Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Talor Battle (and Penn State) beat 'Cats 61-57

Talor Battle is the leading scorer in the Big Ten. He showed what makes him so good today when he scored 19 points in the second half to push Penn State past Northwestern. He also grabbed 12 rebounds and didn’t look tired at all in playing all 40 minutes. He was one of two Penn State players with double figures in rebounds (Andrew Jones with 10) and it was that rebounding which proved critical to Penn State’s victory. The Lions grabbed 46 rebounds, 19 offensive, compared to Northwestern’s 24 rebounds, 1 offensive. Many of those rebounds resulted in second and third shots which PSU converted. It was especially bad for Northwestern when those offensive rebounds ended up being kicked out to Battle or Stanley Pringle for an open three. This inability to rebound was a major problem for NU last year, but hadn’t been so far this season. Unfortunately, this game resembled last season much more than anything seen thus far this year. The second half especially as NU quit playing defense and went from allowing 21 first half points to 41 second half points. Not guarding Battle outside was obviously the most critical error, but the Wildcats failed to apply pressure to virtually every Penn State player in the game’s second twenty minutes. If NU had kept up their defensive pressure I think they would have won. NU also missed way too many threes. Kevin Coble, Jeff Ryan, John Shurna, and Jeremy Nash all had three point attempts which could have changed the game and they all missed. The ESPN guys gushed over Shurna, but the fact is he missed more shots than he made and his inability to convert a one-and-one in the last two minutes of the game killed NU late. John Shurna is a fine player, but he did not have a good game today. If NU wants to avoid repeating last season’s 1-17 Big Ten record they will need much better production for Shurna and fellow forward Kevin Coble.

This loss was similar to the loss to Butler in that NU had a large lead and then let that lead slip away. Unfortunately, unlike the loss at Butler, Northwestern doesn’t get any easy opponents to get well against. Instead, a collection of ranked opponents await the ‘Cats. First up is #15 Michigan State on Saturday. If NU doesn’t play a lot better it looks like a 0-7 start in the Big Ten is likely. That’s why this loss hurts so much. A winnable toss up game like this is the type of victory you must get if you want to claw above .500. As it stands now, NU is facing one of the toughest stretches of games any team in the nation will face all year and they’ll also likely have to battle a sulking mental state as I can’t imagine this loss will be easy to shake.

A Note on Fan Reaction

A quick a look at the message boards shows that fan frustration is extremely high right now. I expect the “Fire Bill Carmody” folks to return in full force very soon. I have to say, though, Bill Carmody didn’t lose this game and Ed DeChellis sure as hell didn’t win it—except for one small item—he recruited Talor Battle and Carmody didn’t. Look, I love Northwestern and have supported every guy who’s wore purple and white since I started attending games as a child, but the reason NU will lose games like this one is the fact our players don’t matchup, especially, it seems, in the clutch. Talor Battle saw his team struggling and stepped up to win the game. Kevin Coble, John Shurna, and company had a chance to match him shot for shot, but they didn’t. Does that mean they never will? No. But Northwestern has failed in the clutch a lot recently. I look back at last year’s Big Ten Tournament game or the losses during the regular season to Iowa (twice) and Indiana. Some will say this is the coach’s fault. I have to admit I said so last year to anybody who would listen. Upon further review, though, I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to blame the coach if the players miss open shots—and NU misses a ton of them. If the shots are open, doesn’t that mean the coach’s system is working? I think it does. If NU is to win they need to make those shots. They need their better players like Coble, Shurna, Moore, etc. to toughen up and make open shots and free throws in the clutch. Until that happens NU isn’t going to win a lot of close games. We can complain about coaches or blame losses on officials, but the only people who can push NU to the next level and make these players get tougher in the clutch are those players themselves and that needs to happen soon or it will cost their coach his job.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Another Key to Big Ten Success

Important Note: The Wildcats game against Penn State tomorrow is on ESPN2 not ESPN. ESPN has changed their schedule from the one printed originally in the NU media guide in order to show a bowl game triple-header.

Not too long ago, I wrote about how Jeff Ryan’s play would be a key to Northwestern’s success during the Big Ten season. Today, I want to comment on another element which I believe would seriously help the Wildcats in Big Ten play. This thought came from watching a ton of football over the last few days and having the importance of special teams reiterated to me for about the thousandth time. As I watched those football games, I thought about what might be the basketball equivalent of a special team. The answer, I concluded, was a three-point specialist who comes off the bench. Right now, Northwestern doesn’t feature such a player. NU actually starts their top four three-point shooters. This is by no means bad, however, it does limit the Wildcats ability have a so called “instant offense” or “microwave” guy who can come off the bench and heat up a stagnate offense in a hurry.

As I thought about this issue, I asked myself: Does Northwestern have such a player? The answer I believe is they have two great candidates, but neither has stepped into this role yet. The two players who I believe could fit this role are freshmen Luka Mirkovic and Nick Fruendt. Mirkovic came into the season regarded as one of the best offensive talents of the freshmen class, but it seems he’s still feeling his way through many of his minutes. If Luka can get over his tentative play, he can make a major difference in NU’s offense. His high school coach, Delray Brooks, said he believed Luka was one of the best big man shooters he’d seen. Bill Carmody also talked up Luka’s shooting skills in the preseason. The Wildcat coach said he believed Luka could knock down outside shots in the Princeton Offense. Luka did hit some two-point jumpers at Stanford, but being able to step up from the center position and hit threes would give the Wildcat offense an incredible dimension the team doesn’t currently feature.

Nick Fruendt’s situation is a little different than Luka’s. While Luka has managed to get on the court regularly, Fruendt has only played at the end of NU’s blowout wins. Still, I believe Fruendt could be the Wildcat’s “instant offense” guy. He was regarded as one of the top shooters and overall scorers in the state of Illinois coming out of high school. He was first team all-state according to multiple evaluation services and was prolific scorer for four seasons at Batavia High School. The rumors early on this season were Fruendt’s limited minutes were the result of his struggling to pick up NU’s offense. This might be true, but it’s also possible Bill Carmody simply doesn’t want to take Craig Moore off the court. I, and I think pretty much every NU fan, can understand this. Moore is the unquestioned leader of the Wildcat team, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for Fruendt. If Nick can show the coaches something in practice, I believe that he might be this year’s version of Ivan Peljusic. Peljusic, remember, couldn’t get on to the court early last season, but once he cracked the lineup was near impossible to get off. I hope this is the case with Nick, because their will be days when Moore, Coble, Thompson, and Shurna will struggle. When they do, I would love to see NU be able to call on their “special team” of Nick Fruendt and/or Luka Mirkovic to make a high scoring-game changing impact.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Alamo Bowl Road Update

So I watched Ohio State get beat by WVU yesterday and then headed out to the Alamo Bowl Pep Rally. Both events gave my great hope for Northwestern as I thought Ohio State was one of the Big Ten's top hoops squads and NU had way more people at the pep rally than Mizzou. I hope these events are a sign NU owns late December sporting events.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Game 11: Northwestern @ Penn State (Big Ten Opener)

As of tomorrow morning, Welsh-Ryan Ramblings will be taking a break from Wildcat basketball to travel to San Antonio to focus on Wildcat football. As a result, the Penn State game preview is going up now in order to ensure it is posted well enough in advanced of the game to be meaningful. I don’t think posting a preview a few hours before the 11:00 AM start on the 31st would serve much purpose.

The Matchup: Northwestern (8-2) @ Penn State (11-2)

Location: The Bryce Jordan Center (State College, PA)

TV: ESPN2 (11:00 AM, December 31, 2008)
Radio: WGN 720 AM

Fun Fact: Playing Penn State hasn’t been fun for Northwestern in recent years. In fact, the ‘Cats haven’t won at PSU since 2002. Coincidently, the 2001-2002 team was the last NU squad to post a winning record. Come to think of it, I don’t think this is a coincidence.

About PSU

Penn State enters this game with an 11-2 record (8-1 at home). They were a team who improved drastically over the second half of the Big Ten season last year (7-11 record) and who has high hopes for 2009. Penn State has also been a major thorn in the side of the Wildcats over the last few years. To fully understand if Northwestern has any chance against Penn State it is important to understand what has made PSU successful against the ‘Cats. First, Penn State has in recent years possessed a gigantic rebounding edge. Players like Jamelle Cornley have had no peer on the Wildcat roster. This year that might be different as the Wildcats finally have front court size and rebounding skill in Kyle Rowley and John Shurna. The other major advantage PSU has used against Northwestern is their ability to play a zone defense which effectively spotted NU’s ability to backdoor cut. This was especially successful as Northwestern hasn’t shot well enough in any recent game to get PSU out of their zone. This advantage also might be negated this season as Northwestern features a starting lineup which contains four decent shooters and can bring a shooting center of the bench. This is Northwestern’s biggest positive in this year’s game.

Even if those advantages are negated, though, Penn State still has a very talented team led by Cornley and point guard Talor Battle. Cornley has been a huge problem for the Wildcats in the past and his numbers this year are particularly impressive. He averages 14.9 points per game and 6.8 rebounds per game. Those numbers aside, though, I believe it is Battle who will cause more problems for the ‘Cats this time around. NU has enough players performing well in the front court that they ought to at least match Cornley’s production. On the other hand, NU doesn’t have guards who can match Battle’s all around game. Not only does Battle average 18.7 points per game, but he also pulls down 5.7 rebounds per game and has dished out more than 70 assists. Those numbers exceed the production of NU’s Michael Thompson and Craig Moore in every category. The one advantage NU might have, though, is that despite his high rebound totals, Battle isn’t big. If any NU player other than Thompson blocks him out, Battle will be at a major size disadvantage.

NU’s other major problem could be the fact PSU shoots 40.3% from three point land and has a number of capable shooters. The best is guard Stanley Pringle who is at 53%, but guards Danny Morrissey and Cammeron Woodyard off the bench can also shot well, as can Battle and Cornley. NU has played more man-to-man defense this year than in the past and if Coach Carmody believes any of his young big man can matchup with Cornley down low it might be advisable to go man against PSU. If they do not, NU needs to work extra hard on getting hands in shooters faces out of their zone defense. This seems to have been a problem at Stanford.

Prediction: Penn State seems to have a lot of statistical and personnel advantages in this game, but I think most of the intangibles favor NU. The most significant intangible factor is the game being played at a time when Penn State will have no students around and very few fans in State College overall. I also believe that after their play at Stanford and Butler the Wildcats must know they have a lot to prove in regards to their ability to win on the road and compete consistently against better than average teams. Can they do so? I believe they can. I think NU’s young players will step up and the ‘Cats will pull of the upset. Northwestern, 56 Penn State, 50.

