Freshman Kale Abrahamson offered a candid assessment of the weekend trip to Iowa:
“It probably couldn’t have gone much worse,” he said.
The team lost Jared Swopshire for the season. Alex Olah will miss Thursday’s game with a concussion. And the schedule gets no easier, as the Wildcats travel to Columbus on Thursday for a matchup with No. 13 Ohio State.
The Buckeyes have yet to suffer a bad loss. Illinois dismantled them 74-55 on Jan. 5. Aside from that, Thad Matta’s team knows how to stay focused against weaker opponents.
In the past two seasons of NU basketball, the most dramatic game involved Ohio State. Two years ago, it was Juice Thompson rallying the Shurna-less Cats in the narrow defeat. Last year, it was Jared Sullinger’s bank shot to hurt their slim tournament chances.
This time around, the undermanned Cats can only hope to add some drama. Overmatched against a top opponent, NU knows how to challenge Ohio State.
Slow down Deshaun
Deshaun Thomas ranks among the best players in the Big Ten. The decorated junior leads the conference with 20.1 points per game. He shoots 40 percent from behind the arc, and defines “volume scorer.” Thomas will get his points.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. is the only other Buckeye averaging double figures in scoring. Ohio State boasts solid talent, but everything revolves around Thomas. It helps that one of the best point guards in the nation feeds him the ball. Aaron Craft is tied for second in the Big Ten with 4.4 assists per game. He has earned a reputation as one of the best all-around guards in the conference.
“They have a great scorer in Thomas and a great guard in Craft,” Abrahamson said. “Playing everybody is tough. The Big Ten is nasty every night.”
Without Swopshire – perhaps their best on-ball defender – the Wildcats need someone to step up defensively against Thomas. This might mean Reggie Hearn, who has been inconsistent when guarding perimeter threats this season. Mississippi Valley State guard Davon Usher memorably lit up Hearn on Nov. 15.
NU gives up height on the inside. Olah and Swopshire were the team’s two leading rebounders. Now, it’s up to Nikola Cerina and Mike Turner to showcase their improvement. With Hearn occupied, they need to handle Ohio State big men. The Buckeyes front court – including Evan Ravenel, Sam Thompson, and Amir Williams – often struggles on the offensive end, but NU needs to avoid foul trouble with its alarming lack of depth.
Get Kale Going
Kale Abrahamson has been thrust back into a starting role. The 6-7 forward needs to replace Jared Swopshire, which will give him an opportunity to round out his game. The prevailing thought is that Abrahamson will start at the 4-spot next season. If he can work on his rebounding and create shots, that seems feasible.
Lost in the Iowa narrative was Abrahamson’s impressive performance. He knocked down a pair of three-pointers, and helped keep NU in the game. For a freshman, it is crucial that he maintain his confidence.
He recently lost his starting job to redshirt freshman Tre Demps. But he earned another chance.
“We have to keep pressing on,” Abrahamson said. “The season’s not over.”
His range presents an interesting matchup for opponents. And his scoring, on Thursday, will be necessary. The Cats talked all offseason about filling the scoring void left by John Shurna. They’re currently left to fill an internal scoring void after numerous injuries.
That begins with Abrahamson, who has the opportunity to make his presence felt a little bit sooner than expected.
Keep Your Head Up
This seems to be the single constant theme from the 2012-13 Northwestern basketball season. With injuries and losses mounting, the Cats have no choice but to move forward.
“You have to keep going,” coach Bill Carmody said. “I haven’t gotten any sympathy cards from any coaches.”
NU showed resilience when Drew Crawford went down. The team began to adjust, as evidenced by the upset win over then-No. 12 Minnesota. Surely, the Cats are major underdogs tomorrow. But with excellent shooting, they can make a run.
Tomorrow can be viewed as an opportunity. Walk-on guard James Montgomery III might see playing time tomorrow. Nikola Cerina, an athletic forward, can show Bill Carmody that he deserves more playing time. Though Reggie Hearn said Swopshire is impossible to replace, he thinks teammates can step up to the task.
“We have guys who can do some things,” Hearn said. “We’ll see if what they can do translates to the game.”
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