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.

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Weeks will separate a perfect 10-year anniversary where Northwestern will play at Wrigley Field for one of its regular season games in the upcoming years.

Back on Nov. 20, 2010, the Wildcats battled it out with Illinois, known as the “Wrigleyville Classic,” which saw the Illini take a 48-27 win.

Even though it’s still two years out, Northwestern still planned ahead and announced its opponent for its game at Wrigley Field on Nov. 7, 2020, against Big Ten rival Wisconsin.

“Obviously an exciting opportunity for our football program to come back to Wrigley Field, one of the Cathedrals of sporting venues in the world,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “When I announced it to our team, they were absolutely ecstatic.”

“The opportunity to play at Wrigley field is unique to us, being Chicago’s Big Ten team, and to have the chance to come down and play in an atmosphere like we did a few years back was a bowl game type atmosphere, and I look forward to this special opportunity.”

This game though will be a little different than it was back in 2010. Both the Wildcats and Illini played toward the west end zone due to a tight squeeze near the right field wall due to box seats that were added down the third base line.

Now, Northwestern and Wisconsin do not have to worry about that problem because the bullpens have since moved to the outfield.

Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney spoke at a news conference earlier on Tuesday at Wrigley.

“So excited to welcome back Northwestern to Wrigley Field to talk about football again,” Kenney said. “We had an incredible experience with them back in 2010."

Kenney also mentioned new seating is on a temporary platform that can all be removed and the dugout tops can be removed as well, and the field will expand west, to allow for a longer field.

With a sellout crowd in the last go around for the Wildcats, don’t be surprised for another sellout at the Friendly Confines.

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

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USA TODAY

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 12 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (10-1)

Still the team with the best resume in the country, no one can compete with OU’s wins over TCU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two coming away from Norman. Baker Mayfield might not be a choir boy, but he’s the best player in the nation.

2. Miami (10-0)

You might think that being down 28-14 to Virginia in the second half was cringe-worthy, but the Canes made up for things by storming back with 30 unanswered points. Now they finally have to go away from South Florida for the first time since almost losing to North Carolina last month.

3. Alabama (11-0)

Tide gonna roll. But this Cupcake Weekend in the SEC has got to stop. While teams in other conferences are slugging it out against rivals, Bama gets to take a day off against Mercer? It’s just not fair. Also, Bama’s schedule is so soft, there’s no way it deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country.

4. Georgia (10-1)

The Dawgs should wrap an 11-1 regular season this weekend against Georgia Tech. But the SEC title game presents a kind of no-win scenario: undefeated Alabama or Auburn, who throttled Georgia earlier this month.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

You didn’t need Wisconsin to do what it did to Iowa and Michigan to prove it had one of the best defenses in the country — but that sure didn’t help. Stockpiling national love with those two wins, a win in the Big Ten title game figures to make the Badgers a Playoff lock.

6. Clemson (10-1)

Why’d Kelly Bryant have to go and get hurt for that Syracuse game? The Tigers would be No. 1 and the undisputed best team in the country. Still, though, a win over Miami in the ACC title game ought to get the champs back into the Playoff.

7. Auburn (9-2)

Great job pounding Louisiana-Monroe, Tigers. You shall not escape the wrath over Cupcake Weekend in the SEC. That dumb game aside, Auburn and Alabama will meet in a titanic Iron Bowl this weekend with a trip to the SEC title game on the line — and perhaps a Playoff spot, as well.

8. Ohio State (9-2)

Not that pummeling Illinois is any big deal, but the Buckeyes are still alive in this thing and look like a team capable of making some Playoff noise. First, Ohio State has to win The Game and then the Big Ten title game to knock out undefeated Wisconsin.

9. Notre Dame (9-2)

Out of the Playoff chase thanks to that loss at Miami, Notre Dame squeaked by Navy this past weekend. Hope a New Year’s Six bowl game is enough for the Irish. We know it’s not enough for those ND fans. So maybe join a conference? Just saying.

10. TCU (9-2)

The Frogs can still make their mark on the Playoff race, even if they can’t get in themselves. The Big 12 title game will almost surely be TCU’s attempt at revenge on Oklahoma. Unfortunately, if revenge does come, it will probably cannibalize the conference’s Playoff hopes, too.

11. Penn State (9-2)

Why Penn State gave up 44 points to Nebraska, I do not know. What I do know is that probably no one cared because Penn State is going to go down as the most inconsequential 10-2 team of all-time. Such a bummer considering the preseason expectations for both the team and Saquon Barkley.

12. USC (10-2)

Yeah, I guess there’s still a way for USC to make the Playoff, but it’s hard to imagine that madness unfolding, even in the oft-mad college football. The Trojans get the winner of the Apple Cup in the Pac-12 title game.

13. UCF (10-0)

Finally we get our much-anticipated UCF-USF showdown this weekend. Make it count, Knights. This is probably gonna be Scott Frost’s last regular-season game in Orlando.

14. Washington (9-2)

It’s hard to say who has the edge in the Apple Cup, but certainly the stakes are high, with the winner going off to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. Can either team make the Playoff? Well, probably not, no.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Is this it for Mike Leach on The Palouse? He could be a hot candidate this offseason and leave for perceived greener pastures. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way toward making that happen.

16. Mississippi State (8-3)

A win in the Egg Bowl means a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs with their three losses coming against three top-10 teams.

17. Oklahoma State (8-3)

Poor Okie State has been so good all year and had two losses to the two best teams in its conference, and then it went and lost to K-State for some ridiculous reason. The Mullet deserved better in 2017.

18. Northwestern (8-3)

The Cats are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, simple as that, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa and conference losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. As commendable an effort as you’ll find in a highly competitive league. Plus, Fitz’s team is on a six-game win streak that could end up extending to eight.

19. Stanford (8-3)

Already with a win over Washington, Stanford could close the regular season with two wins over top-10 teams in its final three games. Also Bryce Love is back in the groove after back-to-back 100-yard games.

20. Memphis (9-1)

The Tigers have lost just one game all season, to the best Group of Five team out there. Heck of a season by Memphis.

21. Michigan State (8-3)

A 17-7 win over Maryland couldn't have been the most exciting way for anyone to spend their weekend. Sparty's had a mighty fine season, though, considering how badly things went in 2016.

22. LSU (8-3)

The SEC has seemingly gotten increasingly better as the year has progressed, with LSU and Mississippi State making for a solid-enough middle tier. But remember when LSU lost to Troy? That wasn’t good.

23. South Florida (9-1)

If not for that loss to Houston, USF’s showdown with UCF this weekend would be for Group of Five supremacy. Even without that, though, this should be a highly entertaining affair.

24. Virginia Tech (8-3)

The Hokies have a chance to salvage their tumble at the close of the season with a win at Virginia. But given how well the Cavs played at Miami this past weekend, a VT win is no sure thing.

25. Iowa State (7-4)

I understand the math and all, but can't the Big 12 just suspend its rules and send Iowa State to the title game? We all want to see the OU-ISU rematch. Why are you preventing us from being happy, Big 12?