This season thus far has been educational for Northwestern.
Without Drew Crawford and Jershon Cobb available, the rest of the team had to step up its leadership and offensive production. Watching the games last week, I witness another aspect of basketball that Northwestern was taught against Michigan and Purdue; which is taking advantage of opportunities when they are presented.
Northwestern traveled to Ann Arbor for a meeting with Michigan, then the nation’s top-ranked team. I was privileged to call this game on WGN Radio at the newly-renovated Crisler Arena, which now has the feel of an NBA facility.
The Wildcats played tough and held their own against Michigan. Sophomore guard Trey Burke was impressive and played phenomenal basketball. He will be a lottery pick in this year’s NBA draft. Northwestern did, however, have opportunities to control the game and take momentum away. Missed layups and easy open shots allowed Michigan to build its lead.
Northwestern had an opportunity to put pressure on number one Michigan or perhaps even pull off an upset on the road, but didn't seize the moment.
Back at Welsh-Ryan Arena just days later, Northwestern came out focused and ready to play against Purdue. The sign of a good team and a program with promise is the way players respond their next game after a loss. The Wildcats played hard against Michigan, but could not take advantage. They jumped on Purdue right away, and were the better team on both ends of the court. What really stood out was how the Wildcats were actually more physical than Purdue.
Reggie Hearn led the Wildcats with a new career-high total, 26 points. Dave Sobolewski and Jared Swopshire continued their productive play. Most notably, Northwestern set a school record with 12 blocks. The Wildcats played with controlled emotions throughout the entire game.
The Big Ten has been a very exciting conference this season and despite injuries and players being absent from Northwestern roster, I'm still happy with the team and its progress. Discipline makes coaching easy, and with disciplined players, improvement will show. Northwestern has a group of coachable young men who want to win.
When opportunity knocks, you have to be prepared to take advantage. This was a great lesson for Northwestern to experience. Everything they are facing will be helpful, and this season’s adversity will make the Wildcats’ goals that much sweeter to achieve.
I believe in this Northwestern Wildcat team.
Jitim Young was a standout for Northwestern from 2000-2004. A Chicago native, he now serves as color commentator for NU basketball on WGN Radio 720.