Bonus Pick: A lot of people doubt the chances of NU against PSU in hoops, but even more people doubt the chances of NU against Missouri in the Alamo Bowl. Last I saw, ESPN had 87.7% of the nation picking the Tigers. This reminds me of the only other dome game NU played this year. The 'Cats were given no chance to beat Minnesota on the road with Bacher and Sutton out. Yet, NU pulled off the win. I foresee a similar result on Monday night. Northwestern, 34 Missouri, 27.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Holidays from Welsh-Ryan Ramblings

Welsh-Ryan Ramblings would like to wish all our readers and contributors happy holidays. Look for our Penn State preview in the next two days as we’ll be departing for Texas and the Alamo Bowl this weekend.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

One Key to Big Ten Success

“It was great to see Jeff Ryan playing aggressively.” – Comment by reader “Win Big in Vegas” after the SMU game

I have to say I agree with the above comment and feel very strongly that Jeff Ryan is one of the major keys to Northwestern having success in the Big Ten season. Ryan is, after all, essentially NU’s sixth man and although last night showed the importance of the Wildcats top starters, nobody wins in the Big Ten without depth. Based on his play thus far this year and his multiple skills, Jeff Ryan is the most able to add depth for Northwestern.

Early in his career Jeff Ryan seemed intimidated on the court. He’d rush shots and seemed to want to get rid of the ball whenever it came to him. He also shied away from any physical contact. This year it seems he is taking the opposite approach. He is using his athletic skill and strength to his advantage. He was the team leader in rebounding against Florida State and led the ‘Cats on the boards again last night. In addition, he has been far more aggressive around the basket than in the past. This is critical, because although Jeff has missed some easy shots, his career field goal percentage still ranks in NU’s top five at above 50%. To be honest, though, I wouldn’t mind if Jeff’s field goal percentage went down and he tried some threes. Doing so would get the defense to back off of him. Remember in 2006 when Wisconsin tried to play Jeff man-to-man and he blew by every defender they put on him and scored 18 points to almost lead the ‘Cats to the upset? Well, if Jeff hit a few threes and teams had to guard him tight, that type of play could be repeated. This would be fantastic because with his versatile skills and knowledge of NU’s offense, Jeff can play virtually any position and create matchups problems for an opponent. He is without a doubt a player who can make a difference off the bench in the Big Ten.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Winning Ugly: Wildcats beat Mustangs 66-55

Northwestern slugged out a 66-55 victory over a very physical SMU team tonight in Welsh-Ryan Arena. The ‘Cats got double figures from Juice Thompson (14), Craig Moore (14), and John Shurna (13) in the 11 point win. Kevin Coble and Kyle Rowley added 9 points apiece with 5 assists and 4 rebounds respectively. Overall, this might have Northwestern’s least impressive game of the year, but the fact NU could play poorly and pull off the win is a good sign. Such an uninspired effort from past NU teams would have resulted in a loss.

There are many possible explanations for the Wildcats struggles tonight, but the good news is I feel none are particularly serious. For example, the Wildcats might still have felt some exhaustion from their long trip to California. That isn’t going to happen again. Also, zero energy existed in Welsh-Ryan Arena tonight. I certainly hope the Big Ten season brings more excitement. Finally, early fouls put Coble and Moore on the bench early. I suppose this could happen again, but Kevin and Craig are not players who are in habitual foul trouble.

An interesting section of the game occurred during the last ten minutes of the first half when Moore and Coble went to the bench. At that point they were replaced by Mike Capocci and Jeremy Nash. The lineup with those two, Jeff Ryan, Luka Mirkovic, and Michael Thompson didn’t provide a lot of offense, but I was impressed with that group’s defense. I’ve talked a lot about the rotation and I think this section of the game showed both the good and bad of the Wildcat bench players. They are very athletic, play very good defense, but offensively they aren’t great shooters and that limits what they can do. The SMU defense didn’t respect Jeff Ryan from three because he never shoots a three, as a result his ability to create was neutralized. The same can be side for Capocci and Mirkovic. Nash tried to hit some shots, but they didn’t fall today. Still, his shot at least looked much better than in the past. Overall, I think it is clear that Moore and Coble should not rest at the same time unless, like today, forced to by foul trouble.

I have to also compliment SMU on the intensity of their defense, though, they were perhaps allowed to be extra physical by an officiating crew that took, “let them play” to a whole new level. At times it looked like players in the lane were getting tackled, but on went the game. Nevertheless, I’m always impressed by physical teams, and I was told by a great high school coach that if you play really aggressive defense officials will only call one out of every five fouls. I think Matt Doherty was taught the same lesson.

Perhaps the aggressive defense by SMU is the reason the Wildcats turned the ball over 18 times, but I have to admit I’m a bit worried about ball security for NU. After all, NU had a similar high turnover total vs Stanford and many of the turnovers were unforced. Kevin Coble who posted 5 assists and only 1 turnover was the only NU starter with a positive assist-to-turnover ration. Juice Thompson did shoot well tonight (3-of-5 from behind the arc), but he turned the ball over 4 times and only had 1 assists. That means Juice is -3 in assist-to-turnover ratio the last two games.

For the record, let me say I was impressed with SMU’s 7-1 center Bamba Fall who turned in a nice performance around the hoop including an impressive dunk. However, John Shurna’s second half slam was just as impressive.

Finally, Coach Carmody once again wore his snowman tie which he wears every year for the game before Christmas. I beleive today's win keeps that tie undefeated.

Game 10: SMU (3-5) @ Northwestern (7-2)

The Matchup: SMU (3-5) @ Northwestern (7-2)

Location: Welsh-Ryan Arena (Evanston, IL)

TV: None (on-line @
Radio: WGN 720 AM

Fun Fact: SMU played two games in Evanston when Welsh-Ryan Arena (McGaw Hall) hosted the 1956 Final Four. The Mustangs lost the national semi-final 86-68 to Bill Russell and San Francisco. They then lost 90-81 in the third place game to Temple.

About SMU

SMU is led in scoring by 5-11 freshmen guard Paul McCoy who averages 13.5 points per game and shoots 54.2% (13-of-24) from three point range. As a whole, the Mustangs shoot 37.7% from three point range. However, they let their opponents shoot 39.4%. Considering Northwestern shoots 41.2% from three point range, it seems this matchup favors Northwestern. Northwestern also probably has an advantage in that McCoy is one of few players Michael Thompson is going to matchup with who’s actually comparable in height to the diminutive Wildcat guard. This is a good thing for Thompson who is coming off a poor game at Stanford.

One height matchup that doesn’t necessarily favor the Wildcats is at the center position. SMU starts 7-1 senior Bamba Fall from Senegal. Fall averages 7.6 points per game and 7.3 rebounds per game. He also blocks about 4 shots a game. This will be another stiff test for the NU center rotation of Rowley, Mirkovic, and Peljusic. Rowley is the best matchup in terms of size, but if Mirkovic or Peljusic can come off the bench and hit threes to pull Fall away from the hoop that will help NU’s ability to covert at the hoop. On the scene reports say the ‘Cats had major problems finishing at the hoop against Stanford.

SMU’s other key player is 6-1 junior guard Derrick Williams. He averages 11.9 points and 3.5 assists per game. As a team SMU averages 11.4 assists and an impressive 8.0 steals per game. However, they score just 63.5 points per game and really haven’t impressed thus far. Perhaps the Mustangs best performance was a 66-56 loss to Texas A&M in their last game.

Prediction: SMU is not a strong team. They are rated #315 in the RPI compared to NU’s #9 and have dropped two straight including one to previously winless Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Northwestern is probably a little down after the loss to Stanford, but it seems SMU is the right team to get well against. The only worry NU fans should have is the Wildcats didn’t get a lot of practice time after a long trip back following a Saturday night game. Still, other than the potential advantage inside with Bamba Fall, SMU shouldn’t be able to matchup with the Wildcats talent wise. Northwestern, 68 SMU, 57.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Questions about NU's Rotation

The reaction to Northwestern's loss to Stanford has varied in NU fan circles. Some folks aren’t too bothered by the loss and others are once again jumping on the “same old problems” bandwagon and are ready to declare this season just another in a long line of disappointments. Personally, I don’t think a road loss to an unbeaten team is that bad, but I will admit some issues which appeared during the loss do have me concerned. One issue some are upset about which doesn’t bother me is the fact Stanford is predicted to finish 9th in the Pac-10. Well, Northwestern is predicted to finish 9th in the Big Ten, but I’d like to think we’re past predictions at this point. Both teams will finish better than expected. They each have solid talent and have held down the home court. NU is 6-0 at home and Stanford is 5-0. If this game had been played in Evanston I think the result would have shifted 180 degrees.

That said, though, some issues related to Northwestern’s play this year, especially at Stanford, do have me worried. The biggest issue I see is the lack of a consistent rotation. I understand with the number of young players Northwestern has that Coach Carmody might still be somewhat feeling out his squad, but they’ve now played nine games. Also, we can’t forget they practice every day. We as fans only see the games, but Carmody and his staff get to look at these players constantly. Obviously players can get better or worse throughout the year and certain matchups favor certain lineups, but right now I’d guess a number of players on the Wildcats are curious as to their role on the team. For example, Luka Mirkovic didn’t play at all vs UMKC, but got 20 minutes vs Stanford. Was he really overmatched by the guys on the ‘Roos? Also, Mike Capocci was the first guy off the bench vs Florida State, but played limited minutes vs DePaul and UMKC and not all vs Stanford. Similar oddities in minutes involve Ivan Peljusic, Jeremy Nash, and Sterling Williams. Peljusic for example turned the tide vs FSU, but went to the pine after just 4 minutes vs Stanford.

Now, I know this post sounds a little bit like the annoying parent who walks up to the coach after a game and says, “My son/daughter doesn’t understand his/her role on the team?” which is simply code for “Why don’t you play my kid more?” and I don’t want to sound like that at all. I know that the head coach has the right to handle his personnel however he wants. All want to do is say is that as a fan I find these inconsistencies strange and believe other fans do as well. In addition, I know for some players (not all) that inconsistent playing time leads to greater pressure when they do play. When they get on the court they feel like they have to be perfect or they’ll end up back on the pine for an extended period. That’s not a good thing. In fact, that pressure to be perfect leads to more failure. I worry about this for example when Peljusic or Capocci gets pulled after a first half turnover and never returns to the floor the rest of the day. How do they handle that mentally? You have to have some mental fortitude to, as Coach Fitz would say, “flush it” and move on.

