I want to start this post with a thank you to Drew Crawford for making me look good. I said after Crawford’s solid all-around but relatively low scoring game vs American I expected a big game from the sophomore tonight and he more than delivered that. Crawford finished tonight with 25 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists. He called the game “team effort” in a postgame interview, but it was pretty clear that it was Crawford who helped NU hang early when St. Francis got off to a fast early start. It was also great to see Drew have his best game of the season with his father Danny in attendance. Drew said his dad told him, “Be confident and have fun” before he went out to play and it sure looked like Drew followed his advice. I was impressed with Drew’s confidence on turnaround jumpers inside the arc and it is very noticeable how accurate he is from deep when he has time to get his feet set. If Drew and his teammates follow Danny’s advice all year I suspect the Wildcats will have a truly special season.
Along with Crawford, NU got double figures from three other starters. John Shurna once again posted a big game with 26 points, Juice Thompson netted 14 points and JerShon Cobb chipped in with his third double-figure game on the season by adding 11 points. I was impressed with how Thompson and Shurna not only hit outside shots, but also scored inside. Both players are great shooters, but it seems to me the Wildcats are at their best when John and Juice get inside points to help open up the outside game. Both players also did a good job taking care of the ball after NU’s slow start. NU turned the ball over just once in the second half and Thompson for the game had five assists and only one turnover. I also felt Shurna was very active inside and probably added to the rebound totals of his teammates by helping keep balls alive.
JerShon Cobb was solid outside hitting both of his three point attempts and making 3-of-4 free throws. That’s critical because with Cobb’s ability to get to the hoop he could become a guy that can draw fouls and make a living at the line.
Though he didn’t post a lot of points Alex Marcotullio was once again a key player for NU on defense. Bill Carmody said “Marcotullio did a real nice job at the top [of the 1-3-1]” and that’s high praise from Carmody. Evidence of Alex’s solid play was the limited minutes from Jeff Ryan as Coach Carmody really relied on the sophomore guard’s defensive efforts. WGN radio analyst Shon Morris praised the sophomore guard for his unselfishness on a play when he had a breakaway, but feed John Shurna for a slam.
NU’s most obvious weakness is the inside game. The good of tonight was Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti combining for 12 points and 10 rebounds. Bill Carmody has said that if those guys post a combined double-double NU will win and that held true to tonight. Still, I think NU needs to get more production from inside. Most of Curletti’s points came late in the game and Luka was his typical relatively unaggressive away from Welsh-Ryan self. Somehow Luka needs to find a way to get tough, fight inside, hold on to the ball, and covert on short shots. When you shot virtually every shot from five feet or less you shouldn’t shoot less than 50% from the field. If NU can’t grab more rebounds to limit opponents’ second chances and can’t get convert more short looks from their centers the Big Ten will be tough.
Overall, Northwestern won this game because once again they proved they’re an amazingly explosive offensive team. The game seemed close in the second half and then suddenly a couple mistakes from St. Francis and it was a 20 and then 30 point game. That explosiveness on offense will be critical as no matter whom NU faces tomorrow they’ll face a more physical team that perhaps they can get tried if they start a running game.