by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)
A 71-57 loss to Iowa stings for Northwestern. But it’s a road loss against a solid opponent — that happens. However, there were potentially far bigger losses for the Wildcats at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday afternoon — losses that could be backbreaking for NU the rest of the season.
Early in the second half, Alex Olah went down with a head injury and had to be taken off the court. Just a few minutes later, Jared Swopshire went down with a knee injury on a hard foul. Neither returned, and it’s questionable when either will.
Swopshire was helped off the court very gingerly after the game, with a two people supporting him as he hopped and teammate Sanjay Lumpkin holding his foot for support. Carmody didn’t want to speculate, but it clearly didn’t look good. With Olah, meanwhile, Carmody said he doesn’t know what the diagnosis is yet, but he said the possibility of a concussion came to mind.
“Those concussions are going around these days, so I don’t know what to expect,” Carmody said. “We’ll have to wait and see on that. He seemed a little out of it.”
It’s another tough blow for a team that has struggled mightily with injuries and other depth issues this year. First, JerShon Cobb was suspended before the season started, then Drew Crawford went out for the season with injury. Sanjay Lumpkin is currently injured, while Nikola Cerina is recovering from an ankle sprain.
“It’s been tough,” senior guard Alex Marcotullio said. “It seems like every week, every game we’ve got someone getting banged up, or someone coming down with some sort of injury. It’s tough for team morale, but we have to stay up, we have to continue to practice hard (and) come to work every day.”
It was tough on Saturday — really tough. NU actually was hanging in there with the Hawkeyes for the first half and the early part of the second half. The Wildcats won the rebounding battle 19-to-13 in the first half and had 8 second-chance points. However, after Olah went out — and then especially after Swopshire went out — NU struggled with just about everything.
After NU lost its starting front line, Iowa, a team that is already much deeper than NU, was much bigger, as well. The Hawkeyes started attacking the glass and ended up with three more rebounds than the Wildcats. That’s what happens when you lose your two best players in the frontcourt, especially when you don’t have a lot of options as backups.
“One’s 7-feet, the other’s 6-foot-7, they’re our two leading rebounders, they started hitting the backboards, they were getting offensive rebounds, putbacks and stuff like that,” Carmody said. “The game wasn’t lost because of that, but it certainly opened up a lot sooner than maybe it would have.”
The loss of Swopshire was obviously a killer. He’s the team’s leading rebounder and has been a key contributor to the offense since Big Ten play started. However, the loss of Olah hurts, too. He struggles with consistency, but he does a good job of distributing the ball from the post and can hit jump shots and make post moves at times.
NU’s answer — put in Turner, Abrahamson or Cerina or go with a four-guard offense — didn’t work. But if Olah and Swopshire can’t go in future games, it doesn’t look like there is going to be another answer.
That isn’t to insinuate that Olah and Swopshire will be out for an extended period of time — we’ll let you know when we get official word — but it’s going to be very difficult for NU to compete with Turner, Abrahamson and Cerina splitting time in the frontcourt. With that frontcourt, Dave Sobolewski, Reggie Hearn, Tre Demps and Alex Marcotullio would need to take on an even bigger scoring load than they already have.
Who knows what Monday will bring — it doesn’t do much good to speculate on the severity of the injuries. However, this much we do know: unless the remaining frontcourt players improve quickly and the guards all step up even more, it’s going to be very hard for NU to win without Olah and Swopshire on the floor.
But until we know more, Carmody will have to make due with what he has, even though he may have very little to work with.
“We just have to figure out what we have on Monday,” Carmody said, “and try to get a lineup out there to go to Ohio State on Thursday.”
Lots of people were asking to see Nikola Cerina instead of Mike Turner after Olah's injury, and Cerina entered for just 3 minutes, accumulating 2 assists and no other stats. He went down with an ankle injury during non-conference season and hasn't played much since. Carmody said most of the problem is that he doesn't look ready in practice. On Saturday, Carmody didn't see much.
"I didn’t see enough, to tell you the truth," Carmody said. "He did okay. He did fine."
Cerina said he felt okay in the game, but he hasn't seen much experience on the court over the past two years, so he was rusty.
"I felt alright," he said. "My body didn’t feel that good, especially not after such a long time sitting on the bench, then I wasn’t warm. But it felt pretty good after a minute or two. I’ve made big progress since I started practicing. I’m not where I’m supposed to be, but I’m pretty good (with) my conditioning."
Cerina said he's getting better. However, it may not be a fast enough progression to make a huge impact in NU's frontcourt.
"Here and there," he said. "I’ve got good days and bad days, and it’s up to coach to see that."