2016 Lowes Line


The Complete 2016 Lowes Line Predictions

**Plus: Additional Picks for the 2017 NCAA Tourney!**

The Lowes Line is an e-mailed description of NU's next football game, with an invariably fearless prediction of the outcome and how NU will fare against what the other "experts" predict.  Our good friend and Brother Marcus Lowes began the broadcast mailing in 1996.  The crack Lowes Line Staff (alumni Jersey Cat, GallopingGrapes, Eric Cockerill, Joel Kanvik, Charlie Simon, and MO'Cats) have continued the Line in memory of Marcus.  For the 2016 season it returned to HailToPurple.com, for anyone to enjoy.  Thanks to the gridiron brain trust at the Lowes Line!

Western Michigan Preview and Prediction

By Jersey Cat

Matchup: Western Michigan Broncos at Northwestern Wildcats
Date: Saturday, September 3, 2016, 11:00 am CDT
Line: Northwestern (-5)

It’s shocking to think this column has continued to be written in tribute to its namesake for 17 years, and as we embark on the 18th season of remembering Marcus by way of this ongoing weekly Northwestern football preview he initiated, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a couple of others in this space as well.  Just over two months ago, two friends and brothers were taken from us far too soon, and within a week of one another.  To those who had the pleasure to have known them, Matt Watkins and Alex Djuricich were two gentlemen, each with their own unique qualities, who embodied the idea that brotherhood is not for a day, or an hour, or a college term only, but for life.  They will be greatly missed and fondly remembered.


As Northwestern begins the 2016 campaign, there’s a good deal of excitement, but there are also plenty of questions.   Specifically, how on earth did this team win 10 games last season?  It’s not a stretch to say last year’s squad could have been the worst 10-win team in Power-5 conference history.  A great defense, a woeful offense, and some good luck.  There you have it.  What awaits in 2016?  A regression to the mean, where the ‘Cats slip back to the doldrums of a five-win season?  Or a confirmation that 2015 wasn’t a fluke, with NU continuing to win close games as they have done quite nicely (34-21) in the Fitz era.

First, the good news.  The defense. Anchoring this squad is NU’s All-Everything candidate, junior middle linebacker Anthony Walker.  We saw glimpses of what Walker could do in his freshman year, but he really took a leap forward in 2015, becoming the focal point of the squad.  Walker will continue to get a lot of attention this season, especially if he plays like he did in last year, leading the team in tackles and seemingly being everywhere at the right time to make the big play.

The defensive line has lost two big names, Dean Lowry and Deonte Gibson, to graduation.  This duo combined for 12 sacks and 25 TFLs last year, so replacing them will be huge.  Junior Xavier Washington will be the name you hear most in that conversation, and the question we’ll have is whether Ifeadi Odenigbo can be an every down player.  He has tremendous speed and strength in rushing the passer, but needs to contribute more to the rushing defense to stay on the field.

In the secondary, the ‘Cats had one of the best units in the nation last season, but have lost cornerback Nick VanHoose and Safety Traveon Henry.  Senior cornerback Matthew Harris leads the group, along with junior safety Godwin Igwebuike.  The ‘Cats have already been bitten by the injury bug in the secondary, as junior and projected starter at corner Keith Watkins has been lost for the season with a knee injury.  Couple this with the fact that to make use of his athleticism, junior Marcus McShepard was moved to receiver.  Look for sophomore Montre Hartage to step in at the corner, and keep an eye out for much-heralded recruit and sophomore Parrker Westphal to hopefully make an impact after an injury-riddled career to date.

On the offensive side of the ball, it’s no secret Clayton Thorson needs to improve for NU to be successful.  The sophomore quarterback had a tough first season: a questionable set of receivers, injuries along the offensive line, and just being a freshman.  It equated to NU having one of the worst passing offenses in the country.  The hope is that will change significantly in 2016.  Thorson now has a full season under his belt, and it’s his team.  At times last year, it felt like the offensive strategy was just to eat some clock to give the defense a breather.   The passing game needs to become more of a focal point of the offense as opposed to an afterthought.

The offensive line was beset by injuries in 2015, and kept Thorson on the run as he was sacked 21 times.  Seniors Shane Mertz and Eric Olson are the guard and tackle, respectively along the right side.  Brad North and Ian Park have been sharing the duties at center and may continue to do so based on the health of Park. Connor Mahoney and Blake Hance shore up the left side.

No group came under more scrutiny last year than the receiving corps, and with good reason.  It’s a very simple concept:  you have to catch the ball.  NU didn’t do that enough last year, plain and simple.  Three primary targets last year caught less than half the balls thrown their way.  This was not all on Thorson.   This group will be a focal point again, but hopefully with better results.  The ‘Cats have made a few changes here, moving running back Solomon Vault and the aforementioned Marcus McShepard from corner to receiver.  Sure-handed senior Austin Carr returns as well.  After a season-ending injury last year, sophomore Flynn Nagel should return to his role as the slot receiver.  What would be terrible is if NU made moves to provide depth at receiver and didn’t take advantage of the athleticism now present at the wideout position.  Every ‘Cat fan would agree that there’s no shame in having more than one deep threat on the field at the same time.  This group’s performance will be likely be indicative of the success of the team.

Finally, at running back, junior Justin Jackson returns, and it’s easy to almost take him for granted.  In an offense that was depleted up front, with a freshman quarterback and receivers who drop passes like it’s going out of style, how on earth did this guy manage to run for 1,400+ yards?  It’s more than impressive.  Jackson is patient waiting for the hole to develop, rarely goes down on the first hit, and he’s been incredibly durable.  Jackson has a reasonable shot at becoming NU’s career leading rusher if he keeps up this pace, as he’s already sixth all-time and likely will move to fourth by the end of Week 1. While Jackson is the feature back, senior Warren Long averaged about 5 carries a game last season and should get a bigger role this season, possibly even reducing the number of carries Jackson needs to get.  Lots to be excited about with these two.

After the home opener this weekend, the ‘Cats have non-conference games at home against Illinois State and Duke.  In the first year of a nine-game Big Ten schedule, NU has five road games, with trips to Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State , Purdue, and Minnesota, while playing host in Evanston to Nebraska, Indiana, Wisconsin, and the traditional regular season finale with Illinois.

Following an unexpectedly good season last year, the NU fan base is hoping we don’t get a reversion to the mean, akin to what happened in both 2013 and 2014 after the last 10-win season where the ‘Cats had back-to-back losing seasons.  This season’s schedule is quite a bit tougher, with an extra conference game to boot.  I don’t see ten wins in the future, but anything less than seven would have to be considered a disappointment.

