Big Ten

Don't call it a hangover: In loss to Maryland, Scottie Lindsey’s absence a bigger issue for Northwestern than Wisconsin win

Don't call it a hangover: In loss to Maryland, Scottie Lindsey’s absence a bigger issue for Northwestern than Wisconsin win

EVANSTON — Don't call it a hangover.

The instant response following Northwestern's 74-64 home loss to Maryland on Wednesday night would be to think that the Wildcats, fresh off a win at Wisconsin that's being described as the biggest in program history, suffered a letdown.

Chris Collins used the word fatigue to describe a few players. He talked about his team being a step slower. But it had nothing to do with the mindset, celebrating the win too much or taking a night off after a program-defining win, according to the head coach.

In other words, it wasn't a hangover.

"I really don't think it was a hangover," Collins said when presented with that word after Wednesday's game. "Sometimes as a coach you can feel your team's energy out on the floor. I thought our heads were in the right place. We were definitely ready to play the game, we prepared well for the game. I just felt like tonight we were a little bit slow."

Those of us who have unfortunately been through such an ordeal know that fatigue is a symptom of a hangover. The two aren't necessarily mutually exclusive.

But the fatigue Collins was describing might have been less about the results of games past and more about the way certain guys had to play in those games.

Basically, fatigue from not being able to lean on Scottie Lindsey.

The Cats' ailing leading scorer missed his fourth consecutive game Wednesday night, and the display from Northwestern was much like what occurred in the first two contests Lindsey missed, losses to Purdue and Illinois where the offense went missing and the team couldn't do a thing on one end of the floor. Taking away more than 15 points a game will obviously yield that result, and when the defense isn't in tip-top shape — as it was against Wisconsin — you get what happened at Purdue and in each of the last two home games against Illinois and Maryland: losses.

The first was lopsided, the second two less so, but each shared the same theme. Lacking Lindsey is a very big problem for Northwestern.

"A little more balance offensively and defensively," forward Vic Law said when asked what the Cats miss when Lindsey's not on the floor. "We're balanced on the floor offensively when you have Scott out there, not only for his scoring but he just opens up the floor so much more. Teams aren't able to just lock in on whoever their game plan is. Teams have to play our offense a lot more honestly, and when you do that, we're really good when our offense is just running and clicking. So when Scott's out there, he allows our offense to run a lot smoother. We don't have to play as much 1-on-1. It's a lot more crisp."

It's unknown when Lindsey will return. There wouldn't seem to be a need to rush him back for Saturday's game against Rutgers, a team at the bottom of the Big Ten standings that even a shorthanded Northwestern should be able to handle with ease. But the longer Lindsey remains out, the longer the Cats have to deal with the problem of not being able to score more points than their opponent, which is kind of a critical element in the game of basketball.

Wednesday night, the well dried up for Bryant McIntosh. The junior point guard had scored more than 20 points in each of the previous four games, but he was knocked off his roll early, picking up two quick fouls in the opening minutes of the game and then a third later in the first half. McIntosh finished with nine points on 3-for-13 shooting, the fourth straight game in which he's missed double-digit shots.

Law didn't have too much going, either, scoring 12 points on 4-for-12 shooting. And those offensive woes looked worse when combined with Law's challenges on the defensive end. He was tasked with guarding Maryland's star point guard, Melo Trimble, who exploded for a career-high 32 points.

If it wasn't for Isiah Brown, the freshman reserve who poured in 19 points, the final score would have looked a lot worse. It was Brown who sparked a 15-4 run in the second half that shrunk a 20-point lead down to single digits. He played great, but with McIntosh and Law gassed from 40 minutes apiece up in Madison and Lindsey sitting on the bench, it wasn't enough to carry the Cats to a second straight win over a ranked opponent.

"It's no excuses, but (Lindsey) averages 16 points a game. So when you're playing really potent offensive teams we've had to win with our defense. We're not capable right now of throwing up 75, 80 points. We just don't have enough firepower," Collins said. "We have to win games 65-60. And Maryland is very potent offensively, and they score the ball. We just couldn't match that.

"It was just one of those nights. We couldn't put it in the basket, and against a really good team, you're just not going to be able to get away with that."

We should remember, of course, that Maryland is very good and that Northwestern losing was perhaps a little predictable. When the Cats dropped their first two games without Lindsey — the loss to Purdue expected, the loss to Illinois not — it looked like a four-game losing streak was in the cards with the second half of those games coming against ranked foes in the Badgers and Terps. Northwestern surprised in Madison, recalibrating expectations for Wednesday night.

