Saturday, December 31, 2011
Coach Patrick Chambers brings in a Penn State team with an 8-6 record. The Lions are led by point guard Tim Frazier who took over the do everything role that used to belong to Talor Battle. Frazier leads the team with 17.4ppg, 5.6rpg, and 6.9apg. This will be another tough matchup for freshman guard Dave Sobolewski who faced off versus Ohio State’s Aaron Craft in NU’s first Big Ten game of the year. It’s tough to ask Sobolewski to battle these guys, but that’s the Big Ten. You don’t get any off nights as Wisconsin found out in going down to Ohio State.
The fact is that while the Frazier v. Sobolewski matchup might not be an advantage for Northwestern, I think the rest of the floor offers positives for NU. One of the key notes is that NU has size over Penn State at nearly every spot. Penn State’s biggest starter is 6-8 Billy Oliver. Off the bench they’ll bring in Sasa Borovnjak who is 6-9, but the fact is that Luka Mirkovic will have a significant size advantage over anybody Penn State plays. That means Luka needs to get involved in the game early. Luka’s inconsistency has been frustrating for NU fans over the years, but we all know that a strong game from Luka equals a Wildcat victory and this game presents the Wildcat center with the chance to have a big game.
Another Wildcat who has to be expected to have a big game is John Shurna. At 6-9 Shurna is also bigger than any Penn State starter. Sure, Penn State might play zone as opposed to let a 6-5 guy try to guard Shurna, but that means Shurna should have the advantage in getting off open shots and getting off shots with a size advantage. Personally, I called out Drew Crawford and JerShon Cobb for what I thought was selfish play in the Ohio State game, but it seems to me that Coach Bill Carmody had more issues with Shurna based on what he said in the post game after Ohio State. Penn State isn’t one of the stronger teams NU will play this year, but it is probably important that Shurna respond to the adversity of the last game and show up focused from wire to wire on Sunday evening.
As for the rest of Wildcats Drew Crawford should have an advantage in terms of athletic skill which he didn’t have versus Ohio State, but I’d still like to see him take shots within the offense instead of freelancing. Reggie Hearn has been very quite since his big game versus Central Connecticut. I’d like to see either Hearn or Alex Marcotullio start to hit some three point shots and give the Wildcats another realistic scoring threat from behind the arc that teams need to respect. Will that happen on Sunday? It’s hard to say as the consistency hasn’t been there for those two guys yet this year. However, I do think NU will do enough to win this game. I predict: Northwestern, 77 Penn State, 70
Thursday, December 29, 2011
Perhaps even worse than the rebounding issue was the selfish play some of NU’s players demonstrated last year. The Princeton Offense is a team concept which should allow players to get open shots by passing the ball well until the best shot opens up. However, last night a number of Wildcat players tried to go off on one on one moves and it simply didn’t work. The must guilty was Drew Crawford. Crawford has for 2.5 years looked to me like the type of player whose success if very much determined on what happens early in a game. If he hits his first couple shots he can be great, but if he does not he tends to start to force shots because he thinks he should score. Last night he seemed like he felt the need to score points and starting taking some of the dumbest shots I’ve ever seen from a Northwestern player.
Along the same lines, JerShon Cobb is starting to remind me of the guy you desperately want to avoid having on your team in a pickup game. It seems like as soon as Cobb gets into the game he’s going to try and make some type of move to score. Sadly, it seems like more often than not that shot ends up as a brick. That’s not a surprise when you consider he’s only shot over 50% in one game this season. Until he starts making shots more regularly Cobb needs to be more willing to be part of the offense and just try to make one on one moves.
I could go on with other examples of NU’s selfish play last night. For example, John Shurna needs to shoot, I think we all know that, but he too put up some really questionable shots last night. Anyhow, I think I’m done talking about this for now. Wildcat Nation should focus on Saturday’s bowl game at this point and worry about basketball after that. If the ‘Cats win in Texas at least one long and unfortunate streak will be put to rest this week.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Ohio State’s shooting aside, perhaps the bigger issue was that Northwestern just seemed to get out efforted. Now maybe that was the a case of being out athleted, but I still think the effort could have been better. A number of times in the case of those offensive rebounds the NU player didn’t even jump and the Buckeye player pulled in the rebound over them. Also, while you have to give credit to Ohio State for making their three point shots and creating the three point shots they made in the game. However, more often than not the Wildcat defender seemed to be late getting out on the shooter and late getting his hands up and getting off the ground. Basically, it looked like the Ohio State defender always had enough space to shoot comfortably. That wasn’t the case when Northwestern shot.
The other place where the game seemed to turn for Northwestern was shot selection and offensive patience. Last year NU challenged Ohio State because they played with patience and burned time off the clock. This year Drew Crawford decided he was Kobe Bryant but instead looked more like William Cullen Bryant. Crawford’s missed wild shots lead to several secondary breaks for the Buckeyes which resulted in threes and simply sped up the game which was big no-no. Then once the Wildcats were down the rest of the Wildcats started to try and mount a comeback by forcing equally quick and ill advised shots. I am shocked that Bill Carmody allowed Crawford and the Wildcats to what they did. It almost looked like the ‘Cats just decided to see what would happen if they tried to play Ohio State straight up. The answer, not surprisingly, was nothing good.
I’ll conclude simply with the fact that while I’ve never been a believer in the concept of the must win game outside of tournament play the fact is that Northwestern must win the next two games at home against Penn State and Illinois if they want to continue to have hope of playing in the postseason. To do so they’ll need to put together a better effort than what we saw today. Also, making more shots and playing something that looks like defense would help a lot too.