Of course, this issue can be dealt with by a coach who relates well to his players and I think Bill Carmody does. I suspect he’s spoken with Capocci, Nash, etc. and discussed how important it is they stay focused and ready at all times. The bottom line, I guess, is that as a fan I wish the rotation seemed a little more balanced. My reasoning is that in the past the Wildcats have lost games due to fatigue. I think this year’s group has the talent to avoid that problem. I think Nash, Williams, Peljusic, Mirkovic, and Capocci can play in small spurts during December and January to give Thompson, Coble, and Moore breaks which will help our best players will their endurance in February and March.

Criticism on the rotation aside, overall I think Coach Carmody has done a good job with his team this season. I’m not sure if this has completely silenced his critics, but barring a disaster during the Big Ten season I don’t think we should hear people calling for his head anymore. So far, Carmody has put them in a position to win every game. Not that many coaches can say that. Now, the next step is getting the young players to consistently take advantage of being in such positions, but sometimes there isn’t a lot a coach can do on that front. For example, John Shurna has struggled on the road in NU’s two losses. He’s got the talent and I know Carmody has told him this. Shurna simply needs to get comfortable in hostile settings. Another good example is Luka Mirkovic. Based on his physical tools Mirkovic should be the best player NU has at center, but he hasn’t totally figured things out yet at the college level. It seems at times he reacts in slow motion. Likely this is because he thinks too much when he’s on the court. Unfortunately, there is not a lot a coach can’t fix that problem. You can’t crawl in side somebody’s head and change the way they think. The player simply needs to learn to trust his skills. When Mirkovic gets this, the Big Ten better watch out, because this kid can play.

Around the Web…

Chicago College Basketball has a statistical breakdown of Juice Thompson’s importance. NU fans should definitely give it a read.

SMU coach Matt Doherty has his own blog. He doesn’t have anything on NU yet, but I guess he will at some point.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

'Cats must learn to win on the road

This loss is not nearly as big a deal as some have stated. The fact is Northwestern is 7-2 this year and has a chance to make the postseason this year. The key, though, is playing better on the road. NU is 1-2 this year on the road. Their only win was at Brown and more or less occurred because Craig Moore was unconscious during the game’s first half and single handily put the game away. NU’s freshmen, especially key man John Shurna, have seriously struggled on the road. This needs to change because if NU wants to make the postseason they need at least three wins (out of nine) on the road in conference play. Their best chances are the opener at Penn State, at Iowa, and at Indiana. That’s not to say NU can’t pull off a road upset, but those are the best chances. To win any road games, though, NU needs Shurna and his teammates to get more comfortable. As I stated before this game, good teams don’t worry about the team they are playing or where they are playing. They simply play basketball. When the Wildcats get on the road they seem to let the environment get to them. This cannot happen. Shurna and his teammates need to trust their skills and concentrate and doing their jobs. The offense you run at home against Central Arkansas is no different than the one you should run on the road against Wisconsin. Let’s hope the ‘Cats learn that lesson sonner rather than later.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Couple More Quick Stanford Thoughts

Luka Mirkovic played his best game of the year with 7 points and 6 rebounds. However, I'm sure he'll kick himself about that missed free throw and trouble boxing out late.

Kyle Rowley seemed to score on a couple nice moves, but for a 7-foot guy it seems he doesn't get that many rebounds. Only 2 tonight in 16 minutes. I mean he was by far the biggest guy on the court, yet it didn't sound like he played like it.

Kevin Coble stepped up again to make some big shots late, but his 52% free throw shooting is a serious problem. That's got to be mental because the guy is an 80% free throw shooter for his career.

Craig Moore had another off day. He's a seriously streaky player and I'd pay close attention to his first couple shots vs SMU.

Juice had 6 turnovers along with 6 assists. This might have been the worst game of his career.

Ivan Peljusic only played 4 minutes all in the first half. I really believe he is NU's second best rebounder after Shurna and so I'm pretty upset he wasn't on the court at the end. It seems to me Ivan is given the shortest leash of anybody by Coach Carmody. Considering all the great things Ivan does on the court I don't like that fact all. In fact, this is an issue on which I'll write more at a later date.

Listenting to NU at Stanford on WNUR 2nd Half

Listening to 'NUR during the second half...

9:58 CT – NU scores first.

9:59 CT- Juice scores, it’s under ten. Stanford scores its over ten. Wait Shurna scored it’s back under.

10:02 CT - Craig make his second shot of the game, but Goods answers. 9 point lead for Stanford.

10:03 CT - John Shurna now has four fouls and the lead is back to double digits.

10:05 CT – The WNUR guys are searching for explanations for the ‘Cats problems is it the players or the coaches. At this point I’d vote both, but NU has made comebacks before.

10:08 CT – Both Juice and Moore seem to be having trouble tonight. So, how ‘bout those SMU Mustangs? Did you know they’re coached by Matt Dougherty who has his won blog?

10:10 CT – Seems right now like NU has chances, but isn’t taking advantage. Luka with a put back, that’s something. Let’s hope that’s the start of big things.

10:12 CT – Moore airball followed by silly foul. He’s such a streaky player.

10:17 CT – Another NU turnover and Carmody isn’t pleased. Neither am I.

10:18 CT – Good point by Aaron and Brendan, Stanford is leaving the door open, but NU can’t step through. Stanford is back to a double digit lead.

10:21 CT- Shurna fouls out. Brendan says it was a bad call. From my point of view on the radio, I agree.

10:25 CT- NU can’t keep putting Stanford on the line.

10:27 CT – Guess what? Stanford is shooting free throws. No good. Good.

10:29 CT – Coble for three. 2 possession game.

10:30 CT – Stanford answers with a two. Eight point lead for Stanford with 4:51 to go.

10:31 CT – Kevin Coble for three and a defensive stop for NU. This is a BIG possession.

10:32 CT- Luka scores but Josh Owens answers with a dunk. Still just a five point game.

10:35 CT – Jeff Ryan for two, but again Stanford has an answer.
10:36 CT – NU now within 2, must PLAY D. Stanford gets a loose ball and will now get two free throws. No good. Block Out! Luka with the board.

10:37 CT – Luka to the line for 1 and 1. Good. No good. NU down 1.

10:39 CT – Mitch Johnson to the lie for Stanford. Good (60-58 Stanford). Timeout. NU has down a nice job with this comeback.

10:40 CT – Johnson ready to shoot second free throw. No good, but Stanford gets the offensive rebound and calls a TO. FRAK!

10:42 CT- Johnson beats the buzzer for three. Bad news for NU.

10:46 CT – Why Can’t Kevin Coble make free throws this year? Why?

10:47 CT – Stanford wins 65-59. NU really lost this one in the last three minutes of the first half.

Listening to the Stanford Game on WNUR 1st Half

In the following post I'll document my feelings as I listen to NU play Stanford on WNUR 89.3 FM.

9:07 CT - After two 2 TO's John Shurna hits a three 10-7 Stanford. NU then gets a TO. Good news.

9:08 CT - Jeff Ryan is called for a charge, that's NU's third offensive foul of the game. Are these Pac-10 refs?

9: 10 CT – Hill hits another three for Stanford. This sounds like bad old school NU perimeter defense.

9:11 CT- Jeff Ryan made a free throw! 13-10 Stanford.

9:12 CT – Coble and Moore really need to get some shots off. Stanford leads 14-10.

9:14 CT – Sounds like Jeff Ryan has come to play tonight.

9:16 CT - Coble scores, sounds like Stanford really wants to run. Another Wildcat foul?

9:17 CT - Under 12:00 TO and Stanford leads by 2 points. Why did Mirkovic come off the bench ahead of Peljusic?

9:20 CT – Jeff Ryan to the line, everybody hold your breath. No good. Good. 1 point Stanford lead.

9:22 CT – Craig Moore is on the board. NU by 2.

9:22 CT (still) – Moore gets picked and Stanford scores and leads by 2.

9:23 CT – Ryan turns the ball over. Is the road impacting the ‘Cats or is Stanford just that good on defense?

9:24 CT – Juice to the line. Good. Coach Carmody is subbing a lot. My boy Ivan Peljusic is in the game now. Juice misses second throw. Stanford still by 1.

9:25 CT- Jeremy Nash for three!!! Go ‘Cats bench. Media timeout occurs shortly afterwards and NU leads by 2 with less than eight minutes to go in half number one. How does NU have 10 turnovers already?

9:28 CT – Mitch Johnson just hit his first three on the year. Crap! Offensive foul on Peljusic. Double Carp!

9:30 CT – Moore misses layup and Stanford hits three. Frak! (That’s for all you BSG fans out there)
9:32 CT – Aaron and Brendan aren’t impressed with the ‘Cats so far. I can’t see what’s going on, but I’m inclined to agree with them. This sounds like NU is really playing struggling. Stanford by just 4, though.

9:37 CT - 33-24 Stanford now after another Johnson three and it seems NU can’t hold on to the ball. Now it’s 36-24 Stanford. What’s going on out there guys?

9:39 CT- Luka hits a long 2. Let’s hope it starts something.

9:40 CT – Anthony Goods is very, well, good(s). 39-26 Stanford.

9:42 CT – NU fails even to get off a shot as the first half clock runs down. This is performance is not even remotely okay. It’s horrible. The Cardinal is 8-of-12 from three. That was a problem in the past for NU and it looks like it might be again.

Eyewitness Reports From Stanford?

For those of us in Chicago there is no way to witness tonight's contest between the Wildcats and Cardinal. Now, I don't know if many NU fans will be in Stanford, CA at the game tonight, but if anybody is and wants to e-mail with a report after the contest I'd love to post it here and give you a byline. After all, an eyewitness report would provide far more detail than analysis from listening to the radio and reading a box score.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Northwestern Wildcats @ Stanford

The Matchup: Northwestern (7-1) @ Stanford (6-0)

Location: Maples Pavilion (Stanford, CA)

TV: None
Radio: WNUR 89.3 FM (9:00 CT/7:00 PT)

Fun Fact: Stanford in one of 13 unbeaten teams remaining in the country.

