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 Unless he’s been replaced by a body double I don’t see that being a common place thing.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.