Wednesday, November 17, 2010

NU Survives UTPA Upset Bid for Second Consecutive Year

I won’t call UTPA and Northwestern a rivalry, but over the last two seasons the Broncs have certainly found ways to give Northwestern trouble. The Wildcats survived tonight with a 77-71 win. The small victory has some NU fans feeling as bad as a loss, but I think NU’s problems can be summed up fairly easily and hopefully corrected. The ‘Cats struggled defensively and didn’t produce offensively at the level they can. The second problem I think is easily correctable, despite the feeling inside the UTPA Fieldhouse the NU was getting a lot of calls, UTPA did catch a huge break as NU Coach Bill Carmody pointed out in the postgame that, “They (UTPA) were bumping us on our cuts and it just took us out of our game.” To run the Princeton Offense you need your cutters to be unimpeded and the Big Ten has done a significantly better job of policing this in recent years, but UTPA Coach Ryan Marks probably told his guys to try and get physical with NU’s cutters and when the officials didn’t make calls on that contact early he told them to keep doing so. That’s good coaching by Marks. I think, though, that in a Big Ten game, especially one at home, that NU might get a few more calls on defenders impeding the progress of a cut. Things also might have opened up a bit more for NU if John Shurna got off to a quicker start, but for the second game in a row Shurna struggled at the get-go and didn’t heat up until the second half. Shurna posted a total of 20 points, but 14 came in the second half. He also struggled somewhat with his shot and had an embarrassing missed dunk where he was bailed out by the officials. However, he was part of a strong Wildcat free throw effort. NU made 23-of-29 free throws and was 22-of-25 until late misses by Juice Thompson and Alex Marcotullio.

The biggest problem, and the issue which will keep NU out of the postseason, is the fact NU still can’t play defense. They started in the matchup zone and weren’t effective. Tim Doyle asked Bill Carmody why he didn’t switch out of it earlier and Carmody basically said because the team has to learn to play it before the Big Ten season starts. I like Carmody’s insistence on something other than the 1-3-1, but the fact the team hasn’t played defense now since the 2008-09 season is a problem. I stated earlier this month that I basically supported Carmody’s contract extension, but I become convinced each day that one requirement of the extension should be one assistant is replaced with a defensive expert. The current staff simply doesn’t seem capable of getting, what is probably NU’s most athletic team ever, to be able to move their feet defensively.

The other major problem is as Coach Carmody said, “We gotta get Luka to finish off some of those things and don’t know how we’re gonna do it.” NU’s center rotation of Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti is currently leaving a lot to be desired. It’ll be interesting to see if Luka plays better on Friday as he is a notoriously bad road player, but he simply isn’t playing well right now. He has the ability, but if NU wants to be a good team the player who showed up and schooled JaJuan Johnson last year when NU upset #6 Purdue needs to make more appearances.

A couple other notes…

*Drew Crawford led NU with 22 points. He had a nice tomahawk slam, but like Shurna, also missed a chance at another dunk.

*Michael “Juice” Thompson scored 17 points and made the biggest shot of the game with one second on the shot clock when NU was clinging to a three point lead.

*JerShon Cobb reportedly only practiced the last two days and isn’t really in shape yet, but he got his first start and scored his first 4 points. Based on limited action the scouting report of good mid-range shooter, solid at the line, but needs work from distance would seem accurate.

*Alex Marcotullio scored 5 points and in about a minute almost won the game for NU, but then almost lost it with an ill-advised three which started UTPA’s final run. Marcotullio needs to get consistent on offense, but I feel like he and Jeff Ryan are really the only two Wildcats you can count on to play defense.

*Some of you will say I’m making excuses, and to an extent I am, but I Google mapped Edinburg, Texas. This couldn’t have been an easy trip. NU flew into McAllen and then bused to Edinburg which is near the Mexican boarder kind of close to Rio Bravo (good movie by the way) and Harlingen. Honestly, I almost feel like the Italy trip might have been easier and this certainly is the most challenging logistical trip of the year (unless a bus driver in Columbus once again forgets that time changes).


rhett said...

"Tim Doyle asked Bill Carmody why he didn’t switch out of [matchup zone] earlier and Carmody basically said because the team has to learn to play it before the Big Ten season starts"

Is this kind of learning process why NU always has such a weak nonconference schedule?

G1000 said...


Guards: B-

Thompson and Crawford both played pretty well on offense, but were both weak on defense. Cobb did nothing, but it's his first game back from an injury, so I'll cut him some slack.

Forwards: C+

Shurna had 20, yes, but he didn't look all that inspired (in the first half particularly). And the rest of the forwards (Ryan, Capocci, etc...) were a non-factor

Centers: D

Mirkovic had a few blocks, I think, which is the only reason this unit doesn't get an F. He did absolutely nothing against players who were like a foot shorter than him. Curletti was even worse.

