I feel like every article I write starts off the same way. Northwestern losesaheartbreaker and needs to turnitaround against (the next opponent). And once again, that’s the scenario after the Buckeyes survived a hostile crowd at Welsh-Ryan to win by just two.
Now, the ‘Cats must go on the road for their regular season finale against the Iowa Hawkeyes. This is an incredibly important game for NU as a loss would be devastating for the team’s tournament chances, but a win would move them ahead of Iowa in the conference standings and put them one step closer to making the Big Dance.
What happened last time:
Northwestern was at its finest when the team routed the Hawkeyes to cap off a three-game winning streak. Dave Sobolewski had one of his best performances of the season, netting 23 points, seven assists and four steals. Five players scored in double figures for the ‘Cats thanks in large part due to great shooting from behind the arc.
What’s changed since then:
Northwestern’s JerShon Cobb is back after missing the last Iowa game with an injury. Cobb has become Northwestern’s best defensive player and can occasionally nail the open three-pointer. He provides another fresh body that NU will need in this fast-paced game.
As for Iowa, the players may not have changed, but the way they play certainly has. The Hawkeyes have won three of their last four including upset victories over Indiana and Wisconsin. Although they have a 16-14 record, some believe Iowa has played their way onto the bubble so they will certainly have a lot on the line Saturday afternoon.
Key matchup: Drew Crawford vs. Matt Gatens
Crawford had a great game against Ohio State, shooting 9-11 on his way to 23 points. He had been in somewhat of a funk before that, so it was nice for ‘Cats fans to see him play like his dominant self against the Buckeyes. He’ll need to continue to be aggressive on offense and have another big game for Northwestern pull out the win in Iowa City.
Crawford will be matched up against Matt Gatens, who has been nothing short of amazing in his last few games. Gatens scored 30 points or more in back-to-back games over Indiana and Wisconsin – both victories – and his play was the main reason Iowa was able to pull off the upsets. In contrast, Gatens was limited to just 15 points when the Hawkeyes fell to the Wildcats, and the senior will need to improve upon that to give Iowa the win. Whoever plays better between Crawford and Gatens will greatly improve his team’s chances of winning this crucial showdown.
What to look for:
Look for rebounding to be the key to the game. It’s no secret that Northwestern is a bad rebounding team, but lately it’s been horrific. Ohio State actually had more offensive rebounds (18) than Northwestern had total rebounds (16). Iowa doesn’t have one player in particular that dominates on the glass, but the Hawkeyes do rank third in the Big Ten in rebounding, so that should be a focal point for the Cats.
Fans can point to a number of reasons why the Wildcats weren’t able to come up with the victory against the Buckeyes but rebounding has to be the top one. If Northwestern can’t limit Iowa’s second chance opportunities, it will likely finish out the season with a loss.
Where we’ll stand afterwards, win or loss:
Make no mistake: the Ohio State game was huge. Still, many fans and experts alike considered Iowa to be the more important game of the two. Northwestern wasn’t expected to beat Ohio State, but it’ll have to beat Iowa. The best thing about NU’s tournament resume right now is the absence of bad losses, and as well as Iowa is playing right now, the team’s RPI is lower than 100, making a loss to the Hawkeyes a bad loss in the eyes of the selection committee.
A loss would put Northwestern on the outside looking in, and the ‘Cats would need to go on a big run in the conference tournament. A win would make things much more manageable as the team would only need to win one or two games at the Big Ten Tournament in Indy to land a spot in the Big Dance. Northwestern may have dominated Iowa in their last meeting, but this will be a completely different game. The Hawkeyes have played very well at home and it should be a tough atmosphere in Iowa City, but if Northwestern can escape with a win, the ‘Cats should be in good position to finally end their tournament drought.