Wildcats will leave us wondering

Throughout the long basketball season, each of Northwestern's wins and losses, hits and misses, ups and downs will be overanaylzed by all observers. It's a natural occurrence following another NCAA tournament miss which left fans scarred.

We all were ready to give up when Northwestern lost to UIC. Heck, I'm guilty of it, too.

The Wildcats were uninspired and sloppy. It was the continuation of a trend from nonconference play, one which was exposed by a talented Maryland team. The season was appeared to be doomed.

As the game's final seconds ticked away, a loud chorus of boos rained down from the Welsh-Ryan Arena rafters. Cat players held their heads down in disgust, while Bill Carmody could hardly watch. It appeared to be a disaster, and the calander had just flipped to December.

How could this team reach even a handful of Big Ten wins, we wondered.

Not much was going right for the Wildcats last week. Several key players were sidelined, senior leader Drew Crawford was mired in an unfamiliar slump, and the squad's highly touted depth had yet to be revealed. Add two painful losses and the red flags were flying high in Evanston.

Yet, just as we were ready to write Northwestern off, it proved why basketball can be a strange game sometimes.

Northwestern wasn't supposed to beat Baylor; not in Waco and especially not after being thumped by the Bears one year ago. There was no chance the Wildcats could have any success on the boards, we figured. So a dominating performance against Baylor's big, physical frontcourt caught us all by surprise.

A three-pointer from Dave Sobolewski gave Northwestern an 18-point lead in the second half. As the sophomore sprinted back on defense, he exchanged taunting words with preseason All-Big 12 point guard Pierre Jackson, forcing a stoppage of play. Moments later, Drew Crawford was dealt a technical foul for hanging on the rim.

Right as we began digging the grave, Northwestern proved it has plenty of life.

The victory over perennial power Baylor left Wildcat fans on cloud nine. It alleviated the pain left by two brutal losses and offered optimism lacking since the season started.

When UIC defeated the Wildcats, fans were thinking of losses to Michigan, Purdue, and Ohio State—games which proved to be daggers in Northwestern's 2012 résumé.

It's natural to overanalyze each game NU plays this season. After it fell shy of the NCAA tournament the past two seasons, onlookers understand the importance of a win and devastation of a loss. Last season was emotionally gripping, and eventually left a scar.

When watching this Northwestern team, give it a fair chance. There is still plenty of growth to be had and potential which could be reached. The season will include many ups and downs. Pace yourself along the way.

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers for Big Red Report, and currently covers the Northwestern Wildcats. He resides on Chicago's north side.
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