Northwestern is coming off a tough loss Wednesday night to Rutgers but the Wildcats are still on track to contend for just their second-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.

They can take another step toward that goal Sunday afternoon with a Big Ten Conference win against a desperate Michigan squad in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Northwestern (12-4, 3-2) has hung its hat on the defensive end in a big year for coach Chris Collins, rumored to be on the hot seat before this season. A late-summer hire of former Southern Illinois coach Chris Lowery as an assistant coach has added some much-needed bite defensively.

Per kenpom.com, The Wildcats are permitting just 91.4 points per 100 possessions which ranks 14th in Division I. Their opponents’ field-goal percentage of 40.5 percent on 2-point shots ranks third in the country.

Despite the 65-62 setback to Rutgers, Collins didn’t seem that disturbed with the result post-game.

“I thought our guys hung in there real well,” he said. “We found a way to make some runs and we had the four-point lead in the last two minutes. Give Rutgers credit. They had some good defensive possessions at the end.”

The 1-2 punch of guards Chase Audige (15.8 points per game) and Boo Buie (14.6) paces Northwestern’s attack.

Meanwhile, Michigan (9-7, 3-2) suffered a gut-punch 93-84 overtime loss at Iowa Thursday night after leading by four late in regulation. A rare four-point play forced overtime and the Hawkeyes dominated from there.

Wasted in the loss were a career-high 34 points from Jett Howard, the son of coach Juwan Howard. Hunter Dickinson also had his fourth double-double of the season with 12 points and 13 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough.

Consecutive road losses to Michigan State and Iowa leave the Wolverines badly in need of a win, but Dickinson says this is just part of playing in the Big Ten.

“You already see how many upsets there are … there’s going to be a lot of teams in the 10-10, 9-11 range,” he said. “It’s just a matter of us taking it one game at a time.”

–Field Level Media