During Northwestern's grueling run through the Big Ten schedule, the team has seen some highs and lows. It started tumultuously with three-straight losses to ranked opponents, making hopes of a tournament berth even harder to achieve.
There have been a few highs throughout conference play—the upset win over rival Illinois being tops on the list.
However, throughout the triumphs and tribulations of conference play, the Big Ten and entire nation were able to take notice of Northwestern's gritty, tough style of play, which nearly brought them to a few stunning wins. As the season winds down, it appears unlikely that Northwestern will end their long tournament drought, but don't tell that to Michael Thompson.
The Wildcat senior known as Juice has given an incredible effort in fighting for Northwestern's first NCAA tournament berth.
The four-year starter at point guard for the Wildcats is a great representative of the remarkable turnaround of Northwestern basketball. His style of play and incredible effort on the court is often what propels the Wildcats.
Juice is a part of one of the winningest classes in Northwestern basketball history, and has given his greatest effort to fight for the program's first NCAA tournament appearance.
The program has continued to improve during Thompson's time in Evanston, and he has secured his place in Northwestern basketball history. Thompson ranks first in NU history in assists, minutes played, games played, and games started. In addition, he is second in three-pointers, and sixth in all-time points scored.
In a way, Thompson is the perfect ambassador of Northwestern basketball.
During his career, Thompson has started all 122 games, breaking Northwestern's all-time record for most games played. This mark also placed Juice fourth among active players. No bumps or bruises have ever kept him out. In the 2010-11 season, Thompson has played the entire game on eight occasions.
But Thompson's toughness is most recognized with his play on the court. The senior's stats aren't going to blow you away—15 points per game. However, his energy and drive is what has kept the Wildcats in games that they didn't belong in.
Take the game against top-ranked Ohio State for example. When the Buckeyes appeared to be ready to separate from their much-lesser foe, Thompson ignited his team with clutch shooting, momentarily giving the Wildcats the lead.
Another classic example was in Northwestern's win over Illinois. In the second half, the Fighting Illini gave their best effort to fight back, but the Wildcats' senior point guard was up to the challenge again. Thompson scored 18 of his 22 points in the second half, including a few clutch shots to keep Northwestern in the lead, and eventually, a big win.
In a season of inconsistent play from the Wildcats, Juice Thompson has delivered the consistency that has kept Northwestern alive. Thompson has finished with double-figure scoring in all but four games this season. In addition, he has given the ‘Cats a three-point threat, hitting at least three three-pointers in 12 games this season.
The point guard has also been a great quarterback to the Wildcat offense, finishing with at least four assists in 17 games.
But it's Thompson's drive to win that makes him such a special player. That is evidenced by the program's steady improvement throughout Thompson's tenure in purple and white. In Thompson's freshman season, the Wildcats won just eight games. After that, the ‘Cats went on to win 17 games, then 20, and could possibly break that 20-win mark this season.
Throughout history, Northwestern has provided one of the toughest challenges that any Big Ten opponent can bring—just ask Thad Matta and the Buckeyes. Juice Thompson embodies that toughness.
The ultimate goal for Thompson's senior season was for the Wildcats to make the NCAA tournament. During his swan song in purple and white, Thompson has risen to the challenge and given an unbelievable performance.
While the ultimate goal may not be achieved, Juice Thompson has secured his place in Northwestern basketball history.