1. Why do the Wildcats not show up for a game like this: This one I can't answer. The players might be able to. The coaches sure have to hope they can. This doesn't look good at all. Falling behind by 15 at the half makes things really difficult. (Well, unless you're Duke - but it was at home and it was 14.)
Northwestern loses critical game to Michigan
The game was never going to be easy. You don't just walk into opposing gyms and walk away victorious without putting in a lot of effort. Ken Pomeroy had Michigan by three points and a 63% chance of victory for the Wolverines. For the entire first half it appeared that Northwestern forgot that it had to try. The Wildcats scored 19 points in the first 20 minutes and looked lost. Thus by the time the second half rolled around it was too little too late.
Jordan Morgan scored 27 points and the Wolverines continually exposed a soft interior defense on the way to scoring 75 points and shooting 51.9 percent from the field and 40 percent (6-15) from beyond the arc. While Northwestern closed it to one late in the second half it never seemed like the Wildcats really had a chance.
The game leaves me with a lot of questions. Why do the Wildcats not show up for a game like this? Why didn't Juice Thompson realize his team was in trouble and start scoring earlier? Why does Luka Mirkovic always disappear on the road? Is John Shurna going to be the same ever again this season? Where do we go from here?
Some of those questions are easy to answer. Others much harder. But if Northwestern is going to recover from this loss and be competitive down the stretch they're going to have to find the right responses. Let's guess at a few.
2. Why didn't Juice Thompson realize his team was in trouble and start scoring earlier: There have been games this season when Thompson has tried to force things early when he realized the team was in trouble and it has backfired. On Wednesday he worked in the rhythms of the offense and it worked against his team in a different way. It seems that foul trouble had a bit to do with it tonight. Even in a zone defense, guarding Darius Morris or trying to compete underneath with Morgan must've been an exhausting task.
Still, with Shurna clearly not 100%, Thompson is Northwestern's best scoring option. He went 7-13 from the field and scored 17 points. His play was the driver of a 7-point run that got the Wildcats immediately back into the game. As the only senior in the rotation, this is Thompson's season.
3. Why does Luka Mirkovic always disappear on the road: This was supposed to be the older, wiser season for Mirkovic. As a junior, he was ready to be more consistent and avoid the moments that plagued him in season's past. Well, his offense was alright shooting 3-6, grabbing 5 boards and dishing out 3 assists, but his defense was terrible. Michigan players got to the rim consistently and Morgan had way too many open looks. Davide Curletti played 18 minutes in this game because Mirkovic wasn't ready on defense. Maybe it's time to shake up the lineup.
4. Is John Shurna going to be the same ever again this season: The last game against Michigan was the peak of Shurna's Big Ten season. This one just showed how far he still has to go. The concussion seems to have really set him back. I like Mike Capocci a lot and think he should've played more than 5 minutes, but the offense was completely stagnant early. This team is waiting for a leader to grab the offensive load and show everyone else what to do. Shurna has the talent to be that guy when healthy. Unfortunately it doesn't look like he's ever going to be that healthy again this season.
5. Where do we go from here: Well there are 6 Big Ten games left plus at least one game in the Big Ten Tournament. One of them, at Wisconsin, is almost guaranteed to be a loss. The other 5 are what will determine how the season finishes. A win at Penn State on Sunday and this week might still be considered a success. Northwestern will have to win at Indiana on Saturday, February 19 and not let up in any of the three remaining home games.
There's no way this team is going to the NCAA Tournament unless a miracle happens in Indianapolis during the first full week of March. But another NIT appearance, and maybe a home game at Welsh-Ryan Arena, are logical goals.
Let's play the spoiler. Then this won't have gone for naught.