basketball Edit

Northwestern no stranger to long losing streaks under Collins

Northwestern reached a dubious mark with Tuesday night’s 76-67 loss at No. 7 Maryland. It was the Wildcats’ 10th loss in a row.

The Wildcats haven’t tasted victory in almost six weeks, since a 62-57 home win over Nebraska on Jan. 11.

How long ago was that? It happened on the same day that China reported the first death due to coronavirus. The deal toll now stands at more than 2,100.

Since that win over the Huskers, the Wildcats have dropped all kinds of games. The most painful ones were the ones they gave away with late-game collapses.

They led Rutgers by 10 points, 64-54, with five and a half minutes left only to lose, 77-73, in overtime. They blew an eight-point lead with three minutes left against Purdue, falling 61-58 on a 3-pointer with 3.1 seconds to go.

The Wildcats lost three of the 10 games by five points or less. However, they’ve also lost six by double-digits, including two ugly blowouts by 25-plus points, to Michigan State and Michigan.

Whether the deficits were close and painful or large and embarrassing, the bottom line is that it’s been 41 days since Northwestern players were able to sing the fight song in the locker room.

Unfortunately, Northwestern is no stranger to prolonged winning droughts under Chris Collins. This is the third 10-game snide of the coach’s seven-year tenure in Evanston. The Wildcats have lost at least five games in a row in six of Collins’ seven years.

To find Northwestern’s last 10-game losing streak you only have to go back one year. Just last season, the Wildcats went from Jan. 22 to March 6, 10 straight games, without a victory.

But they broke out of that slump in style with a 68-50 demolition of Ohio State at Welsh-Ryan Arena. NU never trailed, jumping out to a 12-2 lead off of the opening jump and dominating the rest of the way behind Dererk Pardon’s 20 points and 13 rebounds.

That winning glow didn’t last long, however, as the Wildcats dropped the season finale to No. 11 Purdue their next time out and then were bounced by Illinois in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament in overtime.

The other 10-game slide is one that Collins has referenced often during this season. It occurred in 2014-15, in his second year at the helm.

In that one, the Wildcats finally broke through to beat Iowa in overtime on Feb. 15 for their first win since the previous December. They then won the next three straight, including a 60-39 annihilation of Penn State.

Collins uses it to instill hope, an example that shows that once a team learns to win and breaks through the rock, the oil will gush out of the hole in the ground. (He usually doesn’t mention that Northwestern followed its four-game winning streak by losing three of four to close out the year.)

Wildcat teams have lost at least five games in a row in all but one of Collins’ seven seasons, so they have had plenty of practice keeping the faith and fighting through disappointment after disappointment. In addition to the 10-game streaks in the last two seasons, Northwestern lost seven in a row in 2017-18, five in a row in 2015-16, 10 in a row in 2014-15 and seven straight in 2013-14, his first season.

The only season that Northwestern didn’t lose five in a row was, of course, the NCAA Tournament team of 2016-17. That Wildcat squad never lost more than two straight in winning a school-record 24 games, including one in the school’s first-ever Big Dance.

Northwestern’s next chance to get the monkey off its back comes on Sunday, at home, against Minnesota.

The Gophers are just 12-13 (6-9 Big Ten) and have lost five of their last six. They beat Northwestern 77-68 on Jan. 5 in Minneapolis, but the Wildcats didn’t have Boo Buie or AJ Turner and had just seven scholarship players available.

Win the game, and maybe the Wildcats go on a roll like that 2014-15 team did. Lose, and it will become the longest losing streak since Kevin O’Neill’s 1999-2000 team lost 12 straight on its way to finishing 5-25 overall and winless in 16 games in the Big Ten.