It's fortunate for the Wildcats they won't face a player gifted like Michigan's Trey Burke again. The scoreboard won't look as ugly as it did on Thursday, displaying a 94-66 Michigan beatdown. But it was a sampling of what could be to come.
Northwestern's NCAA tournament hopes were crushed when Drew Crawford was ruled out for the season, joining Jershon Cobb on the sidelines. A berth in the NIT is even a stretch. The high hopes of a promising season were stored away till next year.
Coach Bill Carmody understands the quicksand his Wildcats are walking in. He acknowledged after the loss that all Northwestern can do is build for its future.
"What we really have to do as a staff is coach these young guys and coach them hard," he said, before adding, "Well, everybody."
The 2013 season will carry on, but with a forward focus. Northwestern must play for the now but prepare for the future. That's what fate has handed it.
Of the utmost importance now is the development of freshmen like Kale Abrahamson—starting in place of the injured Crawford—who posted 11 points while hitting a pair of three-pointers. Same with the progression of Alex Olah, likely the program's future at center, who tallied 10 points.
With a thin bench, Northwestern must maximize the minutes for redshirt freshman guard Tre Demps, who posted 10 points in 24 minutes. A 4-for-11 mark from the field won't be a statistic to write home about, but that's what this learning experience is about.
For freshmen centers Mike Turner and Chier Ajou, valuable playing time against a physical big man like Jordan Morgan bodes well—not now, but for later. Greater challenges loom down the road.
No Wildcat faced a tougher task than sophomore point guard Dave Sobolewski, who squared off with the versatile Trey Burke. Sobolewski is a cornerstone for Northwestern's future. Struggles like he endured against the Wolverines are part of the development process. A matchup with one of the Big Ten's best will only accelerate his learning curve.
"He's a good player," Sobolewski said of Burke. "That's why everyone's talking about him being one of the frontrunners for player of the year."
Michigan posed what may be the toughest test Northwestern will face all season. The 94 points it posted—tying the most in Carmody's 13-year tenure—illustrate the challenge in which the Wildcats faced. It's part of the growing pains for a young team.
"I hope it was good, I hope it helps them," Carmody said.
Such talent Northwestern matched with cannot be simulated in practice, and the lessons learned will serve beneficial for its future.