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Diagnosis: Evanston

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Seriously, what's wrong with the 'Cats?

Chris Collins and the 'Cats are the most snake-bitten team in the B1G, losing their last 5 games by an average of under 4 points.
Chris Collins and the 'Cats are the most snake-bitten team in the B1G, losing their last 5 games by an average of under 4 points.
Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

I'm trying to understand the snake-bitten 'Cats. Bear with me. This wasn't fun to write.

The Streak

Streak: L6

Kenpom (Luck): 268th in the country (-.044).

Avg Margin, last 5 games: 3.4 points

Tre Demps had a shot to win it against Michigan State. The contested jumper rattled out and Alex Olah couldn't get a putback in time. Northwestern fell in overtime to the Spartans, 84-77. After the game, Tom Izzo admitted that Northwestern should've won. But that's why you play the game.

After trailing by 10 for much of the second half, Northwestern cut an Illinois lead to 1 with :12 remaining, only for Nathan Taphorn to turn the ball over on an inbounds pass. The 'Cats lost, 72-67.

Freshman phenom Bryant McIntosh watched his 5-foot runner rattle out to tie the game against Michigan. He's making that shot about 8 or 9 of every 10 times. It failed to fall, and Northwestern slunk out of Ann Arbor losers of four straight, this time 56-54.

Two obvious goaltends on Ohio State went uncalled--Sam Thompson clearly blocked the shots after they contacted the backboard. Obviously, it's not to blame the referees for the loss. The Buckeyes' star--and eventually lottery pick--DeAngelo Russell dropped 33 on the 'Cats, negating a 16-point, 6-board game by center Alex Olah. A late rally fell short, and the 'Cats lost at home, 69-67. The streak extended to five.

And then last night, for 39:50, Northwestern led #13 Maryland on their home court. But Northwestern, leading by 11 with 3:28 left at the under-4 media timeout, again were tested by the Terps' trap--and found wanting. An early Tre Demps jumper, a turnover, another Vic Law turnover, another missed Demps jumper, a missed front-end by McIntosh, and the 'Cats found a way to lose--this time on Dez Wellsoutstanding putback (when JerShon Cobb failed to get a body on the senior). The streak sits at six.

I WANT A SCAPEGOAT.

Me too, angry heading dude. But there's no one source of blame. Hell, I think most Northwestern fans have slipped into a combination of shock, resignation, and self-loathing yet again. Yes, 4-star freshman Vic Law has failed to perform up to expectations. His body looks undersized, and he forces bad shots and dribbles into bad situations. He should not have been on the court late in last night's loss. But he is not the cause for these failures.

Bryant McIntosh is playing out of his mind. Against Maryland sensation Melo Trimble--who is gonna get paaaaaid--the Wildcats' freshman dropped 21 points on an absurd 10/14 night from the floor, outplaying Trimble for much of the night. Trimble got to the line, though: he shot 9/10 on FTs, to McIntosh's already-discussed 0/1. But he has dragged Northwestern into games. His misses have come at the worst times, but the freshman's future in Evanston is bright.

Alex Olah is finally playing like the center Northwestern has hoped he could be. While foul trouble against Maryland held him to 8 points and 4 boards, the junior from Romania has averaged 13.8 points and 7.2 rebounds during the five-game span. He dominated Michigan inside and had his way with Nnanna Egwu and Illinois, but still disappears for stretches of the game--compounded by Chris Collins' baffling overuse of Yale transfer Jeremiah Kreisberg.

The pieces are all there in Evanston. This team has come to the precipice of winning, but found new and creative ways to lose to the teams it needs to beat to get the ball rolling in the right direction.

Where do we go from here?

Maryland fans were gracious last night after the Terrapins came from behind to beat Northwestern. Well, except this dick. (But he's at EDSBS, so what can you expect?) At InsideNU, we got the standard "you guys are much better than your record and that you're going to be a force to be reckoned with going forward." And I can't disagree. But damn if that pat-on-the-head, moral victory bullshit isn't getting old.

Thanks to last night's gut-wrenching loss to the Terrapins, the Wildcats now stand at 10-10 (1-6), with no postseason for the third straight season almost a certainty. The 'Cats need to play .500 ball the rest of the way just to sniff the CBI. Looking at the schedule, when you have to count Purdue, @Nebraska, @Minnesota, Penn State, and @Illinois as your "remotely possible" wins, then hope for a 12-13 slapfight in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament to get to .500, that hope is grim.

What's been most maddening?

Opponent Kenpom Sagarin W/L NU Opp
Houston Baptist 313 310 W 65 58
Brown 259 258 W 69 56
North Florida 130 146 W 69 67
Elon 255 236 W 68 67
Miami Hydroxide 274 272 W 55 46
Northern Iowa 19 28 L 42 61
Georgia Tech 112 104 L 58 66
Butler 22 17 L 56 65
Mississippi Valley St 348 348 W 101 49
Central Mich 82 63 L 67 80
Western Mich 134 133 W 67 61
Illinois-Chicago 308 311 W 63 46
Northern Kentucky 234 254 W 76 55
Rutgers 168 157 W 51 47
#4 Wisconsin 6 5 L 58 81
Michigan State 27 24 L 77 84
Illinois 67 46 L 67 72
Michigan 93 79 L 54 56
Ohio State 20 15 L 67 69
#13 Maryland 30 23 L 67 68
Purdue 75 52
Nebraska 85 84
Wisconsin 6 5
Michigan State 27 24
Iowa 47 38
Minnesota 52 47
Penn State 101 98
Indiana 42 34
Illinois 67 46
Michigan 93 79
Iowa 47 38
Avg. Opp. (thru 1-26) 145.05 141.45
Northwestern 122 118
Record Against: W-L W-L
Better 0 10 0 10
Worse 10 0 10 0

You read that right. The 'Cats have beaten every team worse than them, per Kenpom AND Sagarin, and lost to every team better than them. That's a trend that has to break, though both would argue--after adjusting for home court--that the pattern is more likely to hold, at least in the short term.

Then again, anything is possible: this Northwestern team is on the cusp of pulling off one of those big upsets. They have to be (if just for my liver's sake). Perhaps it will come at #6 Wisconsin again. Probably not, though. In the meantime, the 'Cats will continue to fight for Collins, whose hard-nosed attitude is reflected in his team. Looking forward, there is always the prospect of last year's three-week stretch when Northwestern went 5-2, beating #23 Illinois, #14 Wisconsin, and winning on the road at Indiana and Minnesota. Such is the Big Ten. In the meantime we sure do feel like Kirk Ferentz: "That's basketball."

Maybe there's some advanced stat that tells us exactly what Northwestern is missing. Someone will find one, I'm sure. Right now, though, all that most Northwestern fans can do is shake our heads. This team will find a way to win, learn how to win, whatever bullshit coach- or journalist-speak trope applies. There's a silver lining somewhere in the dark cloud over Welsh-Ryan Arena, but you'll excuse Northwestern fans if we're just getting tired of the rain.