About Stanford

Stanford enters this game 6-0 which has a lot of people talking about what a big game this is for the Wildcats. I have to say I think to some extent people are overstating this game’s importance. Obviously it always looks good when you beat an undefeated team, but NU has already done that twice this year (FSU and UC-Riverside). The fact is beating undefeated Stanford isn’t any more significant than beating undefeated FSU other than the fact the game against Stanford is on the road. In fact, FSU is probably better than Stanford. Overall, I just hope the Wildcats don’t take this game more seriously than they need to. They need to take the attitude that playing Stanford on December 20th is no different than playing Central Arkansas on November 16th or playing in the Big Ten Tournament on March 12th. That’s what good teams do. They just come out and play basketball and don’t get overwhelmed by the situation.

Now, as to what the ‘Cats will face from the Cardinal. Stanford has a new coach this year in former Duke assistant Johnny Dawkins and his squad has a dramatically different look than Trent Johnson’s as he doesn’t have any Lopez brothers to clog the lane. In fact, Stanford’s tallest starters are 6-8 forwards Lawrence Hill and Josh Owens. Hill leads the Cardinal with 6.3 rebounds per game and Owens pulls down 5.7 rebounds himself. At first glance it seems the Wildcats have something of a height advantage with 7-0 center Kyle Rowley and 6-8 forwards John Shurna and Kevin Coble. However, the Cardinal also has swingman Landry Fields who grabs 5.8 rebounds a game himself which gives them the significant advantage of a player who can outrebound smaller guards. Overall, the Cardinal average 32.8 rebounds per game (the ‘Cats average 32.9 rebounds per game).

Offensively the Cardinal average 78.3 point per game, this should make for an interesting matchup as NU only allows 48.9. The Cardinal reach that average of 78.3 point per game on the strength of four starters who average double figures. Fields averages 11.3 ppg, Owens 13.7 ppg, and Hill 14.2 ppg. The Cardinal are led in scoring by Anthony Goods who average 19.0 points per game. Goods shoots 40.5% from three point range (17-of-42). He also shoots 82.5 from the free throw line (33-of-40). The Cardinal’s fifth starter is point guard Mitch Johnson. Johnson doesn’t score much (5.2 ppg), but he does do a nice job running the team with 32 assists and only 17 turnovers. Off the bench, NU fans should look out for Jeremy Green who shoots 42.9% from three point range.

Prediction: This is going to be a tough game for Northwestern based primarily on the fact it’s a long distance road trip. So far this season Northwestern is 1-1 on the road. Stanford is 4-0 at home, but their wins are over the less than impressive quadrangle of CS-Northridge, Air Force, Colorado, and Northern Arizona. One advantage Stanford has from playing at home is a good crowd. Though Maples doesn’t always sell out, 6,795 fans showed up for the UNA game. That’s almost 93% capacity. NU’s best crowd this year 4,053 is still less than half of Welsh-Ryan’s capacity. Such a hostile crowd could make a difference considering NU is starting two freshmen and one sophomore while Stanford starts three seniors and junior. Between the long road trip, the crowd, and the two team’s experience I think Stanford has the advantage in this game, but it should be close and if NU gets a few breaks the ‘Cats can win. Taking everything into account, though, my predication is Stanford, 66 Northwestern, 62.

Friday Flashback: March 5, 1999

Some people are suggesting that winning on Saturday at Stanford will be a defining win for the Northwestern basketball program. I disagree, Stanford, while 6-0, is not exactly a powerhouse. However, I will say that one must for Coach Carmody and the ‘Cats if they do want this to be THE year for NU hoops is to get a signature win. In today’s edition of Friday Flashback I want to revisit the closest NU has ever come to pulling off such a victory.

First, we need understand what actually constitutes a signature win. It’s the win which announces a team’s presence to the nation. It informs all their upcoming opponents that they better be ready to play or they’ll be adding a number on the left said of their win-loss column. Most important, though, it is a win over an opponent who is ranked at or near the top of national polls. Recent examples include Ron Zook’s 2007 Illinois football team beating top ranked Ohio State on the way to the Rose Bowl and the 2007-2008 Davidson’s men’s basketball team beating Georgetown in the NCAA tournament. A little closer to home, Gary Barnett’s 1995 football team asserted their presence on the national scene when they recorded a signature win 19-13 over Michigan in front of 100,000 people at Michigan Stadium. Northwestern basketball has yet to achieve such a signature win. Over the years I can think of several close losses which might have turned into such a win, but without a doubt the loss to #2 Michigan State on March 5, 1999 was the closest. Let's recap how close the 'Cats came to shocking the world.

In all my years watching sports I may have never seen a better effort from an underdog than what the ‘Cats gave that day. I remember the camera fixing on the Wisconsin fans as they rose to their feet to cheer Evan Eschmeyer as he gave the Wildcats what would be their final lead of the day with about three minutes left in the game.

In the final three minutes of that epic game, Michigan State managed to scrape together five points. That was enough to secure the victory, but NU didn’t make it easy. Down two with the clocking winding down fron ten seconds towards triple zero, Northwestern guard David Newman got the ball after an MSU basket and rushed it towards the hoop. Once in the lane, Newman lofted a soft floater which looked on target until Michigan State’s Antonio Smith batted it away. Michigan State’s fans breathed a sigh of relief until they saw the batted ball roll into the hands of Northwestern freshman forward Steve Leopre. After one quick dribble, Lepore leaned in over a defender and fired an off balance three point shot. He came inches from changing Northwestern basketball forever.

If the Wildcats had beaten the Spartans they would have advanced to play Wisconsin in the semi-finals of the Big Ten Tournament. Had they beat the Badgers, which they certainly could have, they would have played the last place Illinois Fighting Illini who had made remarkable run to the final in the conference title game. It would have been almost a perfect confluence of events for the ‘Cats to make their first NCAA tournament. Not only would the road there have been relatively easy, but the team would have been playing with a ton of extra confidence after knocking off the number two team in the nation live on ESPN. Beating Michigan State in full view of a national TV audience could have totally changed the national perception of Northwestern basketball. Not only might the ‘Cats future opponents in the Big Ten Tournament have found themselves suddenly more worried about NU, but the national press which such an upset would have generated might have changed how college basketball fans and potential recruits viewed Northwestern basketball. Unfortunately, thanks to the rim on the east end of the United Center NU’s dream of a signature win remained unrealized.

When the ball left his hand, Steve Lepore’s shot for the win looked as if it was right on, but it ended up slightly short and hit the front of the rim. When the ball hit the rim, it bounced high into to the air and it looked for a moment as if the ball might still manage to fall into the basket. Unfortunately, on the way down the ball stuck the rim a second time before falling to the United Center floor. Despite the best efforts of Eschmeyer and Lepore, the ‘Cats finished the day inches from their signature win.

Although it was sad to watch the ‘Cats play so well and come up short, one thing which eased this fan's pain was, despite the ‘Cats failing to achieve their signature win, the respect which the rest of the college basketball world showed for NU’s effort. The broadcasters on ESPN effusively praised Eschmeyer’s fantastic play. In his postgame press conference Michigan State Head Coach Tom Izzo said NU deserved to win and admitted the Wildcats outplayed and outhustled his mighty Spartans. The most memorable praise for the ‘Cats, though, came from the crowd of Wisconsin fans who rose to their feet and saluted the ‘Cats effort with a standing ovation after the final buzzer sounded. It was fantastic moment. It reminded me of the end of Rocky in which Rocky Balboa remains the people’s champ despite failing to win his title bout. The ‘Cats might not have possessed Rocky’s staying power, but at least for a while in March of 1999 they held the respect of every college basketball fan in the country. It wasn’t a signature win, but for at least a little while it seemed like a start. Sadly, that start was abruptly halted a little over a year later when a slew of fine freshman recruited off the ‘Cats NIT season in 98-99 transferred after suffering the wrath of then Head Coach Kevin O’Neil for a year.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

First Quarter Progress Report

The Wildcats currently stand at 7-1 after eight games. They have two pre-conference games remaining followed by 18 Big Ten games as well as an out of conference game vs Chicago State on February 4th. If you assume the Wildcats will also play at least two games in the Big Ten Tournament, and I think that’s a reasonable assumption, the Wildcats will play 31 games before the end of the season. That means that currently the ‘Cats are just past the ¼ mark of the year. As a result, I want to look at three areas of strength and three areas where I see room for improvement.

3 Positives from the season’s first quarter:

John Shurna
: This kid has made a major impact as a freshman starter. He has the ability to step back and hit a three (41%), but also isn’t afraid to go inside to score. In addition, he battles for offensive rebounds (17) as well as any NU player in recent memory. Most importantly, his ability to play power forward has made Kevin Coble able to play the small forward position which seems to make Coble far more comfortable.

Three Point-Shooting: The three point shot is, as often discussed, a key aspect of the Princeton Offense. In the past, some of Coach Carmody’s most talented teams have been hamstrung by the fact they were not good shooting teams. This year’s squad is by far the best shooting group Carmody has had in Evanston. Overall the team shoots 41.6% and has four starters (Coble, Moore, Shurna, Thompson) who shoot over 40% individually.

Defense: NU has in the past been adept at getting steals (led the Big Ten 2 years ago), but has not in the past excelled in defending opponents if they get a shot off. This year the Wildcats are doing a much better job contesting shots from both inside and behind the arc. Inside wise, both Coble and Shurna have 9 blocks. Outside, NU has held opponents to only 29% from behind the three point line.

3 areas of possible improvement:

Free Throw Shooting: NU’s free throw shooting has to be a major concern at this point. Even the team’s top shooters Coble (52.2%) and Moore (68.4%) have struggled from the line. Overall the ‘Cats are at only 65.2%. That’s not acceptable when you consider most games in the Big Ten will be close. You need to make free throws to win close games.

Inconsistency in playing time: NU has yet to arrive at a set rotation this season. Last time out vs UMKC three starters played 37 minutes or more. Earlier in the year, Coach Carmody played 12 guys in the first half. The actual rotation should probably be somewhere in between these extremes, but Carmody needs to develop a more consistent rotation soon or it could start getting into the players heads. It’s hard to come off the bench at a key time against Michigan State if you’ve only played 2 minutes in the game before.

