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.