So our Week 1 opponent, Western Michigan.  Typical non-conference directional school that the ‘Cats can feast on?  Think again.  This is more than a “avoid injuries” contest.  The Broncos had a solid 8-5 season in 2015, with two of their losses at the hands of Michigan State and Ohio State.  They only lost conference games to Bowling Green and Northern Illinois to finish 6-2 in the MAC, topping a ranked Toledo team in their regular season finale before winning their bowl game.   The Wildcat defense will need to be ready right out of the gate, as Western Michigan comes in to Evanston led by senior QB Zach Terrell, who’s thrown for 45 TDs and nearly 7,000 yards the past two seasons.  On top of this, he’s incredibly accurate, completing two thirds of his passes in that span.  If that’s enough to get NU’s attention, the Broncos also have a solid running game, led by sophomore Jamauri Bogan, who rushed for over 1,000 yards as a freshman, despite six games where he didn’t even get 10 carries.

In this season opener, the ‘Cats have to get after it right away, especially on defense.  We’ll be looking for some questions to get answered in a hurry.  Specifically, will the defensive line holes be filled? Will the passing game open up?  Who will step forward as a main passing target?  Will the secondary be as good as advertised?

Look for offensive coordinator Mick McCall to keep to his usual conservative plan.  NU will rely on its defense and wear down Western Michigan with its running game of Jackson and Long.  Thorson won’t be called on to do too much besides avoid mistakes.  That might cut it in Week 1, but not for too long after that.  Anthony Walker lays the groundwork for an All-American season as the ‘Cats get to 10-1 in season openers under Fitz.

Pick: Broncs buck, but ‘Cats stay on for 8 seconds… Northwestern 24, Western Michigan 17.  Take the ‘Cats and lay the points.

Illinois State Preview and Prediction

By Eric Cockerill

Matchup: Illinois State University Redbirds at Northwestern Wildcats
Date: Saturday, September 10, 2016, 2:30 pm CDT
Line: Not available (Let’s say Cats -14)

Last week:
There’s not much more to say  (though I will) except that Northwestern was outplayed and outcoached by a weaker team.  The initial drive by the Cats looked promising.  After that one drive, the remainder of the game became a trudge of disbelief for fans.  On offense, the statistics look reasonable on the whole but hide that recurrent NU issue…a significantly large number of drives end with one or fewer first downs with almost no time expired.  WMU demonstrated the benefit of a ball possession strategy and limiting the number of chances that the Cats had to score.  On defense, the vanilla play calls and an uninspired execution resulted in lots of "bending", no turnovers, and an inability to get WMU off the field and the ball back in the offense's hands.  WMU scored or missed a field goal on 6 of 8 possessions in the game.  The Broncos chipped away at the Cat’s initial lead with field goals and two touchdowns until NU had only one chance left.  The result of a reasonable play call of a quarterback run on first and goal from the 6 yard line was betrayed by very poor ball protection by QB Thorson and a truly bizarre play to give the ball back to the Broncos.

This week, in theory, the Cats have another weaker team in the Illinois State Redbirds.  The Redbirds are an FCS team competing in the Missouri Valley Football Conference with the likes of Missouri State, Southern Illinois, and Indiana State to name a few.  They are currently ranked 9th in the FCS.  Last week, ISU beat up on Valpraiso 50-13 starting by scoring 17 points off turnovers in the first half before the running game kicked it into overdrive.  The Redbirds are a primarily running team with an average yards per carry of almost 6 with a long passing game thrown in to take advantage of stacked defenses.  Look for a number of ball carriers, including true freshman James Robinson, who set the high school all-time yardage record in Illinois last year.  On defense, they balance marginal talent by becoming aggressive with blitzes, including both pass and run blitzes resulting in sacks and TFL.  This pressure also results in a number of interceptions.

There’s not much to say that we all didn’t see last week for the men in purple.  Offensively, the Cats have continued their boom-or-bust personality from drive to drive.   Either scoring quickly and efficiently, or fizzling early.  One game is tough to tell much from, but it does appear that the dropped passing problem may continue into this season.   Justin Jackson picked up right where he left off, showing an innate ability to shed would-be tacklers.  Warren Long, who showed an ability to serve in an effective tandem with Justin Jackson last year, was injured early in the contest.  QB Thorson was effective though unremarkable before the aforementioned fumble at the goal line.  Six different receivers were targeted, though this number may not be representative considering the low number of total plays.  One pattern that became obvious after the first drive is that the passing offense was inconsistent.  A relatively high completion rate (approaching 70%) hides several points where ineffective passing, whether due to defensive pressure or inability to complete passes, killed drives.  It also appeared that the offensive line struggled at different points only to be saved by Jackson’s ability to get through the first and second defenders.  The suddenly effective passing game in the last drive of the game continues to feed the avid fan’s frustration.

On defense, one hopes the players simply had a bad day or it was a function of first start jitters for the five new starters on defense.  If not, we may be seeing the result of losing key players on the defensive line.  Overall, NU had no answer for the Broncos’ possession based passing offense.  Let’s hope this is corrected quickly, as other teams are bound to see the glaring weakness.  Ineffective against the run and happy to let the short passes be completed, the defense simply could not get WMU off the field.  They allowed points on too many drives without a turnover. 

Unfortunately, I don’t expect much new this week.  The Cats will continue to rely on Jackson to fuel their offense, which should be enough this week.  At this point I also do not expect the passing game to improve from last year, though the will likely look better against this week’s opponent.  I predict the defense will be looking to take their frustrations out on the Redbirds.  This team’s success will depend on the defensive performance.  I’m sure this week was not a pleasant one in the new lake front athletic facilities.  That said, don’t be shocked to see the Redbirds surprise the Cats with some longer passes down field. 

Pick: Cats by 10… Northwestern 24, ISU 14.  Cats win, but bet (if you could) on the Redbirds against the spread.

Season Record:  0-1 (0-1 ATS)

Duke Preview and Prediction

By Joel Kanvik

Matchup: Duke University Blue Devils (1-1, 0-1 ACC) at Northwestern Wildcats (0-2, 0-0)
Date: Saturday, September 17, 2016, 7:10 pm CDT
Line: Less befuddling than the opening line.  But still, befuddling.  NU (-3.5)


At the top of President Morton Shapiro’s inbox this morning:

September 10, 2016
President Morton Shapiro
Northwestern University
633 Clark Street
Evanston, IL 60208

Dear President Shapiro:

It is with sincere regret that I must inform you that, due to circumstances within your athletic department’s control, effectively immediately Northwestern University’s football membership in the Big Ten athletic conference is hereby revoked.  The Big Ten prides itself on a sterling image among the Power 5 conferences, and the Wildcats’ most recent performance against Football Championship Series participant Illinois State threatens to tarnish that reputation to an intolerable extent.  If you have any questions about this decision, I refer you to the game tape from Saturday which should provide all of the justification necessary.
If Northwestern University is interested in continuing its football program, may I suggest that you concentrate your search on the interscholastic level.  It is my estimation that even attempting to compete at a Division III level might be a bit difficult, as Mount Union and University of Wisconsin at Whitewater are formidable opponents.  Perhaps the Central Suburban League of the Illinois High School Association could offer good, local competition.