The PA System at Welsh-Ryan Arena: I’m not sure this likely to improve anytime soon, but Welsh-Ryan’s PA system is brutal. I sit pretty close to the floor and can’t hear a thing. I think some of the new items the marketing department is doing this year seem cool. For example, I really like the concept of the “Early Bird of The Game” interview, but I can barely hear it. I’m always trying to think of a fundraising project which could led to some money for the NU athletic department to improve the PA, but I’ll admit those system are several hundred thousand dollars and I’m sure other team-specific areas of improvement get priority. Still, I’d like to hear what the PA guy has to say.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Adding More "Juice" to NU's Offense

Northwestern has several great shooters on the roster this season. Craig Moore is NU’s all-time leader in three point shooting, Kevin Coble has shown an ability to score in bunches, and John Shurna comes to NU as a high school three point champion. Even with these guys, though, I don’t want to be relying on the three ball to win games and I don’t think Coach Carmody does either.

As I’ve watched Northwestern run the Princeton Offense over the years, I’ve always felt that bad shooting nights essentially equaled disaster. The reason has been the fact that NU hasn’t had much of an inside presence to take the pressure off its three point shooters. This year, though, I’m optimistic that NU is a more complete team. Both Shurna and Coble have shown an ability to score inside and off the dribble which has opened up the three ball for Moore and the ‘Cats other gunners. NU also has 7-0 center Kyle Rowley who although not a great post scorer yet, is an excellent passer. As a result, he can find a cutter from the high post or an open shooter from the low post. When executed perfectly, the Princeton Offense is about getting points going at the hoop. These cuts open up because the shooters make threes, but on certain days those threes won’t fall. What can NU do on those days? I say rely on Michael “Juice” Thompson to be more aggressive.

Coach Carmody has in the past said he has asked Juice to be more aggressive and I think that’s a critical aspect to NU’s future success. NU can win if Juice just focuses on passing and doesn't score much, but I think yesterday was a great example of how Juice getting aggressive can help NU if others aren't on their game. Juice seemed to look for points on offense for the first time this year yesterday and scored 17 points and dished out 6 assists. Not only did he hit 3-of-6 threes, but he also had several nice drives. Some of those drives resulted in baskets and others in assists. I’m certainly not advocating breaking out of the offense, but sometimes when NU’s offense stagnates I’d like to see Juice take over. He seems very adept at getting to the hoop and either getting off a shot or finding an open man. I’ve been very impressed with how he can shoot a floater in the lane and despite a size disadvantage avoid getting his shot blocked. I’ve also been very impressed with how he stays in control in situations when the shot clock in winding down. Plus, if more games like yesterday occur where NU's shooters such as Moore, Shurna, or Coble struggle with their shot(s) (Moore was 3-of-10 vs UMKC), NU needs another option. Juice should be the guy. Not only is he a decent three point shooter (over 40% last year) but you saw yesterday all the ways he could score. Not only did he hit threes, but he dropped in some floaters, scored in transition, and even drilled some mid-range shots. Yes, he is a great facilitator and in the Princeton Offense somebody needs to be the facilitator, but just because you facilitate doesn’t mean you can’t score. Yesterday Juice had 17 points and also 6 assists. Tim Doyle was a great facilitator in the PO as well, but he also had some high scoring games and if you think back often times the games where Doyle scored were Wildcat wins. The reason I believe is that it make it doubly hard to guard someone in the Princeton Offense if you are worried not only about how well they pass, but also that they can shot, or drive, or pass. I’d like to see Thompson force those challenges upon his defenders more often. I believe it would only help the scoring of his teammates.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Coble Shoots 'Cats Past 'Roos 77-62

Kevin Coble struggled initially on Monday night scoring only 6 points in the first half. In the second half, though, Coble shook off the post-finals rust to make four three pointers and essentially win the game for Northwestern. In total, Coble scored 22 points and grabbed 8 rebounds. His numbers were almost matched by his fellow starting forward John Shurna who scored 20 points and grabbed 8 rebounds. In comparing the two players’ stats, one should note that Coble played 37 minutes and Shurna only 28. Also, Shurna had 3 assists, but also 3 turnovers. Coble had one of each.

The number of minutes played by NU’s big three (Thompson, Moore, Coble) in this game is the stat which interests me the most. They played 38, 37, and 37 minutes respectively. This is the first time in awhile that all three logged more than 35 minutes apiece. To some extent this might have to do with this game staying relatively close for longer than the ‘Cats previous contests, however, I’m still surprised. The only other time Coach Carmody didn’t use his bench much (or at all) was against Butler and we all know how that turned out. I have to admit that when we reached the under 12:00 timeout in the second half and Carmody hadn’t yet subbed in the half I was having unpleasant flashbacks. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that Thompson, Moore, and Coble are NU’s best players, but I’d still like to see Sterling Williams and Jeremy Nash log more than 7 minutes total. Mike Capocci, who at times has been first off the bench, didn’t play at all.

I especially like Nash and think he could rotate in for both Moore and Thompson in short stretches. Obviously, you don’t want to take all of your big three (or even both guards) out at the same time, but this is the deepest team NU’s had in recent memory and I’d like to take advantage of that fact. Not only do we want our guys to be fresh at the end of games, but we want them fresh at the end of February. Playing 37 minutes against UMKC doesn’t necessarily assist in the second goal. Plus, if Craig Moore isn’t shooting well it wouldn’t hurt to get Nash or Williams in to play defense for a bit longer. The potential negative of such a choice is the loss of Moore’s leadership, but I think people underestimate how good of a floor game Nash plays. Also, I really think his shot is looking a lot better, but that might be more hope than fact.

One other interesting stat was the center position play. Kyle Rowley checked in today with 21 minutes played. This was by far Kyle’s best effort at not committing silly fouls and not being sluggish with his feet. He moved much better tonight on defense and actually made a nice drive to the hoop at the end of the first half. He missed the shot (Nash got a put back) but it showed how much athletic skill Kyle really has. No reason exists for him to get dumb fouls. He just needs to learn, as many freshmen do, that he needs work hard and focus at all times. Rowley also grabbed 4 rebounds double what he averages.

NU’s only other center to play tonight was Ivan Peljusic. Peljusic led the team with 3 blocks (tied with Coble) and 2 steals. As I’ve said before, I like Peljusic’s play a ton. He energizes the team. It was his steal and dunk early in the first half which seemed to remind his teammates they were actually playing basketball again and not still stuck in library studying for finals.

One element I’d like to see more is three point shooting from NU’s center. I think that would open things up for Moore and Coble even more. Peljusic seems to have a nice shot, but doesn’t want shoot if he misses his first. The guy who was supposed to fill that role was Luka Mirkovic, hopefully he continues to develop and finds a role in the rotation with the other big guys.

Finally, when was the last time NU had two dunks in the same game? Coble’s slam on the backdoor pass from Ryan and Ivan’s breakaway dunk were both highlight film worthy.

Next up for NU is a game at Stanford on Saturday. I’ll have more on that later this week. This week I’ll also have a commentary on why I think it’s important Juice Thompson score more often. His 17 points and 3-of-6 three point shooting certainly helped today.

NU Up to 7 AP Points

Here's the visual evidence:

One should note, however, that 7 points doesn't actually mean 7 votes. Last week, a writer placed NU at #22 which gave NU four points. The odds are those 4 points are part of this week's 7 points. Still, it's nice to NU hoops getting respect.

Also, tonight's game is big. Going into the Stanford game 7-1 might draw some national attention. Let's hope that despite a long layoff, a small crowd, very few students, and no band that the 'Cats can get up for tonight's contest against the 'Roos.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Game 8: University of Missouri-Kansas City @ Northwestern Wildcats

The Matchup: University of Missouri-Kansas City (4-7) @ Northwestern (6-1)

Location: Welsh-Ryan Arena (Evanston, IL)

TV: Big Ten Network (7:00 PM CT)
Radio: WGN AM 720

Fun Fact: UMKC is 0-2 all time against Big Ten teams. They most recently lost at Penn State in 2005. Northwestern and UMKC have never met.

About UMKC

The head coach of the University of Missouri-KC Kangaroos is Matt Brown. Brown was an assistant coach under John Beilein at West Virginia before taking over UMKC last season. The offense and defense that UMKC runs is said to include elements of Beilein’s style. This could benefit as NU as not only does Michigan’s system somewhat resemble Northwestern’s system, but the fact is getting a chance to face a system similar to one they’ll see in the Big Ten will be an advantage for Northwestern. Also, one stable of Beilein’s teams at WVU was the 1-3-1 zone. Brown’s UMKC team didn’t play that much 1-3-1 at Loyola on Saturday, but they might try to do so against Northwestern in an effort to fill the lane and prevent NU’s cutters from running free. The advantage this might offer Northwestern is that, as all NU fans know, a 1-3-1 allows open shots from the corners if the man on the baseline isn’t big enough and quick enough to get out on a shooter. Northwestern’s Kevin Coble and Craig Moore love shooting from the corner.

Speaking of big and quick, UMKC is not big. Their tallest player is James Humphrey a 6-7 200 lbs. forward who averages just 3.4 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. He is also a very poor free throw shooter. The guys who get most of the rebounds for the ‘Roos are 6-6 Spencer Johnson and 6-5 Latreze Mushatt these two forwards average 6.4 and 6.3 rebounds per game apiece. What makes Johnson particularly impressive is that fact he also averages 10.4 points per game (37-94 39.4% shooting) this means he is a guy who can on any given day turn in a double-double. He did so against Loyola. The leading scorer for the ‘Roos is Dane Brumagin a 6-4 senior forward. He averages 17.5 points per game and does make 36.8% of his threes. The best three pointer shooter on the UMKC roster is Reggie Hamilton. Hamilton shoots 43.5% from three point range (27-62) and scores on average 16.5 points per game. As a team the ‘Roos score 65.2 points per game, but allow 70.1. They do a great job with three point percentage defense holding opponents to only 28.5% (55-193), but in overall field goal percentage defense they struggle allowing their opponents to shoot 45.5% (271-595) this means the ‘Roos can be beat inside.

Considering UMKC’s lack of size the game plan seems pretty straight forward for the Wildcats. The ‘Cats need to use the superior size they have and get the ball inside. They should be able to take advantage of the various mismatches that will occur with Coble and Shurna on smaller players and get easy baskets going at the hoop. To counter such mismatches UMKC might choose to play zone. If that is the case, NU needs Coble, Moore, and Thompson to knock down some early shots.

