Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Northwestern Survives N.C. State’s Challenge

Kevin Coble might be out, but John Shurna once again helped fill the void

For a game which Northwestern won by a seemingly comfortable margin of 65-53, and which NU lead by as many as 14, this was a major dog fight. Much to the credit of Sidney Lowe’s team, N.C. State never gave up the battle even when NU looked to have control of the contest. I think this actually turned out to be a great thing for Northwestern. The Wildcats learned a lot of positive things about themselves in the process of their successful effort to keep the Wolfpack comeback at bay. Other NU teams would have collapsed when the game went from 14 to 4, but this squad kept silencing the Wolfpack crowd.

The ESPNU broadcast team named Michael “Juice” Thompson the MVP of the contest and while I loved what Juice did tonight, I think I’d have picked Jeremy Nash. It seemed the Wolfpack run started when Nash got his fourth foul and had to go to the bench. I was also impressed, as I have been all year, with Nash’s all around game. Tonight he scored 12 points and grabbed 8 rebounds. This will only improve on his season averages which were about 8 points and 7 rebounds respectively. Nash’s ability to score just enough and hit the glass has been a huge help in making up the lost production of Kevin Coble. I should also credit Nash for his four assists and total confidence from the free throw line tonight. His production from a guy who was almost a non-factor on offense to someone who is a legitimate threat to score has been remarkable.

Of course, I also have to give a big thumbs up to Juice Thompson. He led NU’s offense with 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting. Many of those baskets came on great drives to the hoop in which he used his superior quickness to get easy buckets. If that becomes a regular part of Thompson’s arsenal that will make his ability to make passes to the corner for open shots easier. Thompson actually only had two assists tonight, but one of those two set up perhaps the biggest shot of the game. With N.C. State charging back into the contest and NU only up four, Thompson set up Alex Marcotullio for an open three which Marcotullio canned to put the ‘Cats back up seven. That was particularly big as it showed Marcotullio wasn’t fazed by his involvement in a controversial technical call just moments earlier. To be honest, I think of Alex Marcotullio we can say, “Nothing fazes him.” He is the type of competitor which makes a team a winning team and he’s doing that here at Northwestern.

One NU player who played great early in the game was John Shurna. He scored 10 of his 11 points in the first half. Those points even included another nice dunk. In the second half N.C. State clearly remembered Shurna was the Big Ten Player of the Week and started guarding him, but he once again got NU off to a great start. He also had 8 rebounds. One thing which will make opposing teams just put up their hands in frustration against Shurna will be if he starts making threes. He’s only 3-of-12 in his last two games, but I still think he’s due for an incredible hot streak from behind the arc.

I also want to add a comment on NU’s center position. This position remains an enigma to me. Tonight both Mirkovic and Rowley had nice moments. Rowley scored in the post early and blocked two shots. Luka hit two nice turnaround jumpers, two blocks, and grabbed 5 rebounds. However, both centers turned the ball over three times. That means NU had six of their 17 turnovers from one spot on the floor. Rowley is scary whenever he has the ball away from the hoop and Mirkovic seems to travel whenever he tries to score in the post. Again, I’m a strong believe these guys need PT to improve, but I’d really like to see them cut down on the turnovers before Big Ten season starts.

The bottom line, though, is this was a great win. NU is 6-1 and has four winnable nonconference games left before the Big Ten season starts. NU also has two very winnable non-conference games during Big Ten play which means NU will be favored to post 12 wins outside of the Big Ten. That’s big step towards the postseason.

8 comments:

Sasser said...

You have to be impressed with what Marcotullio does for this team. He provides the 'Cats with a fourth scoring option and makes it incredibly difficult for defenses to cover everyone when Thompson, Nash and Shurna are on the court with him.

Crawford is still struggling, but I think what's most important for him right now is to learn how to handle the ball. When conference action starts, he needs to spell Thompson a few minutes each game.

G1000 said...

Northwestern needs to stop trying to run out the clock when they're ahead. Run your offense the way you always have. They almost let NC State back into the game by playing not to lose, instead of playing to win. They need to stop that. It's still a good win. I continue to be impressed by how many easy baskets the Cats are getting. After watching the highlights, it seems like most of their points came on back door layups. If they can continue that during Big Ten play, it'll be huge.

G1000 said...

Our RPI ranking is now #31, by the way. That's very good this early in the season.

Ryan said...

@G1000...You make a great point about NU's "play not to lose" late game offense. I think it's been a bit better this year, but I still believe it is a topic which is worth discussion.

Loretta8 said...

I don't the late game offense was that big a problem. There were zero shot clock violations after all. What was a problem at times was not having the ball in the hands of the right people. Being patient with a lead in the 2nd half is what you should do. But the ball has to be in the hands of Thompson or Shurna with the clock under 10. When Marcotullio is trying to take it to the basket, or Mirkovic is trying to back someone down, that's a problem.

G1000 said...

@Loretta8... You are correct that milking the clock is good strategy for most teams. However, Northwestern's style of play is such that they take a while to get a good shot. Therefore, if they wait till there's less thatn 15 seconds on the shot clock, they often wind up taking a contested jump shot instead of an open 3 or a layup. If you watched the Purdue and Illinois games last year (and if you didn't, consider yourself lucky), you know what I mean. Always look to score. Northwestern's style typically takes time off the shot clock anyway.

G1000 said...

@Loretta8... You are correct that milking the clock is good strategy for most teams. However, Northwestern's style of play is such that they take a while to get a good shot. Therefore, if they wait till there's less thatn 15 seconds on the shot clock, they often wind up taking a contested jump shot instead of an open 3 or a layup. If you watched the Purdue and Illinois games last year (and if you didn't, consider yourself lucky), you know what I mean. Always look to score. Northwestern's style typically takes time off the shot clock anyway.

G1000 said...

Oops, accidentally commented twice. Sorry about that.