The Wildcats had numerous positives during the first two months. Other than blowout losses to Baylor on Dec. 4 and Ohio State on Dec. 28, the Wildcats had been competitive in every game this season. Northwestern had lost by a combined 11 points to Creighton, Illinois and Michigan and defeated then No.6-ranked Michigan State 81-74 on Jan. 14.
But the Wildcats have fallen on hard times after losing by 20 points at Wisconsin and 23 points at Minnesota. The Gophers dominated from the opening tip to defeat the Wildcats.
"Our offense was just very bad the entire game," said Northwestern coach Bill Carmody. "It was 7-0 after four minutes, and I really wasn't that displeased with our defense. Seven points in four minutes, and I thought we were doing okay. I knew we had a lay-up here, a 3-pointer there, and missed them. We balked. They blocked a couple shots, and it was 11-0. We were never able to get on track."
Sure, the Wildcats can point to injuries as a valid reason for their recent woes, but the lack of competitiveness in consecutive games is a concern.
The Wildcats' depth has been a problem with the recent missed games by guards Alex Marcotullio and Jershon Cobb. Marcotullio is dealing with a concussion and considered day-to-day and didn't travel to the Wisconsin game. He returned to the court to play 28 minutes in Northwestern's loss to Minnesota, finishing with 11 points, four rebounds and four assists. The 28 minutes played was the second-highest for Marcotullio this season. Meanwhile, Cobb remains sidelined with a hip injury and has not played in the last four games and missed eight games this season.
The Wildcats (12-7, 2-5) must take advantage of playing three of their next four games at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Northwestern is capable of winning all of its upcoming games at home against Purdue and Northwestern and at Illinois before ending the stretch by hosting Iowa.
--Senior forward John Shurna must deal with opponents sending numerous defenders his way almost every game. Shurna's been consistent all season and refuses to leave the floor. He played 37 minutes in NU's 75-52 loss at Minnesota on Jan. 22. Shurna, who scored a team-high 21 points in the defeat, has scored at least 19 points in five consecutive games. Shurna's ironman ways are a direct result of injuries and his desire to lead the Wildcats to their first-ever NCAA Tournament. The 6-foot-9 Shurna has played a minimum of 37 minutes for nine straight games. Shurna's heavy minutes might have played a factor in a 2-for-8 showing from the free throw line at Minnesota on Jan. 22.
--Junior guard Drew Crawford had one of toughest games of the season in NU's loss at Minnesota. Crawford finished with five points on 2-of-10 shooting in 30 minutes. Crawford failed to hit a 3-pointer for the third time this season, and was held under double-digits for the second time.
BY THE NUMBERS: 20 -- Freshman point guard Dave Sobolewski is only a freshman by class. The Chicago area product plays like a veteran. In 18 games, Sobolewski has turned the ball over 20 times compared to 73 assists in 633 minutes played.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "No excuses for the missed free throws. As a senior, it's my job to step up. I didn't do that. I take full responsibility for that. We have to play a lot better." -- Northwestern senior John Shurna, who made only 2-of-8 on free throws in a loss at Minnesota.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. Purdue, Jan. 28.
KEY MATCHUPS: Talk about a key game for the Wildcats, who have lost three of their last four games. Purdue senior Robbie Hummel is a threat with his penchant for putting the ball on the floor and his mid-range jumper. The Wildcats have to get off to a fast start and build some momentum to keep their crowd into the game.
FUTURES MARKET: Sophomore guard JerShon Cobb is in the midst of a lost season. The Wildcats certainly miss the 6-foot-5, 200-pound Cobb's athleticism and size. Cobb missed his eighth game -- and fourth straight -- due to a hip injury. Cobb has played in 11 games, thus he won't be able to redshirt. Cobb scored 18 points against Illinois last year and a season-high 10 points in a win over Texas Southern on Dec. 15.
--Senior F Davide Curletti has started the last three games for Northwestern. After scoring 17 points in his first career start against Michigan State, Curletti returned to earth with a two-point effort at Wisconsin. He bounced back with seven points, seven rebounds and three assists in 30 minutes at Minnesota. Curletti's rebounding is an added plus for the Wildcats. Curletti has 19 rebounds in his last three games.
--Junior G Alex Marcotullio returned to the court after missing the Wisconsin game with a concussion. Marcotullio responded with 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting, including hitting 3-of-6 shots from beyond the arc. Marcotullio is a valuable reserve to help spell freshman Dave Sobolewski and gives the Wildcats scoring punch off the bench. Marcotullio hadn't scored in double figures this year until the Minnesota game. He has hit a 3-pointer in five of his last six games played.