Tuesday, March 17, 2009

NIT Round 1: Northwestern @ Tulsa

The Matchup: #5 Northwestern (17-13) @ #4 Tulsa (24-10)

Location: Reynolds Center (Tulsa, OK)

Radio: WGN 720 AM and WNUR 89.3 FM

Fun Fact: Tulsa has three postseason titles in school history. They won the NIT in 1981 and 2001. They also posted a championship in last year’s inaugural CBI.

About the Game
Northwestern is in the postseason for the first time since 1999. However, the Wildcats dream of hosting a postseason game for the first time since 1994 remains unrealized for the moment (as a #5 seed NU could host if they and the other lower seeds pull upsets). In comparison to Northwestern, Tulsa is a tough tournament tested team. They won the CBI last season and center Jerome Jordan was the tournament MVP.

When looking at Tulsa, Jordan is clearly the player to keep an eye on. If you’re Northwestern, you might want to keep four eyes (aka a double team) on him. Jordan is a junior from Kingston, Jamaica who is 7-0 and 240 lbs. He scores 14.0 pgg and pulls down 8.6 rebounds. He is not, however, a great passer as he averages only 1 assist per game. Therefore, pressuring him with a double team might lead to turnovers. Also, although Jordan is a good shot blocker, he is also known to be prone to foul trouble. That brings up the question of how Northwestern can get Jordan into foul trouble. Kyle Rowley did do an excellent job getting Wisconsin’s Marcus Landry into foul trouble this season. However, Rowley has a 5-inch height advantage over Landry. Jordan is the same size as Rowley and, given his block totals, probably a better leaper. Therefore, NU most likely won’t be able to rely on Rowley to foul out Jordan. Instead, NU’s best dribble penetrators, Kevin Coble and Michael Thompson, must take the ball inside. They might get some shots blocked, but if they can draw enough fouls to put Jordan on the bench it will be worth the effort.

Two other key Tulsa players are shooters Ray Reese (6-5 forward) and Justin Hurtt (6-3 guard). Both these players approach 40% from three point range. If Northwestern plays their 1-3-1 defense, it will be up to Reese and Hurtt to force the Wildcats to alter their defensive plans. Despite Reese and Hurtt’s ability to hit shots, this matchup might favor the 1-3-1. First, as a team Tulsa only shoots 34.3% from three. Second, the 1-3-1 tries to accomplish two tasks: 1) deny the ball to the big man inside and 2) force turnovers. With Jordan’s ability to score inside and the fact Tulsa has a -2.8 assist-to-turnover ratio the situation seems to cry out for NU to play 1-3-1.

For Northwestern to win forcing turnovers is a major key. NU will be on the road in a hostile environment. In order to win NU must follow a game plan similar to how they beat Michigan State in East Lansing. If NU can force Tulsa point guard Ben Uzoh into turnovers in a manner similar to what they did when playing Michigan State guards Kalin Lucas and Chris Allen, NU will have a shot. Of course, NU must also get offensive product. It might be a long shot to believe Kevin Coble can do what he did against the Spartans, but if Coble can get solid scoring help from Craig Moore, Michael Thompson or both NU has a good chance to advance.

This matchup favors Tulsa in a lot of ways. First off, Tulsa will be at home in front of their fans. It is possible the crowd might be small thanks to Spring Break, but Tulsa is making good seats available to their local fans. Also, Tulsa’s strengths in the rebounding game could make the game tough for the Wildcats. When NU gets heavily outrebounded they cannot win (even against weak teams and Tulsa isn’t weak) and the matchup with Jordan might be tough for NU’s young centers. Finally, Tulsa plays a very tough perimeter defense which limits opponents to 28% shooting from behind the arc. Northwestern can win this game, but they will need to shoot the ball significantly better than Tulsa’s past opponents to limit the number of offensive rebounds pulled down by Jordan. Playing the on the road it will be tough, though not impossible, for NU to accomplish those tasks. Tulsa, 71 Northwestern, 60

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