Having dropped three of four, there might be slight concern about the remainder of the regular-season schedule, wondering if these offensive struggles could lead to more unexpected losses like the one against Illinois. Northwestern's remaining games are: home against Rutgers, at Illinois, at Indiana, home against Michigan and home against Purdue.

But the more pressing panic has to do with March. The win over Wisconsin seemingly guaranteed the Cats would be going dancing for the first time ever. But will Northwestern simply be happy to be in the NCAA tournament? Or will there be hopes of a run?

The latter will require performances like the one from Sunday against Wisconsin. A performance like the one Wednesday against Maryland — and any team Northwestern faces in the Big Dance will be of the high caliber the Terps are — and the first-ever tournament appearance might be short lived.

Pat Fitzgerald, Lovie Smith in top 10 of an intriguing college coach list

Pat Fitzgerald, Lovie Smith in top 10 of an intriguing college coach list

Northwestern and Illinois’ college football programs are ranked in the top 10 this year.

Kind of.

One esteemed name in the college football ranks has placed Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald atop the list of the all-time greatest college coaches…ranked as players. Illini coach Lovie Smith ranks at No. 10.

Rich Cirminiello, Director of College Awards for the Maxwell Football Club, compiled the list and he is an excellent follow on Twitter. He has several other noteworthy lists of interest, including the top college football players who are now coaches in the NFL. Psst…spoiler alert: several local connections are on that particular list as well, including Saints head coach Sean Payton (QB, Eastern Illinois) and Ron Rivera (LB, California).

But back to Coach Fitz, who bleeds purple and has emphatically put the NU football program on the map since the mid-90s. He was a two-time All-American in addition to receiving consecutive Bronco Nagurski, Chuck Bednarik and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors as a linebacker (1995-96). He helped guide the Wildcats to the ’96 Rose Bowl. Since becoming the team’s head coach in 2006, he has led the program to nine bowl games (four wins).

We all know Lovie Smith’s coaching legacy with the Bears and his rebuilding of the Illinois football program, but did you know how much he dominated as a college player? He played for Tulsa from 1976-79, racking up 367 career tackles primarily as a safety. He was a three-time All-Missouri Valley Conference award winner and earned a second-team All-America mention in 1978. He was also named MVC Newcomer of the Year after he tallied 90 tackles as a freshman.

[MORE: Lovie Smith, Mike Tirico discuss systemic racism 

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, who passed for over 11,000 yards in seven seasons as a Chicago Bear, ranked No. 2 on Cirminiello’s list. In a follow-up tweet, Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck, who dominated as a wide receiver at NIU and at nearby Kaneland High School, came in at No. 20. Western Michigan’s Tim Lester —a star player at Wheaton Warrenville South HS— is in at No. 7.

Who said that the Land of Lincoln didn’t have top college football talent?

Northwestern Wildcats athletic department begins phased return to campus

Northwestern Wildcats athletic department begins phased return to campus

Professional, collegiate and prep sports have been on hold in Illinois since mid-March but it looks like there may be more light at the end of the tunnel. This time, in Evanston.

Northwestern University announced Thursday that a phased reopening of the athletic department, in tandem with NU’s overall policy for a return to campus, will include student athlete workouts on Monday June 22.

The relaunch of athletics at Northwestern during the COVID-19 pandemic comes as the state of Illinois is progressing in its own planned reopening, as dictated by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

The sports medicine staff, athletic trainers and student-athletes with post-injury needs were welcomed back earlier this month and other select groups will be admitted back to campus next week.

Athletes will be required to complete a full physical upon arrival in Evanston on June 22. They will be screened before entering on-site facilities by means of a wellness check and a no-touch temperature scan.

Facility access will be managed through one entrance and exit. Locker facilities and lounges will remain closed, though, along with dining centers.

[MORE: Shortened NFL preseason puts big group of players at a disadvantage]

The Wildcats football team, along with both the men’s and women’s basketball programs, are penciled in to begin those voluntary workouts a week from Monday. Each unit should have plenty of motivation once they hit the playing surface.

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald and company are eager to put last year’s 3-9 mark behind them. On the hardwood, Chris Collins’ group needs a quick bounce-back after an 8-23 mark last season while the women’s team, under the tutelage of Big Ten Coach of the Year Joe McKeown, are looking to build off a stellar 2019-20 campaign. They won the their first conference championship since 1989-90 and boasted a school record 26 wins.

 

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