Sunday, February 21, 2010

Close Doesn’t Count: Wisconsin Beats Northwestern 70-63

I really don’t know what to say right now. I think I’m more disappointed than I was after Penn State and Iowa. I think I’m more disappointed than I was last year after Illinois. I thought the ‘Cats were going to do it. I hadn't gone crazy, I just really believed it. That’s why I predicted a win. I thought the matchup was favorable and the tide of the season (and maybe the program) was going to turn in Madison. I was wrong. NU nearly got the epic upset, but close counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, not Division I basketball.

I thought John Shurna played great in the second half, but I can’t believe he missed that last shot. I think what happened was he got caught in between shooting it straight in and using the glass. The game Shurna played in the second half is the game I really want to see him play. He’s an okay three point shooter, but his threes need to come in the flow of the offense. He can’t just jack threes up like he did early. If the offensive flow doesn’t present him three point looks, then he needs to attack the basket. That’s what he did today and finished with a more than respectable 24 points. I just wish he would have added two more thanks to that last shot or a couple missed free throws.

Defensively it was nice to see the ‘Cats pick up the intensity in the second half, but that’s the problem with this team, they don’t bring intensity for 40 minutes. I can’t begin to explain why. Personally, I’d be pretty pumped for the chance to play basketball in the Big Ten (heck, I'm excited to watch basketball in the Big Ten), but this team is ho-hum about their special opportunity much too often. Perhaps as a consequence of that, they’re also extremely soft. They let Wisconsin abuse them on the boards and got a number of shots blocked. The reason is that NU way too often tried to finger role in layups. They need to put their shoulder to the hoop and take some contact. For those who can dunk (i.e. Davide Curletti) they need to try and dunk the ball inside instead of finger rolling layups. I will say that overall Curletti played a nice game. He’s a decent athlete, he can shoot the ball, and he’s got an idea of how to play defense inside. I really think Bill Carmody needs to turn Luka Mirkovic and Curletti loose from behind the three point line. They both can make that shot and several times today they passed wide open threes and NU didn’t get a good shot in the possession. Now, I’m not saying the center position needs to try 10 threes a game, but 5 wouldn’t hurt. I also think Curletti's game shows why Kyle Rowley should seriously consider a redshirt next year.

The bottom line, though, is if Northwestern played with the intensity they played with in the second half all the time they’d already have 20 wins. I don’t know why they don’t bring that intensity all the time. Obviously, the players and coaches don’t either because I assume they’d correct that otherwise. Whatever the reason, NU needs to find out quickly. The NU team that showed in the second half could do some damage in the Big Ten Tournament, but the team that played the first half (and Iowa and Penn State) will get crushed by anyone, including Indiana.

The lack of intensity is mostly evident of defense. You can tell when the ‘Cats extend the 1-3-1 zone and Jeremy Nash starts tipping passes and the other guys are hustling after loose balls. Some fans criticize the extend 1-3-1, but when it’s run right it’s tough to beat. A good extended 1-3-1 keeps the ball away from the basket and forces deep threes. Even good three point shooters struggle to hit from 25 feet. The problem is NU sometimes plays a weak version of that zone which allows easy inside shots and 19-foot threes.

What many don’t realize is NU’s lack of intensity is also present on offense. When NU actively passes and attacks the basket, that’s intensity. Look at the second half when they get easy inside looks. When they just pass the ball around the perimeter and force three pointers, that’s the same passive approach which results in poor defense.

Somehow, someway this team needs to wake up and play hard all the time. They actually remind me of another NU team, the 98-99 team. That team also had a habit of digging a hole and trying to comeback, but failing. Two good examples (of several) were an 82-79 loss at Indiana (a game in which Evan Eschmeyer recorded NU’s only triple-double) and the NIT game at DePaul. Basically, this goes back to what I said before the game. At some point an NU team will decide to be different than their predecessors. Maybe this just isn't that team.

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