Another year, another step closer to the Dance, another last second collapse. In the eleventh hour, the Cardiac ‘Cats faced cardiac arrest.
This time, the Northwestern loss came at the hands of the flailing Minnesota Golden Gophers. 1-6 in its last seven games, Minnesota took the teams’ third meeting of the year in overtime, 75-68.
The closest it has been in years to finally making the NCAA Tournament, Northwestern had its heart broken and will have to wait another year.
The season is not over yet, but with hopes as high as they were, this is as disappointing as it gets.
Northwestern fell to every major mistake it has been making the entire year. The ‘Cats gave up on the glass, often looked lost on defense, and could never fully get the offense moving.
The year’s broken record replayed one more time as Northwestern grabbed 15 fewer boards than Minnesota. The Gophers added 24 points in the paint compared to Northwestern’s 12, and zero came from Davide Curletti who only played 15 minutes.
Unlike the usual plot, Northwestern did not win the shooting contest. Minnesota matched the ‘Cats exactly from behind the arc, shooting 11-26, and Northwestern’s abysmal 35.1 percent field-goal percentage was well surpassed by Minnesota’s 46.8 percent.
In addition, the ‘Cats did not score a basket from the field in the last 4:44 of regulation or in the last 3:14 of overtime.
This inability to turn on the offense has been present since the first half of the season, but it proved crippling as Northwestern missed layup and put backs. Dave Sobolewski was the worst offender as he went 0-of-6 from the field and 2-of-4 from the free throw line.
Despite these woes, the game stayed tight with six lead changes and 13 ties. However, the ‘Cats ran out of steam in overtime where they were outscored 14-7.
The game did present some bright spots with good fan support, a stellar performance from JerShon Cobb, and another bundle of points for John Shurna’s scoring title.
Northwestern students took advantage of the school’s offer of free tickets, and busloads of fans were present in Indianapolis to support the ‘Cats.
JerShon Cobb’s several games back have provided the WD-40 necessary to remove his injury rust. He grabbed eight rebounds and poured in 24 points, going 8-of-12 from the field, including 3-3 from behind the arc and 5-5 from the free throw line.
After a poor game at Iowa, John Shurna did not look as strong and quick as his normal self, but he still added 21 and is now only nine points away from hitting 2,000.
One Crazy Season
If anything, this season has been entertaining. Of course, entertaining means that any diehard Northwestern fan now has the blood pressure of a professional fried chicken taste tester.
The ‘Cats are 18-13 overall and 8-11 in conference, and there have been very few blowouts in either direction compared to the number of nail-biters.
The season had extreme highs and extreme lows. While the ‘Cats won the Charleston Classic and took down the seventh-ranked Michigan State Spartans, their inability to close out many Big Ten games and this quick exit from the Big Ten Tournament have pulled down the season.
Just to keep the fans entertained, Northwestern watched its star break the school’s all-time scoring record and fought excruciatingly close to the Dance. Yet it might seem that “Chicago’s Big Ten Team” is taking on the persona of a famous baseball organization only a few miles to the south. History lets them get closer and closer without ever quite making it.
It is now March, and all that craziness is in the past as the real madness is about to begin.
It Ain’t Over Until It’s Over
With Selection Sunday coming, anything can happen. However, what will happen is the ‘Cats will be highly seeded in the NIT.
Then, will they be hungry?
Northwestern’s two main sports droughts, not winning a bowl game since the 1949 Rose Bowl and never making the NCAA Tournament, seem to stem from a lack of experience winning.
Down the stretch in both sports, the ‘Cats fall apart. In basketball this year, there were the losses to Illinois by one, Michigan in overtime, Purdue by two, Indiana by five, Michigan in overtime again, Ohio State by two, and now Minnesota in overtime in the Big Ten Tournament.
While the team did pull out close ones over Penn State, Iowa, and Illinois, those were against Penn State, Iowa, and an Illinois team beginning to slump.
The problem with Northwestern it lacks the knowledge of how to win to that is necessary for actually winning. For the past four years, the ‘Cats have been tantalizingly close down the stretch, but if they do not have experience winning, then how can they break the cycle of losing?
Next year, the team will have to move on without its big men, and without Shurna. Carmody’s future will again be called into question by fans.
But that was then. Now, the ‘Cats take whatever Selection Sunday gives them, most likely a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NIT. Home court advantage and real talent must mix with a true, burning hunger.
This postseason is a real chance for Northwestern to learn what it means to win, even if it is not on the highest stage. If the ‘Cats want to experience the essence of victory, they can take this postseason with all their desire and use it to prepare for next year.