Monday, November 30, 2009

Game 7: Northwestern Wildcats @ North Carolina State

The Matchup: Northwestern (5-1) @ North Carolina State (5-0)

Location: RBC Center (Raleigh, NC)

TV: ESPNU (6:00 PM CT Tuesday December 1st)
Radio: WIND 560 AM

Fun Fact: This is the second ACC/Big Ten Challenge meeting between N.C. State and Northwestern. N.C. won in Raleigh in 2002-03.

About the Game
This ACC/Big Ten Challenge game features two teams that were crowed tournament champions last week. Northwestern won the 4th Annual Chicago Invitational Challenge and N.C. State won the Glenn Wilkes Classic.

N.C. State used good defense to win that tournament as they held their opponents to 53.8 ppg. The Wolfpack didn’t exactly explode on offensive as they scored 65.2 ppg, but that total puts them and Northwestern very much in the same neighborhood. Basically, both teams want to slow the game enough that the winning margin is somewhere in the 60s or low 70s at the highest.

In terms of generating points, N.C. State looks to a pair of forwards to lead the offense. Senior Dennis Horner stands 6-9 and weighs 226 pounds. He averages 15.5 ppg (stat as of 11/28) and has made 7-of-12 three pointers this season. He is also a 90% free throw shooter so it is clear he is an excellent shooter. N.C. State’s other scoring forward is junior Tracy Smith. Smith is 21-of-47 this year, but has not tried a three pointer. He does, however, lead the team in free throw attempts and both offensive and defensive rebounds. It will be important NU keep him off the glass to prevent easy baskets.

Another interesting matchup for Northwestern will be 6-7 freshman guard Scott Wood. Wood is suppose to be a three point shooter, but so far this year he has struggled. He is shooting only about 30% from three. In the past, many struggling shooters have broken out against Northwestern and the 1-3-1 zone. Coach Carmody did an excellent job against Iowa State of not staying in the 1-3-1 when the Cyclones started to hit easy threes. Although it might be tempting to stick in the 1-3-1 against N.C. State because the Wolfpack have basically a 1-to-1 assist to turnover ratio, if Wood and Horner start hitting threes Carmody needs to be willing to go back to the matchup zone.

The tough part of the matchup will be that other than point guard Javier Gonzalez every Wolfpack starter is 6-6 or taller. Northwestern commonly plays three guys who are 6-4 or shorter. This means that NU will really need to crash the glass and will need to try and force some turnovers to compensate for Wolfpack offensive rebounds.

A lot of pressure will be on NU’s three-headed monster at center. All three NU centers have had strong moments this season, but they need to be more consistent. Though N.C. State is big overall, unless they play 7-1 238-pound freshman Jordan Vandenberg, the tallest player on the court will be the NU center. That means Rowley, Mirkovic, and Curletti should all be aggressively attacking the glass.

These teams seem very even as both have similar records and both play similar styles of basketball. Northwestern has an advantage it seems in that they take care of the ball better, but N.C. State seems statistically better at converting second chance points off of offensive rebounds. N.C. State also has an edge in that they are playing at home, but Northwestern has faced much stronger competition so far this season and although they have to travel, they do get an extra day off. Traditionally, teams struggle when facing the Princeton Offense with only one day of prep. Northwestern, 65 N.C. State, 63

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Northwestern Should Offer a Fifth Year to Jeff Ryan

Jeff Ryan should get the chance to tour Welsh-Ryan after helping NU to many wins next season.

Recently the question was posed whether or not Jeff Ryan could return for a fifth year of eligibility. Ryan is eligible to return as he hasn’t taken a redshirt year yet. As that is they case, NU wouldn’t even have to apply for a medical hardship in order to bring him back. However, Northwestern already has 12 of the 13 NCAA-allowed scholarship spots filled for next season if you include Kevin Coble’s fifth year and JerShon Cobb coming in as a freshman. If NU adds a recruit in the spring signing period the ‘Cats will have filled all 13 spots for next year. That would be mean no spot would be available for Jeff Ryan to return. When you consider reports that NU is still recruiting guards in the class of 2010 it sounds like NU’s coaching staff is leaning towards Ryan not returning. Personally, I think this would be a mistake. Yes, NU might miss out a potentially strong player in the 2010 class, but NU has interest from a number of talented players in the 2011 and Northwestern needs to be as experienced as possible next season.

If you look at realistic expectations for Northwestern for the rest of this year and next year, one has to conclude that next season should be a huge year for NU. Yes, Northwestern might be the NCAA Tournament this year, but next year NU could realistically be a top-25 team in the preseason with top-5 Big Ten aspirations. Next year, though, will also offer up a non-conference schedule which will feature several road tests, unlike this season where NU only plays one non-conference road game. NU will have to go to Northern Illinois, DePaul, and Texas Pan-America for sure next season. While none of those three schools are power houses, sometimes teams panic on the road. Having two fifth-year seniors on the floor would certainly help stabilize NU if the team gets into trouble. The experience would be even more valuable if NU renews it’s series with Stanford and travels back to California or takes on an out of state in-season tournament trip which matches the team’s high expectations. A team with Coble, Thompson, and Ryan would be one of the most experienced teams NU ever put on the floor. Also, when you consider that Shurna will be a junior who will have started for 2 years the team would probably be as experienced as any team in the nation. Now, I’m not saying Ryan would start along with those guys, but he could rotate into any spot on the floor expect center. Also, if Coach Carmody wanted, Ryan could even step back into the starting lineup and play the top of 1-3-1 as NU will graduate defensive stopped Jeremy Nash.

Jeff Ryan being a very versatile player is my next point in favor of offering the Glenview, Illinois native a fifth year. If NU adds a point guard recruit, which seems the target, NU would no doubt have valuable asset in a true backup for Juice Thompson who Juice could mentor for a year. NU would not, however, have a player who could back up Thompson, Shurna, Coble, and whoever starts at shooting guard. Jeff Ryan could do so. I think it’s also important to note that NU and other schools have successfully played freshman guards in the past. Therefore, it is not essentially NU add a player to be a backup for a season next year.

Admittedly whoever NU recruited would probably be a better scorer than Ryan, but when you look at NU’s 2010-11 roster the ‘Cats don’t really need another scorer. They’ll have Thompson, Shurna, Coble, Marcotullio, Cobb, Crawford, and probably a center with an improved offensive game in order to put up points. With that group what NU will need is a reliable guy who can offer stability off the bench and play defense and rebound. Ryan can do both those things very well.

The bottom line is while the Chicago Invitational Challenge has me expecting success from NU the rest of this season; I expect a next year to be even better. However, I also expect next year to be even more challenging and believe Jeff Ryan’s experience as a fifth year senior would help NU meet that challenge.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

67-65 Victory Over Iowa State Gives Northwestern Chicago Invitational Challenge Title

John Shurna scored 23 points in a follow up effort to yesterday’s 25 to lead Northwestern to a 67-65 victory over Iowa State and the Chicago Invitational Challenge Championship. The win gave the Wildcats their first in-season tournament title since December 30, 1993. Shurna’s 48 points in two days gave him the tournament’s MVP award. Along with Shurna’s MVP honors, Jeremy Nash and Michael “Juice” Thompson represented NU on the All-Tournament Team for the CIC.

In tonight’s game Shurna scored 17 points in the first half. When NU got off to a very slow start, it was 9 early points by Shurna which kept NU in the game. Although Iowa State adjusted to keep Shurna somewhat quiet after his early outburst of points, the Wildcat sophomore still kept himself involved in the NU offensive by dishing out key assists to Luka Mirkovic, Jeremy Nash, and Drew Crawford. Shurna also once again hit the boards hard and helped NU almost match Iowa State rebound for rebound despite the fact ISU had a much larger lineup. Shurna finished the day with 7 rebounds. He totaled 15 for the two days.

Juice Thompson added 16 points against Iowa State on 6-of-9 shooting. He once again looked comfortable both shooting the three and driving towards the basket to shoot his soft floater. If Thompson continues to show such versatility he will be very tough to defend. Credit also has to go to Thompson for his ironman performances this season. He is averaging nearly 40 minutes a game and he doesn’t seem tired at all.

The Wildcats other all-tournament selection was Jeremy Nash. Nash had 10 points tonight including two huge threes which helped NU get back into the game in the second half when Iowa State took a 9-point lead. He also made two clutch free throws which proved to be the game’s winning margin.

