Wait Till Next Year?

Sunday's demoralizing loss to Wisconsin may have ended Northwestern's tournament hopes. PurpleWildcats.com columnist Kevin Trahan explains.

In one of the worst days in Chicago sports history, one which saw the Bears knocked out of the playoffs by the rival Green Bay Packers, another Wisconsin team all but ruined the Northwestern basketball team's postseason hopes.

Though the Bears' defeat Sunday afternoon may hurt Chicago more than the loss by the city's self-proclaimed "Big Ten team," the Wildcats' 78-46 blowout loss to the No. 18 Wisconsin Badgers was just as much of a knockout punch.

And now, in a season that began with such promise, only a glimmer of hope remains for the program to reach its first NCAA Tournament.

Sure, if Northwestern can get two wins in its next three games, against No. 15 Minnesota, No. 1 Ohio State, and No. 23 Illinois, then the Big Dance is back on the table.

But in all likelihood, the script is one that Chicago fans have been accustomed to hearing.

Wait ‘til next year.

However, this year's senior-laden team was supposed to be different.

John Shurna was supposed to make a surprise run for player of the year in the Big Ten. Drew Crawford was supposed to emerge as a young player to be reckoned with in the future. Michael Thompson was supposed to be the perfect, experienced complement player for Shurna.

But as many college basketball teams have learned throughout the history of the sport, supposed to is never a guarantee.

The season started off how it was supposed to, as the Wildcats won their first eight games and ended non-conference season with just one loss.

Even after losing the three first Big Ten games, including a heartbraker to Michigan State, hope remained that NU could make the postseason. Bill Carmody's squad got back on track, winning four of its next five games, with the lone blemish being another heartbraker against MSU. But Sunday's defeat deleted any progress, particularly in the court of public opinion.

Yes, at 13-6 (3-5 in the Big Ten) there is still hope. But after a 32-point loss in a game many considered a must-win, there is little to be optimistic about.

Tomorrow is a new day, and NU will have a couple of days to forget its worst home loss in Carmody's tenure before a date with Minnesota. However, the Wildcats clearly need to reignite its fire, one that the Badgers thoroughly extinguished, before heading to Minneapolis.

Skill wasn't the problem on Sunday. In fact, much of the reason for the optimism surrounding this team earlier in the year is because it has more talent than any other Northwestern team in recent memory.

The Wildcats seemed to be lacking passion against the Badgers, looking lost on the floor and failing to execute simple basketball fundamentals, like challenging an open shooter. And worse yet, no Wildcat could seem to get a shot to fall and ignite a spark.

The Badgers played with fire, intensity, and teamwork. And, put simply, out-Northwesterned Northwestern.

There is definitely a chance to get back on track, starting with a big opportunity on Wednesday.

However, if NU wants to grab a big win against a top 15 team, it needs to refocus, regain its fundamentals, and start playing with the passion that Northwestern teams far less talented than this one have shown, a passion it displayed earlier in the season.

From here on out, every game is a single elimination playoff.

Pick up some quality wins, and Northwestern could be playing in late March for the first time in program history.

But if the team that showed up against Wisconsin is the one that shows up in Minneapolis on Wednesday, then the elusive dream of reaching the NCAA Tournament will remain just that for yet another year.

A dream.

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