Northwestern's game against Minnesota was a hard-fought game between two teams that appeared to be very evenly matched. It came down to one final play in the last minute of regulation. The Wildcats had a chance to tie with a three and ended up playing a game of hot-potato.
It seemed like nobody wanted to take the deciding shot.
What was ironic about the moment was that the announcers had just finished talking about how Northwestern had 4 players on the court that could've taken the shot. John Shurna and Michael Thompson are the unquestioned leaders of the team right now, the lone senior - Jeremy Nash - had just hit a three from the corner and Drew Crawford has stepped up in big moments before.
Instead Northwestern passed, and passed, and passed. The Wildcats whittled the shot clock down until Shurna finally took a difficult, off-balance shot. One that he's hit many times, but certainly not a high-percentage look. When it bounced off the rim the game was essentially over.
Or it should've been...
But the Wildcats would get one more chance in the final seconds when a missed free throw bounced off the rim on the other end. Luka Mirkovic - who had done an excellent job grabbing rebounds all game (he finished with 14 boards and 6 points) - let this one go past him and Minnesota got a chance to redeem itself from the line.
It should be noted that the Wildcats let Blake Hoffarber and Lawrence Westbrook - two very predictable guys - really hurt them on the offensive end. Hoffarber in particular just decimated Northwestern down the stretch with his three-point shooting. He finished with 20 points. Also, Minnesota had 11 blocks! Northwestern had a ton of trouble trying to go inside.
These little things are the ones that could haunt Northwestern as the season progresses. The Wildcats are on pace for 21 wins according to Pomeroy, but no more big wins. The schedule breaks very easily for Northwestern over the final 11 games, but there are really 4 games of which the Wildcats will need to win two to get into the NCAA Tournament.
Those four games are: Saturday at Michigan State; Tuesday, February 2 home versus Michigan; Sunday, February 14 home versus Minnesota and Sunday, February 21 at Wisconsin.
Win two of those and the Wildcats should be in. Don't and it's going to come down to match-ups in the Big Ten Tournament with Northwestern needing at least 1, and more likely 2, wins to get to the tournament.
(This of course assumes that Northwestern takes care of its games against Indiana, Iowa, Penn State and Chicago State down the stretch.)
Someone needs to step up and take that shot. The season now depends on it.