A Major Step Backwards

Sunday's matchup with No. 7 Baylor was a chance for previously unbeaten Northwestern to make a big statement. Instead, everything went wrong, leaving NU head coach Bill Carmody flustered in his postgame press conference. The Wildcats need to make some adjustments going forward, to be better prepared for the big stage.

Northwestern looked at Sunday's game against No. 7 Baylor as an opportunity to make a statement to the Big Ten and the rest of the country that NU basketball is at its best ever. Instead, the Wildcats made a statement that they aren't ready for the big time.

Not yet. Not with this frontcourt that looked lost at times against the Bears. Not with an offense that relies exclusively on the three. Not after losing 69-41 in embarrassing fashion.

"I don't think we're that bad," coach Bill Carmody said after the game.

He better hope not, because his team was outplayed in every phase of the game.

The biggest disappointment was an inside game that looked like it had improved, but was completely dismantled by the Bears. Center Luka Mirkovic looked lost at times, leaving Baylor players wide open down low and posing little threat to the Bears' frontcourt. He was shut down offensively, as well, as he was blocked nearly ever time he attempted an inside shot.

"They're obviously really long inside and that causes some trouble, with their length, and they were blocking shots," point guard Dave Sobolewski said. "It was hard for us to get in the lane the whole game."

With their inside game shut down, the Wildcats were forced to become a team that relies solely on the three — something we've seen too often in the Carmody era — and that doesn't work when the team shoots just 15.4-percent from beyond the arc.

In the first seven games of the season, NU looked more talented than it had been in a long time. Sunday, Baylor exposed the Wildcats for what they are — a team that is still short on athleticism inside.

Teams that are short on talent have to be absolutely flawless in their execution, and NU played sloppily and uninspired for most of the game. If the goal is the NCAA Tournament, that can't happen.

It's too early to tell whether this team is capable of playing in March. A non-conference game at Creighton will be a big indication and the Big Ten season will be a determining factor.

However, this team, in it's current form, is not an NCAA Tournament team. To be an NCAA Tournament team, you have to have at least some presence inside and you to win big games, not just ones you're supposed to.

There's still a chance to make a statement. The Big Ten is full of ranked teams that NU can take advantage of beating and a win at Creighton this year will certainly help its RPI.

More than anything, Sunday's loss was a missed opportunity — an opportunity to make a statement that NU basketball is headed in the right direction. But for Carmody — taking advice from another NU coach — it's time to move on to the next one, because there is still a lot left to play for.

"(Pat) Fitzgerald and the football team always say ‘flush that,'" he said, "and I don't like that, it's too graphic for me, but I guess its what we'll have to do."

Flush it, but don't forget. Because while this loss isn't the end of the world, it certainly exposed some flaws, the biggest of which is that NU isn't ready for the big time — at least not yet.

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