Thursday, March 11, 2010

Juice and the Bench Lead Wildcats to 73-58 Victory over Indiana

Northwestern’s bench has basically been MIA since Alex Marcotullio scored 16 points against Michigan State on January 2nd, but Marcotullio and his friends Mike Capocci and Davide Curletti stepped up today in order to help Juice Thompson lead the ‘Cats past Indiana. Numbers wise Curletti led the three bench contributors with 12 points, but all three provided needed energy to a team which lacked any semblance of life in the first half.

NU only trailed 30-27 at half time, but the way they played that was pretty much due to luck and poor play by Indiana. In the first half Northwestern looked totally lost against Indiana’s 2-3 zone and let the Hoosier offense drill 4-of-8 threes, despite the fact that I’m sure Bill Carmody made it clear the defense wasn’t suppose to allow open looks. Really, the ‘Cats stayed in the game thanks to John Shurna making 5-of-5 inside shots while he and his teammates shot only 2-of-18 from three in the first half. To be honest, it wasn’t so much the 18 three point attempts that bothered me as much as the fact it looked like all NU could do against the IU zone was the pass the ball around the perimeter and then jack up a three.

In the second half, NU made 5-of-13 threes. That percentage isn’t great, but it’s certainly better. Even better than the numbers, though, is the fact those shots were mostly open and setup because NU wasn’t afraid to try and get in the lane. After he made two floaters in the lane, IU’s defenders backed off of Juice Thompson a bit and he then drilled three straight threes. Thompson finished the day 4-of-10 from three point range (6-of-15 overall) with 3 assists and 2 steals. Aggressively attacking the basket also resulted in some baskets and free throw opportunities for Jeremy Nash. Those were critical as Nash went 0-for-5 from three, yet he still scored 13 points thanks to make 4-of-5 twos and 5-of-6 free throws.

It wasn’t just Thompson and Nash who did good work in the second half, though. Davide Curletti had an all around good game, but he really stepped up at the 10:43 mark of the second half when Luka Mirkovic fouled out. Curletti played excellent defense, got a steal and a block, didn’t turn the ball over, and converted 6-of-6 free throws down the stretch. Joining Curletti as a late game reason for NU’s success was Mike Capocci. Drew Crawford really struggled and Alex Marcotullio played great, but needed a rest. As a result, Coach Bill Carmody turned to Capocci. Right off the bench, Capocci scored off an in-bounds play. He then proceeded to play some of the most aggressive defense NU has played all season helping the Wildcats to a 24-7-game deciding run. Numbers wise Capocci had 4 points, 2 steals, 2 rebounds, and a block, but he contributed to by simply playing more aggressively in the 1-3-1 in order to contest shots than Drew Crawford had been earlier in the game.

Before looking ahead to Purdue, I also want to praise Alex Marcotullio and NU’s commitment to the 1-3-1 in the second half with both Marcotullio and Nash at the top. Both players did a great job at the top of that defense causing turnovers and getting breakaways. Nash had a nice slam early and Marcotullio had a critical layup in NU’s big run. The 1-3-1 might not be the right defense for tomorrow, but it was the right defense today and I’m glad NU fully committed to using it in half number two. I also have to praise Marcotullio for not shying away from shooting even after missing early today. I ripped into him a bit for his play on Saturday, but I did so because I believe he’s a tough player who showed a lack of toughness when NU traveled to Bloomington. Today he demonstrated great toughness both mentally and physically. He finished with 8 points, 5 rebounds, and 0 turnovers. The bounce back performance from him and his teammates after a tough game should be commended.

Vs Purdue…So the Wildcats now take on Purdue. The game is tomorrow at 5:30 PM CT and will be telecast on the Big Ten Network. Obviously, the Purdue team NU will see tomorrow is not the team that Northwestern beat on January 16th. The good news for Northwestern fans is that doesn’t necessarily mean the team is better. Purdue is without All-Big Ten 1st teamer Robbie Hummel who posted 20 points against the Wildcats. Of course, Purdue still has guard E’Twaun Moore who has exploded on NU in the past as well as defensive pest Chris Kramer. What might work in NU’s favor, though, is that the 6-3 Kramer might have to guard John Shurna. To be honest, I don’t think Purdue has a better option for defense on the Wildcat forward. Shurna’s play today wasn’t his best as he struggled to 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting, but mostly he was missing threes. I don’t care how physical Kramer gets, the 6-8 Shurna needs to take the 6-3 Kramer inside. No way exists for Kramer to stop Shurna’s post moves without fouls. Shurna has proven he can score on smaller players nearly at will when all things are fair and equal. If the officials don’t call fouls, then Bill Carmody needs to get T-ed up early to ensure they do. Defensively, I’m not sure I want NU in the 1-3-1 versus Purdue, but their matchup has been so bad of late I’m worried about that as well. NU played the matchup well the first time these teams met, but Purdue now has point guard Lewis Jackson who will quickly drive to hoop if he finds Luka Mirkovic on him after a switch. NU might also be able to play 1-3-1 because without Hummel Purdue won’t shoot as well.

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