There really isn’t much to say about this game (but I’ll probably say a fair amount anyway). This contest can be boiled down to Northwestern missing a ton of opportunities to not only win the game, but actually take a solid lead and put Wisconsin away. First, at one point Wisconsin missed ten straight shots and NU couldn’t take control of the game. The biggest lead NU got in that sequence was 3 points. Second, NU allowed Wisconsin a ton of second chances and failed to get steals. If you can’t get rebounds, you have to get steals. Northwestern did neither. Third, Northwestern couldn’t make free throws. They finished 9-of-16 from the line, but all seven misses were big. Luka Mirkovic and Drew Crawford missed opportunities to extend the lead and Michael Thompson missed a chance to keep NU in the game with Wisconsin up 52-48. Thompson’s miss essentially resulted in a five point play when he missed the front end of the 1-and-1 and Hughes drilled a three.
Northwestern has at least 16 games left before Selection Sunday, but in failing to take this game on their home court, a game which Wisconsin wanted to give away, Northwestern looks more like a team destined for the NIT or CBI than the NCAA Tournament. Some will say I’m jumping the gun in that declaration, and for the record I’m not saying NU won’t make the NCAA Tournament, but I’m just evaluating what I see right now. If NU wants to make the NCAA Tournament they will need to take a lesson from last year’s Badgers and at some point make up for a poor stretch with a huge run. Saturday would be a good opportunity to start. Purdue will be looking to preserve their shot at the Big Ten Title, NU will be looking for the key chance for a marquee win they let slip through their fingers today.
Right now, as good as the Wildcats are in some areas, they are seriously flawed in others. Not as flawed as teams like Michigan or Iowa, but the Wildcats do have some clear deficiencies which have kept them from what could have been a 3-1 league start. For starters, what was supposed to be a deep team gets no production off the bench. Injuries aside, the ‘Cats are a five man team. In the last two games, NU’s bench production has been two Kyle Rowley rebounds and a lot of fouls. That’s not a recipe for success. Also, NU really isn’t a consistent free throw shooting team. The ‘Cats came through with free throws Sunday, but could have built an addition to Welsh-Ryan with their bricks tonight. Good teams are consistent from the line, especially from guys who are ball handlers and three point shooters. A little more consistency from behind the arc would also help NU. Somehow, Bill Carmody needs to get some pressure off of Thompson so he can get shots. Wisconsin is a good model. Letting Jordan Taylor handle some of the point guard load helps Hughes get into the offense more as a shooter. NU also failed to get anywhere near the 11 three pointers I said they would need to win. In fact, the ‘Cats hit just 5 and only 1 in the second half.
Looking at the stats, John Shurna played another solid game with 15 points and 6 rebounds (by my unofficial count) and Jeremy Nash added a more than adequate 13 points. I was very pleased see Nash play well. Also, Luka Mirkovic scored 8 points and had 10 rebounds, but as much as Wisconsin controlled the glass, I’m not sure I’d call Mirkovic’s performance his best. Some of those rebounds would have been tough to get too, but Coach Carmody did pull Luka after the two he missed out on when Wisconsin extended the lead and it looked as if he felt Luka didn't get into position.
Finally, I have to say the students did a very nice job of showing up tonight. However, I was still disappointed by the number of Badger fans present. I suspect it’ll be a similar situation Saturday with Purdue. Hopefully NU can fix some of their issues and those fans won’t have as much to cheer about.