This Northwestern Wildcats team is different. There is no doubting that. Not after the Wildcats routed the Iowa Hawkeyes by 30-plus at home.
The onslaught just would not stop. The deficit would only grow and grow and seemingly in the worst way for Iowa.
There went Bryant McIntosh taking a rebounding and threading a pass through traffic to Gavin Skelly for a dunk. Or Scottie Lindsey racing past defenders in transition for a dunk of his own. Or McIntosh breaking down the defense and looking toward the corner before threading a pass to Dererk Pardon at the last moment for, yes, another jam.
The Wildcats’ parade to the rim or shooting just proved too much for the Hawkeyes in an 89-54 win at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Sunday. The margin of victory is eye-popping. The Wildcats’ 35-point victory is their largest margin of victory in a Big Ten game since a 39-point win over Rutgers last year. But this is not a common occurrence for Northwestern.
Then again, this is not a common season for Northwestern. Something feels very different.
This was not an overmatched Rutgers team. Sure, Iowa is not likely to compete for a tournament berth. The Hawkeyes are still a solid team featuring the Big Ten’s leading scorer. They are capable of beating anyone.
Still, Northwestern’s defense stifled Peter Jok. He scored just four points on 2-for-9 shooting. Without his usual scoring acumen, Iowa struggled, shooting just 35.3 percent from the floor. The Wildcats put the Hawkeyes down early and never gave up a serious run to the lead.
That bears repeating. Northwestern put Iowa down early and never let up.
That is the sign for something special going on in Evanston. Or at least special for Northwestern. The belief that this group will be the one is continuing to grow.
It sounds tired to keep discussing every game within this context. But that is the driving storyline. There is always the constant worry Northwestern will not be able to do enough.
Unlike other teams that knocked on the door, this team is not doing it by the skin of their teeth. They are doing it by the sheer force of their will. The Wildcats may soon leave no doubt they will be playing in March.
Scottie Lindsey continued his offensive assault with 22 points on 9-for-12 shooting. Bryant McIntosh was revived with 20 points and 10 assists, distributing the ball in a classic McIntosh game.
Dererk Pardon was strong inside. Victor Law was good defensively on the perimeter and made shots when called upon. It feels like Northwestern has more offensive and defensive weapons than ever before.
And Sunday they were all unleashed on an unsuspecting Iowa team.
All that length and athleticism attacked Iowa on both ends and controlled the tempo of the game.
Typically Northwestern simply does not have the depth of talent and athletes to do this. The Wildcats have struggled to recruit this and put it all together. They always had to rely on shooting and execution. That formula obviously never quite worked.
This team is different than anything Northwestern has seen before. And that has the team pointing in a direction they have never pointed before.
A win over Iowa is not a hallmark win. It is not even necessarily a resume-building win. The Wildcats’ losses in Big Ten play came to good Michigan State and Minnesota teams. Northwestern still needs to do its work in conference.
Blowing out the Hawkeyes with all the pressure on them to win at home? That is something that tripped Northwestern up in previous tournament bids. In previous seasons, these were the trap games that cost Northwestern control of its own destiny.
The Wildcats have control of their own destiny. With a road-heavy start to the Big Ten season, Northwestern came through strong. And looking stronger with every game, gutting out wins previous teams would not have won.
There are still tough challenges ahead. The story will not go away.
But Northwestern made an emphatic and clear statement. The rest of the conference is on notice.