In a way, the second round loss to Ohio State was sadly symbolic of Northwestern's season—a season once filled with promise—that has now become one with a likely NIT berth.
"It would be great for our school, but at the same time I think, especially with Juice as a senior, we were really hoping to do well at this tournament," said NU junior forward John Shurna. "So it's disappointing we probably won't be playing in the NCAA tournament."
In late December with an unbeaten record, and conference play weeks away; many deemed this as "the year" for Northwestern. All the pieces seemed to be in place for a run to the NCAA tournament. But the Wildcats struggles against top-25 teams are what killed them.
The loss to Ohio State drops Northwestern's record to 1-9 against ranked opponents. In those nine losses, the Wildcats held a second half lead in six games. Those are nine chances for a résumé-building win that ended in loss.
To be fair, there were many different bad breaks that hurt the team throughout the regular season—the most obvious being the unhealthy John Shurna, who simply wasn't the same during conference play. But as the Wildcats will likely tell you, no season is going to go perfectly, and that was the case for NU.
But as the regular season came to a close, the Wildcats entered the Big Ten Tournament with slim chances, but the confidence to win. They entered Indianapolis desperate, yet confident. The tournament brought one last hope after a regular season of heartbreaks. But the same things that killed the ‘Cats in the regular season are what did them in during the tournament.
Second chances are rare, but the Wildcats received a major second chance—a rematch with top-ranked Ohio State, and a chance at an automatic NCAA tournament berth.
Once again—the Wildcats were unable to take advantage.
Though Northwestern was able to give the Buckeyes all they could handle; that isn't good enough to advance on. Coming close doesn't have any appeal on an NCAA tournament résumé
"It's a very disappointing loss," said Juice Thompson. "Obviously we came down here to win it, not just to play teams close."
With their final chance gone, the Wildcats will move on to the NIT. While a postseason appearance is a big accomplishment for a program that has not seen much postseason success, it's a disappointment for a team that changed the culture of Northwestern basketball, and made them a winner.
Over the past years, Bill Carmody's Wildcats have reached newfound heights—among those, the first time in the modern day schedule that the program has had three-consecutive winning seasons. But as the program continues to reach new heights, the expectations reach new heights as well. The failure to reach those expectations brings disappointment.
"It's definitely going to be a long bus ride back to Evanston," said Thompson. "But just have to move past it and focus on the postseason,"