A number of other Wildcats played well, but I’ll give special recognition to Alex Marcotullio and Davide Curletti. Marcotullio once again made a couple big threes and showed he wasn’t afraid to keep shooting after a miss. Davide Curletti came off the bench and played excellent defense on Iowa State star (and future NBA draft pick) Craig Brackins. I truly believe that despite being the smallest of NU’s three centers, Curletti is the best post defender on the NU roster. He is also athletic enough that he can get rebounds against bigger guys. I’m not saying he should play 40 minutes, but he should get action in every contest. NU needs to play all three centers for them to learn, but right now I think Curletti should be getting minutes similar to Luka Mirkovic and Kyle Rowley should be the one playing more of a supporting role. One skill which could help Curletti get more minutes is showing the ability to knock down the three. Curletti is a good shooter, but he hadn’t really shown that skill until knocking down a huge three pointer to give NU a 6 point lead in tonight’s game at 61-55. If Curletti or Luka Mirkovic can knock down threes it will make the Princeton Offense nearly impossible to stop.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Shurna's 25 Points Push 'Cats Past Fighting Irish

Northwestern’s decentralized hero system continued Friday night as sophomore John Shurna had his best game of the season and his career with 25 points and 8 rebounds against the 23rd ranked Fighting Irish. Shurna made 9-of-18 shots, but what was impressive was aside from hitting some key threes, including a huge momentum swinger at the end of the 1st half, Shurna also displayed a solid ability to score inside. Notre Dame’s Ben Hansbrough was matched up on Shurna for much of the game and NU successfully used Shurna’s height advantage to get inside looks. They weren’t always easy looks, and Shurna didn’t convert all of them, but he made enough clutch shots to help NU hold the lead in the second half.

Aside from Shurna, NU also got fantastic production from Michael “Juice” Thompson and Alex Marcotullio. Thompson scored 20 points and made 4 free key free throws to seal the game in the final 48 seconds. Marcotullio totaled 13 points and made 3 big three pointers. His final three pushed a 58-56 NU lead to 61-56 and was essentially the shot which won the game for Northwestern. What I like about Marcotullio is that he already has shown a fearless quality similar to former Wildcat shooting guard Craig Moore. Marcotullio had a series of misses, including one which hit the side of the backboard, but he didn’t stop shooting. When he releases the ball he shows great confidence and I have no doubt he believes he can hit any shot he takes. Head Coach Bill Carmody even indicated that the play which resulted in Marcotullio’s final shot was supposed to go to Juice Thompson, but Marcotullio pulled the trigger when he saw the open space. That’s the type of gutsy play Marcotullio brings to NU. He also plays excellent defense and showed no fear attacking inside. He grabbed four rebounds and made a great pass to Luka Mirkovic for an easy two. Any team that thinks of Marcotullio as only a one-dimensional shooter is selling the Wildcat guard very short.

Luke Mirkovic is something of an unsung hero in tonight’s Wildcat win as well. Mirkovic scored enough points to make a dent in the scorebook, but where he really excelled was playing defense and keeping ND’s Luke Harangody off the glass. NU ran their 1-3-1 much of the game and it wasn’t always Mirkovic’s job to box out Harangody, but when it was Mirkovic won that battle more often than not. Jeremy Nash also deserves credit for his play in the 1-3-1. Thanks to Marcotullio’s ability to play the top of that defense, Nash was able to play on the wing and make himself available for more rebounds. Northwestern’s defense deserves great credit as they held a team who averaged more than 80 points a game to just 58 points.

Looking Ahead to Iowa State…With NU playing Iowa State tomorrow at 7:00 PM CT, I’m not going to write a full preview of that contest, but here’s a preview in short: The Cyclones are 6-0 and beat St. Louis University 65-54 on Friday. In comparing them to a Big Ten team they are most similar to Tubby Smith’s Minnesota Golden Gophers in that they play a very aggressive defensive style and try to win by forcing 20+ turnovers a game from opponents. They also have a star big man in center Craig Brackins. With the way NU played Harangody ‘Cat fans should be confident in facing Brackins. On the other hand, with NU’s 1-5 record against Tubby Smith’s similar system, maybe NU fans shouldn’t be as confident. Despite that lack of success, I think NU’s experience with Minnesota will work in the Wildcats favor while Iowa State hasn’t seen a team similar to Northwestern. Northwestern, 61 Iowa State, 60

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Game 5: Northwestern Wildcats vs Notre Dame

The Matchup: Northwestern (3-1) vs Notre Dame (5-0)

Location: UIC Pavilion (Chicago, IL)

TV: Big Ten Network (7:30PM Big Ten Network on Friday)
Radio: WGN 720 AM

Fun Fact: This is the first game between these teams since a 79-61 Notre Dame victory since 1984.

About the Game
Norte Dame enters this game with a 5-0 record and the #23 national ranking. If Northwestern can win this game it would be a major step forward for a Wildcat team which is still working to find itself since the injuries to Kevin Coble and Jeff Ryan.

Coble’s absence was felt strongly in the Wildcats loss to #11 Butler, but he may be an even bigger missing link against Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are led by 6-8 246 pound forward Luke Harangody who scores 27.2 points per game and grabs 10.4 rebounds. While Coble probably wouldn’t have matched up on Haranbody one-on-one, he still would have been the player the Wildcats could go to in order to match Harangody’s points. Also, Coble’s size and ability to drive the lane and draw fouls on big men could really have helped NU get the Irish star in foul trouble.

In terms of stopping Harangody NU will likely use the 1-3-1 zone to try and prevent the big man from getting touches. The ability to prevent big people from getting the ball is one of the advantages of the 1-3-1. The trouble is that when that is the focus, it does allow open three point looks from the outside. Notre Dame guard Ben Hansbrough (Tyler’s brother) will likely salivate at that thought as he comes into this contest shooting 12-of-18 from three point range. Northwestern will need a great performance from Jeremy Nash at the top of that 1-3-1 to force some turnovers and rushed shots before Hansbrough can get his feet set.

On offense Northwestern will have to contend with Harangody’s defense and he will likely limit the point production from NU’s big men. That might be okay as Kyle Rowley and Luka Mirkovic haven’t been offensive dynamo’s anyhow, but it would still help NU a great deal if they could at least get 10 points total and keep Harangody off the boards. Harangody is the type of player that Kyle Rowley’s size might help with. Even though Rowley might not score a ton of points or get a ton of rebounds if his 7-0 280 pound size keeps Harangody off the boards and allows NU to get some easy second baskets it will help NU a great deal. The Wildcats will also need to make some threes in this game which is why the breakout game from Drew Crawford against Liberty has NU fans feeling good.

Prediction: I think Drew Crawford’s play against Liberty should give the young man some confidence. Crawford in conjunction with Michael “Juice” Thompson and Jeremy Nash now gives Northwestern multiple guys on the perimeter which a defense has to account for. This will help NU and I think Thompson will have another big guy. However, I don’t think it’ll be enough. Notre Dame, 77 Northwestern, 63

News and Notes: Congrats to the NU’s women’s basketball team on their win over #15 DePaul. With the Wildcats men’s squad not playing the Blue Demons this season the women’s win gives the Wildcat basketball program city bragging rights for this year.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Crawford, Shurna Help NU Beat Liberty 69-53

Two guys NU fans expected to step up in the quest to replace Kevin Coble’s points, Drew Crawford and John Shurna, both played their best games of the season tonight to help NU defeat Liberty 69-53. Crawford’s performance was huge to increase the young freshman’s confidence and Shurna looked the most comfortable he has all season.

Drew Crawford had shown excellent athletic skill in NU’s first 3 games, but tonight he showed the ability to hit three point shots as well. Crawford scored 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting including 5-of-10 threes. He also looked very comfortable in NU’s offense as he took the right shot at the right time. Often times freshman are too aggressive or too reluctant to shoot, but Crawford found the right balance today. He also dished out 4 assists, grabbed 4 rebounds, and blocked another shot with his great leaping ability.

John Shurna scored 14 points tonight including two dunks. I think NU has dunked the ball more in four games this year than they did in all of some past seasons. Shurna also made 2-of-6 threes tonight. That’s not great, but it is a little better than he has been doing. I also liked that of those six shots it did not look like he was forcing them. Shurna added 9 rebounds to his stat line along with 3 assists and 0 turnovers.

Northwestern as a team had 22 assists and 13 turnovers. The 13 turnovers are still probably too many. Especially with some unforced. However with 22 assists on 27 made field goals one could see the Princeton Offense in full swing for the Wildcats.

