Busting Brackets

Absence of Northwestern's Matthew Nicholson destroyed Wildcats on viral missed layup

That's not...where the ball goes.

Northwestern v Florida Atlantic
Northwestern v Florida Atlantic / Elsa/GettyImages

Calling the first half of Northwestern-FAU at the Barclays Center a "rock fight" would be insulting to some of our nation's most skilled rock fighters. Unfortunately, for the vast majority of early action, college basketball fans were treated to a peek at what it might've looked like if Dr. James Naismith had forgotten to take the lid off his peach baskets.

The Wildcats and Owls entered halftime with an early-20th-century score of 20-19 FAU, thanks to a buzzer-beating layup by Johnell Davis. While the defensive intensity was certainly ratcheted up at points, the action was also dominated by a proliferation of missed bunnies.

The Owls shot 33%, 7-for-21 from the floor, but Northwestern's missed opportunities were far more galling (and sympathy-inducing). They took an additional 12 shots from the floor, but didn't sink any more of them, wrapping the half shooting 21% overall, 2-of-12 from range.

Star guard Boo Buie's 1-for-5 first half will get a good deal of the attention, but the perimeter wasn't quite as clean without big man Matthew Nicholson, who suffered a foot injury on March 2. Alongside Ty Berry, Nicholson represents one of two starters missing from the on-court action. If only he were able to participate, the team might've avoided some of the ignominy of missing point-blank layup after point-blank layup, especially in one agonizing sequence that went viral mid-game.

Northwestern Wildcats miss Matt Nicholson in March Madness debut vs. Florida Atlantic University Owls

Such is the problem with being the early March Madness game. All eyes are on you, and those eyes only zoom in closer when the score stays this mutually muted.

In the second half, Northwestern will need to shake off what might've been their least efficient offensive half in several seasons -- and that's saying a lot, given that they play an annual full season of Big Ten basketball.

Nicholson won't be there to play cleanup duty. Instead, it'll be on Buie's shoulders to penetrate and heat up from deep, as well as the skittish big men who've replaced him. Hopefully, they're less jumpy, but more jumpy. Gotta get up somehow.