A loss on the road against a top-20 team doesn't count as an open wound for Northwestern. It's pretty much just a paper cut.
But Chris Collins wants his team to stop the bleeding anyway.
"Most likely you're not going to run the table in the Big Ten. What you have to eliminate are extended losing streaks," the Northwestern head coach told reporters Monday in Evanston. "When you do get beat — which is going to happen, it happened to us last week — you have to stop the bleeding. You have to find a way the next game.
"We went through it earlier in the conference (schedule), we lost two in a row. ... We knew the urgency of staying away in this conference from extended losing streaks because that can really hurt you. When you're playing at home, you're coming off a loss, there's got to be a little bit extra urgency to take care of business and get back on the winning track."
The Wildcats will have that chance when they host the Illinois Fighting Illini on Tuesday at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Northwestern is coming off a lopsided streak-snapping loss at Purdue last week, one that called into question whether these Cats — who at 7-3 in the league are clearly in the conference's upper echelon — can run with the Big Ten's other big dogs.
Certainly finishing in the top four in the conference standings and reaching the NCAA tournament would be monumental for this program. But will the Cats simply be happy to be there, or can they make some noise?
That starts with avoiding what's happened in the past. Collins' previous three years at Northwestern have featured long stretches of losing during the conference schedule. In Year 1, the Cats had a seven-game losing streak in league play. In Year 2, there was a grotesque 10-game skid. Last season, the Cats lost eight of 10 at one point.
If this season's team is truly different — and all indications are that it is — a loss like the excusable one at Purdue needs to be followed with a win against one of the Big Ten's basement-dwellers.
"I just know how important every game is. The momentum can shift very quickly," Collins said. "You can win, and then all of a sudden you lose a couple games, your confidence, things go the other way. So we have to stay single-minded with our focus."
The shift in performance has yielded a shift in expectations, which is why some were alarmed at last week's result in West Lafayette. Any other year, that would be a surefire defeat for an historically losing program. This year the loss sparked the questions about this team's ability to compete against some of the best teams in the country, which one supposes is a good problem to have.
The truth is Northwestern was up against what is now a top-20 Purdue team — the Boilers followed that win up with an impressive weekend road win at Maryland — in a hostile road environment without its leading scorer, Scottie Lindsey, sidelined with an illness.
Purdue played well, Northwestern wasn't at full strength.
"I don't know if it was a wake-up call," Collins said. "There was one stretch of the game where they hit five or six 3s. The rest of the game, if you look at it, we played pretty even. ... Sometimes you've got to tip your cap. And you play in an environment like Mackey, it's one of the tougher places to play. They get going, and the energy of that crowd, you can get hit with a spurt like that. Our offense, we got some good looks we didn't make, and all of a sudden you're down by 20.
"Purdue's really good. We'll have an opportunity to play them again down the road, and hopefully we can play better and make some adjustments. It was one game that they outplayed us and they deserved to beat us, and that's what happened. We've got to regroup and get ready for Illinois."
Illinois shouldn't provide nearly as tough a test. The Illini are one of the conference's worst teams this season, one of the worst defensive teams in the league and a bad team away from Champaign.
But from recent history, Collins knows how losing streaks are built. He knows things can get out of hand in a hurry.
The loss at Purdue shouldn't be a terrible shock to Northwestern's system. But it's also a challenge to the Cats, to see if they can prevent one loss from becoming multiple losses.
"Our guys are upset about it. We went there to win, it didn't happen," Collins said. "We've been able to get home and have a few days of practice to work on us, which has been a good thing."