January wins over Illinois and Minnesota and a spirited effort against Indiana seemed to have Northwestern pointing towards a fifth straight NIT despite injuries that hurt their depth. That was the highpoint of the season however.
Northwestern followed up the win over Minnesota on January 23 with a loss at Nebraska. The Cornhuskers sit a half game ahead of NU in the standings with a 4-10 Big Ten record.
The Wildcats have gone 2-8 in their last ten games and broken 60 points just once during that time. That was in a 75-60 victory over Purdue on February 2nd. They have failed to break 50 in five of their last seven games.
Losing Drew Crawford was the biggest blow to the Wildcats season. Crawford had been averaging 13.5 PPG, 4.6 RPG and was shooting 37 percent on his threes. In five of those games he reached at 18 points. Crawford scored 50 points and had 22 rebounds as Northwestern won the South Padre Island Invitational in November.
After shooting just 1-8 from the floor and scoring six points, Crawford decided to shut it down for the season with a torn labrum. The Chicago Tribune’s Teddy Greenstein reported at the time of the injury that had Crawford played one more game he would not have been eligible for a Medical Redshirt season.
Northwestern survived and adapted without Crawford. They were able to tread water and went 5-5 in their first ten games without him. Victories over then number 12 Minnesota and at then number 23 Illinois and the eight point loss to then number two Indiana seemed to indicate Northwestern had a chance to compete for a fifth straight NIT appearance.
The then bottom seemed to fall out. With a seemingly winnable game at Nebraska, their shooting disappeared. NU shot just 32.1 percent from the floor, 20.7 percent on threes and made just seven of 16 from the foul line. Nebraska pulled away in the second half and won 64-49.
David Sobolewski scored 21 against Nebraska, but has reached double figures just three times in the Wildcats last ten games.
Jared Swopshire transferred to Northwestern for his final season of eligibility after graduating from Louisville. He had become a key player in the Wildcats front court. He gave them an athletic big man that had been lacking in recent years.
Swopshire had seemed to be reaching his peak in an NU uniform just as he was lost for the season with a knee injury. In Big Ten games he was averaging 10.6 PPG and 7.5 RPG. He is second on the team in scoring average in first in rebounding. The 7.5 RPG would place Swopshire fourth in the Big Ten in conference games if he had enough games to qualify.
The Wildcats downward spiral had been directly related to their injuries. While they are in the bottom three in most of the major categories, it is their lack of offense that has hurt them the most.
Reggie Hearn has been the Wildcats only consistent threat offensively. He scored in double figures in all but five NU games this season. His 13.0 PPG leads the team in scoring and he is the only active player to average in double figures in Big Ten games.
The frontcourt was expected to be greatly improved this season with the addition of depth and size in a good recruiting class mixed with transfers and redshirts. In addition to Swopshire, bigs Nikola Cerina, Chier Ajou and Sanjay Lumpkin were all lost for the season. Starting center Alex Olah also missed a game with a concussion.
Getting the young players quality playing for this year and getting them used to the Princeton offense for next season is going to be an important goal for the remainder of this year. With a 13-15 record and games remaining against nationally ranked Ohio State and Michigan State, a fifth straight NIT appearance seems to be out of reach,
The Wildcats have another excellent recruiting class coming in the fall, including four star point guard Jaren Sina. All they seem to be able to do at this point is to look ahead to next season.