Northwestern is moving in the wrong direction. After what appeared to be legitimate improvement early in conference play despite continued losing, Northwestern is now losing and playing poorly. Tuesday night was arguably the worst of all, as NU fell 76-60 to Nebraska. Here are four takeaways.
1. McIntosh out of sync
If you had to point to one singular reason for Northwestern's loss to Nebraska, it'd have to be the play of Bryant McIntosh. McIntosh has been stellar this season, and really hadn't had a poor game since the Big Ten-ACC Challenge loss to Georgia Tech in early December. But Tuesday, he looked out of sync, and he struggled mightily with a stifling Nebraska defense.
2. Offensive struggles
Without McIntosh's production and general reliability leading the team, Northwestern's offense was putrid. To be fair to the Wildcats, they rather surprisingly hung with Nebraska in the first half thanks to some scorching hot shooting. At one point, NU was 9-13 from the field. But that was more about shot-making than running legitimately good offense. And once Scottie Lindsey and others cooled off, Northwestern went completely stagnant. The Wildcats went on a second-half drought that spanned roughly seven minutes, and it was those seven minutes that doomed them.
3. Nebraska's physical defense
One of the reasons for NU's offensive struggles was Nebraska's physicality. Benny Parker played especially tough defense on McIntosh, and in general, the Cornhuskers were all over NU cutters and ball-handlers. That really disrupted Northwestern's rhythm, which had been much improved over the past month. That deterred Northwestern's drivers, and especially inhibited the pick-and-roll game, which was also done in by poor spacing.
4. Luck has been and was a factor for Northwestern
Northwestern has been incredibly unlucky with opponents' shooting. Even when the Wildcats play respectable defense, Big Ten opponents have found a way to make shots at a much higher rate than they normally do. On Tuesday, it was Terran Petteway's turn to go off and hit some insane shots. And Nebraska as a team was, uncharacteristically, on fire. The Huskers shoot 29.5 percent on the season from three-point range, but Tuesday, they were 10-21, good for 47.6 percent.