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Ohio State’s roster is so full of talent that it is almost ridiculous to expect anybody in the Big Ten to beat them. Preseason National Player of the Year Jared Sullinger headlines the OSU front court which also features athletic forward Deshaun Thomas who has stepped up his game this season especially in the contests which Sullinger sat out with an injured back. The Ohio State backcourt features two players listed amongst the top-25 nationally in the preseason in guards Aaron Kraft and William Buford. Kraft is the defensive stopper who while not a great shooter (30% from three) does tend to impact the game on defense in getting steals and handling the ball very well with a nearly 3-to-1 assist to turnover ratio. Buford is more of scoring threat at 15.8 ppg and making 37% of his threes. He’s also a nice athlete that can get to the hoop when he needs to do so. These two will present a major challenge for NU’s backcourt of Dave Sobolewski and Reggie Hearn. If he’s closer to 100% look for more action from JerShon Cobb to at least try and even out the athletic skill battle.
NU’s front court seemingly is the their strong point with Drew Crawford and John Shurna, but when you stack it up against Sullinger and Thomas it looks more average. Obviously, neither Shurna nor Crawford will battle Sullinger one on one. That’ll be the job of Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti who I actually think played Sullinger about as well as they could have last year, but the result was still 20 points and 18 rebounds for Sullinger when the teams met in the Big Ten Tournament. Those 20 points were mostly on free throws, though as Sullinger only made two field goals. Nevertheless, if NU can’t keep Sulinger and Thomas at least somewhat off the glass they can’t win unless they shoot a ridiculous percentage from three point range. To do that Shurna needs to have a big game and he also has to do a good job containing the athletic Thomas and not committing fouls.
Last year Northwestern used mostly a switching man to man defense versus Ohio State. However, I think last year’s Buckeyes were better shooters. I could see NU be successful with the 1-3-1 zone this year. It’ll clog the paint and may slow the game down. NU has to slow this game way down compared to the Creighton game which at times was a little too fast. I suspect NU will do this and that’ll help them for about 30 minutes before Ohio State pulls away. I predict: Ohio State, 63 Northwestern, 50
Thursday, December 22, 2011
I think the key player for NU is JerShon Cobb. The natural talent is there for him to score points because while he’s not a great shooter he has the ability to get to the hoop and he’s a good enough free throw shooter to make shots if he gets fouled. The problem is that he doesn’t seem fully healthy from his injured hip and concussion and he still needs to find a way to get somewhat more consistent with his outside shooting in order to create a few more driving lanes. Reggie Hearn has been something of an option as an outside shooter, but I’m afraid his struggles tonight against Creighton might be a portent of the struggles he’ll have against the top-6 teams in the Big Ten.
The major overall issue for Northwestern is defense. The 1-3-1 was okay tonight, but he eventually Creighton started hitting shots against it. The man-to-man was flat out bad as the Blue Jays guards were able to enter the ball into the post and get Doug McDermott any shot he wanted from about a foot away from the basket. I’m very worried about how successful Northwestern will be against teams like Ohio State with Jared Sullinger or Illinois with Myers Leonard if they can’t deny those guys the ball in the post. Perhaps the saving grace is that Creighton is a better shooting team than Illinois or Ohio State, but I can’t be one hundred certain of that because teams have a history of going crazy versus NU from three.
Rebounding is also obviously and issue as NU got outrebounded by 10 tonight. Now, I don’t expect NU to outrebound everybody or really anybody, but I think NU needs to prevent teams for getting second chance shots. I lost count of the number of times that Creighton got a second or third look and cashed in often times for three.
It’s a little frustrating to be at this point right now because I know I started to buy into a lot of the tournament hype. The problem I think is that Northwestern isn’t getting any better. I actually think they played better defense at the start of the year in the Charleston Classic than they have in the last three games. Maybe that is simply because those teams were worse than the teams NU has played the last three games, but I have trouble believing Tulsa is worse than Eastern Illinois. Bottom line, work has to be done for NU to make the Big Dance. The good news is that the Big Ten is strong enough plenty of chances for quality wins exist, the bad news is the Big Ten is strong enough that if things don’t get better Northwestern will once again finish with 7 or 8 league wins and be right back where they ended last year. The NIT is better than nothing, but it’s tremendously frustrating to have the NCAA Tournament within sight, but constantly trip and fall before reaching the finish line.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Looking at Creighton, they’re a fast paced, score a ton of points, play average defense type of team. That’s fairly similar to Northwestern, though, I’d say Northwestern can be better on defense just based on the unpredictability of using the 1-3-1 zone. Also, while we can’t say Luka Mirkovic is a superstar, he does give Northwestern the biggest player on the court. That counts for something on defense and on the glass if Luka brings an attitude of aggression to the court.
The numbers say Creighton is a better offensive team than Northwestern and Creighton forward Doug McDermott is playing out of his mind. He’s the nation’s second leading scorer and makes 57% of his threes! Basically, he’s John Shurna last year before Shurna’s ankle injury. I know Northwestern is going to present more of a challenge for McDermott than the Jays’ previous opponents, but I’m still worried about him and his offensively talented teammates.
I expect a fast paced up and down style game. I’m a little worried NU won’t have as much of an advantage as they might in some non-conference games because this is the second year in a row NU has played Creighton and it is the third year in a row Greg McDermott has coached against NU having guided an Iowa State team NU beat two years ago. Without a doubt this game will be high scoring. The team that shoots better will probably win it and though I totally hope I’m wrong, Creighton does average more made threes than NU and I think Creighton has the advantage playing in Omaha. I predict: Creighton, 87 Northwestern, 82*
*I predicted NU to beat Baylor so clearly I can be wrong.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Northwestern will be on the road at ranked opponents Creighton and Ohio State before the New Year starts. While many will say NU has no chance to beat Ohio State and a limited to shot at Creighton, I think wins in both games are possible, though, winning one of two is more realistic. Even just getting one of the two wins, as long as the loss doesn’t look like the Baylor game, will make me shift my view about NU’s tourney chances. The reason is that to make the NCAA Tournament a team can’t just beat everyone they are supposed to beat. They need wins which boost their resume. Perhaps making Creighton even more important, it often helps if one of those resume boosting wins comes outside of conference play. Therefore, let’s look at what NU needs to do to beat the Blue Jays.
