After being the lone Power 5 Conference team to never receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament, Northwestern finally sealed the deal last year with a trip to the Big Dance. In his fourth season, head coach Chris Collins took the Wildcats to the tournament, even beating Vanderbilt in the first round. Well, Vanderbilt really gave away that game in the final minute, but nobody has to know that. Moving forward to this season, Northwestern was projected to improve with most players coming back, poised to make it two straight trips to the tournament. So far this season, the Wildcats have been the opposite. Let me tell you why:
Energy (Or Lack Thereof)
They’re not playing with enough energy. Simply put. Most of their stats from last year have carried over to this year including points and rebounding, but their heart has been missing. Their two biggest losses, granted they were to two outstanding teams in Texas Tech and Oklahoma, were by a combined 62 points. Both times, they couldn’t compete and looked lethargic while doing it. If anything is going to change in Evanston, it’s got to begin with the effort.
They’re missing a key piece from last year – Sanjay Lumpkin. The graduated senior saw the ups and downs of Northwestern basketball. Last year, he was the clear-cut leader on the team. He didn’t put up crazy numbers, only averaging 6 points and 5 rebounds, but every player would tell you that without him, they wouldn’t have had the success that they had. This year, point guard Bryant McIntosh has taken that role, but his play has been too inconsistent to cement his place. Without more dependency from him, Northwestern won’t make it back this year.
Home Court Dis-Advantage
They aren’t playing at their normal home court. Due to a generous $110 million dollar renovation to Welsh-Ryan Arena, the Wildcats are playing their home games elsewhere. Last season, Welsh-Ryan had a decent home court advantage, which is unusual for them. Personally, I’ve attended multiple Indiana-Northwestern games in Evanston in the past and there has definitely been more red than purple. However, the Wildcats attracted a lot more fan support last year with their success. This year, they’re going to have to be even better to convince students to make the 30 minute drive to Allstate Arena. Will they be able to do that? We’ll have to wait and see.
Can they turn things around? Of course. They have plenty of time to fix their problems and turn their season around. Luckily, the Big Ten is down this year so wins shouldn’t be as hard to come by compared to previous seasons. Usual powerhouses like Wisconsin, Indiana, and Maryland are going to finish in the bottom half of the conference. The Wildcats will have chances to prove that they deserve a spot in the field of 68. Just last night, they played like the 2016-17 Wildcats and beat Minnesota by 23. Maybe, just maybe, that win will turn things around.