Mention also has to go to the fact Coach Bill Carmody started Kyle Rowley tonight instead of Luke Mirkovic. Rowley responded with 8 points on 4-of-5 shooting. I was impressed with Rowley’s first basket on a left handed hook shot and several others where he went up quick to release the ball. Mirkovic was better than he has been the past two games as he scored 6 points of his own and grabbed 4 rebounds. I suspect Coach Carmody might chose to go back to Rowley starting and Mirkovic coming off the bench as he did more often last season.

Aside from the turnovers and some defensive lapses, especially a couple times NU didn’t get back on defense, the worst part of the night for NU was freshman guard Alex Marcotullio hitting the ground hard in the first half and not returning to action. Marcotullio has a sprained right thumb according to reports from NU. Hopefully he’ll be back when the Wildcats play Notre Dame on Friday.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Game 4: Liberty @ Northwestern Wildcats

The Matchup: Liberty (1-4) @ Northwestern (2-1)

Location: Welsh-Ryan Arena (Evanston, IL)

TV: for $2.99 (5:30 PM November 24th)
Radio: WGN 720 AM

Fun Fact: Northwestern is the only team in the Chicago Invitational Challenge who the Liberty Flames have played before.

About the Game
This Northwestern team is still something of a mystery, but that’s understandable considering the ‘Cats are still probably adjusting to loss of Kevin Coble and Jeff Ryan. Against Tennessee State, Michael “Juice” Thompson stepped up big with 31 points. Against Northern Illinois it was Jeremy Nash who stepped up with 20 points. Against Butler nobody stepped up for NU. Those facts seem to prove that NU is still trying to find a consistent replacement for Coble’s points. The good news is the Wildcats have several options; the bad news is several have been very inconsistent. In fact, other than Thompson, NU hasn’t really gotten the production they expected from their other top offensive weapons. This game against Liberty could be a chance for front court guys like John Shurna and Luka Mirkovic to really step up.

The shortest description of Liberty would young and small. Liberty’s tallest starter is 6-6 guard David Minaya. Their tallest front court starter is 6-5 Patrick Konan. Liberty does have two more traditional big men on the bench, but neither 6-10 Joel Vander Pol or 6-11 Carter McMasters has seen that much time. McMasters has made a number of blocks in his time on the court and may get more action against NU, but at only 210 pounds if NU wants to use Kyle Rowley or even Davide Curletti he might get pushed around.

The top scorer on the Flames is 6-4 swingman Kyle Ohman. He averages around 15 points per game and has displayed an ability to rebound as well with about five per game. 6-3 guard Jesse Sanders also gets more than 5 rebounds per game. This has to be something of a concern for NU as the ‘Cats did allow both Butler and Tennessee State to get a number of second chance shots. If NU wants to get back to rebounding like they did against NIU it’ll take another good effort from freshman Drew Crawford and some major steps forward from the center position and John Shurna.

Given Liberty’s size disadvantage it’ll be interesting to see if NU tries to feed the post or if they continue to depend on the outside shot. If NU wants to shoot from distance I suspect Alex Marcotullio will continue to see his playing time increase.

Marcotullio is also interesting on defense as he displayed some good athletic skills at the top of the 1-3-1 against Tennessee State. If Marcotullio can play the top of that zone, it’ll free Jeremy Nash up to play on the wing and that might help NU close out on shooters as Nash has good size and quickness on the wing.

Prediction: Northwestern has been unimpressive the last two games, but I think they learned some important facts about themselves in the narrow win over TSU. I look for the Wildcats to work Alex Marcotullio into the game early and try to get John Shurna going offensively as well against the smaller Flames. Those two guys combined with continued solid play from Juice Thompson and a concentrated effort to take care of the ball should give NU a win. Northwestern, 70 Liberty, 57

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Juice’s 31 help ‘Cats Survive Tigers

For much of the second half Northwestern looked on the verge of a collapse which would allow Tennessee State to cruise to an easy upset victory, but key shots from Michael “Juice” Thompson and Alex Marcotullio helped the Wildcats escape with a 69-62 win. The Wildcats are now 2-1 on the young season and despite the narrow margin of victory against a much weaker squad, I think NU now has a better idea of what type of team they need to be in order to win games.

With Kevin Coble out it is clear that Juice Thompson will have to be NU’s primary scorer. I’m not ready to write off John Shurna as an offensive weapon, but Shurna is really struggling with his shot right now and overall just seems too inconsistent to be NU’s go to guy. Therefore, the Wildcat point guard and ironman (39 minutes today) Juice Thompson will have to carry the load on offense. Thompson got 31 against the Tigers using a variety of skills. A couple times he floated fantastic runners over taller defenders in the lane, he did a good job of drawing fouls with pump fakes (8-of-10 from the line), and he hit 5-of-13 threes. It was also clear late in the game that Juice was comfortable shooting the ball in clutch situations which might be at least one very positive lesson from a game which wasn’t entirely positive.

Another player who stepped up and showed no fear in shooting the big shot was freshman guard Alex Marcotullio. Marcotullio shot 3-of-3 from distance including a three point with the score tied at 62 which put the Wildcats into the lead for good. Marcotullio is so smooth and seems so good from deep that I almost believe he could stand in the Norris parking lot and gun in three pointers.

Marcotullio’s fellow freshman guard Drew Carwford also had a nice game. He hit his first career three, scored a career high 8 points, and grabbed a career high 8 rebounds. Plus, Crawford was left on the court by Coach Carmody in crunch time which has to give the young man good confidence. What was also nice about Crawford’s game was 4 of Crawford’s rebounds came on offense and a couple set up open looks for Thompson.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the game for NU was turning the ball over 14 times. NU can’t afford heavy TO games if they want to win this season. Even worse, the biggest turnover problem was with John Shurna who had 6 turnovers. Shurna did have four assists, but a 1-to-2 assist to turnover ration won’t help NU win. The bottom line is NU needs more consistency from a guy that has played well not only in the Big Ten, but on the international level. Shurna did have a circus dunk that he made into a three point play, but overall Shurna was only 2-of-5 from the line.

NU also didn’t get great performances from Luka Mirkovic or Mike Capocci who both need to be key contributors. Capocci turned over the ball three times and Mirkovic once again struggled to finish plays. Kyle Rowley only played six minutes and Ivan Peljusic only played three. NU went most of the way (and all of crunch time) with Davide Curletti at center. Curletti wasn’t spectacular, but he did pick up 4 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and no turnovers.

Northwestern now has only one day off till they play Liberty in the Chicago Invitational Challenge’s second game. It will be interesting to see how NU, and specifically Juice Thompson, respond to the heavy load of games in a short time span.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Game 3: Tennessee State @ Northwestern Wildcats

The Matchup: Tennessee State (0-2) @ Northwestern (1-1)

Location: Welsh-Ryan Arena (Evanston, IL)

TV: for $2.99 (1:00 PM November 21st)
Radio: WGN 720 AM

Fun Fact: This is the first game of the 4th annual Chicago Invitational Challenge.

About the Game
Northwestern enters this contest coming off a 67-54 loss to #11 Butler while Tennessee State enters coming off an 85-57 loss to Northern Illinois. With the Wildcats having defeated NIU 77-55 in their opener it is pretty clear which team will enter this game a substantial favorite. Given that NU should totally overmatch TSU in every phase of the game, this contest becomes more about how Northwestern plays than what TSU does.

Northwestern could probably win this game even if they play poorly, but given as poor as NU played against Butler, they need to play well in order to get some momentum back. This is especially true of center Luka Mirkovic who posted 15 points and 5 rebounds against NIU, but struggled mightily against Butler center Matt Howard. With TSU’s tallest player being 6-8 Illinois native Robert Covington, Mirkovic and his fellow center Kyle Rowley should be able to get on a bit more of a roll.

Another Wildcat who needs to step up and who can take advantage of the weaker TSU squad is Drew Crawford. Crawford has shown great athletic skill on defense, but has really struggled in getting into the flow on offense. I think he can perhaps take advantage of those superior athletic skills to have a good confidence building game against the Tigers.

Finally, Jeremy Nash could use a rebound game as well. He exploded against NIU, but Butler kept him off the free throw line and forced him to shoot threes which didn’t fall. If Nash wants to be a serious scoring threat he needs to start hitting his threes.

As for the TSU Tigers, they are led by freshman guard Jacquan Nobles who scored 21 points off the bench versus Northern Illinois. He might get the start on Sunday. Robert Covington is from Bellwood, IL and is the tallest player the Tigers have. He averages 13 points per game. The other big scorers for the Tigers are Josh Sain at 12.5 ppg and Darius Cox with 10ppg.

