I’ve been around Northwestern basketball for as long as I can remember. I remember the irrelevant seasons, the years when it was fun-bad, the heartbreak, the anger, and the frustration. You name the emotion, and I’ve probably felt it at some point. I remember the Seth Meyers jokes about Northwestern knowing March Madness as just March.
The success the Wildcats achieved last season was unprecedented. Northwestern was supposed to be good, but not NCAA Tournament good. They lost heartbreaking games in non-conference play, took down a top-25 team that wasn’t actually a top 25 team, lost some games they should have won and won some games they weren’t favored in. They were sloppy at times, still frustrating to watch when they weren’t playing well.
As conference play continued along, their chances of dancing grew with each game. Then March 1st rolled around, when Dererk Pardon and Nate Taphorn made the best play in Northwestern history. The exclamation point for Northwestern came when they beat Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament.
Last season, Northwestern basketball was ridiculously fun to watch as they made their run. The sold out Welsh-Ryan Arena crowds, the picturesque ending of the season as Welsh-Ryan prepared to close for renovation, the doors opening one last time to celebrate their first NCAA Tournament berth, and their first win against Vanderbilt.
This season, the feelings are the exact opposite.
For the first time in program history, Northwestern was in the Preseason AP Top 25. Non-conference play was supposed to be easy for Northwestern this year. That was, until they almost lost their first game, got beat by Creighton, and got blown out of the gym by Texas Tech at the Hall of Fame Tip.
Northwestern basketball is different this season. This different is not a good different.
They were supposed to be better, stronger, and more athletic than last season. So far, it doesn’t look that way.
Northwestern lost a lot this offseason. They lost an assistant coach in Pat Baldwin to his first head coaching job. They also lost two graduates in Sanjay Lumpkin and Nathan Taphorn.
Prior to last season, many questions arose on whether or not Northwestern would make the NCAA Tournament with Sanjay Lumpkin and Nathan Taphorn on their roster. They were from the Bill Carmody era and neither moved mountains on the statistics sheet.
Surely, a few months later, those two players would be two of the top reasons Northwestern made the tournament- and had success in it.
Because they didn’t fill the stat sheet out, it looked like Northwestern wasn’t going to miss a lot this season.
Here’s a little something to think about though. Where is Northwestern’s biggest weakness so far this season?
It’s on the wing.
In Sanjay Lumpkin’s spot.
The Wildcats haven’t found a player that will fill Lumpkin’s roll yet.
What’s happening to Northwestern basketball?
Northwestern basketball is missing Sanjay Lumpkin and Nathan Taphorn.
Yes, Gavin Skelly is shooting the three ball. Yes, Aaron Falzon is still coming back from injury, Yes, we haven’t seen much of Rapolas Ivanauskas yet. However, Lumpkin’s role of the “glue guy”, as Chris Collins called him, has not been filled yet.
The Wildcats look lifeless on the floor. They’re missing their glue guy, and the energy and leadership that came with him. Sure, Bryant McIntosh is their leader, but the Wildcats are missing what Sanjay Lumpkin brought to the floor.
Now, how do they fill this? Who becomes the glue guy? Can someone become the glue guy?
I think it will take a combination of more than one player to fill Lumpkin’s roll. Aaron Falzon and Gavin Skelly can absorb Nathan Taphorn’s three-point shooting, and I think they’ll continue to work to fill Lumpkin’s roll.
With Big Ten play looming, the clock is ticking. Players have got to step up. The bench needs to play better and the team just needs more energy.
Northwestern can be the different team everyone was hoping they would be this year. They just need to turn the outside noise in to energy.
Oh, and find some glue too.