Sunday, March 22, 2009

Position Group Evaluation Part 1: Guards

This post starts an offseason feature in which Welsh-Ryan Ramblings will provide an evaluation of the performance of each position group’s performance during the 2008-2009 season.

Position Group: Guards
Players Included: Craig Moore, Michael Thompson, Jeremy Nash, Sterling Williams
Grade: A-

I believe NU’s guards were the best position group on the Wildcat roster this season. That probably had something to with the fact the group included two of the team’s top three scorers and the team’s top defender. Obviously, Craig Moore was the heart and soul of the Wildcats this season. When he hit big shots the Wildcats won, when he didn’t they lost. Moore hit 110 threes this season shooting 40.6% from behind the arc. He scored 14.3 ppg and was second on the team with 84 assists against only 56 turnovers. Moore was also second on the team in rebounds with an average of 3.2 rpg and 99 total. Furthermore, Moore tied for the team lead in steals. Basically, Moore defined the term “stat sheet stuffer” and replacing him will be very tough.

Next to Moore in the back court, Michael Thompson also contributed mightily to the ‘Cats success. Thompson finished just short of averaging double digits in points with 9.9 ppg. He led NU in three point percentage at 41.7% and in assists with 114 against only 52 turnovers. Thompson also added 40 steals this season. Aside from the numbers, it was very clear that when Thompson went to the bench with foul trouble that Northwestern was in trouble. Without Thompson to administer the game and provide a solid third scoring option after Moore and Coble, the NU offense started to grind to a halt. I hope Thompson is a little more aggressive on offense next year, but a little smarter on defense as NU still seems to lack a solid backup for Juice.

The primarily backups at the guards slots for Northwestern were Sterling Williams and Jeremy Nash. Jeff Ryan also saw some time at guard, but he played more forward. I also decided not to evaluate the players at the end of the bench who saw only limited time. Once he entered the NU rotation, Jeremy Nash made a major splash. When Nash entered the game, the Wildcats went to a three guard offense and more often than not started using a 1-3-1 defense. At the top of that 1-3-1 defense, Jeremy caused a ton of havoc for the Wildcats opposition. Not only did he get 35 steals, but he tipped a ton more passes which allowed other Wildcats to get steals. Nash’s improvement in three point shooting also deserves mention and helps increase my grade for NU’s guard core. Nash shot 14-of-41 from three which is 34.1%. If Nash can increase that percentage and the number of threes he makes next year, he could become a key starter at the shooting guard position. The role Sterling Williams played as a backup point guard went relatively unnoticed this season. Williams moved from his role during the first part of his career as a regular starter to backup this season thanks to the addition of NU’s strong freshmen class. Perhaps the best note on Sterling this season was that in 191 minutes he had only 2 turnovers. That’s pretty impressive for a guy who spent a lot of the time he was in the game handling the ball. I also suspect Sterling will always be remembered for the two big shots he made during NU’s key run in the victory at Purdue.

The only major weakness for NU’s guard group was their inability to defend their most athletic opponents. If an improved Jeremy Nash or freshman Drew Crawford can play such defense next season it will improve NU’s ability to beat teams like Ohio State and Michigan. Aside from better defense, the other key to NU’s guards having continued success will be to replace Moore’s scoring. I believe doing so will be a team effort, however, I really do believe a more aggressive Michael Thompson will go a long way towards getting this task accomplished. Thompson has the skills to score 12-15 ppg, he simply needs to play with a mindset which allows him to use them.

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