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Men’s Basketball: Northwestern set to face Iowa in Round 1 of Big Ten Tournament

Dave Sobolewski drives into the lane. Sobolewski, who is from the Chicago suburbs and attended Chicago Bulls games when he was younger, will play on the United Center court for the first time.

Daily file photo by Rafi Letzter

Dave Sobolewski drives into the lane. Sobolewski, who is from the Chicago suburbs and attended Chicago Bulls games when he was younger, will play on the United Center court for the first time.

Ava Wallace and Josh Walfish

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No. 11 seed Northwestern will take on No. 6 seed Iowa in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament at the United Center in Chicago on Thursday night.

The first time the Wildcats took on the Hawkeyes this season was in mid-January, when NU still had a winning record (10-6 at the time). The matchup at Welsh-Ryan Arena ended with a 70-50 loss for the Cats.

“Iowa’s just a physical team, especially in their rebounding and their defense,” senior guard Reggie Hearn said. “They kind of chuck the cutters, they hit the boards really hard, and those are things we struggle with as a team from time to time. So we’ve got to expect that and push through it.”

But it was the Cats’ second meeting with the Hawkeyes that would change the course of the rest of NU’s season.

After the Cats lost to the Hawkeyes for a second time, 71-57 on Feb. 9, NU left Iowa City with two newly injured players to add to the flock of coach Bill Carmody’s athletes  already parked on the bench.

Graduate student forward Jared Swopshire suffered a season-ending knee injury that left the Cats without its best rebounder and one of the team’s remaining veteran offensive players. Freshman center Alex Olah also caught the back of an Iowa player’s hand and suffered a concussion that kept him off the court for one game.

Even as Olah returned to the lineup, Carmody allotted more playing time to freshman center Kale Abrahamson and freshman guard Tre Demps.

Carmody’s efforts aside, NU lost all seven remaining games in the season without Swopshire.

The Cats now primarily operate with senior guard Reggie Hearn, sophomore guard Dave Sobolewski, senior forward Alex Marcotullio, Abrahamson and Olah as a starting lineup. Carmody said he’s happy with his team, considering it is now riding an eight-game losing streak.

“I think the guys are in a pretty good spot, actually, considering that we’ve lost all these games in a row,” Carmody said. “They seem pretty good to me.”

The Cats’ third game against the Hawkeyes this season is the first time NU will return to the United Center since losing to Michigan State in the 2007 Big Ten Tournament.

Overall, the Cats are  just 6-15 in the tournament, including a 3-7 record in Chicago, and have never advanced past the quarterfinals. Last season, NU lost to Minnesota as the No. 7 in a close game in Indianapolis.

The Cats are technically the closest school to the venue this season, but Carmody said the only “home” advantage he saw was that players could go to school on Wednesday and take their finals without a proctor, like they did when the tournament was in Indianapolis.

For Sobolewski, playing at the United Center has special meaning. The Naperville, Ill. native has been attending Chicago Bulls games at the arena since he was a child.

“I’ve been going to Bulls games for as long as I can remember,” Sobolewski said. “I’ve never had the chance to play on the court. I’ve been down there multiple times. It’ll be a lot of fun.”

Carmody has fielded many questions in response to speculation as to whether the 13-season coach will keep his job. Players have stood by Carmody, and Carmody  has said he won’t worry about the rumors  too much until after the season, when he will meet with athletic director Jim Phillips.


About the Writers
Ava Wallace, Web Editor

Ava Wallace was a Web editor for The Daily Spring Quarter 2014, and she is a Medill senior. Her past positions include Sports editor, assistant Sports...

Josh Walfish, Sports Editor

Josh Walfish was Sports editor of The Daily. His past positions include Gameday editor. He is from Rockville, Md., and has interned for RantSports.