Prediction: Teams sometimes struggle after finals, but I think this a good matchup for NU. UMKC might try to alter defenses to throw off the ‘Cats, but I believe regardless of what defense is played by the ‘Roosm, NU will have a counterpunch. That’s what makes this NU better than the version of the previous few years. Northwestern, 71 UMKC, 55.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday Flashback

Finding those YouTube clips of Geno Carlisle yesterday got me thinking about the best players I've seen at NU. My all time favorite Wildcat player is Jitim Young, but if you want to rank players based purely on talent I think Geno Carlisle and Evan Eschmeyer top the list of the Wildcat stars I’ve seen. As a recurring feature during this season’s quiet times I'd like to offer up a little Wildcat history and offer some memories of some of the best players and games I've seen as a Wildcat fan. Hopefully they'll offer up some memories for long time fans and offer a little Wildcat history knowledge for newer fans. Today I'll focus on Geno Carlisle.

A native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Head Coach Ricky Byrdsong recruited Carlisle to Northwestern on the heels of the Wildcats 1994 NIT appearance. During his freshman year Carlisle averaged 11.7 points per game and became a fan favorite while leading NU in scoring a team-high 11 times. During his sophomore year, Geno burned out lights in the Welsh-Ryan Arena scoreboard. Earning first team All-Big Ten honors, Carlisle averaged 19.7 points per game. He scored in double figures twenty-five times, a total which included thirteen games of twenty or more points. As great as Carlisle’s numbers were, the fact is Northwestern has had other players score as much or more than him. What sets Geno apart in my opinion is the number of ways he could score.

If you look at Northwestern’s record book the first thing that jumps out about Carlisle is his three point shooting. He nailed 103 threes in just over two seasons with the ‘Cats. He was not, however, the type of guard who treats the three point line as a barrier which cannot be crossed. When Carlisle got his hands on the ball there was as much chance he’d try to drive hard to the hoop for two as shoot a jumper for three. When did drive the lane, Carlisle excelled at getting fouls called. This skill benefitted him immensely as he converted more than eighty percent of his foul shots. Perhaps the best example of Carlisle’s tremendous ability to draw fouls occurred during his freshman year in a game at Wisconsin. During that contest, Carlisle went to the free throw line a season-high sixteen times. Even better, he made fifteen.

In his years with the ‘Cats, Carlisle always seemed to play well against the Badgers. The most memorable of those games occurred in Madison during February of 1996. On that night, Carlisle treated a national television audience to a scoring display which hasn’t been exceeded by any Wildcat since. Using a combination of sharp three point shooting and his uncanny ability to draw fouls, Carlisle led the previously winless in the league Wildcats to an upset over the Badgers. He finished the game with 39 points. In retrospect, that game probably clinched Carlisle his spot on the All-Big Ten team.

Unfortunately, before the start of the 1996-97 season Coach Byrdsong suspended Carlisle for three games citing violation of team rules. Then on November 26, 1996 Carlisle declared his intention to transfer out of Northwestern. On the way out he told the school newspaper, The Daily Northwestern, “I wanted to come here to try to turn the program around. But now I'm realistic. I just don't think that we have what it takes to compete in the Big Ten.”

The saddest part of what Carlisle said, other than it being seriously insulting to his teammates and coaches, was that he wasn’t entirely accurate. The Wildcats did end Carlisle’s sophomore season with a record of 2-16 in the Big Ten. The two wins were both over Wisconsin, and were both a direct result of Carlisle’s outstanding play. However, future All-American Evan Eschmeyer started alongside Carlisle twenty-five times that year. The problem was Eschmeyer hadn’t played in a basketball game since breaking his foot two years earlier. As the year closed, the six foot eleven inch center showed flashes of the brilliance he’d display regularly during his junior and senior years, but it wasn’t enough for the ‘Cats to add to their win total before the 95-96 season ended. If Carlisle had stuck around to play alongside Eschmeyer in 97-98 and 98-99 the Wildcats might very well have made their first NCAA tournament. Instead, we're all still waiting to hear Greg Gumbel announce the Wildcats position as #9 seed on Selection Sunday. Maybe it’ll happen this year. Hey, it never hurts to have a positive outlook on things.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Some Fun Links

Here are some links for folks to take a look at from around the web...

This blog offers coverage of all Chicago College hoops:

Here's blast from the past, this youtube link offers highlights from Geno Carlisle's career. The NU highlights don't start till the 6:17 mark.
Obviously, Geno's exit from NU wasn't a happy day for 'Cats fans, but I have to say he's one of the better players I've seen in purple and white.

Here's a tribute someone made to Craig Moore and his 7 threes last year vs MSU: fans of NBA Jam should listen closely.

It's Never to Early to talk March Madness

The Hoops Report ( has an early projection of the NCAA tournament field. Check the #9 seed in the Memphis region.

‘Go Cats!

Chicago and College Hoops

Last Saturday a number of intra-city of intra-state basketball games took place in and around Chicago. Northwestern fans were obviously focused on the Wildcats matchup with DePaul, but UIC played Loyola and NIU hosted Chicago State as well. As I think about these matchups, I can’t help but think all these teams should play each other at some point during the season. Coaches complain all the time about how hard it is to schedule non-conference games and what a hassle travel is, yet teams right next to each other don’t play. It doesn’t make sense.

This year Northwestern will play DePaul and Chicago State. In the past the ‘Cats have played a home and home series with the UIC Flames, but have not played Loyola in the Bill Carmody era. Rumor has it some rift exists. Personally, I think NU should play all the Chicago area schools. I think it would benefit every school in the Chicago area if they were to play each other. Chicago is without a doubt a pro sports town. People get excited about the Bears, the Bulls, and the Cubs. As a result of this fan focus, the media coverage is geared heavily towards the pro teams in town. This time of year with the NBA and NFL seasons in full swing it is especially hard to get coverage. One way coverage is generated, though, is when the Chicago area schools play each other. After all, Saturday generated nice press in multiple papers and on TV before the games. That’s rare. Usually the best NU and the others can hope for is a post game recap, more and more lifted from the AP.

Now, is this press coverage going to magically boost attendance for these schools? Probably not. Although, despite it being just a hair over 4,000 people the fact is the contest against DePaul was NU’s biggest crowd of the year. Games against UIC and Loyola would likely have a similar total attendance. Chicago State is something of a difference story, but if the Cougars seriously want to compete in Division I garnering the attention of playing local opponents can only help. You might not know for example that 5-8 160 lbs. Chicago State guard David Holston is one of the top scorers in the NCAA. I mean with the Cougars playing in near obscurity how could you? But if his team were to face off against its local opponents and Holston scored 28 points each time, he’d garner a little more attention from the various Chicago media sources.

Of course, this isn’t about Chicago State. My real concern is about Northwestern. I want people to show up at Welsh-Ryan Arena and cheer the ‘Cats. Now, many would say the difference between having 3,200 people for Central Arkansas and having 4,200 for DePaul isn’t significant, but I believe it is. It is significant because each new fan in the arena offers an opportunity to sell the program. Also, Northwestern has many fans who only show up for what they consider “big games” that’s relative at NU obviously, but what they mean is the Big Ten (minus Penn State), the ACC/Big Ten Challenge game, and DePaul. If you add other local rivalries, and make them true rivalries (perhaps a trophy), then those people will show up. Don’t get me wrong, I want these people to show up every game, but I’m a realist.

Also, not to sound like a complainer, because when I show up to Welsh-Ryan I enjoy myself, but I’m sure many of you are like me and would enjoy seeing NU play Loyola more than seeing NU play Texas A&M-CC. I want to win and I don’t really object to directional schools, but if Northwestern wants to reach the top half of the Big Ten they ought to be able to defeat any mid-major even one who is jazzed for a local rival.

Finally, creating buzz for college hoops around Chicago could do a lot of good for families looking for cheap entertainment. When people ask me what I’m doing on some winter evening and I say, “going to the NU basketball game” they are shocked they haven’t heard about the game. The reason is, as we’ve established, the Chicago press isn’t too excited about college hoops. That’s too bad because NU basketball is one of the best deals going. To be able to attend a major college sporting event for less than $20 a ticket is a spectacular deal. I strongly suspect were more people aware of what NU offered more would take advantage. Of course, since NU’s own media budget is so limited they need the free press the media provides. The best way to get is taking on local opponents. After all, I strongly guess the stories last Saturday about the impending NU-DePaul game will be significantly larger than the one’s next Monday abut the impending NU-UMKC game. That is, if pregame NU-UMKC stories exist at all. I’d say the odds are at best we’ll see little capsules with stats.

Further Reading…

Check out on CSU’s David Holston. He comes to NU February 4th. I’d say you should get your tickets now, but I’d be slightly over estimating the level of anticipation that game is generating.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wildcat Hoops on YouTube

YouTube poster nuhighlights is trying to create an NU hoops presence on YouTube. You can visit his first effort, highlights of UC-Riverside and FSU, here.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Rest of the Year: What to Expect

One of the hot topics in the Wildcat fan community right now is what to expect from the Wildcats for the rest of the year. With the 'Cats off to a 6-1 start many optimists are appearing in NU fan circles where once there were only pessimists.

Let me say I hate to dampen the enthusiasm of any ‘Cat Backer, but I highly doubt NU’s team will maintain their .857 winning percentage or their now #5 RPI rank the rest of the year. However, I do think this year will be far more successful than any since the 2001-2002 season. So what should fans expect for the season’s final 22 games? Let’s discuss.


Northwestern has four non-conference games left this season. Three occur before the start of the Big Ten season and then NU plays Chicago State on February 4th. The most realistic expectation for these four games is a 3-1 record. The one likely loss is on the road at Stanford. Although I’d like to believe Northwestern can beat the Cardinal I just don’t see it happening. That said, a win in Palo Alto is not impossible. Stanford is not nearly as strong as they have been in recent years. They lost Head Coach Trent Johnson to LSU this off season and the Lopez brothers entered the NBA.

So why don’t I see a NU win? It has more to do with NU than Stanford. I just don’t see the extremely young Wildcats winning on the road in their first extended road trip. Freshmen traditionally don’t play well on the road and a trip two time zones away from home is not going to be easy on Shurna, Rowley, and the other youngsters. I do, however, hold out hope the ‘Cats can learn from the experience and be ready to win on the road 11 days later at Penn State.


The Big Ten plays 18 conference games this year. I’d say a 6-12 or 7-11 record for the Wildcats is very realistic. I’m not going to predict any specific games at this point as I believe that’s premature. For example, if Iowa leading scorer Anthony Tucker remains suspended beating Iowa twice is entirely possible. On the other hand, if Tucker comes back it could be hard to beat the Hawks anywhere. Also, at this point Indiana looks terrible. I would almost expect Northwestern to beat the Hoosiers twice. However, NU doesn’t travel to Bloomington until February 25th and by then the young Hoosiers might put things together. Another key game is the Big Ten opener at Penn State. The last few years NU has struggled mightily against the Lions, but this year NU couldn’t ask for a better set of circumstances to open the league on the road. Not only will Penn State’s students not be present, but I suspect the vast majority of PSU fans and alumni who are able will be in Pasadena at the Rose Bowl.