Creighton is led in scoring and rebounding by Doug McDermott. The Jays are 9-1 and McDermott has been their leading scorer in 9 of the 10 games and the leading rebounder in 8 of the 10 games. But don’t start to believe Creighton is a one man team. They squad also features point guard Antoine Young who is a double figure scorer and an excellent ball handler. He’s not a great shooter like McDermott who makes 57% of his three point shot is, but Young’s quickness could give NU’s guards some trouble.
Creighton also has a center in Gregory Echenique who scores almost double figures and who has collected 1/3 of his rebounds on the offensive end of the floor. Considering that the ‘Cats struggled at times to secure the glass against smaller teams this season this has to be a concern. NU needs to see Luka Mirkovic put together his second strong game in a row and really play with attitude and focus.
Stopping McDermott and Young is perhaps an even tougher task with Creighton as a team making 43% of their threes and having almost a 2-to-1 assist to turnover ratio. The 1-3-1 zone seems a little risky to employ. The only thing that might make it worth considering is that Northwestern might be a stronger team than any of the squads Creighton posted those numbers against. Still, I’d like to see NU play man defense. I think the ‘Cats can handle the Blue Jays if they play with focus and intensity. They just can’t be lackadaisical. Also, I’d like to see Reggie Hearn guard Young as I think his 6-4 size and bulk will be tough for the 6-0 Young. I’d also like to see Drew Crawford and JerShon Cobb rotate on McDermott as they are NU’s most athletic players and the best way to stop him is probably not to let him catch the ball in an area where he can make plays. Some might suggest John Shurna take that defensive assignment, but I don’t want Shurna so exhausted from chasing McDermott through screens that he doesn’t have the legs to hit shots. Realistically, this should be a high scoring game and NU needs at least 25 points for Shurna to win that type of game. If John has no legs to get into this shot we could see a Central Connecticut State type performance and nobody wants that. However, if Shurna knocks down 6-7 threes NU has a got a great chance. As a team, I’d say Northwestern needs to make at least 12 threes to win this contest. That’s possible as Creighton’s three point defense has been just average, but NU needs to make it look just bad. NU’s centers need to hit some shots and a healthy Alex Marcotullio would help a lot too (though I don’t want to assume he’ll play). Also, NU cannot just expect to hit threes and win. The threes are a key factor, but the basket must be attacked as well. With that in mind, I’m really hoping we’ll see JerShon Cobb step up and have a big game. He’s got the talent and he seems to be getting more into the flow these last few games. This would be a big game for him to up his game and make some big plays. Obviously, Drew Crawford is also a factor whenever NU wants to attack the hoop, when he does so he must make his free throws. It’ll take a great effort, but NU can beat Creighton. They can beat Ohio State too, but that’ll take an even greater effort, but beating Creighton could be a great springboard. I’ll have an official prediction up in the next day or so. I want to believe NU can win this, but I know it’ll be a tough task.
Sunday, December 18, 2011
Really, it seems like NU has a number of players who can step up and make big shots. Yesterday’s hero Reggie Hearn only attempted one shot (and missed) but Shurna got scoring support from Luka Mirkovic, Drew Crawford, and Dave Sobolewski who all scored in double figures.
Mirkovic is a player who we all agree can be frustrating, but he’s also critically important to Northwestern’s success. Today, Luka played one of his best games scoring 18 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, and dishing out 7 assists. Yes, the competition from Eastern Illinois wasn’t spectacular, but Luka has the potential to play at a high level. He just somehow needs to find consistency. Can he do that in next 20-some games of his career when he hasn’t in three-plus years? I don’t know, but I’m holding out hope he can. You never really know what is going to cause someone to change their outlook and approach and I think we all agree Luka’s biggest issues are in his head. Yes, he’s not Jared Sullinger, but he’s still a Big Ten center. Somewhere along the way between now and the final game of his career in purple maybe he’ll realize that.
Drew Crawford is another player who NU needs to get consistent and unlike Mirkovic it seems Crawford has made it to a point in his career where he can be a consistent threat to score the basketball and help run offense even if his three point shot isn’t falling. Today despite making just one three, he scored 14 points and provide 6 assists against 0 turnovers. He also stuffed the stat sheet with 3 steals, 3 blocks, and 7 rebounds.
Another NU player who consistently plays well is guard Dave Sobolewski. Taking over for Juice Thompson is not an easy task, but so far Sobolewski has been up to the task. Today he scored 12 points and tabulated 3 assists while only turning the ball over once.
The biggest issues I leave this game with are related to defense and free throw shooting. With all the shooters Northwestern has they should be a good free throw shooting team. Therefore, I’m hoping they’ll step up that aspect of their game very soon. The bigger concern has to be defense. Northwestern has success with using the 1-3-1, but they can’t become overly reliant on that defense. Early in the year NU’s man-to-man was somewhat better, but it seemed to slack at bit recently. Against Baylor it was talent issue and perhaps the last couple days it was simply exhaustion. Nonetheless, the way NU plays man-to-man needs to be better quickly because the ‘Cats have two tough road games in the next 10 days, but those tough games also make for great opportunities. As I wrote a couple days ago, change may be a process and not an event, but at some point in that process one needs to take advantage of the chances the events along that process present.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
Probably the biggest concern for Northwestern is that John Shurna has struggled with his shot in two of the last three games NU has played. Shurna scored 12 points and grabbed 8 rebounds which looks on the face of it like an okay game, but the fact was he struggled on offense. He made only 3-of-14 shots and only hit one three pointer. I will say that I thought he played hard on defense and while Central Connecticut State did have some players put up decent numbers, I think Northwestern defended them better than some of their previous opponents. The bottom line, though, is that for Northwestern to really be a strong team John Shurna needs to score and needs to be effective from three point range. Whatever he has to do to get himself focused it is critical he do so soon.
