Northwestern's harsh realities exposed

It has been a season of hard luck for Northwestern; and that was exposed in a dreadful 62-41 loss to the in-state rival Fighting Illini. A depleted Wildcat team won't make excuses, but it has been dealt a harsh reality.

Alex Marcotullio and Reggie Hearn sat before the assembled media, asked to describe Northwestern's dreadful 62-41 loss to in-state rival Illinois. Both wore a wretched look on their face, occasionally glancing at the stat sheet on the table.

The piece of paper showed more Northwestern turnovers (14) than field goals (12), a 26-0 Fighting Illini run, and nearly a record-low point total.

Marcotullio and Hearn, two of Northwestern's senior leaders, haven't made any excuses for the team's hard luck. Neither did in this press conference. Both were candid, as usual.

"We didn't make shots," explained Hearn. "We didn't defend. We didn't do a lot of things that we usually do. It was just, all around, not a good game for us."

Added Marcotullio: "We were a little lackadaisical."

It's all true, no doubt about it. But what both players refused to say is the obvious: this is what Northwestern looks like now.

Sidelined starters Jershon Cobb, Drew Crawford and Jared Swopshire could only watch from the bench, wishing they were able to affect the game's miserable outcome. Northwestern's now-jumbled lineup would be vastly improved with their presence—that's a major understatement.

Without them, against a talented Illinois team, the Wildcats didn't stand a chance.

Flush the near-upset of No. 13 Ohio State from three nights before—what now seems like an eternity ago. Then, the Wildcats were playing with house money, and nothing went wrong. The Illini exposed what remains of this team.

The prevailing hope was for Reggie Hearn and Dave Sobolewski to reach star status, while freshmen Kale Abrahamson and Tre Demps become impact players. That was Northwestern's only chance to fill the void it's missing, and it's simply unfair to expect.

Hearn and Sobolewski were supposed to be key players, not the go-to guys. Abrahamson and Demps were expected to be little-used role players, developing for down the road. But Northwestern is without its three most important pieces and playing in the nation's most talented conference.

The no-quitting attitude set forth by Northwestern's leaders should be lauded. A once-promising season has turned into a free fall, and the Wildcats can only hope Sunday's demoralizing defeat was them hitting rock bottom. But with contests against Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State ahead, there are likely more struggles to come.

The Wildcats will keep fighting, they'll endure more struggles, and they won't make any excuses along the way. This is what Northwestern looks like now. It's a harsh reality.

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers for Big Red Report, and currently covers the Northwestern Wildcats. He resides on Chicago's north side.
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