However, the seniors are ready to play. Iowa needs a win to keep its faint NCAA Tournament hopes alive. NU, meanwhile, has no shot at the NIT this season. There's hardly anything to lose. Though Iowa has been a difficult matchup for the Cats this season, the pressure falls on Fran McCaffery's team to perform. To keep this one close, and perhaps move on to the second day, NU can focus on three major areas.
Against Iowa in particular, NU needs just about everyone to contribute positive minutes. In the second matchup, McCaffery quickly grew tired of the lethargic opening from his starters. Every backup entered the game by the 13:36 mark of the first half. NU can only dream of having that sort of depth.
Bench contributions helped carry Iowa to the easy home victory. Josh Oglesby knocked down two critical second-half triples. Eric May and Zach McCabe each added six. The Wildcats proved that they could hang with difficult opponents for 30 minutes, but can they close the deal?
Mike Turner – the undersized center – might need a stronger rebounding effort. Alex Marcotullio hopes to keep up his decent play of late. And those freshmen, starters or not, will look to continue their progress. It is imperative that NU stays fresh down the stretch. The game could depend on it.
Get Sobo Going
After an excellent start to the season, Dave Sobolewski has struggled mightily. He scored 13 points in the most recent win against Purdue. In the eight losses since, he's shooting an alarming 26 percent. Much of this can be attributed to frustration. No doubt the point guard needs to suit his game the players around him, and that supporting cast has been a revolving door.
Regardless, the team should try to create open looks for Sobolewski in the early going. If he can catch fire – and break out of the woeful slump – then NU adds another perimeter weapon to its arsenal.
His output tailed off in the late going last season. He can avoid repeating the trend by putting forth a solid game. He missed all 11 of his three-point attempts in the two matchups with Iowa. Many of these were open looks; they just haven't been falling for the sophomore point guard. It would be unfortunate – after all of the promise – for him to enter a crucial offseason on such a sour note.
Because of the high stakes for Iowa, NU can send a message in the early going on. A quick start, with strong shooting, and the Hawkeyes just might panic. They're probably two wins away – NU and Michigan State – from an NCAA Tournament appearance. Anything less, and Iowa is almost certainly destined for the NIT.
You could argue that NU lost to Penn State in the first few minutes. They looked awful to begin the game, and let the Nittany Lions begin an early run. From then on, they were fighting an uphill battle. It was too much to overcome.
Who knows? The crowd might even get behind the underdog Wildcats in Chicago. NU will be playing for Bill Carmody, now that the team is familiar with swirling rumors about his job status. As well, they want to unite and get one final win – something to cheer for in this difficult campaign.