Now, if NU does beat IU (twice), Iowa (at least once), and PSU (once) that brings the ‘Cats to a total of four Big Ten wins. Where will the other two or three come from? Again, I don’t really want to guess. I will say, however, I believe getting the four or so home wins NU needs to post six or seven league wins will be incumbent on Welsh-Ryan Arena proving the ‘Cats a home court advantage. Step number one in this area will be a raucous student section. FSU was a great step in this direction. I hope what we see after break is that good in terms of student attendance and excitement or better.

Overall, let’s hope NU can win at least 15 or so games this year and get a shot at a NIT or CBI invitation.

Monday, December 8, 2008

NU got 4 AP Votes, Were they Deserved?

For most programs getting 4 votes in the AP Poll would be a total afterthought, or no thought, but for NU I really think this is a big deal. The last time NU got votes was in 1999 when an Evan Eschmeyer led NU team stood at 14-6 (6-4), the Wildcats then lost six in a row (including one at home to cellar-dwelling Illinois) and have not been heard from in the rankings since. So, given that the last time NU got any attention from a poll was almost a decade ago I think today's news is significant. I also think it's significant because it says something about what this 6-1 record means.

At this time of year many teams have good records, but they don't mean anything. These teams have boosted their win total with victories over weak competition. NU, however, is not one of those teams. Yes, Central Arkansas and UC-Riverside aren't powerhouse programs, obviously, but NU's wins over Florida State and DePaul do have meaning. The win over a Florida State looks especially good as the ‘Noles defeated #23 Florida yesterday. I also think the fact NU is #7 in the RPI and FSU is #10 shows the meaningfulness of the win over FSU. The DePaul win is impressive not as much because of DePaul, though at least they are a Big East team, but because of how dominating the win was. Sure, Mac Koshwal didn’t play, but the other guys on the DePaul roster aren’t stiffs. Dar Tucker was a top recruit and the rest of his teammates were good enough to be recruited to play in the Big East. DePaul might be near the bottom of the Big East, but most experts say the Big East is stronger than the Big Ten and NU couldn’t even beat bottom Big Ten teams the last few years. I look at it like this; I believe this year’s DePaul is similar to last season’s Iowa squad. NU played Iowa twice last year and lost two close games. This year NU beat DePaul by 27 points, I think that shows solid improvement.

Now, does beating a bottom Big East team and a pretty good ACC team really equal a ranking? Honestly, I wouldn’t rank NU based just on those wins, but the team has done other impressive things as well. For example, the loss to Butler, as depressing as it was, was a far better performance at Hinkle than OSU last year (lost by 19) and most other teams who face the Bulldogs at home. I would honestly be surprised to see Butler lose more than one game at home this year. Also, Butler is currently sitting #3 in the RPI. In addition, NU’s wins over its lesser opponents are impressive in some ways at well. How so? Well, NU has won each home game by double digits and beat Brown on the road by 9 points. I think domination factor earns NU more respect. When NU wins by double figures against UMKC, that respect should continue to build.

'Cats with AP Votes

Reader Lunker35 posted this earlier, the 'Cats got votes in the AP poll for the first time since 1999. Here the link:

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Football News: 'Cats to Alamo Bowl

Coach Fitz and the football 'Cats are going to the Alamo Bowl to take on the Missouri Tigers. I have some thoughts on this which I’ll post later this week as we bridge the gap between basketball contests, but for now here’s a youtube video to encourage you all to go to the Alamo City. I offer major thanks to the youtube poster who put this together. Make sure you turn up the volume.

Wildcats Number 7 in RPI: Linkfest

Take a look at Real Time RPI's rankings:

Lindsey Willhite has a good post on his blog about his trip around to various area hoops venues yesterday:

Sometime this week I'll post about area hoops and my hope for more intra-city games. poster CleveCat started a topic stating NU is Chicago's best team. I agree!

Wildcats Pound Demons 63-36

Yesterday Northwestern moved to 6-1 with the Wildcats most dominating win over a BCS conference foe in several years. Kevin Colbe was great scoring 25 points and grabbing six rebounds. The only negative of the day from Coble was one missed free throw. I do have to say that NU's poor free throw shooting as a team does remain a concern.

Craig Moore also finished with double digit points for NU by scoring 14. He made 4-of-7 threes. NU did take advantage of the fact DePaul center Mac Koshwal was out with a foot injury by scoring a bunch of points in the lane on backdoor layups. Some DePaul fans will say not having Koshwal is what made the game so easy for NU, but I find it hard to believe one guy could have made a 27 point difference.

I also want to give a special thumbs to a few players who played well without scoring a bunch of points.

Michael "Juice" Thompson who scored only 7 points, but who had 8 assists and only 1 turnover in 34 minutes.

Jeff Ryan also played a really nice game despite not scoring. He played a good game on defense helping guard DePaul's Dar Tucker and he got four rebounds. One criticism is the fact that Ryan, and others, missed way too many layups. After one miss by Ivan Peljusic, Bill Carmody started storming towards the end of the bench. I thought for a moment he was going to leave the building. Funny as that moment was, I understood his frustration. In close games missing those short layups could be deadly.

Ivan Peljusic despite missing layups did play fairly well in grabbing six rebounds (tied with Coble for team high) in only 13 minutes.

Sterling Williams made a key basketball as time expired in the first half which I think was key to keeping NU’s momentum in half number two.

Luka Mirkovic played 12 minutes and grabbed two rebounds. They were his most productive minutes since the Brown game and I hope a signal he’s getting more into the flow of things.

Overall this was a great win and I look forward to what the rest of the season will hold. NU now takes eight days off for exams and returns to action December 15 against UMKC.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Game 7: DePaul @ Northwestern Wildcats

The Matchup: DePaul (4-1) @ Northwestern (5-1)

Location: Welsh-Ryan Arena (Evanston, IL)

TV: Big Ten Network (2:30 PM CT)
Radio: WGN AM 720

Fun Fact: DePaul’s campus is actually closer to Welsh-Ryan Arena than to the All State Arena where the Blue Demons play their home games.

About DePaul

DePaul enters Saturday’s contest with a 4-1 record. The record while impressive is similar to Northwestern’s in that the Blue Demons haven’t exactly beaten a murder’s row of opponents. DePaul’s best win was 67-63 at what I believe is a good UIC team. I think that’s similar, but not quite as impressive as NU’s 73-59 win over previously undefeated Florida State.

DePaul actually stood at 4-0 before dropping a 77-67 game to Cal in Berkley. In that game the Blue Demons where led in scoring by 6-4 sophomore forward Dar Tucker with 21 points. Tucker leading the team in scoring probably didn’t surprise many close observers as Tucker has been DePaul’s leading scorer in four of his team’s five games. Tucker is by far the Demons best player. He was ranked the fifth best shooting guard in the national according to when he came out of high school and last year as a freshman was named to the Big East’s All-Rookie Team. Tucker currently averages 20.8 points per game, but his 27.5% three point percentage clearly reveals that the strength of his game is getting in to the lane and getting to the basket. NU would be advised to defend him the same way they did the Florida State guards who had similar skills.

DePaul’s other big threat is a big man in 6-10 250 lbs. Mac Koshwal who averages a double-double with 12.4 points per game and 11.2 rebounds per game. His only major weakness seems to be from the free throw line where he shoots only 56%. He’ll be another good challenge for the Wildcats young front line.

Wildcat fans should also look out for DePaul guards Will Walker and Jabari Curie. Walker averages 11.6 points per game and Curie is the only Blue Demon starter who shoots better than 35% from three. Interestingly enough, Curie is a poor free throw shooter at less than 50%. Overall, DePaul shoots less than 30% from three point range which might allow NU to use its 1-3-1 to cut off penetration. If NU does play the 1-3-1, look for DePaul’s Jeremiah Kelly to come off the bench to bomb threes. He leads the Demons with a 38.9% from three.

Prediction: I think NU’s win on Wednesday combined with DePaul’s loss the same day gives NU momentum going into this contest. I also like the fact that while it’s a short trip for DePaul, NU is still at home. Northwestern, 71 DePaul, 65.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

ACC Wins Challenge, Wildcats Win Game

I'm really enjoying telling my friends from other Big Ten schools (read: Illinois) how the Wildcats took care of their end of the deal in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge when six other Big Ten teams didn't. Those numbers translate into a 6-5 ACC win, but I'm pretty happy with the 'Cats win so I'll live with the Big Ten dropping the challenge for the tenth straight season.

As far as NU’s win, there were so many good things it is impossible to mention them all. Lindsay Willhite does a nice job breaking down a number of them, though, in this write up. Also, Lake the Posts has an interesting post about NU hoops and what it will be like when NU makes the NCAA Tournament. Take a look here for that.

My favorite thing about last night was the feeling of an intensity in Welsh-Ryan Arena which has been lacking many times in recent years. The students did a great job and I hope they show up on Saturday for their last chance to see the ‘Cats before break. It wasn’t just the students who made noise, though. I thought the whole NU crowd was excellent and I think it made a difference. I especially enjoyed the standing ovation for Ivan Peljusic after his fantastic run in the second half.

Craig Moore was outstanding and I think he really is taking on a leadership role. He even wanted to talk to the ref after Carmody T until Coach C yelled out to Craig, “Don’t talk to him (the ref).” Also of interest was the fact Moore played 40 minutes. Admittedly there isn’t a great backup option for him right now, but I do worry about fatigue if he has to play a full game regularly. Everybody else has someone, or a couple someones, who can be rotated in. I’d like Nick Fruendt to step up as Moore’s backup, but he’s clearly not ready yet. Until he is, Moore going to get a lot of playing time. Let’s hope his level of intensity doesn’t change as it was that which I believe helped drive the ‘Cats to victory.

I also want to mention my favorite play last night besides the Peljusic slam was John Shurna getting a tip in put back late in the game. That play gave Shurna 13 offensive rebounds this year which leads the team. It has been a long time since Northwestern’s roster has featured anybody who could get an offensive rebound, this year the team has several. It gives the Wildcats a totally different dimension which should seriously help the ‘Cats in Big Ten play.