A major positive for Northwestern today was the play of Reggie Hearn. Hearn scored a career high 17 points, made all four of his three point attempts, and just overall was fantastic as far as his effort on the court. Plus, he took a nice pass from Luka Mirkovic and made an and-1 layup which sealed the game for NU. At the start of the season nobody probably envisioned Reggie Hearn as the go to clutch player for Northwestern, but he excelled in that role today.
Drew Crawford also made a clutch shot late and made several other tough shots in the lane during the game. Crawford didn’t shoot great from three point range today, but I liked the fact he didn’t seem to let that get him down and made an effort to make things happen by driving the ball at the basket. He’s developed a nice assortment of shots and I think he’ll be a key player in Big Ten play because he’s better than most of NU’s guys at getting his own shot.
Another Wildcat player who can get his own shot is JerShon Cobb. Still recovering from injury, Cobb played 16 minutes and scored 9 points. He made two nice pull-up jump shots and hit a three. The biggest key to Cobb becoming a great player is that he develops a consistent three point shot. If that happens, he might become NU’s best player.
Northwestern plays tomorrow against Eastern Illinois who enters the game at 6-3. The Panthers just lost to fellow instate rival Western Illinois to snap a three game win streak. EIU has some talent including Jeremy Granger who scored 18 in the loss to WIU. NU needs to refocus quickly and hopefully give a full 40 minute effort tomorrow.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
One of the guys who certainly needed to rebound from the Baylor game was Luka Mirkovic. Luka’s play tonight still won’t get him listed amongst college basketball’s elite centers, but he was far more solid than he was versus Baylor. Was Baylor much better than Texas Southern? For sure. But getting good play from Luka is so key for NU that I’m thankful whenever he plays well. Tonight, I was thankful to see Luka demonstrate skill as a passer with five assists, though, I wish he’d have scored a bit more.
NU’s leading scorer was John Shurna who certainly stepped up his game in the second half as did JerShon Cobb. Shurna’s 20 points and 5-of-7 made threes were a nice bounce back from the Baylor disaster. Cobb finished with 10 points and looked really rusty early on in the first game back from a concussion. In the second half, though, he seemed to relax and let the game come to him a bit more. As a result, he ended up hitting some open shots and looking more comfortable on the floor. He’s a big player for NU especially while Alex Marcotullio battles a foot injury. At some point I’d like to see Marcotullio and Cobb both healthy at the same time for NU, but it seems as though that hasn’t happened at all in the last year and a half.
I think when people talk about this game and look at the stats they’ll wonder how NU could hit 13 threes in this game and not even make five versus Baylor. Obviously part of the answer is who the ‘Cats were playing, but it’s still good to see NU once again show the three point touch. I really liked seeing Dave Sobolewski hit the high-point of his young career with five made three pointers. Sobolewski was 5-of-8 shooting for the night with all the attempts from three point range.
NU’s other double figure scorer was Drew Crawford with 17 points. Perhaps even more impressive than his points, Drew had 5 assists and 0 turnovers and recorded two steals.
NU only gets one day off now before playing a decent Central Connecticut State team. I’m excited to see NU play that game because it should provide an increased competition level from tonight and will give us a little more insight into what this NU team really has. Of course, we might have to wait until the tough road tests in late December against Creighton and Ohio State to really know.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
1-6 Texas Southern shouldn’t present much of a challenge to NU and that’s probably a good thing after the loss to Baylor. The Tigers are a team that lost 62-46 to Denver in their last game so they clearly are not an offensive powerhouse. In fact, they’re pretty much the antithesis of that. They rank second to last in the NCAA in points per-game as a team with only 50.9 on average. Omar Strong is their leading scorer with 13 points per which does mean he averages more points per-game than anyone on the roster of the Stony Brook team NU almost lost to earlier this season, but I’m not worried about the Wildcats in this contest.
NU will be without guard Tre Demps who elected to have his season ending surgery and redshirt this year. He’ll most likely join fellow freshman Mike Turner as a guy who will watch all this season and then have the opportunity to step into a larger role next season. I think this is the right move as Demps was never 100% and guards Reggie Hearn and Dave Sobolewski have handled things just fine as NU’s starting backcourt. The concussion injury to JerShon Cobb has been an issue for NU, but he should return to action in the future much closer to 100% than Demps would ever have been this year. Hopefully, we’ll see Cobb on the court if not tomorrow at least at some point over this weekend stretch of three games in four days.
It really is important for NU to get off on the right foot in this game and get their confidence back. The effort against Baylor was so poor that even those who have been so beaten down by watching Northwestern basketball over the years had to leave Welsh-Ryan feeling like they’d been somehow wronged by the cosmos. Personally, I think my mistake was I confused my understanding of the concept of change. I’ve waited for years to be able to see NU get a big upset win and then say, “That’s it! That’s the win that’ll change what Northwestern basketball is.” It’s a nice dream and I’d convinced myself the Baylor game would see that dream given form. The problem is that in fact change isn’t an event it is actually a process. What we all need to believe as NU fans is that the process of change for Northwestern basketball is ongoing. It’s hard to believe when watching a game like NU played versus Baylor that such an event could in anyway be part of that process, but in fact it can be. In the end that process has to take Northwestern to the NCAA Tournament sometime in the future (preferably before my death). Will that happen this season? Honestly, I have no idea and beating on Texas Southern isn’t in anyway going to answer that question. Nonetheless, winning big ought to feel pretty good. I predict: Northwestern, 88 Texas Southern, 47
Sunday, December 4, 2011
I’d also say that this game pretty much shows John Shurna isn’t an NBA player, though, I’m not sure anyone ever thought he was. Shurna will probably still get drafted in round two and play in the preseason, but if he wants to make money in basketball long term it’ll be overseas against players who play a game that isn’t as based on athletic skill and that feature more finesse.
