This loss is significantly worse for NU’s future than last week’s loss to Iowa. Playing at home with some momentum after an impressive overtime win against Minnesota, Northwestern dropped today’s game to Penn State 81-70. With the loss NU’s slim hopes of making the NCAA Tournament are dashed, other than winning the Big Ten Tournament. To be honest, I’m having doubts about NU making the NIT at this point. Other than the Chicago State game, I’m not sure I can predict any wins. If they do get into the NIT, NU will certainly be a 7-seed or an 8-seed in their region. At this point, I suggest all NU fans start reading up on the College Basketball Invitational and check if their cable providers offer HDNet (mine does, but I’d have to up my subscription package). To be honest, the CBI wouldn’t be a bad destination for NU. They’d likely be a high seed and last year’s champ was Oregon State with former NU coach Craig Robinson in charge, which gives Bill Carmody a resource to call on when planning for the tournament.
As to this week’s Wednesday night failure, Penn State played really well on offense using players other than Talor Battle. David Jackson scored 20 points and Chris Babb had 20 points and 6 assists to help Penn State’s offense flow. Honestly, though, I thought once again NU’s defense wasn’t very good. In the first half, Northwestern tried the 1-3-1, but they didn’t deny passing lanes and Penn State got the ball inside easily and got easy baskets. When NU played more matchup and switching man-to-man, but Penn State used a series of screens to always seem to keep NU’s defenders away from shooters. NU has a bad habit of getting lazy in both their regular defenses. In the 1-3-1, NU often doesn’t deny passing lanes or doesn’t step-up to counter drives. In man-to-man or matchup, NU reacts like they’ve never seen a screen before and has no idea how to get over the screen and contest a shot.
I think a lot of this actually goes back to my post before the Minnesota game. The fact is Northwestern is at times a team that doesn’t meet their opponents aggressiveness for 40 minutes. That’s fine against Michigan or Indiana because those teams have players who simply go through the motions. However, other teams don’t. Penn State brought it for 40 minutes tonight and NU didn’t respond.
Part of NU’s failure to respond was a multitude of missed chances. Despite getting easy baskets inside all night, NU settled for 29 threes tonight. Also, Luka Mirkovic missed 6 free throws and a key layup. Jeremy Nash took a three and missed when NU finally cut the lead to two points and following his missed shot, PSU went on an 8-0 (game deciding) run. I don’t really want to pick on Nash for taking the three because he was open, but I think he could have driven the ball or passed to get a better shooter a look as plenty of time remained on the shot clock.
John Shurna and Michael Thompson each will look like they had a good game with 17 points apiece, but they shot really poorly. Thompson was 3-of-8 from three and Shurna was 2-of-9. Combined with Nash’s 2-for-7 it is easy to see when NU lost. NU also got no significant production from Drew Crawford (who looked really lost on defense) and only 4 total bench points. Someone posted a comment on the NU message boards at wildcatreport.com recently indicating Crawford might be hurt. He didn’t look all that hurt in scoring 18 points Sunday, but today he played like a guy who either wasn’t able to get where he needed to be or didn’t know where he needed to be. Either way the result was the same.
NU now heads to Wisconsin on Sunday. It’ll be a tough task, but if NU felt any NCAA Tournament pressure that’s off. The pressure to try and get a bye in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament is also gone. Now NU is competing with Michigan and Minnesota for Big Ten Tournament seeding and still is trying to do enough to at least make the NIT or the CBI.