Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Taking a Look at Northwestern’s Limited Bench Production

Nick Fruendt has been both praised and criticized for his play off the NU bench
( photo)

One major obstacle to Northwestern’s success down the stretch of the season might be the limited production they get from the bench. Early in the season it looked like Northwestern might have a very deep roster, but as it stands now NU’s offense basically comes from the five starters. In NU’s recent games virtually all the meaningful production has come from starters. Against Michigan, a Kyle Rowley layup was the only basket made by a non-starter before garbage time.

Some people have criticized NU’s coaching for not using much of the bench. Personally, I don’t think the problem is that Bill Carmody only uses 7 or 8 players, that is what most teams use, the problem is players 6, 7, and 8 have posted very limited production, especially on offense. This makes their playing time seem even more minute than it actually is. Perhaps this shouldn’t be a big surprise because nobody on NU’s bench has much history of offensive production. In fact, Alex Marcotullio’s early season success from behind the arc probably makes him NU’s best potential scorer off the bench.

The bottom line fact is that little doubt exists that NU will need some bench production before the end of the season. The Wildcats have eight very tough Big Ten games (plus a game against Chicago State) remaining before the end of the season. Those games will take a toll if the starters all have to play 35 plus minutes because nobody on the bench can score. Even scarier, a team which is over dependent on starter minutes has very little chance to win the Big Ten Tournament, especially if they have to play on Thursday. I don’t think Northwestern (or any team in the Big Ten) could pull off four straight wins with starters producing 95% of the points and playing 90% of the team’s minutes. Some will say NU won back to back games in the Chicago Invitation Challenge, but that somewhat proves my point. In those back to back wins, it was Alex Marcotullio and Davide Curletti who made the big shots which clinched the victories for NU.

To be clear, I’m not saying NU needs somebody on the bench to start scoring double figures, but it would be nice to see a couple guys start getting 4-6 points and 2-3 rebounds a game.. Can this happen? Well, I think NU has a couple candidates.

The bench player who has been the best contributor of late has been Kyle Rowley. The seven footer had 2 points and 2 rebounds against Michigan. He has recently shown himself to be a greatly improved rebounder as well. The next step is for him to consistently make post moves, especially against smaller players. He went 1-of-2 from the field against Michigan, but both were from point blank range. Given Rowley’s size and the fact he never takes a shot from more than about a foot from the hoop he needs to be the type of player who converts 65% of his shots or more. This is the type of player that Ohio State’s Dallas Lauderdale has become, and Lauderdale is actually several inches smaller than Rowley.

NU’s other bench player to see a lot of minutes regularly is Alex Marcotullio. I know Marcotullio hasn’t done much since scoring 16 points on January 2nd against Michigan State. However, he has more than proven he can score. I think what might help Marcotullio is getting him more involved on defense. He has the ability to play very intense defense at the top of the 1-3-1 and perhaps that’ll give him something other than offense to focus on. He played well on defense against Michigan. If NU wants to switch from man-to-man or the matchup to the 1-3-1 against Indiana, I’d like to see Nash get a rest for a couple minutes at that point and see if Marcotullio can turn defense into offense.

After Rowley and Marcotullio, no Wildcat has really seen consistent bench play. Mike Capocci had a decent game against Michigan State. Nick Fruendt played well against Illinois, but collapsed under Minnesota’s pressure defense. Davide Curletti has seen very little time since a practice injury, and is now clearly the 3rd or 4th center. Of those players, they guy I’d like to see get better would be Fruendt. Not only was he recruited as an offensive threat, but it would be great if NU could somehow find a way to consistently get Michael “Juice” Thompson a rest for just two or three minutes additional minutes, especially when coming down the final stretch of the season and in the Big Ten Tournament when games come fast and furious. Is Fruendt ready for the job? The Minnesota game would say no. But if I’m Bill Carmody I’m watching closely at practice. Any young player can panic at times. If Fruendt can get some confidence he might make a late season impact off the bench. Jeremy Nash did a similar thing as a sophomore and became a consistent contributor as a junior.

What does everybody else think? Can NU win without bench production? Who needs to step up in these critical 9 games?


macarthur31 said...

I agree that we need to find some scoring off the bench. Not only will we need to give our guys a rest, but there will be games where our starters will get in foul trouble, and we'll need to sub in.

If Rowley can continue to improve his footwork and positioning in the post, then he'll put himself in good position to get looks. Even though it was one move, I loved seeing him get position on Sims, and then drop step layup around him. I'd love for him to get to the line more -- I know the percentage isn't pretty, but he has a good looking stroke, and he just needs more reps in game to get that muscle memory.