Prediction: The fact is Northwestern should win this game easy. The key will be how easy the NU win is. If the ‘Cats play like they did against Butler, then they’ll probably limp to a low double-digit victory. If they actually play team offense and rotate in their zone defense I think NU can handily beat Tennessee State. I can the result being fairly strongly in NU’s favor: Northwestern, 78 Tennessee State, 54

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bulldogs Use Big Runs to Bite ‘Cats

Butler is a good team and you have to be impressed with the way they play, but let’s be honest Northwestern was really bad tonight. I’d go far as to say they played about as bad as they could have for much of the second half. Now, Butler might win 9 out of 10 if these teams played that many times, but most of them would be closer than this. Tonight the Wildcats were outmatched both offensively and defensively by a substantial amount. This is really disappointing as if Northwestern wants to survive this season without their injured players they need to be able to at least compete with good teams and I honestly think they have the talent to do so. They simply didn’t show those talents tonight.

An example of how Butler outplayed NU is how the Bulldogs constantly found holes in Northwestern’s 1-3-1 zone, and the Wildcats stood around and didn’t seem to move crisply in their offense. Freshman Drew Crawford did some nice things athletically on defense with a couple blocks, but looked more than a little lost when forced to run offense. In the front court, Luka Mirkovic played one of his worst games since early last season. He looked dramatically indecisive and slow to get off the floor. Basically like a totaly different player than on Friday night. Ivan Peljusic who played well against NIU played badly in the first half and essentially disappeared in the second. John Shurna who NU desperately needs to play well had his second consecutive poor game (he really didn’t play that well against NIU until the game was in hand) and Michael Thompson needs to listen to his coaches and become more assertive shooting the ball because right now NU is not offering many other long range threats.

Getting back to Shurna, he’s got talent and was NU’s best rebounder tonight, but his shot is odd. Like most odd shots, it is the type of shot that can lead to prolonged slumps or hot steaks. It’s similar to a guy with a non-traditional batting stance in baseball. That guy can catch fire for weeks and carry a team, or he can slump for an extended period. Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano is a good example. Fans in Chicago, Texas, and New York have seen him carry a team for two weeks or have two weeks where he strikes out 14 times on 14 curveballs in the dirt. I can totally foresee days where Shurna will hit 9-of-10 threes and be the reason NU wins games, but I fear he will also have more nights like tonight where he really can’t get the shot to fall. Not that I mean to pick on Shurna, the fact is no Northwestern player looked really good on offense tonight, but it is one thing for Mike Capocci to miss threes or Drew Carwford to make bad passes, but with Coble out it is essential for Shurna to hit wide open threes if NU wants to beat good teams. Yes, if Coble were around he'd get those wide open shots and probably make them more consistently given his smooth shot, but he isn't around and thatms means NU needs Shurna and others to come through and hit open shots.

On defense Northwestern really struggled rotating in the 1-3-1. Some of the credit goes to Butler’s fantastic passing, but it didn’t look like the Wildcats had the same hustle on defense after the Bulldogs Zach Hahn hit two early shots against that zone. It was almost like NU looked defeated as soon as those shots went in the hoop. Part of that might be NU didn’t have Jeff Ryan on defense, but Drew Crawford and Mike Capocci ought to at least be competent subs for Ryan given their athletic skill. To be honest, once a team gets hot for the outside I hate seeing NU stick in the 1-3-1 because if you’re a good shooter who is in rhythm you’ll get open looks against that zone. That’s why when guys like Hahn get hot they start building a house in the corner.

Northwestern also really struggled when it came to attacking the glass tonight. The Bulldogs grabbed a ton of offensive rebounds and Northwestern couldn’t seem to equal their effort on the boards from the either exhibitions win vs RMU or the NIU game. I think Butler’s team, and especially Matt Howard and Willie Veasley, are excellent rebounders, but I still wasn’t impressed with NU’s effort to block out or get off the ground. At times it looked like while Butlet’s guys jumped, NU’s stayed on the ground. If Northwestern doesn’t rebound at least marginally better this season will be even tougher than expected.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Game 2: Butler Bulldogs @ Northwestern Wildcats

The Matchup: Butler (1-0) @ Northwestern (1-0)

Location: Welsh-Ryan Arena (Evanston, IL)

TV: Big Ten Network (7:00 PM November 18th)
Radio: WGN 720 AM

Fun Fact: Butler returns all five starters and three All-American candidates from last year’s NCAA Tournament team.

About the Game
Before Kevin Coble got hurt his was a tough game for Northwestern. Now, it is a very tough game for Northwestern. Before Kevin Coble got hurt I thought Northwestern could win this game. Now, I’m not so sure. The reason for my doubt is that that Butler can score points. They return all five starters from last year’s team. I feel that at least four of those guys are legitimate offensive threats. On the other hand, Northwestern will be limited on offense all year until (or unless) Coble returns. Despite the 77-55 victory over NIU, I still think we’re going to see Northwestern play their old style of basketball where the ‘Cats work the ball around and use all 35 seconds on the shot clock in order to find the best shot more often than not. This might not please fans, but it will give NU the best chance to win against the Bulldogs and other highly rated teams.

Butler’s collection of shooting stars is led by 6-9 207-pound sophomore forward Gordon Hayward. He averaged 13.1 ppg and 6.5 rpg last season and was the Bulldogs leading scorer with 17 points in their season opening win over Davidson. The other guy that is scary good as an outside shooter is 6-1 junior guard Zach Hahn who will come off the bench. The good news is that other than Hayward and Hahn the Bulldogs aren’t great three point shooters (nobody else made over 40% last year). That means NU can use the 1-3-1 defense and pressure Butler guards Ronald Nored and Shelvin Mack. The 6-3 Mack likely will pressure right back. Mack is a great defender and it will be interesting to see which assignment he draws on defense. Obviously guarding Michael “Juice” Thompson might be more natural, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mack spend time guarding Shurna or Crawford (or after Friday night Nash) to try and take away some of NU’s athletic advantages. This is where NU could get a lift from the athletic skill of Ivan Peljusic or Mike Capocci.

Inside Butler’s smaller than NU with 6-8 Matt Howard and 6-3 Willie Veasley, the Bulldogs second leading scorer with 15 points in their win over Davidson, joining Hayward in the front court. However, Howard is a force having scored 14.8 ppg and grabbed 6.8 rpg last season. The good news is that he is not a great three point shooter. Therefore, if Luka Mirkovic, Kyle Rowley, and Davide Curletti can deny the ball in the post it’ll make it tough for Howard to score unless he gets offensive rebounds. Veasley scored 8.9 ppg and grabbed 4.3 rpg and is another solid defender. He’s a tough matchup for NU, but the ‘Cats should have a size advantage no matter if they play Crawford, Peljusic or Capocci at the small forward spot.

Prediction: Before Kevin Coble’s injury I thought Northwestern would win this game. I figured a strongly pro-NU crowd in Welsh-Ryan would give Coble and the ‘Cats just enough to push them past the highly rated Bulldogs. I still expect to see a strongly pro-NU crowd as I’m not sure Butler is going to bring all that many fans to Evanston on a random Wednesday night. However, I think without Coble, NU will be just a little short of the needed fire power to beat this offensively minded Butler squad. Butler, 71 Northwestern, 65

Monday, November 16, 2009

Three Points - Edition # 1

I’ve decided to start a new feature here on W-RR where at the end (or start) of each week I’ll briefly discuss three issues from the previous week that I haven’t really talked about. For the most part I’ll stick to men’s basketball, but with the season now very much underway it will also be a chance to talk about football and women’s basketball as well. I’ve named the feature Three Points because I’ll discuss three issues, but also because NU likes to shoot threes.

1.I want to once again mention NU’s women’s basketball team getting off to a 1-0 start on Friday night by beating Toledo 73-64. You might think I’m overstating this, but this is a big win for that program. Toledo won 18 games last year and has a good chance to win their division in the MAC. In addition, NU center Amy Jaeschke showed she can use her size to dominate games. She scored 27 points and grabbed 8 rebounds in the win.

2. This Saturday is Northwestern’s final home football game of the year. Wisconsin will likely bring a number of fans so it’ll be the biggest crowd of the season at Ryan Field regardless, but I’d like to see NU fans buy up the remaining tickets and support the ‘Cats after their two road victories the last two weeks.

3. NU’s students deserve major recognition (which Coach Carmody gave them) for the way they showed up against NIU. Now, the students who showed up need to get even more of their friends to come along and completely overflow both sides of Welsh-Ryan when Butler comes to town. The only time the NU student section ever got so full that students were turned away was when #1 Illinois came to NU in 2005. The goal for this year should be to rival that student turnout on multiple occasions.

