By Adam Hoge-
INDIANAPOLIS (CBS) – JerShon Cobb’s leaner didn’t just hang on the rim. It nearly stopped completely.
And as a basketball decided which way it was going to fall, the fate of Northwestern’s season hung in the balance.
The ball fell the wrong way. Of course it did.
Instead, it fell right into the hands of the smallest player on the court: Minnesota’s Andre Hollins, who, to his credit, made nearly everything fall his way en route to a 25-point effort.
But, fortunately for Northwestern, Hollins’ jumper on the next possession didn’t fall his way. Instead, fittingly, it fell back into the hands of Cobb with five seconds left.
Cobb quickly passed it ahead to a streaking Dave Sobolewski who threw up a running three-pointer at the buzzer that was Blake Hoffarber-esque.
But it wasn’t. Because it rimmed out. Of course it did.
Holding onto a 61-57 lead with 4:06 left in the game, Northwestern missed three shots in the paint, turned the ball over twice and failed to score a single point the rest of regulation.
Then, in overtime, Northwestern missed two more layups and three free throws. Naturally, they lost by seven points – 75-68 – in a bubble-blasting butchery of the Wildcats’ resume.
In what was essentially a do-or-die game – or at least one that should have been treated as such – Bill Carmody’s message to his team was this:
“I told our guys before the game – or sometime – that if we win tonight, it doesn’t mean you’re in; if you lose tonight, doesn’t mean you’re out. And that’s what I think. It’s a body of work.”
That message is questionable at best. Northwestern played as if a loss wouldn’t knock them out of the NCAA Tournament when in reality, it probably will.
Barring a collective sympathy vote by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, the Wildcats will likely be – and should be – on the outside looking in on Selection Sunday.
The lead on Northwestern’s resume says it doesn’t have a bad loss. To some extent that is true. Their loss at Minnesota won’t show up on the resume a killer, but smart Selection Committee members know the Cats were whooped by 23 points by a 90+ RPI team.
To their credit, the ‘Cats came back and beat Minnesota at home. That’s one of many must-win games they took care of. Unfortunately, Northwestern also went just 1-10 against RPI top 50 teams. They had 11 chances against those teams and only won once – at home against Michigan State on Jan. 14.
Sure, the Wildcats played one of the toughest schedules in the country this season – and they deserve credit for that – but at some point, you have to win games.
That said, comparative to other bubble teams, one could make the argument that Northwestern’s resume is still good enough to get it into the NCAA Tournament. (And you can blame the NCAA for expanding the tournament if you’re upset about that.)
But that argument is debatable at best. That’s why Thursday’s game against Minnesota was so important. If you’re going to give them a pass for losing by 23-points in Minneapolis and only going 1-10 against their best opponents, then you have to expect the Wildcats to take care of business with everything on the line in Indianapolis.
They didn’t do that.
Instead, they kicked the ball around, they threw it away and they missed layups and free throws.
All in the biggest game in Northwestern history (and this time, it really was).
Asked after the game if he would view this season as a disappointment if the Wildcats didn’t get into the tournament, Shurna answered without really answering.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Hopefully I won’t be disappointed on Sunday.”
That means yes. He’s made it clear this season how much the NCAA Tournament would mean to him after four years of disappointment. He was also given the opportunity to say he could still find something positive in this season and he didn’t take it.
Meanwhile, Carmody reiterated after the game that this loss didn’t mean they were out.
Technically that’s true, but probably only until Sunday night.