Iowa 78, Northwestern 65
I could leave it at that. Because really you already know what's coming. But here it is.
If you want to know why Northwestern has never been to the NCAA Tournament, this is the reason in a nutshell. There is always a game like this. A game the Wildcats couldn't get started, or didn't play defense, or let a team inexplicably expand the lead to double-digits before seemingly even beginning to play.
I watched the first half looking for that spark. I looked for the body language that would tell me Northwestern cared, that the Wildcats knew they were playing for something. It didn't come until an offensive possession with 6:45 remaining in the half and Northwestern was already down 12 points. The effort on the defensive end never seemed to be there. It was already over and the remaining 27 or so minutes were a ghost of seasons past haunting the court.
When you play this system there is never a time to let up. Northwestern can't put the foot on the brake at the end of the game, and it certainly can't forget to step on the gas. Every possession is do-or-die for the Wildcats because of how slowly they play. Lose too many in the first few minutes and it doesn't matter what the Wildcats shoot from three-point range.
There is no excuse for losing this game. Northwestern is a better team than Iowa. It has superior players at almost every position on the court. They were taller, more athletic - but they weren't ready to play.
Todd Lickliter is much maligned at Iowa - and for good reason. He's struggled since he made the jump from Butler to Iowa. But, while he's been there, Carver Hawkeye Arena has been Northwestern's own little house of horrors. Give him credit. Tonight the Hawkeyes were ready to play. They picked their spots, knocked down their threes and made Northwestern pay for every mistake.
And Northwestern made a lot of mistakes. The Wildcats did everything they could do wrong, and did it so poorly that you wondered what happened. They gave up offensive rebounds. They left shooters wide open. They missed shots and failed to get touches in the paint. Only Michael Thompson seemed prepared to play.
Is it that this team just stopped believing? (I think at some point tonight they did.) Did the columns and naysayers finally end the dream?
I don't know. I'm not a psychologist. But what does it matter what the other people say. You're playing for YOU. The Wildcats were playing to be the first team in the history of the school to do something special. To change the entire perception of an institution. Now though it'll just be, "That's Northwestern."
Everything Carmody tried backfired. He mixed up the rotation, played Mike Capocci, Alex Marcotullio and Kyle Rowley early. He even gave Ivan Peljusic a serious look in the second half in the hopes of getting anything - rebounding especially - out of the front-line.
None of it worked. And thus the Chicago college basketball season essentially ended tonight. The Wildcats were the city's last great hope. And now that hope has washed away, just like every season before it.
This loss is epic. In terms of NCAA Tournament hopes it is impossible to recover from without the "good wins" Northwestern still needs and can't get.
I'll keep watching and writing about this season. I'll watch the Big East, Big Ten and Horizon League Tournaments. But that's the only way any team from Chicago will Dancing come March.
Sure, Northwestern hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament in forever and in this city there is the saying, "There's always next year." But when have you waited too long?