I imagine fans of other teams who visit this site or Wildcatreport.com 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.