I was also really disappointed in Drew Crawford and his lack of assertiveness, but I think some of that was simply proving the concept that while Drew Crawford is “Northwestern-athletic” he’s not really athletic.
The worst part, though, was every player on the court for NU looked intimidated by Baylor. That’s awful and something that needs to change if Northwestern ever wants to be anything. Other teams will be better, but at some point NU needs to be mentally ready to play a big game. Aside from seeing Juice Thompson do that last year, I can’t think of another NU player who clearly showed mental toughness.
At least the crowd was good, though, too bad they didn’t see anything from Northwestern which will make them want to come back.
NU now takes time off for finals and that’s maybe not a bad thing. They still have a shot at a big win when they play at Creighton, but that’ll be a tough game as well.
Saturday, December 3, 2011
When talking about Baylor you have to start with Perry Jones III who is likely top-5 NBA draft pick. He’ll be playing just his second game of the season on Sunday after being suspended early in the year, but he scored 27 points and grabbed 6 rebounds in his first game back so it doesn’t seem he has any rust. Jones is 6-11 and along with 6-10 Anthony Jones and 6-9 Quincy Miller gives the Bears some major size in the front court. It’s hard to envision who on NU’s team would play Jones III in man-to-man based on size I’d guess it would be Luka Mirkovic, but I wasn’t thrilled with Luka’s defense on 6-9 Herb Pope of Seton Hall who is the best front court scorer the ‘Cats have played to this point so I’m not really sure what to think. I know John Shurna played 6-11 Daniel Miller of Georgia Tech well, but he’s a different of player from Jones III. I wouldn’t be surprised to see NU in more zone on Sunday whether that be the 1-3-1 or even a 2-3.
The problem with a zone is Baylor has a number of players who can knock down threes and many of those players have size. 6-10 Anthony Jones is really more of wing player and he shoots 44% from three. 6-9 Quincy Miller makes 50% of his threes. Guards Pierre Jackson at 56% and Brady Heslip at 42% are also excellent three point shooters. To be honest, as much as it seems like a potential mismatch, I hope NU at least tries man-to-man because I’d almost be happier to see Baylor making twos early than just pouring in three pointers to start they game which might happen against a zone. Still, at some point in the game NU is going to go to the 1-3-1 and when they do, the must be active and hustle out on shooters because they probably can get turnovers out of the 1-3-1, but those won’t be enough if the Bears are canning threes at will.
Baylor like Northwestern has scored a lot of points this year and the Bears average right around 80. Miller leads the way amongst the guys who have played every game with 15.2, but six Baylor players average more than nine points a game. 6-7 senior Quincy Acy hasn’t gotten the same amount of message board and media hype as Perry Jones III leading up to this game, but I’m also worried about his size and ability to hit the glass at 235 pounds and his average of eight rebounds a game.
For Northwestern to win this game they need to take advantage of a Baylor defense which hasn’t been great in terms of allowing the three point shot. Hopefully, the Wildcats will continue their hot streak from Friday night. I also think NU needs to slow this game down in a way similar to what they did versus Ohio State least season. I just can’t see NU winning a shootout against Baylor since the Bears have athletes at virtually every position. Hopefully, a slow pace, changing defenses, and a solid home crowd will be enough to make Baylor uncomfortable as they face a team unlike any they’ve seen so far this year. The key player if NU does slow the game down is Dave Sobolewski because it’ll be up to him to trigger the offense when the shot clock gets to 15 and make something happen if called sets aren’t available. That’s a lot of reasonability on a young player, but I think he can handle it. I really think this Northwestern team is better prepared to handle this type of game than any previous incarnation of the Wildcats. I predict: Northwestern, 55 Baylor, 54
Friday, December 2, 2011
Four of those 20 three point field goals came from Nick Fruendt who saw his first extended action of the year. Fruendt has the ability to make shots and actually led NU with 21 points tonight. Obviously the feeling in the Wildcat coaching staff is that his defense isn’t up to par for most games, but his ability to hit shots makes me wonder if he can still find a role before the end of the year.
Freshman point guard Tre Demps also saw a lot of action tonight and scored eight points. He also dished out four assists and when combined with Dave Sobolewski the Wildcats two freshman guards combined for 8 assists and 1 turnover. NU did a great job with handling the ball tonight. The starters combined with 14 assists and only four turnovers. Overall, I know that this wasn’t a great opponent, but I thought NU’s effort was solid.
The guy who always puts in great effort, Reggie Hearn, led NU with seven rebounds and continued to show a nice shooting touch with three of five three pointers. He finished with 15 points and played his usual solid defense.
I also think it’s important to note that Luka Mirkovic played his second consecutive solid game. He went 5-of-5 from the field dished out three assists. Hopefully his confidence is high going into Sunday. Another guy who should have good confidence going into Sunday is Drew Crawford. Crawford looked great shooting ball today making 4-of-5 three pointers and scoring 14 points. He also grabbed 5 rebounds and had two steals.
