Boiling Over

Ouch. That one hurt. Perhaps I’m reaching, but it sure looked like we were tight in the first half (as was Purdue) in yesterday’s spirit-crushing loss. The ‘Cats uncharacteristically were throwing the ball away, making bad decisions once they got caught on offense on the baseline and as many of you pointed out, seemingly didn’t care too much about boxing out.  Both teams shot miserably in the first half and Purdue went one stretch missing 12 consecutive shots, yet Northwestern could not capitalize on the window opening to build a lead. You got the sense it would just be a matter of time before Purdue found its rhythm, and indeed both teams did in an explosive second half.

There were moments when I thought we were on the ropes as Purdue started cranking from 3-point, land, in particular, Byrd, who has the same spot on the floor that he loves. Yet, Northwestern would respond – a huge Shurna three or even a nasty Crawford dunk – and the Boilers couldn’t put us away. It was after the Crawford dunk that I thought “here we go”. We had seemed to find the fight and the hunger factor that was missing for most of the first 30 minutes.  I really was on the edge of my couch in full “believe” mode. The fact that NU and Purdue are virtually the same team on the NCAA selection line was just weighing over me.  A sweep by Purdue and it could cost us as the last team out if it would come down to the two of us. I was willing John to keep on his takeover the game mode, which was clearly in effect. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a Northwestern player score 30 points while having single digits so late in to a game. He was in that “give me the rock” mode we’ve been wanting him to have and it became our team, our season, on one guy’s shoulders.

Purdue deserves a ton of credit. They play defense as hard and as well as any major BCS team – especially at home. Meanwhile, Painter deserves credit for finding the vulnerable spot in our zone as they continued to kill us from 15-feet by slicing through the middle and finding either a runner or a kick-out to their three-point shooters. Yet, the game seemed to have this weird flow, where you felt we were going to get buried and then just like that you thought we were seizing momentum and were going to go on a run. Neither really happened.

The game was obviously much closer than the 10-point final margin of victory indicated. We gave up 87 points which is inexcusable for many reasons, none moreso than the fact that the Boilermakers scored well over 50 points in the second half. Bottom-line in this game is that we could not get a stop, let alone consecutive defensive stops in the second half. You hate to slip in to that fatalistic zone that comes with being a Northwestern hoops fan, a point you’re reminded of by Gus Johnson every other trip up the floor (alternating between “the Wildcats haven’t had four consecutive conference wins since 1967” and “Northwestern is trying to secure an important win that would help their case for their first EVER appearance in the NCAA Tournament”).  However, that’s where I was with 10 minutes to go in the game and NU playing catch-up.  I was reduced to speaking outloud and muttering such insanity as “just once, please let us win this and get to the dance”. 

In the end, it was a reversion back to the outside of the Tournament looking in as we’re now 5-7 in conference play with six games to go and likely requiring a 4-2 finish down the stretch. Let’s face it, we’re entering highly improbable territory with possibly the toughest road venue in the B1g, Bloomington, staring us in the face on Wednesday. Let’s play the odds and assume we lose that game. It would take a near miraculous finish to pull out a 9-9 mark and breaking the streak.

I hate this feeling. I can’t stand it. I feel like a petulant child who wants to kick and scream to get his way. It’s also riding the rail of the entire program, as our run towards the bottom of the middle tier of the Big Ten pack seems to be hitting us like the proverbial glass ceiling under Coach Carmody. Breaking through to the NCAA Tournament, in my opinion is a quasi-version of program rocket fuel that could help us break through with that one additional recruit we might net as a result. The not making it to the Tournament is a presumed direction change for the program and the inevitable drop back to the basement in the post-Shurna world. When you’re nearing half a century of breaking through, you then resign yourself to thinking, what’s the downside of a dip in the program to try and assemble a resurgence? Well, there is a big assumption in that line of thinking. It is one that assumes we’ve landed the “right” guy for the head coaching position.

Ultimately, that’s why this season and last season are so manic. It’s become more than making it or not making it. It’s become the inevitability of needing to go in to rebuild mode on a program that has been light on the build. We’ve gotten to the point where we indeed compete night in and night out and there isn’t a team in the Big Ten were not capable of beating. That’s a good thing. Getting sucked in to believing, “no wait, this REALLY could be the year” to then lose is just the toying of emotions that we discussed as being so mentally unhealthy. No need to worry though ‘Cats fans, NU has us right where they want us – back off the believing bandwagon – just so they can pull off another shocker to bring us back.

Happy Thoughts

Congratulations to Northwestern alum and Olympic swimmer, Matt Grevers, who made waves Saturday by not only winning at the Missouri Grand Prix, but then using the winner’s podium as his pulpit to propose to his now fiancee, Annie Chandler. You can read all about it here in SI.

  • ChuckyNeubs

    Honestly, I would have predicted this as one of our three losses (when you said we had to win 4 and only lose 3). Purdue really is Northwestern’s kryptonite this season. They are designed to not be beat by any sort of 1-3-1 action. Here are the team stat rankings for assist-to-turnover in the country:–per–turnover-ratio

    As you see, Northwestern is #2 and Purdue is #3. I don’t think it’s possible for Northwestern to really use what it’s best at in terms of defense against a team that is this good at not turning the ball over (#3!), and a team that makes a lot of threes.

    Speaking of threes, Purdue is third after us in three point shooting percentage:

    I don’t think it’s that bad that we lost to a Purdue team that hustles and is almost designed to not fail against the 1-3-1.