Sincerely yours,
James Delaney
Commissioner, B1G Conference

P.S. Have a nice day.

* * * * *

Remember a while back when rumors were circulating that another, bigger-name university was going to approach Coach Pat Fitzgerald and lure him away with a much bigger contract and better perks?  And how we all thought that was a BAD thing?

* * * * *

When all of the Lowes Line staff was enrolled at Northwestern, the kind of effort and low coaching quality witnessed this past Satruday was on display every Saturday at Dyche Stadium.  All due respect to Coach Francis Peay and the student-athletes that lined up in purple and white week in and week out, but the Wildcats of the time were vastly outmanned and outcoached.  Cries of, “Break their hearts!  Score on ‘em!” were commonplace among those brave enough to sit on the home side of the stadium.  Fans amused themselves by throwing marshmallows at each other and leaving with 5 minutes left in the first half to go get blind drunk in the parking lot; the outcome of the game was sealed before halftime, anyway.

But then someone with the audacity to believe NU football could be more than a laughing stock came calling, promising to “take the Purple to Pasadena.”  And the catchphrase “Expect Victory” was born.  The student-athletes recruited were better football players, including a certain linebacker that now leads the team in a far different capacity.  Though it may have been mocked as a bit of hollow boasting, a trip to the Rose Bowl made believers out of many.  And, over the course of many following seasons, NU played much better teams tougher and even took down some national powerhouses.  No longer were the Wildcats mocked with the nickname “Mildcats” and anytime NU showed up on your schedule, you had a legitimate basis to be nervous.  The offense was far different than anything else at the time and could roar down the field to score a touchdown in 2 minutes.  For a long drive.  The defense bent but didn’t break, and was just opportunistic enough to give the offense enough chances to outscore the other team.  Just ask Michigan, University of – the Wolverines lost to the wild and crazy ‘Cats 54-51.

But that was then.  This is now.

* * * * *

I don’t want to seem ungrateful.  Under Coach Fitzgerald, the Wildcats have gone to 6 bowl games in 10 seasons, and actually won their first bowl game in 2012, defeating an SEC team in the Gator Bowl.  Last season’s Outback Bowl performance was, well, God-awful – a 45-6 loss to Tennessee.  And any bowl game, even an embarrassing loss, is far better than the product the Lowes Line staff endured as undergrads.

But here’s the problem with building a program:  expectations are raised even higher and faster than the quality of play.  If you tell your fan base to “Expect Victory”, they will so you better deliver.  And that brings us to the present day, and the utter disappointment with the current version of Wildcat football.

Being a coach means preparing your players with the best skills and game plan each Saturday.  The results this year call into question the level of preparation and game planning NU’s coaching staff has done each week.  It’s hard to justify a game plan that centers around passing the ball with a quarterback with a lifetime 50.8% completion percentage.  Yet, Saturday, against what should have been a lesser opponent, Northwestern play selection involved 41 pass attempts.  And only 41.5% of them were completed.  It’s not exactly news that Thorson is a poor passer; last season he completed barely half of his passes and threw two more interceptions (9) than touchdowns (7).  Einstein defined insanity as doing something again and again and expecting a different result.  By that measure, the NU coaching staff is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs for continuing to pass with Thorson.

In contrast, Justin Jackson remains underutilized.  He only got the ball 11 times against Illinois State.  True he did leave early in the fourth quarter due to leg injury (he is listed as “probable” this week) and his yards per carry were down that game, but for the season he is averaging almost 5 yards a carry and he scored 3 touchdowns against Western Michigan.  Subtracting quarterback sacks, which in college are considered rushes, NU ran the ball 28 times to the 41 passes thrown (and, including sacks, 44+ dropbacks).  In what universe does it make sense to continue that kind of ratio?  Answer:  it doesn’t.  And we’re supposed to be the “smart” school.  Why do we not learn from this?

It has been said that Coach Fitzgerald advocates the vanilla game plan so as not to tip off to future Big Ten opponents how NU will attack them.  But is that really the best plan of action?  That means several fewer weeks of focusing on what you see as the identity of your football team.  And it leads to results like what we have seen the last two weeks – embarrassing losses to a mid-major and a lower division opponent.  If you contrast that philosophy against other Big Ten opponents, it is obvious it makes little sense.  Take, for example, Wisconsin.  What does Wisconsin do on offense?  They run the ball.  Repeatedly.  During the non-conference season.  During the Big Ten season.  It is no secret, and hasn’t been since Barry Alvarez took over as head coach in 1990.  That’s 26 years, folks.  Twenty six years of knowing when you go to Camp Randall, they’re going to line up a big offensive line and use one of a number of skilled tailbacks to cram the ball down your throat.  (As I will also be writing the Lowes Line for the November 5 game, this is what is known as foreshadowing.)  It’s no secret, and yet they have had a remarkable run of success.  Why?  Because it’s what they do and they’re going to work on being better at it than you are at stopping it.  So it’s time that NU stops the subterfuge and returns to its identity as a panic-inducing opponent.  Focus on getting guys who can excel in the frenetic offenses that keep defenses off balance, even if they know it’s coming.

That might help the defense, too.  Running the ball more keeps the NU defense right where it belongs – on the bench cheering on the offense.  And opposing teams might take fewer risks on offense if they knew giving the ball to NU meant any danger whatsoever.  But, in two games, NU’s defense has been on the field an average of 37 minutes.  The defense needs to find ways to stop drives and get the ball back.  The defense will be down a key piece, as senior cornerback Matthew Harris has been ruled out with a concussion.  Being on the field for almost two-thirds of the game is a recipe for disaster, even when your offense is rolling up the points.  But when half of what Thorson throws up comes clanging back to the ground (or, in the case of the Cardinals, 3 out of every 5 passes), one can only Expect Victory…for the other team.

Cue the Duke Blue Devils and their visit to Ryan Field.  Both Duke and NU have lost games this season to an ESPN College Game Day-designated “super ‘dog”.  The Blue Devils arrive still stinging from their defeat at the hands of ACC also-ran Wake Forest.  Duke is led by freshman quarterback Daniel Jones.  Curiously, Jones and Thorson have thrown the same number of passes this season:  63.  However, Jones has completed almost two-thirds of his passes for 150 more yards and one more touchdown (and one more interception) than Thorson.  Jones will hand the ball off to senior tailback Jela Duncan who, through his career at Duke, consistently averages more than 5 yards per carry.  He also is a threat to catch a few passes out of the backfield.