Nash Suffers From Heart Ailment

Just when NU fans, coaches, and players thought things couldn't get any worse, the Daily Northwestern wrote a story about NU guard Jeremy Nash suffering from a heart ailment. The report says Nash is expected to be back Wednesday, but this still is an issue which must be taken VERY seriously.

Here's the Daily story:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Injuries to Ryan and Coble Force May Force Major Changes in NU’s Rotation

Bill Carmody and the entire Northwestern basketball program must feel as though they are paying off karma at a vastly accelerated rate. Not only have the Wildcats lost their best player (Kevin Coble) for the entire 09-10 season, now they have lost a key reserve (Ryan) that might have helped sub for Kevin Coble.

The most significant fact about Jeff Ryan’s injury is that NU has basically no point guard depth behind Juice Thompson. The only player left who has played the point in game besides Juice is Jeremy Nash and he likely can’t be spared from the forward spot he is now playing thanks to Coble’s injury. That means that Juice is going to play nearly 40 minutes every night. This is entirely possible, but it will take a toll after a while. In addition, Juice has been known to get into foul trouble. If that happens NU really only has two choices at point guard and neither has any significant experience. The most likely choice will be freshman guard Alex Marcotullio who played point guard for his high school team, but really is probably better suited to play shooting guard in college. The other option is sophomore Nick Fruendt who is another player more suited to the shooting guard spot. I suppose Marcotullio’s fellow freshman Drew Crawford could play the point, but Carmody already has him starting at shooting guard/small forward and he has probably only practiced in those spots.

The other issue with Ryan’s injury is that he could also sub for Jeremy Nash in the front court and keep NU’s 1-3-1 defense working. Who else can do this? Well, Crawford is athletic enough, but seems seriously foul prone. The best choice is likely Mike Capocci who will bring great athletic skill, but certainly isn’t as smooth as Ryan when it comes to reacting on defense.

Coach Carmody is now going to have to put trust in some young players. Here’s how I see NU’s roster after the NIU game and the Ryan injury:

PG – Thompson
SG/SF – Crawford
SF/SG – Nash
PF – Shurna
C – Mirkovic

In Rotation Bench -- Based on NIU Game
F – Peljusic
C – Rowley
F – Capocci
F/C – Curletti (may play or not based on matchups)

You’ll notice that in those 9 players NU has only one true ball handling guard. Therefore, the NU rotation has to be extended now to include the following:

In Rotation Bench -- with Injury to Ryan:
PG/SG – Marcotullio
PG/SG – Fruendt

Depending on how competent Marcotullio and Fruendt actually are in handling the ball against pressure it is even possible walk-on guard Reggie Hearn who is actually a true point guard might see some minutes. This is clearly not how Coach Carmody and NU envisioned the year starting, but NU has to move on as almost the whole season is still to come.

Jeff Ryan Out for Season

We now know that NU forward Jeff Ryan suffered a torn ACL in Friday's win over Northern Illinois and will be out for the year. More on what this means for NU in a bit.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Athletes and Lisfranc Fractures

Northwestern announced yesterday that Kevin Coble’s injury is a lisfranc fracture. This is an injury which involves the dislocation of joints in the mid foot. It is a serious injury, and may force Coble to miss the season and take a redshirt, but it is an injury several NFL players have recovered from to have great success.

Current Denver Broncos defensive back Ty Law suffered a lisfranc fracture when playing for the New England Patriots in 2004. In 2005 Law went to the New York Jets where he started 16 games, made 62 tackles, and recorded a career-high 10 interceptions.

Another NFL player who suffered a lisfranc fracture is Buffalo Bills defensive lineman Aaron Schobel. Schobel suffered his lisfranc fracture last season, but has returned healthy this season. He already has five sacks and interception return for a TD.

Finally, perhaps the most notable lisfranc fracture was the one suffered by Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney. Freeney suffered his injury in 2007 and returned last season to make 10.5 sacks. This year he already has 9.5 sacks.

Admittedly the players above play football and not basketball, but they still present strong evidence that while lisfranc fractures are serious—they can be recovered from with great success. Schobel is on his way to a Pro Bowl season and Law and Freeney recorded some of their best years after their lisfranc fractures.

Based on this evidence, I believe Kevin Coble can return very successfully from his injury. It might not be till the fall of 2010, but Coble will be back.

News and Notes: I neglected to mention in my postgame for NIU that Drew Crawford scored his first career points last night on an impressive offensive rebound and put back….According to the Daily Herald Carmody wasn’t surprised with Crawford’s foul trouble as he also had trouble with fouls during the ‘Cats scrimmage with Indiana Wesleyan…..NU’s next opponent #10 Butler beat Davidson 73-62 behind 17 points from Gordon Hayward….Northwestern pulled off a 21-16 football victory over Illinois behind another great game by QB Mike Kafka today to capture the first Land of Lincoln Trophy….. I felt NU didn’t play that well considering 3 missed field goals, multiple dropped passes, and some ultra conservative play calling, but the win puts NU in great position to return to the Alamo Bowl or travel to Orlando for the Champs Sports Bowl.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Nash Leads Wildcat Offense and Defense in 77-55 Opening Day Victory

Without a doubt Wildcat fans had many reasons to worry when tonight’s game started. When the Wildcats looked uneasy in the game’s first 5 minutes or so those fans probably continued to worry, but once NU coach Bill Carmody listened to assistant Mitch Henderson and switched from the 2-3 zone to the 1-3-1 the ‘Cats, specifically Jeremy Nash, exploded past the Northern Illinois Huskies on the way to a 22-point victory.

Northwestern wasn’t perfect in tonight’s game, but they did a lot well and it starts with Nash. The senior guard got only the second start of his career and delivered in a big way. Nash scored 20 points, grabbed 4 rebounds, and dished out a team high 3 assists. He also hit 10-of-12 free throws which is critical as I think Nash will get free throw attempts given the type of cutting and slashing game he plays. Nash also took seven three pointers. He made just two, but if he makes on average 35% of his three pointers this year he’ll continue to be a major offensive threat. I also want to mention that Nash had two dunks in tonight’s game. I feel like it has been some time since Northwestern has had a player (especially a guard) who dunked twice in a single game.

Along with Nash, Northwestern also got some great early play from Luka Mirkovic. As NU kind of felt their way through the game’s first few minutes it was the play of Luka Mirkovic that steadied NU. Mirkovic scored NU’s first two baskets (one nice turnaround jumper) and did a nice job all night of converting from the free throw line and staying active inside. In total Mirkovic scored 15 points, grabbed 5 rebounds, made 7-of-10 free throws, and didn’t turn the ball over once. I’d still like to see Mirkovic extend his range a bit more in order to really open up the offense, but he played a nice game.

One concern from Northwestern has to be three point shooting. NU will need to make threes to win big games, but tonight the ‘Cats shot just 5-of-21 from distance. Likely NU’s two best three point shooters, Michael “Juice” Thompson and John Shurna, were 2-of-9 combined with Juice making those two. Now overall Juice and Shurna both posted double digits points with 12 and 11 respectively, but they will both have to shoot better for NU to pull off the big wins fans are hoping for. One major credit that goes to Juice Thompson tonight is that he played 39 minutes and had 0 turnovers. That is simply great point guard play. I don’t know if NU has a solid backup for Juice, but as long as he stays out of foul trouble it seems NU is in great hands with Juice running the team.

Off the bench Ivan Peljusic scored 7 points, got a team high 7 rebounds, and dished out 2 assists. Peljusic might sometimes force things a little bit too much, but he has great energy and along with Shurna is NU’s best player at fighting inside for rebounds.

Also off the bench it was nice to see Kyle Rowley come in and play well enough to score 5 points and make one nice move from an and 1.

Mike Capocci also played well off the bench converting an alley-op pass from Jeff Ryan for a huge fan pleasing jam. Capocci also made 3-of-4 free throws and that works out to the same 75 % as his 9-of-12 last season. I really do think he might be a guy NU can use from the line when teams want to foul.

News and Notes: The NU students did a great job of showing up and supporting the 'Cats tonight....Other than the Ryan to Capocci alley-op the best play of the night might have been John Shurna grabbing a rebound and dribbling coast to coast for a layup and a foul….Shortly after a nice steal and throwing that alley-op Jeff Ryan went down with an injury which appeared to be related to his leg or knee….Northwestern made 34 free throws a high for a Bill Carmody team….Northwestern’s women’s basketball team scored an impressive season opening road victory with a win at Toledo 73-64….Junior Amy Jaeschke scored 27 points and grabbed 8 rebounds in that contest.

