The past few years a lot of pressure was on Northwestern as they entered the Big Ten Tournament. Fans believed a win or two would result in them making the NCAA Tournament for the first time. Now most fans expect NU to lose their game on Thursday and take a short bus ride back to Evanston. Will that lack of pressure to win work in NU’s favor?
Last year NU was in a similar position to Iowa and failed to hold a late lead and dropped out of the NCAA Tournament hunt. Can NU do to Iowa what Minnesota did to the ‘Cats a year ago? The odds are against it. NU simply hasn’t had the firepower to play with anybody in the Big Ten since Jared Swopshire went down. The Hawkeyes inside presence led by Aaron White and Adam Woodbury have given NU trouble in the past and will be expected to give NU trouble again. Alex Olah will need to have one of his best games for NU to compete with Iowa. Olah is coming off a big game vs Michigan State so perhaps that’ll carry over. What he needs to do, however, is not just score points, but also make himself a factor on defense and on the glass which hasn’t always been the case.
NU’s best chance to beat Iowa is probably getting hot from beyond the three point line. The ‘Cats need Tre Demps, Kale Abrahamson, Dave Sobolewski, and Alex Marcotullio all to have good games. Each of those four have had good moments over the course of this season, but they haven’t all put it together for 40 minutes. Can it happen now? It almost seems like it has to happen at some point, but maybe not. Iowa will put pressure on NU’s backcourt and if Sobolewksi and Reggie Hearn don’t handle the ball well than it won’t matter how well NU shoots because they won’t get shots.
In the end the storyline for this game for Northwestern is probably more about the future of head coach Bill Carmody than that of the team itself. I don’t think winning or losing this game should have a baring on Carmody’s future, but part of me thinks it will. I just think that A.D. Jim Phillips wants to make a change and if Carmody hasn’t won in more than a month he’ll be able to do so without being questioned. However, if Carmody pulls off a nice win and the top-rated recruit for NU in the last 20 years has his father going on record saying he won’t come to NU unless Carmody stays it’ll put Phillips in a very tough spot. Honestly, I’d love it if ESPN2 put a split screen on Jim Phillips during the game just to see how he reacts to how NU plays.
Prediction: In the end I think Iowa’s too much for NU but the game is closer than some might expect. The Hawkeyes will win by eight and Jim Phillips will fire Bill Carmody and replace him with Chris Collins. I won’t agree that Phillips made the right move but many in NU circles will and it’ll be interesting to see how Collins (and those that are so in love with him) handles a team that doesn’t have Drew Crawford, JerShon Cobb, Tre or Jaren Sina because I would bet that all or at least the majority of those guys won’t be back if Carmody isn’t back. I also wouldn’t count on Princeton-style players like Nate Taphorn or Kale Abrahamson sticking around NU without Carmody.