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Northwestern 55, Minnesota 54: Rapid Reaction

Northwestern is in 4th place in the Big Ten… 4th place. Without further ado, here are some quick reactions to Saturday’s 55-54 win over Minnesota:

In Rhythm – Throughout the season, many have rued this Northwestern team’s lack of offensive proficiency. And much of that had to do with individual players not living up to their offensive potential. On Saturday though, Drew Crawford, JerShon Cobb, and, in the second half, Tre Demps played with confidence; they played with courage and poise; they even played with some swagger. The collective end result was only 55 points – part of which can be attributed to the lack of a post presence, which we’ll note later – but those three players gave some rhythm and fluidity to the Northwestern offense. And Demps’ three-pointer with under a minute left pushed the Wildcats over the edge.

Hot Start – For the first time this season against legitimate competition, Northwestern came out on fire on the offensive end. But the made shots, rather than galvanizing the Wildcats, almost caused them to relax a bit on defense. This deviation from the stifling defense – which has become Northwestern’s blueprint –allowed Minnesota to go on a 16-2 run after NU got out to a 21-11 lead.

No Inside Presence – The inside-out dynamic that began to emerge over the past month for Northwestern was absent Saturday. And a lot of that has to fall on the shoulders of Alex Olah. Olah finsihed with a grand total of 0 points and 1 (late) rebound to his name. He did have 3 assists, so he wasn’t totally invisible on offense, but Northwestern needs more from its only true center.

Collins’ Decision – Crawford picked up his 2nd foul with 9:47 to play in the first half. Collins pulled him for a bit, but as Minnesota looked as if they had begun to assert themselves in the game, Collins sent Crawford back onto the court. Most coaches would’ve kept their star on the bench for the rest of the half, but Collins decided he desperately needed Crawford at that point in the game, and took the risk. And it certainly paid off. Credit Crawford too, who played the rest of the half without picking up his 3rd foul.

Battle – Three weeks ago, it was a victory merely if Northwestern held their own in a Big Ten game, and avoided embarrassment. They’ve now given every single team they’ve played since the first Iowa game a battle. The Wildcats don’t look at all out of place in arguably the toughest conference in college basketball. This tweet is perhaps emblematic of Northwestern’s turnaround:

Postseason Hopes – We’ll be able to look at Northwestern’s tournament hopes more comprehensively later. But in short, this team is a legitimate NIT contender, and as crazy as this may sound, the Big Dance is not out of the question.