It’s hard to predict how Duke’s defense will fare against NU’s “offense.”  Through two games, Duke has allowed far fewer total yards, with the lion’s share of that difference in passing defense.  If NU intends to continue its aerial assault, that does not bode well for NU’s chances.  Stoutness against the run is about equal.  However, one of those games was against North Carolina Central University, a member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and a competitor in the FCS, which Duke won 49-6.  (Interesting comparison of results against FCS schools:  Duke wins by 43, while NU looks terrible in scoring one measly touchdown to lose by 2.  Not sure how noteworthy this is, but last week NCCU traveled to Kalamazoo to get royally pounded by Western Michigan, 70-21.  Maybe we should be glad we only lost to the Broncos by a point?)
As much as I would like to see the Wildcats get the ship righted before heading into the Big Ten season, I just don’t see that happening.  The Wildcats should give Justin Jackson many more opportunities to carry the ball, as many believe he can play on Sundays after his NU career wraps up, with a few of those believing he will be wearing a certain orange-and-blue jersey at 5,280 feet.  But given no indication otherwise, the Wildcats offense continues its ineffective pass-wacky attack, resulting in another game in which Thorson’s completion percentage is below 50%.  Duke’s pass defense does enough to control the Cats through the air, and Duke becomes the third team in the 2016 season to dominate in time of possession.  Jela Duncan runs and catches his way through the NU defense, becoming more effective as the Cat defenders get worn down.  Close through the first half, but Duke pulls away.

Pick: Duke 30, Northwestern 22.
Season Record:  0-2 (0-2 ATS)

Iowa Preview and Prediction

By Charlie Simon

Matchup: Northwestern Wildcats at Iowa Hawkeyes
Date: Saturday, October 1, 2016, 11am CDT
Line: Iowa -14

The Wildcats play Iowa tomorrow and the Lowes Line is ambivalent.  I feel like I have written this same column for the past five years.  The 'Cats are underachieving but Fitz is the best coach we can hope to have and stay for more than a few years.  The dismal play this year has me questioning that logic.  To watch the 'Cats the past few years get worse and worse is painful.  It used to be fun to watch the Cardiac 'Cats, but no longer.  It is just suffering as the other team gradually pulls away every game.  This being an email about the 'Cats I thought I would pick them just because I want them to win, but then I remembered we are playing Iowa and I believe Fitz's message will be "to win, we have to be tougher than them".  Part of that is true but winning games requires more than toughness.  It requires a plan to exploit the other team's weaknesses and highlight your team's strengths.  I don't think NU has a plan right now.  It is going to be a long season.


'Cats keep it close in the first half but don't adjust and Iowa wins going away. 

Iowa 27, NU 13

MSU Preview and Prediction

By MO'Cats

Matchup:  Northwestern Wildcats (2-3, 1-1 conference) at Michigan State Spartans (2-3, 0-2 conference)
Date: Saturday, October 15, 2016 at 2:30 pm CDT
Line: MSU favored. Opened at -7 bet, down to 4.5, as of today, you can get the ‘Cats and 6.  O/U hovering around 41.5

What a confusing game.  I think fans of both of these teams are wondering what the rest of the season will hold.  Sparty dominated Furman and then pasted the Irish.  Sparty Nation again thought Coach Mark had pulled a rabbit out of his hat and they were going to again dominate this season.  Big Bad Bucky came to town and just destroyed them 30-6.  A demoralizing overtime loss to the Hoosiers and another pasting by BYU last week has King Leonidas thinking he wants to pull the nickname.  On the other side, Northwestern starts off with losses to W. Michigan (still undefeated), Illinois State (bad loss), beat Duke (who almost beat Louisville), looked overmatched against an undefeated Nebraska team and then somehow win at Iowa.  Just a confusing situation.  This may be the week where the losing team looks back and says “that’s the game we should have won”. 

Iowa was favored big, but moronic penalties and some very fortunate breaks went the ‘Cats' way.  Carr caught three touchdowns, while JJ added another with 171 yards rushing. Ifeadi Odenigbo was a beast, contributing to six sacks for the team, and the D came up big when it mattered. 

Coach Mark was so sickened after the last loss that he opened up the QB position to open completion.  I think this just fuels the fire.

Unfortunately, I don’t think NU stacks up well against the Spartans.  NU is not the Persians and Xerxes, and just does not have the horses to overpower.  It will be tight but NU falls late.

Pick:  23-17

Take the ‘Cats and the points and the under

Season:  0-4 straight up and 0-3-1 ATS pushing against Iowa

Indiana Preview and Prediction

By Jersey Cat

Matchup: Indiana Hoosiers (3-3, 1-2) at Northwestern Wildcats (3-3, 2-1)
Date: Saturday, October 22, 2016, 11:00 am CDT
Line: Northwestern (-1.5); O/U: 52.5
Did somebody get the license plate on that offensive juggernaut that plowed through East Lansing last weekend?  Many a Northwestern fan were raising an eyebrow at the display put forth by the Wildcats as NU scored more points than a visiting team has ever scored at Michigan State.  The Wildcats managed to give up points on bad, and then fluky, plays. But rather than wilt, they responded. 
It didn’t start well, with Michigan State getting a pick-six before the first quarter was half over to take a 14-0 lead.  Then something incredible happened.  A Wildcat touchdown, another one, a safety, a field goal, and NU had a turned a 14-0 deficit into a 19-17 lead at the half. 
The third quarter was about as exciting as they come.  NU came out of the gate firing in the second half, putting up two TDs to take a 33-17 lead, but Sparty came back with TD passes of 59 and 86 yards after switching quarterbacks to get back within two at 33-31.  Solomon Vault took the ensuing kickoff to the house for the ‘Cats to take the lead back to nine, which is as close as Sparty would get the rest of the way.
Justin Jackson continues to be a workhorse.  He went for 188 yards on 34 carries against Michigan State.  The more you see of him, the more you are impressed.  More quick than fast, Jackson seems to always find a way to get positive yardage, and is about as good as they come in waiting for his block to develop to spring a big run.  His two touchdowns in East Lansing were things of beauty.
Clayton Thorson, even with a pick-six, had the game of his career to date.  He hit on 77% of his passes, going 27 of 35 for 281 yards, while throwing for 3 touchdowns and running for another.  Wideout Austin Carr continued his brilliance with 11 catches for 130 yards and 2 TDs. 
Even the defense deserves some credit.  You might think with Sparty scoring 40 points it was a disaster, but with a pick-six, a fluke TD that hit DB Godwin Igwebuike twice on a bomb, and a blocked punt that turned into a field goal, the defense was pretty good.  NU got four sacks, and stopped the MSU rushing attack cold.
On top of it all, this Lowes Liner may have been most impressed by the aggressive playcalling on offense with a lead.  A beautiful draw on 3rd and 9 that goes for a touchdown?  A pass to the end zone on 4th & 6 for another TD?  Have we finally turned a corner?
Exciting, yes, and certainly yearning for more, but forgive me if I’m not yet drinking the Kool-Aid.  Northwestern goes on the road and wins a game or two as a sizeable underdog.  They come back home, expectations are heightened, and NU is a favorite in Evanston.  What does this scenario have in common with The Godfather, Caddyshack, and Animal House?  It’s that we’ve seen this movie before.
Not sure why, and I may be completely off base, but it seems the strategy and/or execution is different at home or as a favorite.  Someone of you can go look it up, but anecdotally, it just seems that way. 
Are the Wildcats a better team than Indiana?  I would say yes, but this is not your father’s Hoosier football team.   Indiana has not only played well, but been competitive in all three of their losses to Wake Forest, Nebraska, and Ohio State.  They have a much-improved defense from a year ago, which has allowed them to stay in those games, and they’ll probably get to a bowl game for the second year in a row, which hasn’t happened in Bloomington in a quarter century.
How will the ‘Cats come out at home after two big wins on the road?  The defense looks good, and the offense is starting to click.  Will it be enough, or will the weight of expectations be too much for NU to get the W?
As for the movies, we know how they end:  Michael has the heads of the five families knocked off, Bushwood Country Club is decimated by Carl’s explosives, and the Deltas exact their revenge at being kicked off campus.  Similarly, NU fails to live up to expectations at home, blowing a winnable game late.
Pick:  Indiana 27, Northwestern 24.  Take the Hoosiers and the points.

