by Chris Johnson (@ChrisDJohnsonn)
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Shots clanked, fans sighed, television viewers shielded their eyes and Twitter commentary ranged anywhere from ridicule to dejection. All of it came as a response to Northwestern’s worst game of the season, a 70-50 loss to Iowa at Welsh Ryan Arena.
Early in the first half, the Wildcats kept it close. With the score knotted at 11 and just under seven minutes to go, Iowa broke off an 8-0 run. For most teams on most nights, that is not an insurmountable deficit. A couple of three-point shots here, a blocked shot there, and the game is tied. Here in Evanston Sunday night, the Wildcats were toast. From then on, the game was never competitive.
“It’s Big Ten basketball, you need to make shots,” Northwestern senior Alex Marcotullio, who finished 1-for-5 from the field and 1-for-3 from beyond the arc, said of Northwestern’s 29 percent shooting performance. Marcotullio’s diagnosis is simple enough, but it couldn’t be more accurate. You’re not going to win many basketball games when you’re starters combine for 28 points, when you knock down only five of 26 three-point attempts, when convert only nine assisted field goals.
Afterward, Carmody readily acknowledged his team’s offense struggles. He made sure to credit the Hawkeyes’ defense, which closed out and stifled the Wildcats’ long-range shooters – “We were up, pressuring them out there,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said – but this lifeless scoring outing had less to do with Iowa’s help rotations, aggressive close-outs and lane discipline than it did Northwestern’s chronic offensive deficiencies. Any rational observer could have come to the conclusion Carmody made in the post-game press conference.
“We’re having a hard time putting the ball in the basket,” he said. “Our offense is really lacking.”
When points are this hard to come by, it is difficult to identify the problem, much less come up with a solution. Freshman Alex Olah was tentative in the low post. Jared Swopshire is not involved in the offense. Dave Sobolewski is overdribbling, forcing shots and overburdening himself with undue offensive responsibility. And the sad part is, Carmody has no gripes with Sobolewski’s offensive game. It’s out of necessity.
Where else is Northwestern going to get consistent offensive production?
Responding to a question about Sobolewski’s 4-for-11 shooting performance, Carmody offered a candid appraisal of his point guard’s mindset. “He’s feeling now like, ‘so, who am I going to pass to?’,” Carmody said. “That’s where we are right now.”
The combined losses of JerShonn Cobb (suspension) and Drew Crawford have sent Northwestern’s offense into a tailspin. Replacing their output on the offensive end wasn’t a realistic goal, but this is a new low for the Wildcats. Fresh off scoring 70 points at Penn State, and with a prime opportunity to pick up its first Big Ten win of note, Northwestern fell flat in a big spot. Stagnant, or inefficient, or incongruent doesn’t capture the breadth of the problems Northwestern is dealing with on offense. It’s much worse.
The conference road doesn’t get any easier from here. Over the next 10 days, Northwestern faces three teams ranked in the top 15 of the latest AP Poll. All of them – Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota – present greater matchup difficulties than Iowa. The Hawkeyes calmly brushed aside the Wildcats, and they’re not anywhere near as talented or explosive as any of the three aforementioned teams. The Wildcats will need to lift whatever offensive malaise is hanging over them, make corrections, discover new ways to manufacture points and hope for the best.
Because another offensive outing like this won’t just result in another devastating loss. A blowout is almost guaranteed.