Bottom line, this game was the game it was supposed to be. Now, Northwestern gets ready to play #7 Baylor on Sunday. The Wildcats will go into that game unbeaten and with a chance to make a huge statement to both the Big Ten and the entire college basketball world.
Thursday, December 1, 2011
As noted above, Mississippi Valley State isn’t great record wise, but they have played some good teams. They’ve faced Notre Dame, DePaul, North Carolina, and South Carolina already this season. While only the South Carolina game was really close (a 61-57 S.C. win) only the North Carolina game saw Mississippi Valley State get totally blown off the court. What does that mean? To me it means that Northwestern has to be ready for some of the better players in the Mississippi Valley State lineup and has to maintain their defensive intensity in this contest.
Defense to me is the key. Mississippi Valley State hasn’t played much of it this season as they allow on average more than 82 points per game and let their opponents make 40% of their three point shots. That’s really bad defense and with NU’s multiple talents on offense the Wildcats should be excited to play this game because it could be one where everybody gets into the scorebook.
On offense, Mississippi Valley State is average. They scored 90 points in their lone win (but that was an OT game) and for the year score about 65 points per game. Their best player is Terrence Joyner who averages about 11 points per game and joins Brent Arrington as solid three point shooters. Still, if Northwestern maintains the defensive intensity they have in their previous games then it is realistic to believe that the ‘Cats should win this game fairly easily.
Given the magnitude of Sunday’s contest, it would be ideal if NU got some rest for the frontline players and gave Nick Fruendt and Tre Demps a little action off the bench. Will that happen? I’m exactly sure. I’m hoping so, but I also know that Bill Carmody knows this game is one which he needs to put extra emphasis on to make sure his players don’t lose focus and start to look too far forward. With Mississippi Valley State’s defensive issues, I don’t think that’ll be a problem. I predict: Northwestern, 88 Mississippi Valley State, 63
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Shurna scored 25 points and grabbed 8 rebounds. I also thought he did a great job on defense as he grabbed three steals which helped result in some of NU’s 17 fast break points. On defense Shurna played both 6-11 center Daniel Miller and athletic forward Glen Rice, Jr. at various times in NU’s man-to-man. I thought it was impressive how Shurna handled the various skills of both players well and kept them contained. I think it is also huge that Shurna showed up so well on defense as it shows the emphasis that NU must be placing on defense this season. It would be real easy for a scorer like Shurna to take an easy on the other end of the court, but he doesn’t and the result is nothing but positive for the ‘Cats.
Another area where I thought NU looked good in this game was bench production. Tonight, Alex Marcotullio was the leader off the bench as JerShon Cobb was held out after not passing a post-concussion test after suffering a head injury in the game against Stony Brook. Marcotullio had 7 points, 2 steals, and 3 rebounds. He also showed his usual good understanding off the offensive system and it seems the team really plays well when he comes on the court. Along with Marcotullio his fellow Michigan-native Davide Curletti also stepped up off the bench. He became the first NU center this season to hit a three which is huge in NU’s offense and he got four rebounds as well. After the issues Curletti and fellow center Luka Mirkovic had versus Stony Brook it was nice to see them both do well tonight. Mirkovic ended the day with 13 points and three rebounds. If NU gets 18 points total from their centers (as they also did versus Seton Hall) they will win. Can they win with less? Yeah, but it’s so much tougher. The center position is really critical to NU’s success.
Also critical to NU’s success is continued strong play of guard Dave Sobolewksi. I know the Rivals boards have had some debate about Sobolewski, but some of that seemed spurred by animosity amongst posters as much as any debate on Sobolewski’s skill level. After all, I think he’s more than proven he can play. Not only did he post a 6-to-1 assist to turnover night, but he made some moves to the hoop tonight that I didn’t see Juice Thompson make until he was a more experienced player. The area where Dave still might need to get more consistent is three point shooting, but he’s got that skill in his tool kit as evidenced by his early shots against Stony Brook and his big three versus LSU.
Before closing, I also want to draw attention to Drew Crawford’s 14 points and 3 steals and Reggie Hearn’s 5 rebounds. I’m certain both players would admit they could play better with Crawford having some turnover issues and Hearn missing a couple threes that I expect him to knock down, but they both contributed to the win. Also, my compliments to guard Omar Jimenez a Georgia-native who scored the first two points of his career tonight. That was pretty cool. Now, NU is ready to face Mississippi Valley State on Friday before a huge game vs Baylor Sunday.
Monday, November 28, 2011
The Jackets feature a three guard lineup around 6-11 center Daniel Miller who averages 9.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. He’s also a good shot blocker and an overall decent athlete. He’s potentially a difficult matchup for NU’s Luka Mirkovic, however, Mirkovic’s best game of the season was against Seton Hall’s Herb Pope who is probably the best player NU has faced this season. However, Luka has massively underachieved in most of the other games the ‘Cats have played this year so it is hard to know what to expect. I’d say that a good game from Luka and his backup Davide Curletti will probably propel the ‘Cats to victory, but NU could win without their tag-team centers doing a lot of damage—it’ll just be a lot harder.
While Miller is a good player, Tech’s biggest star is Glen Rice, Jr. Rice was suspended at the start of the season and didn’t start when he came back, but he still has scored double figures in three consecutive games. He’s shot pretty much lights out with 66.7% overall and 42.9% from three being his season marks. If NU goes to the man-to-man look for Cobb, Drew Crawford, and Reggie Hearn to get a rotating assignment on Rice in order to slow him down and potentially tire him out. It’ll also help NU’s case if Rice has to play defense on either Crawford or John Shurna when the ‘Cats are on offense.
