Northwestern’s message entering the home stretch: We’re not ‘dead’ yet

It’s the Bucket List — 10 rapid-fire observations on the college basketball season:

1. Here’s the thing about returning all your key players from an NCAA Tournament team, but then almost inexplicably getting off to an 11-9 start with a 2-5 mark in Big Ten play: People are going to notice.

Northwestern coach Chris Collins had to realize this when he gave reporters a sarcastic earful following Tuesday night’s Wildcats victory over Michigan — the team’s fourth in five games since that inglorious start.

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Senior point guard Bryant McIntosh has Northwestern pointed in the right direction again. (AP/Stephen Dunn)

“I know there’s so much wrong with us and it’s a disastrous season, everyone’s writing our obituaries and it’s a lot of fun,” Collins said. “But I’m not sure I’m quite seeing that at 6-6, 15-10. I’m proud of my guys.”

Collins likely was reacting, at least in part, to a Sun-Times story written last week by yours truly. In it, senior point guard Bryant McIntosh and Collins each admitted the Wildcats had done a less-than-stellar job of preparing for their follow-up act to last season’s maiden voyage to the Big Dance.

“I know we’re dead, I know we’re bad, I know we have all these problems,” Collins said. “But we’re just going to keep playing the rest of our games and see what happens.”

Fair enough.

2. Big McIntosh fan here. All he did was answer honestly when asked what had gone wrong this season. I appreciated his forthrightness and was glad to see him have one of his best games as a Wildcat against Michigan — 24 points, only one turnover and a face that couldn’t stop itself from smiling. That’s how you want to see a terrific player head into the last weeks of his career.

3. Collins astutely brought up Michigan’s run last season, when the Wolverines overcame a shaky first few months by winning six of their last eight Big Ten games, then going 4-0 at the league tournament and — what a ride it was — coming within a hair’s breadth of the Elite Eight.

So that’s the goal now in Evanston: Pull a Michigan.

4. Come to think of it, shouldn’t that be the goal in upward of 10 Big Ten towns? Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State are NCAA locks. Michigan is nearing lock status. Nebraska still is searching for quality wins and, yep, it’s desperation time for everyone else.

5. At least there’s always Rutgers. Even when the going gets unconscionably bad for a Big Ten team, there’s always good ol’ RU, which is 8-59 — with a grand total of one road win — since joining the league.

6. Ah, but the Big Ten tourney will be in New York next month because, you know, that market is just wild about the Scarlet Knights. Then again, is Iowa vs. Minnesota at Madison Square Garden any more ridiculous than a 14-team league having “Ten” in its name?

7. This isn’t a great Kansas team, but the Jayhawks are 8-3 in the Big 12 and barely in front in a crowded race for the league title — which we all know means they’ll win it. KU is going for a 14th straight title, which has never been seen before in a power league. Incredible.

8. Your SEC leader: Auburn. Tearing up the ACC: Clemson. In contention in the Pac-12: USC and Washington. What is this, football?

9. ESPN’s Jay Bilas ranked his top 68 teams this week. Nowhere to be found: Missouri Valley-leading Loyola. Bilas should ask his 26th-ranked team, Florida, about the Ramblers.

10. Forget the Lakers, Sixers, Bucks, Bulls or any other NBA team. Maybe Kentucky — stuck in the middle of the SEC pack — can be the one to trade for LeBron James?

Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com