I'd love Marco to get some more run. However, when do you put him in? Juice is the floor general, and Nash and Crawford have become too valuable in terms of their rebounding and defensive range. At the season's outset, I imagined a Marco/Crawford platoon, but with Crawford's great looking three point stroke to go with his athleticism on both sides of the ball, the only way you can pull him is when he picks up fouls. Last night, Crawford had 3 TOs + several near-turnovers with some soft passes. Usually, Carmody would pull a guy for that -- but Crawford logged 30 minutes last night, cause Carm couldn't bench him. How can you bench the guy who lit your opponent up for 31 last time? (And Carmody was rewarded with Drew's sweep-the-leg performance down the stretch). Carmody also seems to be moving away from the 1-3-1, which also hurts Marco's push for time. I think he's much better at the point of the 1-3-1 than he is in matchup zone. Finally, the B10 opponents have watched the film, and are forcing Marco to put it on the deck and not giving him those open looks he saw in the non-con.

I want to like Nick Fruendt -- he's got length, and he definitely shows an assertiveness in the offensive set. However, his handle is not there. If Marco's not taking away minutes from Nash/Crawford, then how's Nick gonna get them?

Capocci also has that problem as well -- in that he doesn't have the handle or outside shot. I do like that they run that dribble drive/back door play for him, and that he does have athleticism to get rebounds and play defense. But at this point, I see him as a 4-8 minute player.

At this point, I see our bench as guys who can "hold down the fort" types. Outside of Marco, I don't see Carm putting any of them in thinking that they'll score points. At best, they're gonna be guys who'll get us to halftime in case Juice, Shurna or Luka get into foul trouble. Other scenario: 'Cats are up 8-10, and Carm will gamble to give one of his big three a breather.

John said...

I think the one player you're going to see used more down the stretch is Kyle Rowley. He wasn't a good match-up against DeShawn Sims in the Michigan game, but against smaller and/or slower front lines down the stretch I think he can be very effective.

It is obvious that teams have keyed on Marcotullio's three-point shooting since Big Ten play started, but I also think he's been in a bit of a shooting slump. It takes time for a young shooter to develop the tricks and moves to get open in the Big Ten and Marcotullio - because he doesn't have Crawford's athleticism or size - can't really get a clean shot off right now. There will come a time when they are juniors where they'll play on the court together though and it'll be some dynamite three-point shooting.

As far as Nick Fruendt is concerned. I don't get what he's supposed to give the Wildcats. He's seemed very flustered when he's played. He needs to slow things down and relax. Carmody has tried to use him as Thompson's timeout caddy, but in a close game where every possession matters - like Northwestern typically plays - it's hard to get him off the court.

The end of the Big Ten gives Northwestern a couple chances to get these bench players into games hopefully, so we'll see what they can do starting on Sunday against Indiana. (But the Hoosiers certainly aren't a team to be taken lightly.)

Damian said...

Great post and great comments. Rowley is a situational player - at least that is how Carmody appears to view him. Rowley gets minutes against teams with traditional, back-to-the-basket centers. He can use his body to lean on them. However, against quicker teams that don't rely on an inside presence, such as Minnesota and MSU, Rowley is no better an option that Curletti. I haven't seen enough of IU this year to predict whether it's a game for Rowley or not.

With Marco, there's not much to say. He either hits a shot or two or he doesn't. His production is that simple: does he give us 3-6 points? There will be a game (or two) in the next eight where we'll need him to get back in the scoring column. For his confidence, I wish it was sooner rather than later.

As for Capocci, I think he's still a hold-down-the-fort reserve. Sure he had a couple buckets against MSU, but when you watched those plays, both were born of nice assists by Juice and Nash, respectively. Credit Capocci for converting, but by the time he got the ball, there wasn't much to do but go up with it.

Finally, with Fruendt, I'm afraid he's headed for four years as a reserve. The handle just isn't there.

Toasterhands said...

I don't know a ton about NW's bench guys, but the starters are more than capable of leading this team to the NCAA's.

I know Coble is supposed to be back next season, but is Jeff Ryan as well?

Probably have nice depth next season, maybe 9/10 deep?

G1000 said...

I seem to recall a DePaul team whose starters played almost constantly. They were pretty good, weren't they? Bottom line, if NU's bench players don't start producing, Carmody needs to stop using them. We can't afford to waste possessions by having players who can't score on the floor.

Ryan said...

@Toasterhands...Don't know 100% for sure, but it sure seems like Jeff Ryan will be back along with Coble.

johnrocks_32 said...

know this is a somewhat random question but... I'm writing a speech on an influential leader and i chose Kevin Coble. Could anyone possibly shed more light on what happened when he missed the first part of his sophmore season to be with his mother?? ANy help would be appriciated thanks.

Ryan said...

@johnrocks_32...I don't know if it'll help, but this is a link to a story Andy Katz wrote at the time Coble left NU to be with his mom. I think it has some good stuff:

johnrocks_32 said...

thanks, that was a nice help