This may seem like revisionist history, but I was tempted to predict an Iowa win in this contest. But instead of doing so, I told myself, “No, this Northwestern team is different than the teams of the past. They won’t let down, they won’t fail in the big game, they won’t be the group saying, ‘if only this or that had gone the other way’ at the end of the year.” Well, I was wrong. This was the same exact game NU fans have see hundreds of times when they start to have expectations. It was virtually every game of consequence from the 2003-04 season to the 2005-06 season. I could probably spare you all a post and just have you think back to those times, but I've got stuff to say, so I'll post my thoughts.
This was also the type of uninspired effort which NU showed in virtually every game two years ago, when they went 1-17 in the Big Ten. Like that year, tonight Northwestern was pathetic in every area from offense, to defense, to coaching, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the postgame meal is stale.
NU looked totally lost to start the game. They didn’t seem to have a clue as to what offensive set to run, they struggled to get any sort of an open look, and multiple times settled for Jeremy Nash threes. Nash’s offense has obviously improved, but no way was the game plan to have him be the primary offensive weapon to start the game. As bad as that was, though, NU’s defense was even worse. They let Iowa get inside early in the game and therefore decided they need to switch to the 1-3-1. Unfortunately, in the 1-3-1, NU didn’t guard Devan Bawinkle from behind the arc despite the fact Bawinkle has never attempted a two in his career.
NU also didn’t seem able to get a team on the court who could play together without turnovers and forced threes. When NU got down they stopped running offense and started shooting threes like they hoped that if they hit a shot from deep enough it would be a like a “hot spot” in the old NBA Jam video game where you could get 7 or 8 points back with one bomb.
Luka Mirkovic struggled and was pulled. Kyle Rowley struggled and was pulled. Mirkovic came back, but was playing the worst game of his career, so Davide Curletti and Ivan Peljusic played for the first time in eons. Alex Marcotullio saw more time as did Mike Capocci, yet none of them seemed able to play defense or make shots. I don’t mean to pick on those guys. No Wildcat played well. They looked lazy. Almost as if they were either full of themselves because they won two games or looking ahead to Minnesota.
I can’t really quantify just how bad NU played. You can look at the stats and say things like, “NU made only 8-of-26 threes, while Iowa made 12-of-24 or Iowa got 36 rebounds while NU got only 28.” The thing is those stats aren’t enough to explain this game. The best I can do is say if you saw NU’s teams in 95-96, 99-00, or 07-08, that was what this game looked like. NU looked like a team that wasn’t athletic enough or skilled enough to play defense, grab a rebound, or make a shot. The problem is that this isn’t a team that is undermanned like those squads. This is probably Northwestern’s most balanced team ever.
Perhaps the best summary of this game might be to look to a quote from the character of lawyer Jackie Chiles played by actor Phil Morris on the television show Seinfeld. When faced with one of the many times Cosmo Kramer has ruined Jackie’s shot at a huge payday, the frustrated attorney declares, “this is the most public yet of my many humiliations." Northwestern basketball hasn’t exactly impressed in its history. Humiliating losses were the norm at times in the past, but with the nation watching closely, and in many cases rooting, for NU to make the Big Dance, this game is indeed the most public of NU’s many humiliating losses.