deck and finishes with authority at the rim? Giddy up.

10. Don’t know if North Carolina is going to sneak into the NCAA Tournament title game for the third year in a row, but the reason I’m leaning that way is the vastly underrated upperclassman duo of Joel Berry II and Luke Maye. Show me a pair of blue-chip freshmen and I’ll show you two guys who don’t have a prayer against Berry and Maye.

Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

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