Tuesday, January 26, 2010

One Play Away: Gophers, Hoffarber Make Just Enough Big Plays to Put ‘Cats Away Late 65-61

Northwestern deserves credit for a second half comeback from down 13 points (the move to risk playing the 1-3-1 really paid off) to take a lead in this contest, but Minnesota guard Blake Hoffarber deserves even more credit for essentially taking over the game in crunch time. Hoffarber scored two big threes and two big free throws, plus got the game’s key rebound to ensure the Gophers held off NU’s comeback attempt. For Minnesota this game will place them back in the running for the NCAA Tournament. On the other hand, this loss puts Northwestern in a Mission Impossible situation James Phelps and Ethan Hunt would find intimidating—the Wildcats now must win at either Michigan State or Wisconsin in order to have a legitimate case on Selection Sunday.

In a game like this any one play might have been the difference, but the truth was Minnesota’s 21-7 first half run, which started after NU missed a shot which would have put them up eight, was essentially the game changing moment. Minnesota upped their pressure and the Wildcats, most notably reserve guard Nick Fruendt, melted under the pressure like the Wicked Witch in rain storm. The worst moment had to be the play where it was clear Fruendt was terrified to throw the ball inbounds despite the fact that two players were standing so close he probably could have handed the rock to them. Instead, he gave the ball to Michael Thompson in the corner and Thompson proceeded to pass the ball out of bounds to Bill Carmody.

The other element of the Gopher pressure which hurt NU was the size factor. With Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson inside NU became essentially just a three point shooting team. The Wildcats made 12 threes in the game, but only 10 twos. Also, many of those twos were jump shots as the Wildcats basically couldn’t get near the rim. Luka Mirkovic had a good game on the glass with 13 rebounds, but was routinely swatted when attempting to convert at the hoop. I don’t understand why Mirkovic won’t throw in a head fake or something on occasion. It doesn’t need to be anything elaborate, but something to the defender out of balance sure would help. I also want to clearly convey the fact to NU’s players that when trying to finish in traffic against a bigger player a finger roll is not a good choice. When forced to go up in traffic please try to DUNK THE BASKETBALL! Even if you don’t convert, they won’t be able to swat you like they can a finger roll and you’ll probably get fouled.

Of those 12 threes, Thompson made five and John Shurna made four. Thompson’s five threes, though, were his only offense as he ended with 15 points. Shurna managed to score 19 points and get 7 rebounds. It was another solid performance, but I wish he would have pulled the trigger on a three instead of dribbling and taking a forced two with 15 seconds left and NU down three. I’m not really sure what that two would have even accomplished and doubt that was the end result the coaching staff envisioned for that play.

Some people will say Minnesota used their superior bench to win the game, but I didn’t really see NU tire at all. In fact, NU played much better in the second half. However, I do think NU’s lack of bench production is something of an issue. Right now, if every NU starter doesn’t play well, Bill Carmody has no other options. Tonight, NU’s bench contributed 3 points, 2 rebounds, and a whole lot of panic. As a result, even if Crawford and Nash weren’t playing their best games, Carmody had to leave them on the court.

The Wildcats now sit at 3-5 in the Big Ten with 10 games left. NU can probably go 6-4 in those 10 games to get to 9-9, but I’m a little disappointed because this reminds me a ton of last year’s game at Ohio State, and I honestly believe had NU held their late lead in that game the ‘Cats would have been in the Big Dance. I hope the same story doesn’t hold true with this contest.

6 comments:

Loretta8 said...

i already posted a 2000 word breakdown of this and sent a profanity laced tirade to some friends, but i'm saying it again: why was Fruendt even in the game? just an absymal coaching decision, what was wrong with marcotullio?

TDC Mole said...

How about jacking up 30 footers every time he got an open look? Or turning it over every time he got the ball in the paint? Can't imagine why Coach would find that objectionable. . .

Damian said...

It's not an "abysmal coaching decision" to give a chance to a guy who during earlier games didn't shine but didn't wilt either. Carmody gave him a chance and it didn't pan out. That's basketball, and coaches and players learn from it. That's not a coaching failure, IMO.

Matthew said...

I may be crazy, but I don't think the Cats need to win at MSU or Wisconsin to make the dance (though one or both of those would be really nice). My opinion is that if the Cats go 9-2 the rest of the way, then they're in pretty good shape. That means win out at home and take down Iowa, Indiana, and Penn State on the road. That would put NU at 23-8 overall and 11-7 in conference. It will be tough, but not at all impossible, for the Cats to pull that off. I think they can do it.

Loretta8 said...

@Damian: Fruendt has played 33 minutes the entire season, most in garbage time. there is a reason he hasn't played, he isn't good enough. giving a guy a chance who has never faced anything close to that kind of pressure defense and has played about 10 meaningful minutes in his two years at NU is a bad coaching decision, that worked out terribly.

i'm not one of these carmody bashers who rip him when the team loses and don't give him credit for wins. overall he's done an excellent job this year. but that move was indefensible. fruendt had no chance against that kind of full court pressure, and that's 100% on carmody for putting the kid into an impossible situation when he had a much better option available in marcotullio. yes, marcotullio took a couple bad shots, and in a perfect world you'd take him out because there was another viable option on the bench. however, he did 1 of his 3 attempts and has provided excellent play off the bench at times this season. fruendt was not a viable option, he's done nothing all season and should never have been in the game.

Ryan said...

@Matthew...Looking closer, I think you might havea a point. If NU gets 23 wins and does something in the Big Ten Tourney they probably have a good case. I'm a little worried about some of those road games, but if a team from the Big Ten has 23-25 wins they probably should dance.