Season to Date: 0-5 straight up, 1-3-1 against the spread. (clearly for entertainment value only)

Ohio State Preview and Prediction
By MO'Cats

Matchup:  Northwestern Wildcats (4-3, 3-1) at the Ohio Sate Buckeyes (6-1, 3-1)
Date:  Saturday October 29th, 2016, 2:30 PM CDT
Line:  Buckeyes -24 [ed. note: this was the opening line, which has extended to -28], O/U:  54

Outlook:  Well the Lower Line has turned into something George Constanza could be proud of if betting straight up on the ‘Cats.  In other words, do the opposite.  The Line is a woeful 0-6 straight up (and a not much better 1-4-1 ATS).  The ‘Cats again surprised by winning a game “they were supposed to win” and keeping a bowl in the picture.  The headlines painted a great picture of the game as “Northwestern Coasted to a Victory”.  As a fan, the Cardiac Cats were always fun, but a coast to victory is always nice.  Justin Jackson continued to impress with 94 yards on 28 carries with a long of 27.  Thorson appears to be improving weekly as he went off for 285 and 3 touchdowns.  Austin Carr has been unstoppable and added to his touchdown streak.  The defense was very respectable holding a high powered Indiana team to only 14 points with Walker leading the way with 10 solo tackles while Igwebuike and Odenigbo also were major contributors.

The next two games will be rough as the ‘Cats face off against top 15 teams.  Unfortunately, they travel to Columbus to face a very angry team.  The Buckeyes lost after a blocked FG was run back for a TD to a very Happy Valley crowd last week.  The Buckeyes were inept on offense as JT Barrett threw a career high 43 attempts for only 245 yards for less than 6 yards per attempt.   Conservative play calling (to the credit of Penn State) doomed the offense but the D was dominant allowing only 276 yards of offense.

The last time the ‘Cats visited Columbus was in 2007 and Fitz was roasted 58-7.  Fitz wanted to leave at halftime and this year will hopefully be different.   This will be a homecoming for Igwebuike and Odenigbo as well as 18 other Wildcats from the state of Ohio, and without last week’s outcome, I may have been able to see a close game or even a surprise this week.  However, Urban Meyer will not let that happen and the Bucks will be coasting this week. Let’s just hope no one gets hurt.

Pick: 38-10, take the Buckeyes and give the 24 (0-6 straight up, 1-4-1 ATS)

Wisconsin Preview and Prediction
By Joel Kanvik

Matchup:  #8 Wisconsin Badgers (6-2, 3-2) at Northwestern Wildcats (4-4, 3-2)
Date:  Saturday November 5, 2016, 11:00 am CDT
Line:  Wisconsin (-7); O/U 40.5
Outlook:   Does anyone else get the feeling that the 2016 Northwestern Wildcats are reading the Lowes Line each week and figuring out how they can make us look as wrong as possible?  We predict they win, and they go out and completely stink up the joint.  We predict they will lose, and they go out and win a game (see, Blue Devils, Duke and Hawkeyes, Iowa).  We predict they will lose and badly, and they give #6 Ohio State a bit of a scare.  We write about how poor of a passer Thorson is, with a less-than-50% completion percentage and far too many interceptions, and he goes out and handles the football efficiently.  What gives, Willie, what gives?!
We at the Lowes Line are not much for moral victories, but seeing the Wildcats stay with the mighty and pissed off Buckeyes was definitely a good image.  Perhaps the failure to blow the Wildcats off the field is more exposure that the Buckeyes aren’t as mighty as their one-time #2 ranking would indicate (the poisonous nuts held firm at #6 after scraping by Northwestern).  But maybe it was more proof that, despite early season stumbles, the Wildcats are a better team than their early losses would seem to indicate.  Every indication was that the Buckeyes would return to the ‘Shoe mad as hell after losing at Happy Valley the week before, looking to destroy their next opponent to set the universe straight.  But the boys in purple had other ideas, and was tied with the Buckeyes even into the 4th quarter.  The “mighty” Buckeye offense outgained NU by only 25 yards.
Thorson still does not complete a sufficient percentage of his passes, connecting on just over 50% of his passes against the Buckeyes.  He had one touchdown against one interception, but he did accumulate more yards through the air than did J.T. Barrett.  The NU defense also held the Buckeyes without a 100-yard rusher.  Justin Jackson continues to roll up yards, averaging over 4 yards per carry, though he didn’t eclipse the century mark.  And former walk-on Austin Carr has turned into a major stud, catching 8 balls for 158 yards.
The Badgers arrive at Ryan Field with renewed vigor, fresh off an overtime victory against Nebraska.  The Badgers have had a buzz saw of a schedule this season, opening against LSU at Lambeau Field and playing in East Lansing (Michigan State has since been revealed to be a weaker team this season), in Ann Arbor against then-#4 Michigan, and home against the #2 Buckeyes.  Wisconsin lost to Michigan and to Ohio State by a touchdown each, the latter a heartbreaker in overtime.
The use of foreshadowing in the Duke prediction was as accurate as the rest of the Duke Line.  This Badgers team isn’t your father’s Badger team.  Once renowned for pounding the football with skilled tailback after skilled tailback, this year’s team can struggle at times running the football.  The offensive line is young and doesn’t move defensive lines off the line of scrimmage like it once did.  In future years, that will change.  But for this game, the ‘Cats have the opportunity to slow down the normally vaunted running game of the Badgers.  Their leading back, Corey Clement, has 3 100 yard games in 5 appearances this season.  As usual, the Badgers have a few tailback options to throw at the NU defense.  Dare Ogunbawale (say that 3 times fast) and Bradrick Shaw back up Clement.  Ogunbawale had a great outing against the Huskers’s defense, as a kind of change-of-pace back when Clement was getting stacked up at the line.
The Badgers will bring a two-headed quarterback tandem into Ryan Field.  Starting will be Alex Hornibrook, a redshirt freshman who took over in the 4th game after coming off the bench against Georgia State to spark a sluggish Badger offense.  Hornibrook throws relatively accurate passes, but is starting to develop the reputation for throwing the ball to the other team at inopportune times.  Senior Bart Houston will come in for a  couple of series every so often.  He isn’t as accurate, but his passes do have a little more zip to them.  Jazz Peavy is the leading receiver and also runs the jet sweep well, but Wisconsin, true to past form, leans on its tight ends a lot, with Troy Fumagalli being the #1 target from the end of the line.
Where the Badgers are truly great this year is on the defensive side of the ball.  Wisconsin has a great corps of linebackers, led by senior Vince Biegel and TJ Watt (J.J. Watt’s youngest brother).  Leading tackler, Jack Cichy, is out for the rest of the season with a torn pectoral muscle, but the Badger crew has picked up where he left off.  At times during the game against Nebraska, the Badgers did not line up a single defensive lineman.  Patrolling the line and behind were 6 linebackers.  The Badger pass defense has also shown itself to be a little stouter, too, with Sojourn Shelton leveraging his experience to play better pass defense.
So what happens when the Badgers visit Evanston?  Are you kidding?  With the way the Wildcats have been giving the Lowes Line the finger all season, do you honestly believe I’m going to predict anything other than a Wisconsin landslide victory?  (And, at this point, with the Lowes Line season record as awful as it is, throwing one away won’t ruin anyone’s day.)
Look for the Badger defense to continue its stingy play.  Jackson will get some yards and may break a run or two, but the strong linebacking corps in cardinal and white will keep him largely contained.  Thorson will complete half his passes, including at least one to the Badger secondary.  The NU defense will play the run well, but Clement will get loose one too many times.
In a reverse psychology special:
Pick: Wisconsin 24, Northwestern 10 Badgers cover.
Season to date:  1-6 straight up, 1-5-1 ATS

