In recent seasons, it's been pretty easy to diss Northwestern. In 2010, 2011, and 2012, the Wildcats have consistently flirted with an NCAA tournament selection, teasing their miserable fans with the prospect of salvation -- of ending their painfully pathetic all-time tourney drought -- only to flail in big moments, lose close games at home, and fall short in the Big Ten tournament. Oh, Northwestern, we say, faux-pitifully. Will you never change?
Not this season. This season, you should feel genuinely bad for Northwestern, and for entirely different reasons. Its best players keep getting hurt.
The latest injury was suffered by senior forward Jared Swopshire, whom Northwestern announced will miss the rest of the season -- his last as a college basketball player -- after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery following Saturday's game at Iowa. A former Louisville transfer (who got minutes during the Cardinals' Final Four run last season), Swopshire was pursuing a graduate degree in sports administration, and was able to play right away under the NCAA's graduate transfer exemption.
Swopshire is only the latest injury: First was senior guard Drew Crawford, whose long-ailing right shoulder -- Crawford first dislocated it as a sophomore -- betrayed him with a torn labrum in mid-December. This was after Northwestern had gone on the road and beaten Baylor, a game which provided some hope the Wildcats didn't have to be one of the three or four worst teams in the country this season. Next up was Reggie Hearn with a more minor ankle sprain that cost him a few games in December (including the start of the Big Ten season).
Both of those injuries at least had a sunny side. In Crawford's case, the injury happened early enough in the season that he can medically redshirt and return in 2013-14. In Hearn's case, a minor knock didn't keep him from having his otherwise excellent season. But for Swopshire, this is it -- no chance to return this season, no chance for a medical redshirt. And he was just starting to play some of his best basketball, too.
Northwestern is 13-11 and safely out of the NCAA tournament conversation, so there is no other angle here. It's just a kid who had another month and change of college hoops left in his career, who won't get to play those games because of injury. It's just kind of sad.