Coaching: D

Ordinarily, I give at least a C to the coaching if we win. I'm going to make an exception. Though we still scored 77 points, we looked absoluetly lost at times on offense. And the defense was just atrocious, allowing a bad Texas Pan-Am team to shoot 57% from the field. If improvement doesn't happen on that end, we're not going to beat Creighton, let alone compete in the Big Ten.

The stream from Pan-Am was really cool, by the way. High-quality, decent viewpoint... nice job by them.

macarthur31 said...

@Rhett -- I think there's some truth to the fact that NU has a week noncon -- the B10 is rugged enough. However our weak noncon sked is a result of a bunch of factors:

1. Teams from BCS power conferences, and who fashion themselves as upper-half of those conferences usually set up favorable schedules. That means few road games (1-2, and maybe a neutral tourney).

2. Nobody wants to play the Princeton Offense if they have to -- you have to prepare for a totally different approach.

3. Helps to be a good draw (we're not, since we don't have that many alumni, nor have any compelling tradition).

4. If you're in a BCS power conference, you probably want a good deal for yourself (2 home games, for a road game), or at the very least an even split (home and away - like we did with Butler and Stanford). Since NU is in that weird limbo space (too good to risk losing to, and if we do beat them we don't get that much upside), then we'd be subject to a 1-for-2 deal.

5. Finally, it's more about the coaches than it is about the Athletic Department. From what I know, the coaches can make recommendations and sometimes call on relationships and favors. (NU and Brown had a home-and-home a few years back, which I'm sure was a nod to then Coach Craig Robinson).

I think this year is the "perfect storm" -- Any top 25 team wouldn't bother skedding a home and home with us. Any team in our "weight class" (50-100) wouldn't both skedding us unless it's part of a neutral tourney, or if we pay them big money to come play.

Then we're stuck with teams ranked 100+ who'd don't get much out of traveling up to Chicago, unless they're gonna use it as a recruiting visit, or factor in cutting down on their travel costs.

Then there's the opposite tack -- when Ollie Purnell suggested doing a "Chicago 5" tourney earlier this year, I'm sure I know why Carmody balked: Now that NU is the premier program in Chicago (not counting U of I, but geographically), why give Loyola, UIC or DePaul a chance to knock you off? This is one of the few situations where NU has very little to gain, and much to lose.

What goes around, comes around I guess.

For the future -- WHEN the 'Cats make it to the Dance, I think it raises their profile for the future. I actually believe that we'll get an invite to one of those good Neutral tourneys (Maui Invititational, etc) because an energized fan base (even with casuals) will be more likely to tune in and watch, plus NU will have validated itself as a "good program" -- runs quirky system, plays clean, and has decent talent.

I also think what prevented us from making a "better" schedule this year would be giving away home games in the next two years, which might hamstring those teams (playing 3 or 4 road games) as well.

macarthur31 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rhett said...

@macarthur - nice post. I buy 1, 2 and 3, and I get not wanting to play UIC/Loyola/DePaul.

In a vacuum it's better to play #35 and #36 and split those games than to play #335 and #336 and beat them both by 50. It may even be better to play #34, 35 and 36 and go 1-2 if at least 2 are road games. The NCAA selection criteria favor impressive wins, by design. Plus, you get experience in tough games before Big Ten season, which can only help, right? To me, scheduling up looks like a win-win proposition. I guess you could say it tires the team out, or you run the risk of being exposed as a bad team, or you won't be able to learn the matchup zone, or something.

Not sure how easy it is, but I'd try to schedule two of Butler, Xavier and Memphis every year, nearbyish teams that will reliably have a great W-L that overstates how good they are. That's how you game the system - 50% of the RPI is your opponents' W-L. Even if the committee doesn't care much about your RPI (they care about the RPIs of teams you've beat), you can make yourself more attractive as an opponent going forward.

NU's small arena probably doesn't help matters.

I think the question I'm skating around here is, is our weak NC a bug or a feature?

macarthur31 said...

@rhett Supposedly, they almost had a home and home with Duke set up, but it fell through. There's your scheduling up right there. Also makes sense from Duke's end in that they recruit here a bunch. However, I bet Duke would push for that to be at the United Center, or something like that. I could see that being a dealbreaker.

I remember when Crean came on board at Indiana a couple years back. Their non-con was Notre Dame, St. Joe's, Gonzaga (Neutrals), @Wake Forest, @Kentucky. Now they always play Kentucky, and usually play in the ACC-B10 challenge. However, those other games are pretty tough.

Last year, on the face of it, we had a decent sked: Butler, Notre Dame, Stanford, Iowa State, NC State. You had the eventual runner-up, followed by reps from the ACC, B10, Big East and B12.

My belief is that they wanted a tougher schedule, but just couldn't make it work. And it takes two teams to make a game happen.

Ultimately, I think the soft sked is probably closer towards a disadvantage. This team tends to play to its opponent's level.