Purdue Preview and Prediction

By Charlie Simon

Matchup:  Northwestern Wildcats (4-5, 3-3) at Purdue Boilermakers (3-6, 1-5)
Date:  Saturday November 12, 2016, 11:00 am CST
Line:  NU - 14

The Wildcats head to Purdue this weekend to try and even their record and keep on track to achieve bowl eligibility.  I am sure bowl eligibility was not the main goal for the 'Cats this year but that is the way it has played out.  The 'Cats are a decent team but it all goes back to those first two losses to Western Michigan and Illinois State.  These are games they should have won and would have won if they played like they have since the Big Ten season started. 
Last week against Wisconsin, NU's defense played well enough for the 'Cats to win.  They held the #8 ranked Badgers to 21 points, and only 333 yards despite being on the field for over 40 minutes.  The NU offense is still a work in progress as the running game was shut down and then abandoned.  My son always asks me who is the best player on NU's team, and I reply Justin Jackson.  Jackson was held to 42 yards on 13 carries.  When Jackson is not a weapon, NU must solely rely on red shirt sophomore QB Clayton Thorson.  Thorson is good and getting better but he is not good enough or mature enough to carry the team on his back.  Also the NU offensive line is very mediocre.  They could not produce any running lanes against Wisco and regularly let pressure get to the QB on three and four man rushes.

Today NU must re-establish its running game and they have a good chance to do so as the Boilermakers are one the worst teams against the run as they give up almost 250 yards per game on the ground.  NU's depleted secondary will be challenged today as Purdue averages over 300 yards per game in the air.  I believe NU will wear down Purdue through the running game and pull away in the second half.  Purdue will keep it close as they will have several long pass plays.  NU wins and continues toward a bowl game.  I would normally say a game in the warm sun, but with their record and the bowl system now they are likely to end up in Detroit or NYC in December.  Neither of which are warm.  I just continue to think back to those first two games.  NU has won half of their toss-up games (Neb, Iowa, MSU, Wisc) with Minnesota yet to come.  That is as good of a result as one could hope for at the beginning of the season.  If NU wins those first two games they would be looking at a potential 9-3 season and a warm sunny day in January.  Oh well, it has happened and nothing can be done now.  Look to the future and stay positive.  The 'Cats are improving, at times they are fun to watch, and in the end it is just a game.

Until next time, Enjoy.

Pick: Northwestern 31, Purdue 22

'Cats win but don't cover
Season to date:  2-6 straight up, 2-5-1 ATS

Minnesota Preview and Prediction

By Galloping Grapes

Match-up:  Northwestern Wildcats (5-5, 4-3) at Minnesota Golden Gophers (7-3, 4-3)
Date:  Saturday November 19, 2016, 2:30 pm CST
Line:  NU (-3)
Outlook:  This week’s edition of the Lowes Line, much like this season’s edition of the Northwestern Wildcats football season, lacks a cohesive narrative theme.  It is not unlike Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates – half-eaten by the time he gifts them to the lovely yet doomed Jenny.  The Line’s season-to-date record tells a brutal story.  We can’t predict for beans.  We might as well convert this into a cooking blog with tasty how-to videos, so I can share my Thanksgiving recipe for smoked bacon-wrapped turkey cutlets stuffed with cranberry relish, jalapenos and cheddar, with a side of port wine and butter engorged cranberries.  (I like cranberries.)  (I also like the word “engorged.”)
Dammit, now I’m distracted and hungry.  All I can think about is that gophers are delicious.  Here’s a good recipe for BBQ Gopher à la Tork.
First, kill some gophers.  Do not use poison, because poison tastes like sh*t coming off the grill.  Skin ‘em, bone ‘em, chop off their tiny feet and heads, rub ‘em inside and out with EV olive oil and a nice blend of Hungarian paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, ancho and guajillo chili powders, kosher salt, black pepper and honey powder, stuff ‘em with a mix of chopped bell peppers, Spanish onion, shallot, orange zest, garlic and shredded mozzarella, wrap ‘em up tight in hillbilly prosciutto (that is, store-brand thin-sliced bacon), throw them on the smoker at 225 for 2-3 hours, brush ‘em with a tiny bit of maple syrup and crack a touch of black pepper on ‘em, then finish ‘em on a hot grill for 2-3 minutes just to blacken the edges of the bacon.  Drink bourbon whiskey.  Find somebody to love.  Fall asleep and check the score of the Northwestern game on Sunday morning.
Hey, the ‘Cats won!  Bowl eligible!!
Pick: Northwestern 37, Minnesota 25.  A mathematically unlikely final score, but Gopher meat tastes gud.
Season to date:  3-6 SU, 2-6-1 ATS

