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Blowout Loss to Michigan Could Trigger Big Changes to Northwestern

by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)

On par with the script for this season, not much went right for Northwestern on Thursday night against Michigan. Conversely, just about everything went right for the Wolverines, who essentially did whatever they wanted offensively in a 94-66 romping of the Wildcats.

A Northwestern team that was already thin after JerShon Cobb’s preseason suspension and Drew Crawford’s season-ending injury in December was without star Reggie Hearn against Michigan due to an ankle injury. Wolverines coach John Beilein knows he has one of the best teams in the country, but considering how NU played last year against his team, he couldn’t help but wonder how this game might have gone had those three guys played.

“I really feel bad that Northwestern has been hit with so many injuries,” he said. “While they have good young talent, between Hearn and Crawford, those are two huge losses. If we lost people like that, we would have the same issues that they have.

“They’re missing three guys from those games last year. That’s a big difference.”

Hearn will be back for Northwestern — possibly for NU’s next game, Sunday at Minnesota. However, with Crawford and Cobb done for the year, the Wildcats must find a way to win without their stars.

“Dave (Sobolewski), (Jared Swopshire) and those guys, when Reggie comes back, they’re going to have to be the ones that make us win,” coach Bill Carmody said.

However, considering the competition NU must face in a lot of its Big Ten games, the status quo may not be enough, even when Hearn, Nikola Cerina and Sanjay Lumpkin get back. It may mean a style change, with NU running a slower, more deliberate offense.

“We might have to change the way we play, just slow it down a little bit. Because the last five games teams have been going up and down the court, scoring a lot and we had a lot of drills where that’s what we did — shot the ball quickly — because I thought we had the team to do that,” Carmody said. “But right now, I don’t think that’s the case. In fact, I know it’s probably not the case. So we’re going to have to change things a little bit.”

Sobolewski said NU has had problems with shooting too quickly on offense and that slowing things down could help.

“I think that’s definitely a good option here,” he said. “I thought we took a lot of quick shots that we didn’t need to take — not necessarily bad shots, but in the context of the game they were not good shots by any means. If the clock had been 20 or 25 seconds later then they’d be decent, but we can’t just be jacking shots up if we seem to be open.”

While NU doesn’t have the shooters that it had last year, its scoring has started to improve. Redshirt freshman guard Tre Demps has settled in as a shooter, while freshman center Alex Olah continues to improve on the offensive end. Even senior Jared Swopshire, who has been absent on offense for much of the season so far, had 11 against Michigan.

That’s encouraging and will be helpful if NU slows down its offense. However, there could be even bigger problems on defense.

“I think we’ll be okay on offense; we’ll make adjustments from that standpoint,” Alex Marcotullio said. “Defensively is where we really have to improve. We have to learn every day to compete. I think in that first half we didn’t compete for that first 10 minutes or so.

“We have to get stops and that’s the bottom line.”