A combination of missed layups, missed free throws, and turnovers made the difference as Butler recovered from a 9 point halftime deficient to win by four at Hinkle Field House in Indianapolis, Indiana.
There is a lot of blame to go around for this loss, which I guess is good as nobody is going to have to take the entire brunt of frustration, but wow, this was an awful second half. Sadly, this loss is similar to many others I've endured as a Northwestern fan. The 'Cats built a solid lead, the fans felt good, and then NU blows it. This loss hurts.
After the first half I really thought the ‘Cats would shut up all the naysayers, but now I’m tempted to join them. Kevin Coble apparently missed the bus from the team hotel and apparently Michael Thompson didn’t follow Bill Carmody’s instructions about how to counter the Butler defense. First, I’ll deal with Coble. He only took four shots, making one, and missed two critical free throws which could have made it a one point game. On the post-game with WGN, Coach Carmody commented he thought Coble wasn’t tough enough inside. I’d say that’s pretty accurate as Butler’s Matt Howard seemed to make every big play down the stretch.
Coach Carmody also commented that he gave point guard Michael Thompson some ideas about how to deal with Butler’s pressure, but wasn’t happy with Thompson’s attempt to implement his instructions. I don’t know what Carmody said, but I can comment on how I would have adjusted. Butler stopped Northwestern in the second half with an adjustment to how they defended the paint. After allowing a ton of open layups in the first half, Butler tightened up on defense, but sagged off center Ivan Peljusic which filled the lane and made back door passes very tough. Were I running the offense at NU, I would have told Peljusic to try and take some of the open shots he was getting or switched to a center that could hit a three (probably Mirkovic). Wide open threes existed which Peljusic passed on. Admittedly Peljusic isn’t a great shooter, but he’s not terrible and he was open when nobody else was. To get Butler to change their defense Northwestern needed to do something to pull those guys who were sagging into the lane out of there. One possible way would be by having the center hit a three which would force the guy sitting in the lane to come up and defend the three. The other option, and the one I think Carmody wanted to use, was to have Thompson dribble at Peljusic man’s and have Peljusic then backcut. Unfortunately, Peljusic stayed planted at the top of the key like his feet were in cement. Based on the effectiveness of Butler’s defense I expect NU will see this type of defense again. The Wildcats better learn how to adjust to it.
Northwestern’s next game is at home on Monday night against the University of California-Riverside. The Highlanders are currently 3-1 and have a roster which includes Evanston, IL native Rudy Meo. They are coached by former Bulls assist Jim Wooldridge. It will be interesting to see them in action, but before that NU needs to refocus. Hopefully, like NU’s football team the basketball team can learn to avoid losing streaks.