Illinois Preview and Prediction

By Eric Cockerill

Match-up:  Northwestern Wildcats (5-6, 4-4) vs Illinois Illini (3-8, 2-6)
Date:  Saturday, November 26, 2016, 11:00 am CST
Line:  NU -17

NU wraps up their regular season at home against the Illini.  With the expected win, Northwestern will end the season with a .500 record.  While technically that may win the Cats a berth in a very low tier bowl, it can hardly be called a successful season.  Some surprises on both sides of the win/loss line.  Let’s review:
Western Michigan - Loss                  
Huge disappointment at the time, but WMU went on to an 11-0 record and ranked at 13th.  Not as horrible a loss as it felt like at the time.
Illinois State University - Loss
Considering that ISU is Division I-AA and has a 5-6 record, this was potentially one of the worst losses of Fitz’s tenure, delivered with conservative playcalling made more baffling by later offensive success.
Duke – Win
At last, a win against a poor Duke team.
Nebraska – Loss
A competitive loss against a ranked opponent, NU was in the game through the middle of the third quarter.  At this point in the season, a daunting task remained for respectability.
Iowa – Win
A surprise win as the offense suddenly came alive.  This Lowes Line contributor wonders if this was the week that Fitz and the coaching staff realized the defense was not going to recover its form from the previous season.
MSU – Win
Even coming off the previous week’s surprise performance, a complete shock.  NU drops 54 points against MSU in their stadium to put a nail in the coffin that was the Spartans’ season.
Indiana – Win
A comfortable win for homecoming as the Cats get ahead early and coast through the second half.
Ohio State – Loss
A not unexpected loss, but the team played the Buckeyes tough to the end. 
Wisconsin – Loss
Another expected loss against a highly ranked opponent, though NU’s inability to stop Wisconsin’s running game at the end of the game bodes poorly for the subsequent Minnesota game.
Purdue – Win
A win on the road with the offense again showing that it can put big numbers on the board when Thorson is executing and the coaches are aggressive.
Minnesota – Loss
In what seemed like a letdown loss, the Cats’ offense suddenly sputters and is unable to sustain drives until midway through the 3rd quarter and cannot recover.  One of the classic examples of leaving the defense on the field for too much time.
As stated in the opening, a roller coaster season.  Huge dud against ISU and a disappointing performance against Minnesota, offset with great wins against Iowa and especially Michigan State.  Hate to say it, but a win against Illinois salvages a respectable, but uninspiring season, while a loss would result in a failed season.

This week the Cats face a still recovering Illinois team at home.  The Illini are coached by former Bucs and Bears coach Lovie Smith.  Expect Lovie to return Illinois to respectability sooner rather than later as both recruiting and coaching have improved, but sooner is not this year.  The 3-8 Illini are clearly still feeling the hangover from this disastrous tenure of Tim Beckman followed by a year in “interim” limbo, including the embarrassing extension then firing of Bill Cubit last winter.  Their one bright spot this year was a win against MSU (sound familiar?).
The Illini rely on a strong running game, particularly with big plays, but have a weak passing attack that cannot balance that strength.  On defense, they have strong individual players but are unable to stop the run consistently.
Expect NU to focus on RB Justin Jackson to set up Thorson and Carr in the passing game if successful.  As long as they have some progress running on first and second down initially, there should be no danger over the course of the game.  If NU doesn’t get too conservative and keep the Illini close (or doesn't adjust a la the ISU game), “expect victory”.  On defense, we should see NU stack the box to stop the run, thus forcing third down passing and hopefully an interception or three.

Pick: Northwestern 31, Illinois 17
'Cats win but don't cover

Season to date:  3-7 straight up, 2-7-1 ATS

Pitt Preview and Prediction 
By Jersey Cat

Matchup:  New Era Pinstripe Bowl – Northwestern Wildcats (6-6, 5-4 Big Ten) vs. # 23 Pittsburgh Panthers (8-4, 5-3 ACC)
Date: Wednesday, December 28, 2016, 1:00 pm CST, Yankee Stadium, Bronx, NY
Line: Northwestern (+5.5), O/U: 66
The Wildcats are headed to New York for a date with Pitt in the Bronx, where NU and Coach Fitz will get a taste of the Big Apple…Broadway, Times Square, real pizza, bagels that don’t taste like drywall, and so on.
The good news – Northwestern is playing in a bowl game.  Three and a half months ago, that seemed like a pipe dream after the ‘Cats dropped their opening two contests to fall to 0-2.  The first was the season opening loss to Western Michigan, which doesn’t look too bad as the Broncos ran the table to finish 13-0, but the still head-scratching contest against FCS foe Illinois State, a 9-7 loss at home, left many NU fans wondering how the ‘Cats would get to four wins, nevermind six.
The bad news – NU’s opponent is the Pitt Panthers, who not only boast wins over two teams that finished in the top-5 of the final rankings, they put up points like the Denver Nuggets of the early 80s.
Let’s recap how we got here.  After the craptastic effort against Illinois State, NU somehow managed to right the ship, going 6-4 the rest of the way.   Three of those four losses came against teams who were ranked in the final AP poll.  Solid wins at Iowa and Michigan State got the momentum going, and you could argue that NU’s best game came in a close loss at Columbus against the playoff-bound Buckeyes.  Expected and relatively stress-free wins over Purdue and Illinois came before and after what I would say was the most disappointing result of the season after Illinois State, a 29-12 loss at Minnesota.
Despite the mediocre record, there were several bright spots for the ‘Cats in 2016, the biggest of which was the play of senior wideout Austin Carr.  The former walk-on was a first-team All-Big Ten pick, leading the conference in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns.  He was a Biletnikoff Award finalist and a second team All-America.  Not bad.  What added to the accomplishment in my mind is that not only did Carr make dozens of great grabs throughout the season, but also opposing teams knew the ball was coming to him and he still got open and delivered.
Sophomore QB Clayton Thorson was another bright spot, taking a giant leap forward from his freshman campaign, even as the team recorded four fewer regular season wins.  Thorson threw for nearly double the yards of last year and tied the school record (21) for passing touchdowns in a season.  Finally, junior running back Justin Jackson continued his solid and durable play as he continued to climb the list of NU’s all-time rushers.  Jackson rushed for 1,300 yards, had a career high of 4.9 yards a carry to go along with 12 touchdowns, and is on pace to become Northwestern’s all-time leading rusher by the middle of next season. 
Pitt has the ability to put up a lot of points and to do so quickly.  They average north of 42 points per game, but they also give up a lot of points, surrendering an average of 35.3.  The strength of the Pitt offense is their rushing attack, where they’ve scored 35 touchdowns on the ground, and rush for an average of 229 yards a game. 
While it might not jump out in the numbers, the Panthers are also pretty efficient throwing the ball.  They average only 217 yards a game through the air, compared to NU’s 247, but they get in the endzone, scoring 27 times. 
This should prove to be an interesting matchup.  NU’s strength on offense is running the ball, while stopping the run is about the only thing Pitt does well defensively, giving up an average of only 108 yards per game.   This is similar to the ‘Cats, who are better at stopping the run on a consistent basis than the pass. 
In order to win this game, which could be a shootout, the Wildcats are going to need to stop Pitt's junior back, James Conner, who gets the bulk of the touches.  Conner averages more than 5 yards a carry, and if he can’t be contained, this could look like a basketball score. 
NU will also need to be very efficient in the air.  Usually a lot of passing attempts is a bad sign for a Wildcat quarterback, but this one could be different.  Thorson might have to throw the ball 45-50 times in order for the ‘Cats to win.  If Flynn Nagel, or someone other than Austin Carr, doesn’t have a big day catching the ball, I don’t think NU will keep up on the scoreboard. 
PICK: Pittsburgh 38, Northwestern 31.   Take Pitt and lay the points.
Season to date:  4-7 Straight up, 2-8-1 ATS

Happy Holidays and best wishes to you and yours.



