Excitement built as important game looms

It has been a rough run for Northwestern, filled with much adversity. However, on Sunday, following a needed road win, the Wildcats will return home to a packed Welsh-Ryan Arena and battle on a big stage against the Iowa Hawkeyes. It should be a fun game.

Why am I so excited?

Iowa visits Northwestern on Sunday winless in three Big Ten games. The Wildcats managed to reach the conference win column after an unsurprising victory over Penn State.

But don't let the records fool you. It's a big game. It's a major opportunity for NU. Time for some long overdue drama at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

With all the adversity in the past few months alone, you could argue this team deserves it. But, of course, they have to earn it in a Sunday home date with the Hawkeyes – a team far better than their record suggests. All three of their Big Ten losses were to ranked opponents.

For Iowa, a team clinging to tournament aspirations, this is very nearly a must-win game. Leading scorer Roy Devyn Marble may return after missing Thursday's three-point loss to No. 22 Michigan State due to an ankle injury. Regardless, coach Fran McCaffery needs his team to rebound from a poor start to the conference season.

Just one week into the academic quarter, the Northwestern home crowd should be at its loudest. A loss, and the students will leave pessimistic, wait for that one game against Indiana, and sit at home for the rest. A win, and there might just be some hope.

It's a relative term. This season has little chance of ending at the Big Dance. Given the team's overall talent deficiency in the deep Big Ten, the NIT seems a reasonable and fair goal. But these are college athletes. Every win is important – especially for Reggie Hearn and Jared Swopshire. The seniors have no stake in next season's performances. They took no consolation when Crawford was scratched for the season.

No Cobb. No Crawford. So? There are 15 games and about two months left in the regular season. To the masses that counted them out of even competing, a winnable home game would provide a statement.

On Thursday, the team adjusted. The guys showed some life. Sure, a mediocre Penn State program also lost its best player for the season. But for future purposes, one thing stood out: Jared Swopshire was back.

Swopshire looked talented instead of timid. He scored. He went to the free throw line – where he knocked down six of eight attempts. The team cannot take any more on-and-off play. For every Illinois State (15 points, 10 boards), there was a Butler (0-for-6, 3 points). If Swopshire can set aside the inconsistency and step into a scorer's role, the team dynamic changes completely. Iowa boasts gobs of potential under McCaffery – a good coach – but can they slow a motivated team with players on their A-game?

I hate to present this promotional material and this storyline. But I'm looking forward to Sunday.

Northwestern always appears doomed for bad luck in basketball. Juice and John Shurna failed to lift the team over the top. Pat Forde kicked the team when they were down.

The expectations are even more modest this season. Fans are no longer praying for a last-four-in twelfth-seed miracle, but instead for a win that makes everything seem all right.

I won't crown the team after a win against Iowa. If things fall correctly, it might happen.

But we can all appreciate that every win means something.

Forget about the end result of this season. Concentrate on Iowa. And see you on Sunday.

Follow on Twitter: @NicholasMedline

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