If you missed Wednesday night's game against NC State, consider yourself lucky. If you watched, then you are probably just as eager as I am to recap it, which is to say not at all. NU lost 69-48 in a 60-possession game, and it felt even less close than the score suggests. Nevertheless, I do want to point out a couple of things.
The first is how horrific NU's shooting was. The 'Cats eFG% was 30.8. Only twice from the 2003 season until the NC State game has NU shot that poorly. Last year at home vs. Illinois NU shot 30.2%. In 2012, NU hit 27.6% against Baylor. I didn't bother going further back than 2003, since the point is just how rare it is for NU to shoot that poorly. Not even the truly awful 2007 & 2008 teams had nights that bad. I hope it's safe to say that that's the worst the 'Cats will shoot this year.
The second is the fact that NU has lost to all four KenPom top-100 teams it has faced this season, not to mention losing to then-187th Illinois State. NU's four wins have all come against teams that were 250th or lower on the day of the game. As of today, every team in the B1G except for NU is ranked in the top 100 (the loss to NC State dropped the 'Cats from 121st to 144th). Furthermore, NU has only one game remaining against a team currently outside the top 250: Mississippi Valley State on Monday, December 16. That's more than a little frightening. Things could actually get worse.
Road to Nowhere?
Here's a plot of NU's offensive (purple line) and defensive (red) efficiency ratings plotted against its opponents' day of game KenPom ranking (green), along with the D1 efficiency average (103.5, blue). NU has held five of its opponents below the average and still lost one of those games (Illinois State). The next four games are the most winnable games remaining on the schedule, and only one of them (Mississippi Valley State) is anywhere near a lock. The rest fall neatly in the range of teams that have already beaten the 'Cats. If NU stumbles even twice, this team might finish the year with single-digit wins.
The conclusion is that NU has to defend better. I've got a future post planned discussing some possible ways to do that right away.