“If they (Northwestern) shoot like that they’ll make the Final Four.” – Karl RavechThe above quote was said at halftime of the ESPN2 broadcast of tonight’s game and I think it pretty much sums up my feelings. I honestly think NU still has a number of areas that need improvement, but if you aren’t impressed with the way the Wildcats shoot the basketball, well, then put simply, you must be awfully difficult to please. NU’s 55-point first half was actually better in terms of offensive execution than their very impressive first half against Creighton. I would suspect that any opposing coach who watches that tape will be beyond perplexed at how to defend as NU as the ‘Cats got great production not only from Drew Crawford and John Shurna, but also from JerShon Cobb, Alex Marcotullio and a number of others.
Obviously, John Shurna played his usual solid game. He finished the day with 21 Pts, 1 Reb, 2 Ast, 2 Stl, 2 Blk. That total of 21 points will actually lower his average, but like a number of Wildcats he has only himself to blame as even Shurna, a solid free throw shooter, struggled from the charity strip tonight making only 3-of-6 freebies.
As good as Shurna was, it was Drew Crawford (19 Pts, 6 Rebs, 3 Ast, 3 Stl) and JerShon Cobb who really stepped up early for NU and set the tone. Georgia Tech actually started off quick with a big dunk from Glen Rice Jr. and the ‘Cats found themselves in a hole. When that happened, both Crawford and Cobb made tough shots to ignite a Wildcat run that to be perfectly honest continued all the way until the break. Bill Carmody mentioned Cobb wasn’t too happy with his limited playing time Sunday night, and to be honest I was worried about the youngster's confidence if Coach Carmody decided to go with Jeff Ryan or Mike Capocci in that spot, but after tonight I suspect Cobb is happy and I feel happy for him. Like Crawford last year, it seems to have taken a little time for Cobb to get totally comfortable and healthy, but he brought out an assortment of moves tonight which show why he’s got a great future. His second basket of the game, a reverse layup after a lighting-quick drive, needs to make every highlight reel of this game and this season. Cobb finished with a career-high 10 points as well as 3 rebounds and 2 assists. Most importantly, though, he likely found a comfort level which will carry him into the rest of the season.
Before the game reader Mikey K said NU needed a big game from Crawford and I have to give him credit for that observation. Without Crawford hitting tough shots early I think things could have gone bad quickly. Crawford also had an under the radar big play in the second half when he took the ball to the hole hard for two after Georgia Tech got a dunk and seemed to gain some momentum.
Together Crawford, Cobb, and a much more aggressive than ever Juice Thompson are giving NU more players than ever before who can get the ball to the hoop and finish on their own. That doesn’t even include John Shurna who might not be as quick off the dribble as those three, but who also goes to the rack with authority when he sees the opening.
NU made 12-of-19 threes tonight and some major credit needs to go to Alex Marcotullio who made 4-of-4, including one he converted into a 4-point play after sinking a shot while drawing a foul. Coach Bill Carmody was actually most impressed with Marcotullio’s only non-three point field goal saying that Alex, “threw in a runner on the baseline ala Tim Doyle,” when talking with Doyle postgame on WGN.
In my ideal vision of this season Marcotullio is the guy off the bench who can bring NU instant offense and he showed up big time in that role tonight. He also (along with Jeff Ryan and Cobb) provided his usual solid defense atop NU’s 1-3-1 zone. NU played both the switching man and the 1-3-1, but Georgia Tech’s aggressive style made playing the 1-3-1 and almost goading Tech into driving into the middle of the defense where NU could collapse and force a mistake a better option for the ‘Cats tonight.
Some other big plays tonight came from Juice Thompson who had 14 points and 4 assists. Those assists gave him 403 for his career. The NU record is 452 by Patrick Baldwin (the point guard on the last NU team to go 5-0 and to win a postseason game). Also, Luka Mirkovic was credited by Coach Carmody as being “terrific” tonight. If you eliminate the skill of free throw shooting, where Luka went 3-of-7, I agree. Luka played well on defense (7 defensive rebounds), was spectacular as a passer (a team leading 7 assists), and attacked the basket in one-on-one situations well enough to score 11 points. When combined with Davide Curletti (who didn’t play as much because Luka did play so well) NU’s center’s posted a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds. With Luka’s 7 assists, they barely missed a triple-double. I’d bet anything Carmody would take those numbers from that spot every night. Also of note is that thanks to the effort of those two centers, and some solid shooting, NU outrebounded Tech 32-28.
Really, I have only two major criticisms after tonight. First, NU still has a number of players who get beat off the dribble simply because they don’t get low in a defensive position and move their feet. Second, unless they plan to shoot 64.6% from the field every night (which would fine) NU can’t only shot 56.7% from the free throw line. Think about that—NU almost was 10% better from the field. They were if you take out a few late game heaves from the bench players.
One other note, the attendance of 4455 isn’t awful for an NU home game, but the crowd could be much better. It could also look a lot better on TV if people in the purple seats decided to show up. It’s really bad when the announcers are in close-up and behind them are only empty seats. I really think NU needs to start to find a way to move the season ticket holders who show up every game but are either in the upper level or the bleachers over to the better seats which are almost always unoccupied.