Thursday, March 12, 2009

Poor Start, Bad Finish, Cost Wildcats in 66-53 loss to Gophers

In a game which was shockingly similar to the loss to end the regular season at Ohio State, the Wildcats fell way behind, got the lead back, but then couldn’t hold it in the end. Again, the Wildcats were primarily defeated in the clutch by one athletic player—in this case Lawrence Westbrook. Northwestern’s total inability to stop the Westbrook, Turner, Harris type of player is scary when looking at some of the athletic mid-major players the Wildcats might play in whatever postseason tournament they get into. Think about playing Davidson and Stephen Curry in the NIT.

Northwestern also suffered this defeat thanks to once again starting slowly. They let the Gophers build a 14-point lead early and struggled mightily at taking care of the ball. The worst offenders in that case were Kyle Rowley and Jeff Ryan. Ryan’s inability to take care of the ball after coming in off the bench was particularly disappointing. After sitting on the bench and seeing Minnesota’s defensive intensity, Ryan should have known lazy passes wouldn’t work. Rowley simply has to get tougher. At times he seems to forget he is facing Big Ten competition and starts to think his size is enough to score. It is not. He must add aggressiveness as well. Of course, Ryan and Rowley weren’t the only Wildcats to turn the ball over in the first half. Really, the whole Wildcat team made the ball look like it had been dipped in grease during the first half.

Northwestern did stage a great come back in the second half. They took care of the ball better and got some point production from Jeremy Nash and Michael Thompson who didn’t score in the first half. Unfortunately, Kevin Coble, who kept the ‘Cats in the game with 19 first half points, scored only 2 points in the second half. With the Gophers locking down Coble it made sense for the Wildcats to try to go their second leading scorer, Craig Moore. Sadly, Moore played his worst game of the season. He shot 3-of-16 overall and 2-of-14 from there point range. Looking back, I have to say that since the victory over Indiana Moore hasn’t really played well. He had a good second half against Ohio State, but it has been a long time since one of Moore’s can’t miss games. In whatever postseason tournament Northwestern plays, Moore will have to have to produce points if the Wildcats want to win.

The Wildcats slow start probably deserves some separate analysis. This has been a problem at times during the year for Northwestern and it isn’t good, especially in big games. Getting down early in a big game lets the other team get comfortable and not feel pressure. I don’t know what the solution to this problem is, but it must be addressed. I would hate for Northwestern to play in the postseason and look as ill prepared as they did today.

So, what will happen to Northwestern in the postseason? Odds are they will play in the NIT. Where will they be seeded in the NIT? That’s tough to say. NIT seeding is a very fluid situation because all conference champs who don’t make the NCAA Tournament must make the NIT. As a result, those teams start to fill in the bracket and take spots away from borderline NIT teams. I doubt NU will get bumped, but those teams might alter NU’s seed. It is not clear, however, in what way the seed will change. If champs from a ton of small conferences start to fill the NIT bracket, Northwestern’s 6 wins over top-50 RPI teams might move the ‘Cats up a couple seed lines. If the NIT selection is more straight forward thanks to a lack of conference tournament upsets, Northwestern will probably be seeded in the middle of the NIT. Does that equal a home game? Well, right now I’d probably give NU a #4 seed and at least one home game. The most realistic opponents, assuming the NIT stays true to their plan to try to reduce travel costs, are probably the Illinois State Redbirds or the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Either of those teams would be a tough matchup, but would certainly produce a great deal of local excitement.

The Rest of the Week at Welsh-Ryan Ramblings:
With the Wildcats now out of the Big Ten Tournament Welsh-Ryan Ramblings will have the following content this weekend...

Friday: Welsh-Ryan Ramblings Awards for 2008-09
Saturday: NU postseason outlook update. Information on the NIT, CBI, and CIT.
Sunday: The 'Cats find out where they are going. A first look at the matchup.

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