    • Lake The Posts

      Indeed, nothing bad about Purdue -they play great defense. Just our two teams are toss-ups and it was painful to lose this one.

  • db

    @LTP – you annually hold out hope that this team magically comes out of nowhere to get it done. No size, no numbers, but who knows? Now, you are 3 or 4 wins away – with 2 real bad teams left on the sked and 2 winnable home games – from making it happen. Get your head out of the oven – you have never been half this close with players half this good!

    I find it odd that we lose a road game to a team that absolutely had to have it, where we are 3 or 4 to 1 underdogs, that the sky is falling? Did you really expect a W? I was very encouraged with how they played. Yes, this game would have provided breathing room, but we have a team that has 6 guys and play a small fwd at center…we are built to play on thin margin.

    Making the tournament does not come down to winning at purdue or at indiana. it comes down to defending your home court and going on the road and beating bad teams. what order the games are in is irrelevant.

    If you want to go to the tourney you take care of iowa and psu, and you beat minn and mich. and even if you only split minn/mich, an upset of osu OR one win in the B1G tourney gives you a reasonable case. No conference has been as strong as the B1G in 8 or 9 years. 8-10 will resonate in the numbers.

    We need Seton Hall to check back in, and we need Illinois to get off the mat. If that happens one more quality win gets us in. The sky is not falling. If we cant beat Iowa and PSU then tourney talk is moot anyway.

    • Lake The Posts

      I realize that. Road wins in the B1G are very difficult, which will be the case with both PSU AND Iowa, by the way. However, it was a pretty good door opening last night during Purdue’s 1st half that we didn’t capitalize on. If we lose on Wednesday, we’ll have to go 4-1 the rest of the way.

      • db

        So now you dont just want to make it, you want to make it in no sweat, comfort style? Greed.

        Such is the path we have chosen…another pre-season quality game / win would have made 8-10 more of a sure thing. At this point, it probably requires a B1G tourney win and some bubble help, though still very possible.

        Note if we had not played Seton Hall by chance in that tourney, we probably would be out of contention. Or if Seton Hall didnt have such an unexpected run earlier this year, we would be out of contention. Our schedule knocked out the dregs of our typical schedule so our SOS is better, so that has been a positive. But it did not put this team in the best position to make the tournament.

        Another quality win would be huge right now. And as we can see, no one cares that we lost to Baylor or @ Creighton. All upside for scheduling those games, no downside.

        I have always been terrified of a scenario where we scrape out 8-10 or 9-9, and somehow the wins we get aren’t meaningful enough and they look to the preseason – where we did not have the at bats to have a chance. It is one of the problems I have with the Carmody regime – proverbial head in the sand, preferring to cross fingers than do what you need to do to give the kids the best chance.

  • bandcat

    “It ain”t over til its over”…This ride beats the heck out of worrying about the reversal of the poles and the break up of the EU amongst other things..

  • NorCalCat

    Well put db, I couldn’t agree more.

    We’re still not out of it, but do need to take care of business in some winnable games. That being said, I’m trying not to get too emotionally invested in this team. I’m hopeful and optimistic that this is the year, but I’ve had my heart broken too many times in the last ten years to go all in with them.

  • UVA Cat

    Lunardi over at ESPN has us as one of the first 4 teams out:

    I certainly take that with a grain of salt, though, as I think Jerry Palm does a better job on these \predictions\. (He hasn’t updated his since Feb 10, though:

    Anyway, bottom line is that we need to take care of business on the hardwood and get a few more wins, including a quality win in order for any of this to really be germane.

    Beat IU!!

  • db

    Palm is “if the tourney started today” which is important to understand how we stack up against other bubble teams today.

    As I understand it Lunardi is a projection, i.e. he sees us going 4-2 or 3-3 down the stretch as problematic. also, he is a gas bag.

  • DarkSide

    This is gut-check time for the ‘Cats. Few believe, myself included, that they will make the NCAA tournament. No one left on the schedule is a push-over that will lie down for the ‘Cats to reach March Madness. If the players want this, they will have to dig deep and win it by themselves. I sense that Shurna understands this and will try to carry the team by himself. Last night when the team was out of it with under 1:40 left, Shurna took a 3-point shot from Indianapolis that almost fell, to draw the ‘Cats closer. It was if to say, hey I do not care what the scoreboard says, the game is over when the clock hits 0.00. Pure guts and guile are the only thing that will get us over the hump. The clock is ringing in midnight, will we be in or out?

  • Watching and (mostly) Waiting

    Same result last night–NU can’t finish a close game–but a very different feel. Normally we lose when our offense vanishes, and we go scoreless for several minutes. Last night, it was clearly defense. With less than 7 minutes left, NU scores to tie 57-57 and had some momentum. Suddenly, in next 5 minutes Purdue scores on 8 of next 9 possessions, 18 total points to put the game away. (NU scores a respectable 10 points in same 5 minutes.) With under 2:00 remaining, it’s 75-67 and game over. The same Purdue that went scoreless on 12 straight possessions early, now AVERAGES two points a possession (18 on 9 trips) down the stretch. I’ve been tough on this team’s lack of killer instinct, and I still believe that’s a big weakness, but what I saw last night worries me: I saw defensive fatigue. Here’s hoping they can reach a little deeper. While it’s a long shot, I think it’s still possible. But I don’t think we can win 3-4 blowouts–we’re going to have to figure out how to win a couple of close games. And to do that, we’ve got to have energy at the end. Hopefully a bit longer bench will help in that regard.