Role Reversal

Five years ago, while Iowa was celebrating a Big Ten Tournament Championship, Northwestern was sitting at home for the offseason with a 15-16 record and an eighth place Big Ten finish.

It's amazing how fast things can change.

Northwestern's 90-71 beatdown of the Hawkeyes in Iowa City on Wednesday night, the Wildcats largest road victory ever against Iowa, was a fitting reminder of the contrasting paths both programs, paths that have changed dramatically in the last five seasons.

In that time period, Iowa has gone through three coaches, an equal number of losing seasons, and another season that seems destined for a sub-.500 record.

Northwestern, however, has become a symbol of stability.

In his eleventh season, coach Bill Carmody has built a program that can play with the best in the Big Ten week in and week out and has his team positioned for a possible NCAA Tournament bid for the first time in school history.

Iowa and Northwestern's role reversal is hardly about talent. In fact, the Hawkeyes may have more raw talent than the Wildcats, thanks to star freshman Melsahn Basabe.

But Carmody's team has experienced players who play with poise and know how the play in his system. For a team like Northwestern, where amazing raw talent isn't always easy to find, that is the key to success.

The most obvious trait that set these two teams apart Wednesday night was experience. Northwestern's upperclassmen-loaded roster found Iowa's weakness of defending the three, and found open spots on the floor beyond the arc.

After the Wildcats drained seven straight early three-pointers, the Hawkeyes' youth began to show. They repeatedly turned the ball over, threw up desperation shots, and became impatient with the basketball.

Carmody expressed the significance of the big early lead as well. "It's really important, especially on the road. You got to get out and you got to have that pizzazz."

The Wildcats found their pizzazz Wednesday night in the form of John Shurna, Drew Crawford, and Michael Thompson, who had 16, 19, and 17 points, respectively. Their clutch threes at the beginning of the game identified them as go-to guys against better competition when the game is on the line.

With Shurna, Crawford, and Thompson, Northwestern has the experience and poise that Iowa can't match. Both teams started Big Ten play 0-3, but the Wildcats had veterans who could step up and make plays to turn the season around. Iowa is still desperately searching for a go-to guy who can get it out of its current four-game slide.

Wednesday night wasn't just a win for Northwestern. It was a message to the rest of the conference that the Wildcats belong with the big boys. And if they continue to execute their system to perfection, like they did, John Shurna and company will be dancing come March.

Northwestern's recent football success against Iowa has haunted Hawkeye fans for years, but Wednesday night's game was a reminder of just how much the tables have turned.

Five years ago, Iowa was the team that executed a system to perfection and the Hawkeyes were in every game, even if it had less talent than its opponent.

Now, Iowa is searching for an identity, one that Northwestern displayed clearly on Wednesday night.

Suddenly, in five short years, Northwestern has become the team that Iowa wants to model its program after as the Hawkeyes struggle to find consistency, a trait the Wildcats have turned into wins.

If there was any doubt before about NU's legitimacy, it has been erased after Wednesday night's win. And suddenly, the program finds itself in a welcome, but unfamiliar spot.

For the first time in decades, Northwestern is now the hunter, not the hunted.


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