NU Hoops Roundtable

We're about two hours from tip and I’m sure that is foremost on everyone’s mind, but I want to encourage you all to visit Sippin’ On Purple who today hosted a basketball round table which included yours truly. Take a look:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Forgotten Option For A Coble-less Team

Mike Capocci (left) could be the right guy to step in for Kevin Coble

I don’t usually make posts between writing a game preview and the game starting, but I had a thought about a replacement for Kevin Coble that I haven’t seen presented yet here or anywhere else. That option is a guy who was a day 1 starter at Northwestern, but has disappeared from the rotation over the past few years. It’s interesting because most guys who are day 1 starters at Northwestern remain starters from their whole career. Look at guys like Coble, Thompson, and Shurna just on this team. Mike Capocci, however, disappeared from the starting lineup and the regular rotation right at the end of the non-conference schedule in 2007-08.

If you recall, 07-08 was the year Coble took a leave from NU to spend time with his mother when she was diagnosed with cancer. When NU started that season, it was freshman Mike Capocci who started the season as NU’s power forward. He even scored 18points in an exhibition win over Chicago including an alley-oop slam from Juice Thompson (how many of those has NU had?). Now, the truth is Capocci isn’t a power forward and it showed, but now NU is looking for a small forward. They’re also looking for an athlete who can provide some scoring punch and defense. I think Capocci could do just this. Back at the beginning of his career he started five games. He scored eight points against #20 Stanford in his debut and followed that with 12 points, six assists, five rebounds and a team season-high seven steals in a win over Benedictine. Admittedly it was Benedictine, but the point is Capocci has the skills to be a “stat sheet stuffer” type of player. He also had a game with 9 points and 3 steals as a freshman and had 8 points and 8 rebounds in just 12 minutes against Minnesota. Last year Capocci played less than he did as a freshman, but he did make 9-of-12 free throws and it would be nice if Coble’s replacement was someone who good make a clutch free throw as with Coble out I’m very worried about NU at the charity strip.

You also have to consider that like Ivan Peljusic (who might get the start Friday night) Capocci is an energy guy. He can run and jump out of the gym and gets the team fired up with big dunks. He had a dunk against Michigan in 07-08 that might be the best dunk I’ve ever seen from an NU player. Will Capocci start in Coble’s spot? Probably not, but he is an option that I hope at least gets considered as I think he’d provide a spark.

Game 1: Northern Illinois @ Northwestern

The Matchup: Northern Illinois (0-0) @ Northwestern (0-0)

Location: Welsh-Ryan Arena (Evanston, IL)

TV: for $2.99 (7:00PM November 13th)
Radio: WYLL-AM 1160

Fun Fact: Between the two teams 18 players in this game played high school basketball in the state of Illinois

The Game: Many have predicated this will be THE year for Northwestern basket ball and we’re going to see early on how accurate those predictions are early on this year. In the non-conference season NU plays name schools Butler, Notre Dame, and Stanford. While those games have gotten most of the preseason hype, this opener against Northern Illinois should not be taken lightly. The Huskies feature a potent trio of guards lead by second team all-MAC selection Darion “Jake” Anderson who averaged 16.9ppg and 5.4rpg last season. When comparing him to Big Ten foes he is probably similar to Penn State’s Talor Battle in terms of how much of a stat-sheet stuffer he is. Along with Anderson the Huskies will use sophomore Mike DiNunno and junior transfer Xavier Sails in a three guard backcourt. DiNunno was a member of the MAC all freshman team for his 12.3ppg and 2.62apg. He was made almost 2 threes per-game on average. If NU plays 1-3-1 it’ll be DiNunno who NIU tries to camp out in the corner. Sails is a transfer from the University of Colorado where he played for Huskies coach Ricardo Patton before Patton was fired. In two years as a Buffalo Sails averaged 10.9ppg. These guys will test NU’s defense for sure. They might even provide the chance for Jeff Ryan and Jeremy Nash to play some man-to-man defense. Of course, NIU’s guards have to defend NU as well. The advantage NIU has is that they’ve had all preseason to prep for NU’s Princeton Offense. Of course, NU runs it much better than NIU’s scout team and is more athletic.

NU’s biggest advantage in this game will be in the front court. Other than center Sean Kowal who lead the MAC with a .551 field goal percentage, NIU doesn’t really have a serious scoring threat in the front court. If NU uses Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti to keep the ball away from Kowal NIU will become very perimeter oriented and it may open up some chances for NU to pressure passing lanes and get turnovers. Along with Kowal, forward Najul Ervin did show flashes on offense for NIU, but even without Kevin Coble I like NU’s front court of John Shurna, Mirkovic and either Ivan Peljusic or Davide Curletti in this matchup. Part of the reason is that other than the 6-11 Kowal NIU doesn’t have a player who stands above 6-7. Given that NU will start a guard in Drew Crawford who is 6-5 and use a reserve point guard in Ryan that is 6-6 plus, NU should be able to control the boards. Actually, I think this will be an advantage NU has in many games this season.

Prediction: NIU has some nice guards, but NU can shoot from multiple spots on the floor and it will be tough for NIU’s forwards to defend the athletic skill and size of Shurna. The real question, though, is how will Kevin Coble’s injury impact NU’s play? NU actually will probably get better on defense without Coble, but they will not have their best scorer and a reliable rebounder. Still, I think NU can scrape together enough to win this game. Often when a star goes down a team rallies—at least initially. I think NU plays slow and gets enough scoring from Shurna, Thompson, and the bench to win a close and low scoring battle. Northwestern, 58 Northern Illinois, 52

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Who Starts In Coble’s Place?

Chicago College Basketball made a list of options for Coach Carmody which I pretty much agree with, but I want to directly address the starting lineup. When Coble left the team to support his mother’s battle with cancer during his sophomore year, Carmody plugged Jeff Ryan into the starting forward spot. That is an option this season, but not my favorite one. I think NU needs to go with Jeremy Nash, Davide Curletti, or Ivan Peljusic in Coble’s starting spot. Who Carmody chooses to play will be based on what type of team he wants to be without his star.

If Carmody decides he wants to play defense and go back to really taking the air out of the ball he ought to start Nash or Curletti. Nash is NU’s best defensive player and can move to the two-guard spot while Drew Crawford slides to small forward. If Carmody wants to stick with defense, but wants more size he can use Curletti who is NU’s best low post defender. Curletti also is a good rebounder and might be able to make a few shots.

If NU wants to take a chance at recreating some of Coble’s offense Carmody should go with Peljusic. Peljusic is at times turnover prone, but he is a fantastic athlete and has shown the ability to explode offensively on occasion. Also, his energy and enthusiasm might be just what the NU team needs having lost their leading scorer.

Two other players who might have to surprise NU fans and the Big Ten Conference in this situation are guards Alex Marcotullio and Nick Fruendt. Neither is going to start, but the Princeton Offense gets open shots. The problem for NU has been in past years that nobody made the open shots the offense got. This year was supposed to be the year that happened, but realistically a sub for Coble isn’t going to shoot anywhere near Kevin’s percentage. Therefore, NU needs guys who can come in and knock down shots. The best two options are Fruendt and Marcotullio.

Added Coble News:

Spread Far the Fame is reporting Coble will be out at least 4-6 weeks. Click on the link at the side of this page to read their report. I received a report which while not as specific did say that the injury was, “significant enough to worry.” Personally, as a Northwestern fan I’m always worried, but now I guess I can have justification for it. Swell.

The bottom line is Coble goes to see the doctor on Friday. That means that he pretty for sure isn't playing Friday night. Other than that, I don't want to go totally nuts until we see the report from that doctor visit Friday. In the past I've seen foot injuries where people are really worried and it turns out to be a 7-10 day thing.

Breaking News: Coble Suffers Foot Injury

NU has reported that forward Kevin Coble suffered a foot injury on Tuesday. The extent of the injury is not known at this time. More on this story later.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Men’s Basketball Season Preview: Is this NU’s Year?

NU Tips Off The 2009-10 Season Friday Night

Northwestern is scheduled to play at least 32 games this season including the regular season and at least the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. In order to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time, I believe Northwestern must win at least 20 total games. While not great, I believe that with a 20-12 minimum record that NU’s RPI will be high enough the Wildcats could make the NCAA Tournament as a #12 seed. I also believe that should the Wildcats make the tournament they would have a decent chance to pull an upset based on the unorthodox Princeton-style offense they run. So will the Wildcats get to that magical 20-win plateau? I believe the answer is yes.

