Monday, January 11, 2010

The Most Important Player in NU’s Quest to Upset Top-20 Foes

It might surprise some people, but I don’t think Michael “Juice” Thompson or John Shurna will be NU’s most important player when NU takes on two of the Big Ten’s top teams this week. Don’t get more wrong, they’re great players who are critical to NU’s success, but I think the guy who NU needs to show up and play big in order to ensure success is senior guard Jeremy Nash. More specifically, Nash needs to be involved in the offense as a three pointer shooter and the defense as someone who aggressively seeks steals.

Part of the reason for this is the team can greatly benefit from Nash’s experience which seems to stabilize the young ‘Cats , but Nash’s importance isn’t just intangible. It is in fact very tangible. Take a look at NU’s three biggest wins (Notre Dame, Iowa State, and N.C. State) and you’ll find a common element. Jeremy Nash stuffed the stat sheet.

Against Notre Dame, Nash played 39 minutes. He scored 6 points (2 threes), grabbed 6 rebounds, dished out 5 assists, had 2 steals, and 2 blocks.

Against Iowa State, Nash played 36 minutes. He scored 10 points (2 more threes), grabbed 3 rebounds, dished out 5 more assists, and had 2 more steals.

Against N.C. State, Nash played only 33 minutes due to foul trouble, but he scored 12 points (again 2 threes), grabbed 8 rebounds, dished out 4 assists, had 2 more steals, and added another block.

If you’ll notice, in all those games Nash made critical threes. This was important because it forced the defense to respect his shot and allowed for more open looks from guys like John Shurna in the post and Juice from the outside. When Nash doesn’t hit shots, like MSU or UTPA, teams are allowed to focus more on NU’s better known three point threats.

Jeremy also helped administer the offense in those three games above. When Nash isn’t involved as a distributer NU struggles. This is because as a senior Nash probably has the best command of NU’s Princeton Offense other than, perhaps, Juice. Nash plays smart. He knows when to attack the basket and when to throw the ball backdoor. However, Nash’s ability to attack and get clear passing lanes is assisted by his ability to make three pointers. On cold shooting nights, Nash’s efforts to attack the hoop tend to be more desperate and forced and they result in nights like the game against Michigan State where Jeremy missed three shots from 2 feet or closer.

On defense, Jeremy Nash had an average of 2 steals per game in those big wins. He also was a massive disruption to Michigan’s offense in NU’s huge comeback. On the other hand, in NU’s recent losses Nash struggled to get his hands on any passes. It seems NU’s entire defense takes their cues from Nash. When he is lazy, the team’s lazy. They don’t hustle to deny passing lanes and they watch other teams grab rebounds. This was evident on Sunday when an aggressive Jeremy Nash started tipping passes and seemed to wake up NU’s 1-3-1 defense.

Bottom line, Jeremy Nash filled up the stat sheet both offensively and defensively in NU’s biggest wins. If the ‘Cats want to pull upsets against Top-20 Big Ten foes they need big games from thier senior leader.

News and Notes: DePaul fired coach Jerry Wainwright. This isn't much of a suprise, but after bringing him back after last year I'm suprised they fired him so early this year. It will be interesting to see if the Demons move to hire a full-time replacement right away or wait until till the end of the year...Wisconsin has lost forward Jon Leuer due to a wrist injury. More on Leuer in the game preview I'll post Tuesday.

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