Disgusting, pathetic, embarrassing. I could go for several pages with descriptive adjectives for Northwestern’s play today, but we really don’t have that much time. To put it simply, Northwestern played their worst game on the season today and it might have been the worst game the Northwestern basketball program played since NU’s loss to Penn State in the 2006 Big Ten Tournament. I don’t know how Northwestern can beat teams like Illinois and Purdue and look like the JV playing the varsity when they play Penn State, but it happens every time. Now, I’ll admit I expected Penn State to win today, but I didn’t expect them to totally dominate the game like they did.
In the myriad of badness which occurred today, I guess Northwestern’s worst performance was on the defensive end of the court. Northwestern tried 1-3-1, matchup, and man-to-man (which was possibly the worst effort at this ever), but Penn State beat all of them. It was impressively bad just how awful Northwestern’s defensive effort was today. NU didn’t fight through screens, didn’t deny passing lanes, and didn’t hustle on switches. Drew Crawford has been rumored to be hurt, and all I can think is he better be. (Update: Crawford is in fact hurt and may not start vs Chicago State) If he’s not hurt, his effort today on defense might have been the worst defensive effort from a Division 1 player all year. He was unbelievably lazy and passive in fighting through screens and getting out on shooters. The play which best explained Crawford’s lack of defense was Chris Babb’s first three of the second half. NU had cut the lead to 11. When PSU came back on offense, Crawford was screened and barely tried to fight through it. As a result Babb got a wide open three and the lead went back to 14. Further evidence of Crawford’s poor defense is how often he has to foul. He got upset when he was called for a foul after an apparent block, but if he’d actually denied the passing lane he wouldn’t have had to try and block the shot. The ball wouldn’t have got to his man.
Of course, Crawford wasn’t the only Wildcat not to play defense. In fact, many of NU’s top players such as Jeremy Nash and Michael Thompson failed to make much effort on defense either. They let Penn State make easy passes from their guards to their big men all day. The defensive effort (if you call it that) NU put forth in the first half was the worst effort by a Big Ten team in conference game all year. The Wildcats allowed a Penn State team which scores 65ppg to score 49 points. Obviously, NU’s guards deserve blame for letting Penn State make easy passes inside, but NU’s big men didn’t do much in terms of fighting for inside position. It seemed that whenever Penn State caught the ball down low they were in great position to score.
What really upsets me about this contest, though, is NU once again looked like they didn’t care. It was like the first half of the Wisconsin game and all but the last 10 minutes of the Minnesota game. I don’t know what goes on in NU’s locker room, but it is amazing to me how often this team gives no effort. What was really embarrassing was it looked like Northwestern quit in the second half. That reflects poorly on Bill Carmody, though, to his credit I think he recognized this and that’s why Ivan Peljusic and Nick Fruendt saw so much time.
The other thing that reflects poorly on Carmody, or his assists, is this team has no idea how to play man-to-man defense. If a team has decoded NU’s zones, which Penn State, Northwestern can’t stop a team when playing man-to-man. Today they fell for every pump fake and routinely got beat to the hoop, even by players who seemed less athletic. This is probably more of an offseason topic, but I’m now convinced Bill Carmody needs to replace either Mitch Henderson or Ivan Vujic with an assistant coach who is an expert in man-to-man defense. Northwestern has improved a lot the last two years, but I think they need to learn to play man-to-man if they want to become a better than .500 team in Big Ten play. The reason for this isn’t just teams decoding the zones, it’s the fact NU plays with zero intensity about 75% of the time. I think if the team was forced to play man-to-man some more natural intensity would develop.
Finally, let me say that NU got 21 points from Thompson, but I would have liked to see both him and John Shurna (who scored just 9) not settle for so many threes. NU is better when they attack inside, but did not do so today. Hopefully, they will do so when they play Chicago State on Wednesday.
Before I go, I want to add that Chris Babb is the latest in a long line of players that would be All-Americans if they just got to play Northwestern.