The Daily Northwestern

Men’s Basketball: Wildcats searching for unity prior to Minnesota game

Bryant McIntosh drives to the hoop. The senior guard and the Wildcats are looking to end their two game losing streak Wednesday against Minnesota.

Bryant McIntosh drives to the hoop. The senior guard and the Wildcats are looking to end their two game losing streak Wednesday against Minnesota.

Daily file photo by Brian Meng

Daily file photo by Brian Meng

Bryant McIntosh drives to the hoop. The senior guard and the Wildcats are looking to end their two game losing streak Wednesday against Minnesota.

Ben Pope, Managing Editor

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Men’s Basketball

Last season, as its game entrance video predicted, Northwestern pounded its NCAA Tournament drought rock until it split. This season, the Wildcats seem to have turned the hammers on themselves.

The unity, chemistry and momentum created by last year’s team is now certainly showing some cracks.

“Everyone’s frustrated, everyone’s disappointed (and) hopefully a little angry,” coach Chris Collins said.

It has been a dispiriting campaign thus far, reaching an apex during blowout losses to Big Ten bottom-feeders Nebraska and Penn State last week. Junior center Dererk Pardon mentioned that “some of us weren’t locked in mentally” after the defeat to the Cornhuskers. Senior guard Bryant McIntosh then said he was “questioning what was going through everybody else’s head” after the lackluster effort in Pennsylvania.

Nevertheless, NU (10-7, 1-3 Big Ten) is hoping two team meetings held over the weekend — described by McIntosh as “come to Jesus” moments — have smoothed over that discord and reunified the team in advance of Wednesday’s game against Minnesota (13-4, 2-2).

“We had a players-only meeting, and everybody talked,” McIntosh said. “Then coach talked to us, and it was all him talking then. (What he said) was insightful, it was needed, it was the truth and I think we took it and responded really well.”

Collins agreed with McIntosh’s last point, saying that the Cats have had a string of intense practices since the meetings and have fed off the fuel of their collective anger.

But Collins also took the blame for the team’s recent fragmentation.

“The coach is the one that has to hold it all together and make sure the guys are out there … playing for each other,” he said, “And I haven’t done as good a job as I could’ve with this group so far.”

Despite the chemistry issues, however, the Cats can take solace in the fact that their roster is still complete and physically intact, something that can’t be said of Minnesota.

Over the past week, while NU received the fortunate news that the gruesome-looking knee injury McIntosh suffered Dec. 30 wouldn’t keep the senior guard out long, the Golden Gophers suffered the opposite fate and lost two crucial starters long-term.

Guard Amir Coffey, the team’s third-leading scorer, suffered a shoulder injury in a win over Illinois, and Minnesota coach Richard Pitino is reportedly merely hopeful that Coffey won’t be out for the duration of the season. Meanwhile, center Reggie Lynch, the team’s second-leading rebounder and fourth-leading scorer, was suspended indefinitely for three alleged incidents of sexual assault and is now potentially facing expulsion.

Without Coffey and Lynch, Minnesota was promptly upset at home by Indiana on Saturday. As a result, McIntosh said he expects a desperate Gophers team to roll into Chicagoland on Wednesday.

“They’re dealing with some adversity too,” McIntosh said. “Both teams, they’ve got to feel like their backs are against the wall, and it’s a must-win game.”

The Cats lost 70-66 to Minnesota in Evanston last January in one of the team’s worst home efforts of the otherwise unprecedentedly successful season. They then immediately ripped off six conference wins in a row.

This time, they’re hoping that hosting the Gophers can be the game that begins, rather than motivates, a much-needed winning streak. And Collins said he wants his team to stop looking backwards at last season in order to accomplish it this season.

“Last year’s team was just so connected in every sense of the word. We knew we needed each other, we played for one another,” Collins said. “I still think we have great attitudes, the guys want to win, but the teams are different, and we’ve got to figure out with this team, how to win.”

Twitter: @benpope111