It would really help NU in this game if Shurna shows up from start to finish. Looking at Tech’s roster I’m not sure who their best bet to play Shurna man-to-man would be. You know whoever does it will work hard because Coach Gregory learned from Tom Izzo how to teach defense (a maybe a little from KO as well), but I can’t tell if Rice or 6-8 Kammeon Holsey (he averages 12.3 and 5.2) would be the best bet to defend Shurna. Rice is more athletic, but smaller and Holsey might be the type of player that Shurna can beat from the perimeter.
Brian Gregory is a good coach (he actually was rumored to be some NU administrators preferred choice for head coach when Kevin O’Neil left and Bill Carmody got the job). However, he’s new to his team hasn’t had a ton of time to prepare them for the Princeton Offense and 1-3-1 zone. Yes, some of the players saw it last year, but Tech has several new starters as well. In addition, I think a lot of what Tech does mirrors what Michigan State does and while NU hasn’t had great success versus the Spartans, at least they are familiar with the concepts of how to approach such a team. Combined with Tech not really having a home arena and hopefully NU getting a big game from JerShon Cobb as he comes back home, I like Northwestern to win this one. I predict: Northwestern, 71 Georgia Tech, 61
So pumped for this.
Michigan @ Virginia: Michigan. KenPom has Virginia as a Top 10 defense, but Michigan got some really valuable experience in their Maui games against Duke and Memphis and plays an unusual style. I think they win a close game in the high 50's/low 60's.
Northwestern @ Georgia Tech: Northwestern. The fact that it’s on the road scares me, but Georgia Tech is playing in a new building while theirs is being renovated, so it’ll be pretty new to them too. Also, we won the Charleston Classic and they went 1-2 in it, so there’s that.
Illinois @ Maryland: Maryland. Illinois could still be very good this year, but I see them struggling as an inexperienced team in their first true road game.
Miami @ Purdue: Purdue. They seem to have gotten it together a bit after some scares in their first few games (High Point?).
Clemson @ Iowa: Clemson. What happened to Iowa? Basabe was supposed to blossom into a star this year, but he’s playing less than 20 minutes a game and averaging 7.2 and 4.5. As a team they’re shooting pretty well but have been struggling defensively but got blown out by Creighton on a neutral court and by Campbell at home.
Duke @ Ohio St.: Duke. I hope I’m wrong on this, but I’ve watched a lot of Duke games and they’re sneaky good. Curry, Dawkins, Kelly, and Rivers combined with the Plumlees will be tough for Ohio St. to handle. Ohio St.’s favored but my hunch is that Duke is one step ahead of them, even in Columbus.
Indiana @ NC State.: Indiana. Only slightly though. Indiana has looked good in their wins but still hasn’t done anything that impressive yet, as a very down Butler at home is their best win. NC State, on the other hand, beat Texas and played close with Vanderbilt. Still, Indiana is humming so far and I haven’t seen any glaring weaknesses from them yet, so I’m going to give them the nod.
Penn St. @ Boston College: Penn St. Penn St. is not as bad this year as they could have been, having lost most of their players and their coach, while Boston College is just as bad as everyone expected them to be.
Florida St. @ Michigan St.: Michigan St. Florida St. should be extra motivated, trying to avoid losing 3 in a row, but Michigan St. wins this at home. Get ready for an ugly, low-scoring game.
Virginia Tech @ Minnesota: Virginia Tech. I’ll be shocked if Minnesota is able to pull this one out four days after losing Trevor Mbakwe for the season/forever. Virginia Tech is a pretty good team, and Minnesota was struggling even with Mbakwe.
Wake Forest @ Nebraska.: Nebraska. They’re the better team and playing at home.
Wisconsin @ North Carolina: North Carolina. If UNC hadn’t lost to UNLV, I would have picked Wisconsin to win this, but I’m not going to bet on UNC losing twice in a row, especially since they’re at home. Wisconsin is scary so far this year, though.
Result: 7-5 B1G, we win another Challenge.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Dannielle Diamant had a big first half and finished with 19, playing most of the second half with 4 fouls. Brittany Orban had 7 offensive rebounds and 16 points and Morgan Jones had 17 points, including hitting some clutch free-throws near the end of the second half to keep NU within reach. Kendall Hackney had an off-night but should bounce back. One big bright spot today was NU's excellent free-throw shooting, going 22-24 from the line (NU has struggled with free-throw shooting at times this season). All in all, NU played tough and was close but just couldn't get over the hump to pull it out.
The team is now 4-1 on the season, having beaten No. 23 LSU and Illinois St. last week and will face NC State on Wednesday in Evanston.
Friday, November 25, 2011
Stony Brook did a pretty good job with hard-nosed man-to-man defense (and so did NU) the Stony Brook defense helped make it tough for John Shurna and Drew Crawford to get doing early for NU. That meant that early on Reggie Hearn and Dave Sobolewksi had to step up for the ‘Cats. Hearn hit two early threes and Sobolewski made a total of three three-pointers and scored a career high 16 points. Sobolewski, who has taken a lot of strange criticism from some fans, did turn the ball over three times today, but dished out four assists and played very good defense against some athletic guards.
As the game went into the second half it seemed Shurna and Crawford tried to step up more. I still think Shurna needs to look to score more often, but he did enough to help the ‘Cats to victory with 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting. His three point shot seemed off, but I have no doubt it’ll be on the money in future games. Crawford scored 12 points and had 7 rebounds. He also absolutely posterized a Stony Brook defender with one of the most athletics dunks I’ve seen from an NU player.
Overall, this game seemed to be a game NU played without great focus at times, but the defense was good and some new players stepped up. The biggest issue is still inconsistent play from the center position. Today the centers did combine for 6 rebounds and 5 assists, but they didn’t score at all. They cannot get shut out in Big Ten games.
