Northwestern just lost to a team that is ranked last in the league by Pomeroy. Sure Iowa might have a couple of Big Ten wins, but they should've have beaten the Wildcats and especially not by 13. This game was ugly for a number of reasons. But I've picked out some choice statistics that really hammer home the point.
I'm starting here because this is where Northwestern lost the game. A complete lack of defensive intensity sealed the deal for the Wildcats. They allowed 78 points in a 60 possession game. That's an astronomical 1.3 points per game. No team is doing that this season in any conference on a regular basis - and this surely wasn't regular - but it was a disaster. Dominating offenses like Kansas and Butler score between 1.14 and 1.13 points per possession. So yes, Northwestern made Iowa look like Kansas on steroids.
Thankfully Steve Tucker of the Sun-Times was at the game in Iowa City and provided some pretty relevant quotes in this article. For instance, from Carmody, "Right now, the staff is part of this, not just the players. We didn't
come out ready to play. I don't want to take anything away from Iowa.
They have really gotten better and they have young guys that play with
a bulldog mentality and they work hard."
Not coming out ready to play allowed Iowa to shoot 50% (12-24) from three. The Hawkeye's effective field goal percentage was 67.4%. That's unbelievable. And when Iowa missed they got the offensive rebounds too. Iowa pulled down 30.4% (7 of 23) of its missed shots. Unfortunately that's about par for the course for Northwestern, but when a team is shooting that well every extra board is another dagger. Iowa came in terrible at turning the ball over, and then they committed just 8 turnovers in 60 possessions against the vaunted 1-3-1.
I'll ignore the fact - for now - that Iowa shot 30 free throws. But letting Iowa shoot 30 free throws is pretty darn awful as well. The only reason it makes any sense is because Northwestern was desperately trying to come back at the end. So, in summary, terrible defense - check.
The sad fact is this: Northwestern should've been able to win with its offensive output of 65 points on 60 possessions on Wednesday. Sure, Luka Mirkovic didn't give the Wildcats anything on the road - again. And yes, Northwestern shot 30.8% (8-26) from three-point range. But due to the Wildcats only turning the ball over 6 times the offense was good enough to win.
"We got nothing out of our centers," Carmody said, according to Teddy Greenstein's Chicago Tribune article.
But remember this, Carmody also didn't give his centers very long to work. Mirkovic and Kyle Rowley both had a short leash and played 25 minutes combined. Ivan Peljusic played 11 ineffective minutes and Davide Curletti got just 3. The four of them combined for the illustrious line of 3-6 from the field, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and as many points (7) as fouls.
But really. It was the defense. The offense was bad, but it wasn't atrocious. It was actually better than what the Wildcats have done in general during Big Ten play. This game was lost because of a lack of intensity.
Not to keep hammering this point home, but... John Shurna's plus-minus is terrible this season. I don't know why, but teams keep making runs when he's on the court. Maybe Bill Carmody has him playing out of position, or Shurna's just getting unlucky, but his plus-minus against Iowa was -16. Really don't know what to make of that.
This is a game Northwestern had to have, but the defensive lapses leave them searching. Whether it's tightening up the 1-3-1, figuring out how to play the match-up better or just committing to playing tough man-to-man, the Wildcats have to find an answer if they want to end their NCAA Tournament drought.