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What we learned from Northwestern’s intra-Chicago matchups

The ‘Cats had a heart breaking upset loss this week, but stabilized with a win at DePaul

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It’s been a somber week for Northwestern basketball fans after the ‘Cats (8-2, 1-0 B1G), fresh off a No. 25 ranking, immediately stumbled big time on Wednesday against Chicago St. (5-9, independent), losing at home. Everything went poorly for Northwestern in that game: Ty Berry couldn’t find his shot, and the bench contributed almost nothing to the scoring effort. Additionally, the ‘Cats coughed up an uncharacteristic 14 turnovers in the contest en route to the devastating upset. Northwestern stabilized on Saturday with a 56-46 victory at DePaul (2-8, 0-0 Big East), but it still didn’t look like the team that beat Purdue two weeks ago. Here are some things we learned from the ‘Cats’ back-to-back games against intra-state opponents:

Purdue Ty Berry is gone

Berry was the man against the Boilermakers, shooting 7-of-11 from the field for 21 points. He followed that up with another double-digit effort (this time 16) against Detroit Mercy. Things were looking up for the historically frustrating and inconsistent senior. I had some hope that maybe he had found his game for good. It appears he did not. Berry was anemic against Chicago St., hitting just one-of-seven from the floor, and it was a chucked-up, banked three. To follow it up, He was then even worse against DePaul putting up a zero-burger.

The truth is, when Ty Berry goes, Northwestern goes. His play on any particular night is a major swing in the game. With an effective Berry, pressure comes off of Boo Buie at the guard spot. He also lengthens out the lineup and gives Northwestern four upperclassmen in its starting five who are all capable scorers.

Without Berry, Buie is going to struggle more. Opposing defenses are going to be able to zone in on him more, and be willing to let Berry have space. It also puts a lot of pressure on Brooks Barnhizer and Ryan Langborg to provide supplementary scoring to Buie every game. Northwestern needs Berry to return to form (again) if it wants to be the best version of itself.

Nick Martinelli is a dude

Martinelli’s performance against Detroit Mercy, in which he set a career-best mark with 22 points, certainly felt like a fluke to anyone who has watched much Nick Martinelli over the past two years. We had previously never seen anything close to that level of production out of the sophomore. Well, now we’ve seen it twice after Martinelli shined again this week at DePaul.

He once again paced the ‘Cats in scoring, this time with 16, and was efficient from the floor, shooting the ball at a 60% clip. Martinelli is interesting because while I think it’s silly to expect consistent double digits out of him, his play recently is still exciting. If he can provide this spark, say, once every three games, then that’s a bench piece I can really get behind.

To his credit, Martinelli looks less wild on the floor in every aspect of the game. It feels like he moves his feet better on defense. He definitely handles the ball with more poise and confidence. And his knack for putting the ball through the basket in questionable, uncommon ways is as present as ever.

Northwestern needs fans at Welsh Ryan

Winter break started before the Chicago St. loss, which meant Northwestern’s student section was virtually non-existent for the game. This was not ideal for a ‘Cats team that thrives in big moments with a rip-roaring crowd in the arena. The environment was lacking, and Northwestern clearly couldn’t get itself going.

This is no excuse for the loss. The loss was inexcusable and embarrassing. But I think it is important to at least factor in when evaluating why what happened happened. Northwestern will undeniably be better off when Big Ten play starts up in January and students are back on campus. The excitement surrounding this team, despite the giant leap backward it took this week, is significant. Students will pack the house when they get on campus, and that will be a good thing for the on-court product.