Finally, I want to give a major thumbs up to Coach Bill Carmody. This might have been the best game he’s coached at Northwestern. He wasn’t afraid to adjust his plan on the fly and he seemed to know just what he needed to do to fire up his team. The technical and his apparently fiery halftime speech seemed to fire up the Wildcats at just the right time. Also, he used a variety of defenses including putting in Jeremy Nash to run a 1-3-1 when early on it seemed Florida State was easily able penetrate the matchup 2-3 zone with Juice and Moore up top. I also want to note that when Juice came back in during the second half and NU returned to the matchup his defensive play along with that of Craig Moore was some of best I’ve seen from NU in several years.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

'Cats win in ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Beat FSU 73-59

I’ll have more complete recap on tonight’s 73-59 win over Florida State tomorrow, but I want to highlight a few things right now. First off, NU outrebounded Florida State 41-33. That’s spectacular as anybody who saw the Seminoles up close would agree they definitely pass the eyeball test. Kevin Coble and Jeff Ryan led the ‘Cats with 8 rebounds each. Even more impressive, they each had three offensive rebounds. I have to give special note to Ryan who played perhaps his most aggressive game as a Wildcat. He always has seemed to me to be a guy who had loads of ability, but who didn’t seem to have an aggressive bone in his body. Tonight, Jeff was so aggressive he even managed to get himself bloody from diving into a pile to fight for the ball. If Ryan continues to play with the attitude he showed tonight I expect a very good season.

Another player who looked great tonight was Ivan Peljusic. Peljusic scored a total of 10 points, but his personal 8-2 run put the Wildcats ahead to stay in the game. I’ve been a fan of Peljusic for awhile now and I really believe the ‘Cats look better with him in the game. The offense seems to move quicker as Peljusic seems to understand the system a bit better than the freshmen and his intensity seems to help key the defense.

Shooting was also key to the ‘Cat victory as they shot 9-of-17 from three point range. Unfortunately, they shot only 18-of-31 from the free throw line and that almost cost them the game. It always amazes me how basketball players can’t hit free throws. Even good shooters sometimes throw up bricks at the line. Kevin Coble for example should never miss two straight free throws. Thankfully, NU’s free throw woes didn’t hurt them tonight, but if I were Carmody I’d spend some time working the free throw line at practice. Thankfully, the ‘Cats 52.9% three point shooting was far better than FSU’s 26.1%. Craig Moore led the ‘Cats shooting 4-of-6 from behind the arc. Also of note was Jeremy Nash hitting a big three right when it looked like FSU might take control of the game. I really think Nash’s shot is looking better.

Finally, let me say the students showed up tonight and made noise. It was great. I hope all those who came to their first game of the season tonight had a great time and come back Saturday at 2:30 to see NU battle DePaul.

Game 6: Florida State @ Northwestern

The Matchup: Florida State (7-0) @ Northwestern (4-1)

Location: Welsh-Ryan Arena (Evanston, IL)


Fun Fact: Northwestern and Florida State have met three times in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge with Florida State holding a 2-1 advantage. Northwestern’s win came by the score of 57-50 on November 28, 2001 in Evanston. Here’s the recap.

About Florida State

First off, Florida State is gigantic. They feature 7-1 center Solomon Alabi, 6-9 forward Chris Singleton, 6-8 forward Ryan Reid, and 6-9 forward Uche Echefu of the bench. Basically, the ‘Noles play a three forward-one guard lineup to outsize and out rebound their opposition. Although the Wildcats obviously have good size with Rowley, Shurna, and Coble starting, facing such a large team could give the Wildcat freshmen a serious challenge on the boards. Florida State averages 37 rebounds a game. The Wildcats average just under 29. It will take a great effort from all the Wildcat front court players to win the battle of the boards against the large and athletic Seminoles.

Also of interest is the fact Florida State has won four games this year by less than four points. One of those wins was on a neutral court in Las Vegas over Cal. The ‘Noles edged Cal 80-77 in the Global Sports Classic and held of a late charge from Cincinnati to win by 11 in a game which got close when the Bearcats started to press. I look for NU to go to the press early tonight much like they did on Monday. As a result, I expect both teams will have to use their benches. Despite that, though, I expect Florida State guard Tony Douglas who averages 19.0 points per game and the Wildcats Craig Moore to stay on the court most of the night. They are by far the two best shooters in the game.

I was one of the only people who predicated NU to beat Butler. They didn’t, but it was close. Overall, I’m pretty optimistic about this NU team, but I don’t see them having enough firepower to beat FSU. Florida State, 66 Northwestern, 55.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

This Season’s Pressing Issue

The Wildcats are 4-1 and other than the obvious disappointment over the loss to Butler I’m pretty happy. However, there is one major issue which cries out to be addressed—student attendance. Last night before the game I watched some of the Big Ten Network’s rebroadcast of the NU-Iowa 2005 game. I was a student then and remember that night as best student fan experience I had at NU. The only other game which comes close was the 2005 football game between NU and Iowa in which it seemed only me and my 500 closest friends were left on the NU side of the stands when Baz hit Ross Lane for the winning TD. (Note: It’s probably not a coincidence my two favorites games involve beating Iowa).

Anyhow, after watching the game from 1/26/05 and then looking at the student section at Welsh-Ryan Arena last night I was struck by the disparity in the number of student fans. Granted, non-conference games always bring out fewer fans, but I believe overall this season has seen the worst student attendance I can remember. I’ve talked with a number of folks who agree with me as well. My cousin who as a student at NU suffered through multiple seasons of less than 10 wins agrees that this year is far worse than those years in the mid-late nineties. Perhaps, the struggles of the last two seasons have reduced student interest, but I’m not sure I buy that argument. I have to say the average college student doesn’t have that long a memory. Folks I knew showed up for the 2003-2004 season even though the 2002-2003 wasn’t impressive. They showed up for the 2003 football season even though 2002 was a total horror show. Besides, while the wins haven’t been over powerhouses, this year’s team has won thus far at home. Now, it is entirely possible the ability to be on ESPN2 will bring out more fans on Wednesday night, however, it is also entirely possible Florida State will beat the ‘Cats handily. If that happens, will any students who showed for the first time come back? I worry the answer might be no.

So what can Northwestern do to get students to show up? I’m not really sure. I think a lot of efforts have been made over the years, but clearly the magic bullet for student attendance has yet to be found. I will say this, though, I think the best people to market to students are other students. Thinking back to my own experience, when I managed to persuade people to attend games with me they usually had a good time. So, I encourage all the students who do show up regularly to try and bring their friends. Also, don’t let them give up on the team after a loss Wednesday. We’ve all seen losses before, part of the great thing about NU fans is we’re tough. A few losses don’t make us give up on our team.

The other major thing I think which can help is creating a great environment in the student section which students want to be a part of. Of course, this is kind of a chicken-egg issue. To do this you need more fans to show up. It’s hard for 30 people to create the same intensity that 500 or 1,000 can. What made that game in January of 2005 so much fun wasn’t just the way it ended. It was the fact that through the whole night I felt a level of intensity reverberating throughout the building. I remember standing in the student section as we clearly rattled Pierre Pierce and he missed critical free throws. I remember trying to read Steve Alford’s lips as he attempted to develop a defense to stop NU and then shouting out what we thought he said as if Bill Carmody could hear us and use what we learned. Alford said something about guarding Vedran close as I recall. Clearly, his players didn’t listen.

Finally, I do want to give serious props to Eric Peterman and the other 35 students who it seems do show up regularly. You folks are great fans and I’m certain the team really appreciates the support. Now, let’s see what we can do about making other students join your ranks. If you need help show them this clip which clearly shows how much fun NU hoops are.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Wildcats, 59 UC-Riverside, 43

Obviously the best thing you can say about tonight’s game is that Northwestern beat previously 4-1 UC-Riverside and moved themselves to 4-1. The performance was somewhat underwhelming with the ‘Cats turning the ball over 16 times and shooting only 20% from three point range. Kevin Coble led Northwestern with 14 points and added five rebounds, but his points came rather quietly. Perhaps Coble’s 1-of-5 three point shooting performance was to blame, but it seemed Kevin wasn’t really himself tonight. That has to be worrisome for Bill Carmody as Coble wasn’t particularly impressive at Brown and struggled mightily at Butler. If Coble doesn’t get a littler more consistent, Northwestern has no chance against 7-0 Florida State on Wednesday.

Another player who struggled on Monday was Luka Mirkovic. This is unfortunate as many suspected Mirkovic would be the most significant contributor of the freshmen class. Based on the interest other big name BCS schools had in Luka, I suspected he’d make much more of an instant impact. However, he seems very tentative and uncertain thus far. If he doesn’t start hitting some shots and avoiding fouls I think Ivan Peljusic will steal more of his minutes.

On the positive side at the center position Kyle Rowley scored 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting. I’m impressed with Rowley thus far. He is more than just big. He runs the court well and his nice touch on his hook shot. Considering the size advantage he’ll have over virtually everybody, he should be able to score off that hook on a regular basis. The only negative from today’s game on Rowley’s line was his four turnovers. To some extent, though, I don’t think that can all go on Rowley. His teammates need to make sure they get the big man the ball where he can handle it.

Another freshman who played well overall tonight was John Shurna. Shurna struggled early on, but to his credit he came back strong and basically put UC-Riverside away when the Highlanders closed the ‘Cat lead to 11 late. Shurna scored on a nice backdoor pass from Ivan Peljusic and then made a spectacular play in which he blocked a shot, picked up the ball, and took it in for an easy layup. Defiantly highlight film stuff.

An overall positive was the defensive play of the Wildcats. Coach Carmody used a variety of defensives, including some very solid man-to-man, to hold the Highlanders to only 43 points. Especially impressive was the Wildcats effort on UC-Riverside leading scorer Javon Borum who scored only 4 points in 27 minutes.

The ‘Cats only have a day to practice before they play on Wednesday night. Some people would say that’s not a good thing, but I think it might work in the ‘Cats favor. Although they didn’t play great tonight, they won. The win makes the ‘Cats 4-1 overall and 4-0 at home. I think Northwestern’s freshmen, especially Shurna, have a lot more confidence at home. Hopefully that confidence will translate into forward momentum and solid play. Also, I believe the ‘Cats used tonight to work on some of the stuff they’ll want to use against the ‘Noles. Florida State is reported to be somewhat vulnerable to pressure and tonight the ‘Cats effectively used a 2-2-1 press to create a number of turnovers. Hopefully a similar game plan will have similarly positive results on Wednesday night.