March Madness Lowes Line
Vanderbilt Preview and Prediciton
By Jersey Cat

Matchup:  NCAA West Regional(!) # 8 Northwestern Wildcats (23-11)  vs # 9 Vanderbilt Commodores (19-15)

Date: Thursday, 16 March, 2017  3:30 pm CDT, Salt Lake City UT


Line: Northwestern (+3), O/U: 130


Outlook:  Sorry for the mid-March emergency Lowes Line, as the next one wasn't scheduled for another 5+ months, but this had to be done.  Let's get this out of the way right out of the gate:  Holy Effing Hell, Northwestern is in the NCAA Tournament! 


By now you know the story.  After a wait of forever years, Northwestern has finally made the field for the NCAA Basketball Tournament, four years after Chris Collins took over a program that had made the NIT a handful of times, but could never get over the hump. 


Ten conference wins. The solid road wins. The big one at Wisconsin. The miracle against Michigan. Getting to the conference tournament semifinals for the first time ever.  It all added up to the first trip to March Madness for Northwestern, and madness it is for Wildcat fans.


The 'Cats drew an 8 seed, which is pretty much a toss up, and they're installed as a 21-foot jumper of an underdog against Vanderbilt out of the SEC, a battle-tested squad whose record doesn't look too pretty, but don't let that fool you.


As to the opponent, this tournament gives you only a small opportunity to get into gory detail on the team you'll be facing.  When discussing Vanderbilt, Coach Collins, paraphrasing Jim Morrison, said, "There are things known and things unknown, and in between are the 'Dores."


Vandy had only one loss considered bad, getting blown out at Missouri, and six very strong wins, although three of them came against Florida.  What's more concerning to Wildcat fans is the way Vandy plays.  They spread the ball around very well, with four players averaging in double figures, and all of them, including 7-1 senior Luke Kornet, can hit the three. 


It's going to take strong perimeter defense for the 'Cats to win this one.  Vandy averages about 5 more attempted threes per game than NU, and hits them at a greater clip.  NU can't afford to get into foul trouble here, which sounds obvious, but it's as much due to the need to get out on defense and defend the arc, not exactly a Nathan Taphorn core competency.


I don't think NU will be feeling "just happy to be here."  I think they have a good shot, and can present matchup problems if both Vic Law and Scottie Lindsey are on.  If they can avoid the prolonged scoring droughts that have hurt them in several games in late February, NU will get itself the first tourney win in school history.


PICK:  Northwestern 66, Vanderbilt 63.  Go 'Cats!!

** March Madness Bonus Lowes Line, Round Two!  ***
Gonzaga Preview and Prediction

By Jersey Cat


Matchup:  NCAA West Regional, 2nd Round:  #8 Northwestern Wildcats (24-11)  vs. #1 Gonzaga Bulldogs (33-1)

Date: Saturday, 18 March, 2017,  4:15 pm CDT, Salt Lake City, UT


Line: Northwestern (+11), O/U: 137


Outlook:  Not only another off-season Lowes Line for you folks, but the shortest turnaround of content in Lowes Line history. What transpired on Thursday was about the most exciting thing any Northwestern fan could ask for.  Raise your hand if when NU had a 15-point second half lead, you thought, "We got this."  Yeah, me neither.  Old habits die hard.  Vandy started shooting the lights out to make it a one-possession game in no time, and NU's fortunes down the stretch were strapped to the back of a 50% free throw shooter.  Incredible.


Commodore guard Matthew Fisher-Davis inadvertently intentionally (don't read that phrase too often, eh?) fouled Bryant McIntosh in the backcourt, thinking Vandy was losing when they were in fact up one.  While not anywhere as egregious as classic brain farts from Fred Brown (1982) or Chris Webber (1993), Fisher-Davis put BMac on the line for two that gave the 'Cats the lead they wouldn't relinquish.


To succeed in the NCAA Tournament, it's no secret that you need to have terrific play from your guards.  The 'Cats got that from junior McIntosh and then some.  BMac played arguably his best game of the year when NU needed him the most, scoring 25 points on 10 of 16 shooting from the floor, including 3 of 5 from beyond the arc.  Sophomore Dererk Pardon also was huge down the stretch, connecting on six free throws during crunch time, and  helping to give NU another tick in the "things we've never done" column with the school's first Tournament victory.


On to the round of 32 game against Gonzaga later today.  The Bulldogs are a strong squad who, admit it, you've never seen play, even though they're 33-1.  You think there's an east coast bias against Pac-12 football?  Multiply it by ten for West Coast Conference hoops.  Gonzaga has been good for some time, and coach Mark Few has won almost 500 games there in the past 19 years, making the Tourney each time.  This is his best squad, and the 'Zags have five players who average double figures.  NU will have to keep their eyes on senior Jordan Mathews on the perimeter, and Pardon will have his hands full with 7-1 senior Przemek Karnowski, a 300+ lb  monster  who takes up a lot of space and moves decently for a big man.  


This one seems straightforward.  BMac showed some signs of struggling when Vandy doubled him or put pressure on the ball. This is sure to happen by the Gonzaga defense.  To which the answer is:  Vic Law, this is your moment.  Whatever Kool-Aid you drank before that miraculous game in Evanston against Michigan two plus weeks ago, get yourself a refill.  Quite simply, Northwestern not only won't upset Gonzaga if Law again scores only two points as he did against Vandy, they might get run out of the gym.   We'll need the cheesy, but accurate, "'Zags fought the Law, and the Law won" comment  in order to have hopes for a date in the Sweet 16.   


NU is a very good team that beat another one in the first round.  They're going to be good again next year as well.  I just don't think they have the horses to keep up with a very strong Gonzaga squad.


PICK:  Gonzaga 71, Northwestern, 65.  Take the 'Cats and the points as NU's tourney comes to an end.    Go 'Cats! 


Lowes Line Hoops record to date:  1-0 straight up; 1-0 against the spread