In order reach that spot with an RPI which is solid enough to make the NCAAs, it is my opinion NU must post at least an 11-2 record in their 13 non-conference games and at least a 9-10 record in Big Ten games including the Big Ten Tournament. Also, while NU can lose to either Butler or Notre Dame they cannot lose to both of their marquee non-conference opponents. The Wildcats need to beat at least one of those teams to ensure a strong RPI when they enter the Big Ten season. Right now I believe NU has a better shot to win in Welsh-Ryan against Butler than they do playing at a neutral site against Notre Dame. NU’s other likely non-conference loss is on the road in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge against N.C. State. Certainly N.C. State is not dramatically better than NU (the Wildcats might actually have the better overall roster), but I believe the long trip and short turnaround after the end of the Chicago Invitational Challenge will not help the ‘Cats. Overall in non-conference play, though, I do expect the ‘Cats to post that 11-2 record and will be very disappointed if they finish worse than 10-3.

As far as the Big Ten season, NU has their word cut out for them. The Big Ten returns every all-conference player from the first team and features three teams I see as legit final four contenders in Michigan State, Purdue, and Ohio State. The Big Ten also has multiple first round caliber NBA players with guys like Evan Turner, Manny Harris, and Raymar Morgan. In some ways this is the worst possible year for NU to be as good as they’ve ever been because many other teams are significantly above average as well. What gives me hope NU can at least split the league season is the ‘Cats came with in a game of doing so last year. Actually, if not for three epic collapses they would have added wins over Penn State, Purdue, and Illinois. The Illinois loss was about the worst thing I’ve ever seen on a basketball court (and I saw NU score 6-points in a half once), but other than a less than spectacular effort the very next game against a beatable Michigan team, NU rebounded very well from that disaster. That’s a credit to NU’s players and coaches, but this year NU can’t afford such disasters. NU needs to strive to play at the level they played at in the wins on the road last year against Michigan State and Purdue at all times. They need to make sure a win is a win.

For NU to reach that level they need to find a consistent outside shooter to replace Craig Moore. Moore didn’t have his best games in those to wins (which should give NU fans hope), but he did knock down big shots in each. His shot against MSU when the Spartans started to cut the lead might have been the game’s biggest shot. Obviously, Kevin Coble is a candidate to take of Moore’s role as the go to guy, but teams will focus on Coble and he can’t lead NU alone. Michael “Juice” Thompson will provide outside shooting, but I believe NU’s most important player is John Shurna. Shurna showed last year that he is a streaky, but effective when on, outside shooter. He also showed he was probably NU’s best offensive rebounder and shot blocker. Those skills can change a game and a Shurna who is one year better at his overall game could become NU’s best player.

The other guy NU fans are looking to is freshman guard Drew Crawford. If Crawford scores double figures that’ll be a great lift for NU, but what I think he must do to help NU win is play defense and rebound. Crawford is a better scoring threat than Jeremy Nash, Mike Capocci, or Jeff Ryan, but if he is really going to take minutes away from those upper classmen than he has to be able to play defense the way Nash and Ryan do and rebound like Capocci can. Nash has the ability to change games at the top of NU’s 1-3-1 and either he or Crawford will have do so if the ‘Cats want to start a new collection of upsets that match last seasons run.

NU’s deepest, but really unproven, spot is center. The Wildcats have four players that could play this position. Kyle Rowley got the majority of the starts last season and at 7-0 280 pounds he is among the biggest players in the Big Ten. If Rowley is just a tab bit more comfortable on offense and more aggressive on defense he could become a force inside. Right now, Luke Mirkovic is getting the start at center because Rowley is out with an injury. Mirkovic is a good passer (essential for a Princeton-style center), but I’d like to see him become more comfortable shooting. Mirkovic had flashes as a shooter last year, but a consistent three point shot from Mirkovic would be nearly impossible to defend. NU’s other centers are Davide Curletti and Ivan Peljusic. Curletti is a force defensively and might offer NU somebody who can shot from the five. Peljusic is another plus-level athlete that if he can cut down on turnovers could really help NU off the bench.

Without a doubt this is Bill Carmody’s most talented NU team, and while the talent at NU is continuing to get better, I think Kevin Coble will be a tough loss at the end of this season. Therefore, I believe this is a critical year for Northwestern and Carmody. The good news is Coble is the type of player who can carry a team and if NU gets close to the dance in his senior year, which they will, I think he’ll have one of his 30-plus nights and push them over the top. I look for this in the Big Ten Tournament. Therefore, I say NU makes the NCAAs this year by winning 20 games in the regular season plus a Big Ten Tournament game for a record of 21-12 and a #12-seed.

Note: Expect a preview of the NIU game to be posted either tomorrow night or Thursday. An early preview is online at Carmody Court check out this link:

Monday, November 9, 2009

Football: Illini Week

I thought some might like to once again see the above picture as we head into this weekend's matchup. I'd also like to say that should anybody (say, the NU Athletic Department) have video of the 4th quater of "The Comeback" they need to post it right now!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Big In-State Weekend Coming Up For NU Sports

Thanks to some solid defense and for the first time this season a couple breaks Northwestern pulled an epic upset on Saturday afternoon in Iowa City by beating the #4 ranked Hawkeyes 17-10. In a game which for a large part was a battle of backup quarterbacks, Northwestern got just enough offense from Dan Persa to score the only offensive touchdown in the final 59 minutes of the game. Iowa actually had 41 more total yards than Northwestern, but the Wildcats capitalized with 14 points off turnovers to secure bowl eligibility for the third straight year. Despite not getting invited to a bowl in 2007 and not yet officially clinching a birth for this year—this is a huge accomplishment for the program and for Pat Fitzgerald as head coach. Now the ‘Cats are on a mission to post enough wins to enough wins to avoid spending the Holiday season in Detroit at the Motor City Bowl. Can NU do so? Well, that will be a challenge that starts this weekend at Illinois and is just one of two major events for Wildcat Nation this weekend in the state.

Before the ‘Cats march down to Champaign to take on the Illini, Northern Illinois’s men’s basketball squad will march into Welsh-Ryan Arena to take on Coach Bill Carmody’s team. With the NU hoops squad getting loads of national media attention already this year, the hoop squad’s game against NIU will be just as important as the football game against the Illini. Considering the fickle nature of the media and NU fans, a loss to NIU in basketball would be a very poor way to start the season. Much of the good will Coach Carmody’s ‘Cats have going into this year will evaporate if the ‘Cats fail to show up versus a talented, but inferior foe in NIU. That would be very bad as NU’s next basketball game is home against #10 Butler and the ‘Cats will need solid fan support in Welsh-Ryan to pull that upset.

On the other side of things, NU’s football squad and ‘Cat fans obviously want the win versus U of I in football, and I think we can agree Illinois isn’t looking like the pushover they were early in the year anymore. Also, you have to consider that today NU won against Iowa with an injured Mike Kafka and Dan Persa got hurt in the game as well. If Persa is out for the Ilini and Kafka isn’t healthy enough to run (as he wasn’t today), that’ll mean NU is super one dimensional against Illinois unless a special package is installed for WR Jeremy Ebert as the ‘Cats running QB. NU can beat the Illini even if they don’t have a mobile QB, but it’ll really help the ‘Cats if Kafka is 100% or Persa is able to both pass and throw as he looked like he was before his injury today.

Bottom line for NU fans, both these games are important and both will be tough. Let’s get out and support both teams. I’d love to see Welsh-Ryan Arena get at least 4,500-5,000 fans on Friday night and I assume that, as always, a nice NU crowd will travel to Memorial Stadium on Saturday. A win on Friday would be a great start to the 2009-10 basketball season and a win on Saturday would put the 2009 football season in a position to end in a very special way. With as tight as the middle of the Big Ten is this year a number of bowls have to at least be considering the ‘Cats and getting to 7 wins would help. Basketball wise, many have talked about how NU needs a strong RPI to make the NCAA tournament and that’s true. Along the same lines, the other thing NU needs is to avoid bad losses such as dropping a home game to NIU.

Football: Northwestern, 17 Iowa, 10

We own Iowa! Thoughts on why this victory makes for a great upcoming weekend in Wildcat sports coming later. For now, Go Cats!.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Why 3 NU Dunks Matter

I imagine fans of other teams who visit this site or are probably a little confused at the excitement over NU having three dunks in a game. They probably don’t understand why we’re all talking with great joy over three two point shots in an exhibition game. The fact is though those shots mean more than just six points. They show this Northwestern team has a deeper level of athletic skill than most NU teams past—maybe all NU teams in the past. This is going to be a potentially huge advantage for NU when they start the Big Ten season. Yes, NU will still be less athletic than some opponents, but getting closer in status to the athletic skills of an Ohio State or Michigan will help NU pull some upsets. Face it, NU was just as good as Michigan last year, but couldn’t stop a one man show by Manny Harris. The same was true of Ohio State, but they had Evan Turner.

You see, it’s not that NU had players dunk that has fans excited, it’s that those dunks show NU has athletic players. One nice thing about the Princeton Offense is it neutralizes some athletic advantages of opponents, but it doesn’t take care of them all. I remember several past games where NU was in the game for a long while, but eventually the other team locked down on defense because they were more athletic. I also remember many games were talented Wildcat players got to the hoop and put themselves in position to score only to have their shot blocked away by athletic big men. It’s a lot harder to block a dunk. I think that might even be a lesson Drew Crawford learned last night as he had some early attempts blocked and then threw down a dunk later. I hope his teammates learn this lesson as well. I still worry every time Jeff Ryan tries to finger roll in a layup in traffic.

This greater NU athletic ability also translated to a huge rebound advantage last night. In the past even NU’s biggest guys were so athletically limited that rebounding was a big problem. That cost NU big time as teams got a ton of second chance points. At times it even seemed the opposing squad’s offense was to miss threes and get rebounds. Indiana even admitted this was a strategy against NU once. Now, NU has a guard in Crawford that I think can realistically get in the neighborhood of five rebounds a game on average and probably many more against weaker competition. With John Shurna, an excellent rebounder, and Kevin Coble in the front court this will sure help the ‘Cats. NU should also get some rebounding presence once Kyle Rowley comes back. He’s not a super athlete, but at 7-0 280 pounds just his size is enough to help NU control the paint. The Big Ten has big centers and it’s nice to see NU with one as well. I’m also interested to see how NU uses Ivan Peljusic in the front court. As seen last night he’s very athletic, but a little small when compared to Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti. What role will all three have? We’ll have to wait and see. We’ll also have to see about Mike Capocci who is clearly NU’s best pure athlete, but sometimes seems to struggle with more nuanced basketball skill. Still, Jeremy Nash made great strides going for athletic guy to regular contributor last year and Capocci might be able to do the same.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

NU Exhibits Solid Offense and Defense in 78-49 Exhibition Victory

Exhibition games are always kind of tricky to get the sense of a team. Sometimes they do mean a lot, but sometimes they mean nothing at all. If you’re Syracuse you’re hoping for category two. If you’re Northwestern you’re probably hoping for category one (with some understanding that you’ve still got work to do). The Wildcats did some nice things tonight, but I don’t think we totally saw the same game plan from Coach Carmody which we will see in 9 days against Northern Illinois. For example, Carmody played 12 different players in the first half. Unless he’s been replaced by a body double I don’t see that being a common place thing.

What that predilection to substitute tonight did seem to show was that after the ‘Cats top eight players (including the five starters plus Nash, Ryan, and Rowley) the best players NU has are probably reserve big men Ivan Peljusic and Davide Curletti. Peljusic didn’t shoot all that well, but showed his usual energy with a fast break dunk and scored at the rim a few times late in the game and hit a three at the buzzer. Curletti got some shots in the second half and didn’t really look that great shooting either, but word is that he can knock down the long shots enough to keep defenses honest. He also was pretty good on defense which I’ll get to in a moment.

One item which is probably worth mentioning is that aside from Peljusic, NU also got dunks from Mike Capocci and Drew Crawford. I don’t think NU is exactly going to be known as a high-flying team, but it does show this version of the ‘Cats has a few more athletes than past squads. The fact is dunks only count two points, but it’s a lot harder to block a dunk than a soft layup and NU can’t afford to allow so many blocked shots.

I really liked seeing how NU played defense tonight. They seemed to play mostly the 2-3 zone, but showed nice active hands and extended the zone a bit. One area where Curletti seems to standout is that he does do a really nice job fighting for position in the post and making it hard for opposing big men to get good position. I don’t know if that’ll be enough to get him a ton of minutes (especially when Rowley comes back), but it certainly works in his favor. Jeff Ryan also looked good defensively and really stands out to me on the few occasions NU plays man-to-man. I think NU has the potential to be a man-to-man team at times this year depending on who the opposition is on any given night. I wouldn’t man Ohio State, but NU might have a decent shot go man-to-man against some non-conference foes and Big Ten teams who have a similar type athletes.

The most impressive NU player tonight was probably sophomore John Shurna who displayed both a nice three point jumper and the ability to scrape for rebounds. Early in the game I thought Shurna might have ten boards by halftime at the rate he was pulling in loose balls. NU’s two top players Kevin Coble and Michael “Juice” Thompson each had strong moments, but actually got a nice rest in the second half of the game. This might be one of the few times all year they get such a chance so I take that as a positive.

Overall, I’m happy with what I saw from NU tonight. I’m not ready to declare them ready for the NCAA Tournament just yet, but they do look like they’re ready for what will be a surprisingly talented NIU team that arrives in Evanston on November 13th.

Big Ten Network Web Streaming Delayed Start Upsets Fans

I don’t want to turn this into a massive complaint about the Big Ten Network, but as I know many readers had this issue I think it is worth mentioning. Tonight many Wildcat fans around the nation went to their computers to watch the start of what many assume is THE year. What they saw was the Big Ten Network logo and a clock counting upwards. Even as the Wildcats took on RMU in the first half this didn’t change. Obviously, technical difficulties can occur in any situation with technology, but the BTN didn’t do itself any favors winning over fans tonight. The positive is that the BTN was willing to quickly refund money and did get the web steam working in the second half, but it certainly wasn’t in HD quality as promoted.

The question I think many fans asked themselves as they stared at the blank screen was, “Did the BTN test this web thingy from Welsh-Ryan?” I don’t know. That’s a good question, though. Especially when past streams from W-R have had issues. If BTN is going to continue to use this type of service they will need to get more consistent in their service.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Preview: Robert Morris University @ Northwestern

The Match up: Robert Morris University @ Northwestern

When: Wednesday November 4th

Location: Welsh-Ryan Arena (Evanston, IL.)

Broadcast Information: Big Ten Network On Demand at for $2.99

Fun Fact: Last time Northwestern played Robert Morris University they were known as Robert Morris College.

The Game: As opposed to analyzing whether Northwestern has a shot to beat Robert Morris University, because last year proves it really doesn’t matter, I have instead decided to highlight some of what we can look for to see if NU has a shot to live up to the hype the team has for this year.

First, I want to see how NU scores points from behind the three point line without Craig Moore. Michael Thompson is NU’s best returning percentage shooter and Kevin Coble can of course knock down treys, but Moore was the guy with the quick release who was always the go to guy when NU ran a set play out of a timeout. Who will Coach Carmody call on in those situations now? I suspect the answer is Thompson, but I’d love to see freshman guard Alex Marcotullio get a shot. Apparently in AAU his coaches would yell, “layup” whenever he took a three since he was so reliable. If it’s the same at NU, I suggest the student section do the same.

Second, and probably most obviously, I want to see the starting lineup. Moore and Kyle Rowley started most of NU’s games last year. With Moore graduated and Rowley hurt, it will be interesting to see who NU’s starting five are tomorrow night. I suspect NU will go with the veteran lineup of Thompson, Jeremy Nash, Coble, John Shurna, and Luka Mirkovic, but you never know.

Third, I want to see Drew Crawford play. Crawford arrives in Evanston with a lot of hype and a lot of expectation. Can he live up to that hype? Well, the good news is unlike previously hyped NU recruits, he isn’t being forced to come in and take the team on his shoulders. He will be used as a nice backcourt compliment to Thompson.

Fourth, what defense does NU play? RMU has some solid wing scorers. With the 1-3-1 vulnerable to the wing three this game might provide NU an excuse to work on man-to-man. With Crawford now on the roster, I do think NU is getting closer to having solid man-to-man defenders at every spot.

Fifth, who is in the rotation? As we learned last year not every exhibition features the real rotation, but I’m curious how (or if) guys like Mike Capocci, Ivan Peljusic, and Jeff Ryan will be used. They have Big Ten talent, but it kind of looks as if they might have been passed by when looking at NU’s last two recruiting classes.

Finally, did the ‘Cats make any noticeable strides in the weight room which will lead to better rebounding. Word is that Shurna and Coble have added muscle. It would be nice if NU were at least a little closer to their opponents when it comes rebound margin this season.