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Stony Brook is one of the most balanced offensive teams I’ve ever seen. They manage to score more than 70 points per game, but don’t have a single player who averages double figures. Instead, they have seven players, including Chicago’s Al Rapier, who average more than 6.5 points per game. Looking at those numbers it becomes hard to decide who to focus the defense on. Hopefully, NU can play man-to-man and work on that defense.
Stony Brook has some good shooters in Anthony Jackson, Bryan Dougher, and Ron Bracey. I’d think that given that fact the 1-3-1 won’t be a defense NU plays much in this contest. The only possible reason to consider the 1-3-1 might be because Stony Brook isn’t the greatest ball-handling team ever. Guard/Forward Tommy Brenton has a 16-to-6 assist to turnover ratio, but most of the rest of the Sea Wolves are turnover prone.
I’m hopeful that this game will present Northwestern the chance to use some of the bench a bit more. If Nick Fruendt and Tre Demps are going to play any sort of a role for this team they need to get some action on the court before the Big Ten starts. This could be a chance to do so. Also, given that Tuesday will be another road trip and the ‘Cats still aren’t 100% healthy I’d like to see if some of the ‘Cats who aren’t feeling their best don’t have to play 30+ minutes. That might limit the scoring a bit, but I’ve still got a fairly easy Wildcat win. I predict: Northwestern, 77 Stony Brook, 54
Sunday, November 20, 2011
What really makes this a good win besides beating another team (like Tulsa) which could compete for an at-large NCAA-bid is the fact that NU got production from several key supporting players to get the win. Most notably and most importantly Luka Mirkovic scored 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting and contributed 2 assists. He struggled somewhat on defense, but he made enough of an impact that he stopped NU from having to just be the John Shurna and Drew Crawford show. Developing that third scoring option will help NU when Big Ten play starts. If Mirkovic can hit some three pointers he’ll become a serious scoring threat as that shot will be open for the center in Northwestern’s offense on most nights. Credit also has to go to Luka’s tag-team partner at center Davide Curletti who also did a nice job in tonight’s game. Not only did he make some key free throws, but he contributed 3 assists and had a huge block of SHU star Herb Pope late in the game.
Also contributing off the bench was Alex Marcotullio. Marcotullio clearly has an excellent understanding of the Princeton Offense and made some extremely tough passes to setup teammates for easy backdoor layups. He also did a nice job at the top of the 1-3-1 which while it didn’t cause turnovers did somewhat slowdown SHU’s offense, though, Herb Pope never was completely stopped. Another member of the supporting cast who deserves note is guard Dave Sobolewski. Although the freshman guard had some trouble defending Seton Hall’s Jordan Theodore, he once again played heavy minutes and kept possession of the ball. In 31 minutes Sobolewski had 2 assists and 0 turnovers.
In the end, though, you have to once again say that NU’s leaders were John Shurna and Drew Crawford. They’ve both developed their game over the summer and the evidence of that is clear as each has shown the ability not only to hit threes, but also to score at the hoop. Crawford led the way with 27 points and was tournament MVP. He made 4-of-8 threes (including one he banked in with the shot clock running out) and also grabbed six rebounds. Shurna scored 19 points and most importantly made all his free throws which were often occurring when NU desperately needed points. He also had 7 rebounds and 4 blocks.
With both Crawford and Shurna showing the ability to score heavy point totals NU is getting tougher to defend and if Luka Mirkovic starts hitting his threes the ‘Cats will become nearly unstoppable. Now at 4-0 NU will play a home game on Friday against Stony Brook in Evanston, and then they go back on the road to play Georgia Tech who was also in the Charleston Classic. Clearly the early season is presenting Northwestern with chances to get solid wins over BCS-conference or tournament-level teams and so far they’ve taken advantage. Hopefully that will continue as boosting the tournament resume early in the year is something which bubble teams have to do.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
St. Francis (NY)…W 75-71 in overtime
St. Joseph’s…..W 78-70
While Seton Hall doesn’t have any blowout wins like Northwestern has with the 60-36 victory over UTPA, one can certainly classify the Seton Hall performance thus far as very solid. The player who has led Seton Hall to those solid wins is 6-8 forward Herb Pope. Pope was once one of the nation’s top recruits but is now more famous for an odyssey of a career which includes getting shot at a party, being arrested for driving under the influence, and punching a Texas Tech player below the belt twice in an NIT game. All those negatives aside, though, Pope can still play basketball as well anyone. Like NU’s John Shurna he declared for the NBA draft but can back to school. It’s paying off as he’s started the season posting dominating stats which include averages of 19.3ppg and 12.3rpg. Some will point to a Pope-Shurna matchup at Power Forward, but they are very different players. Pope’s an inside scorer who wants to make post moves to score or get fouled (he’s an excellent free throw shooter) whereas Shurna has the outside shot and the ability to attack the hoop going at a defender. If Seton Hall tries to have Pope guard Shurna look for Shurna to take the ball at Pope in an effort to get him to commit fouls. If NU plays man-to-man I’d rather see Drew Crawford on Pope than Shurna, but really as I’ll mention below, this game is more of a 1-3-1 from the start type of matchup.
Pope’s not the only Seton Hall player who qualifies as more of a scorer than shooter. The leading Seton Hall scorer is guard Jordan Theodore who scores 21ppg. However, he’s made just one three pointer in three games. The only real serious shooter threat from Seton Hall is 6-6 forward Fuquan Edwin (50% 3PT). Combined with the fact that aside from Pope Seton Hall hasn’t shown great ability to hit the glass and the fact Theodore averages four turnovers a game it might be a good idea for NU to use the 1-3-1 zone even more often than they have in the first two games of the Charleston Classic. In fact, the numbers would make you believe that you couldn’t blame Bill Carmody if he wanted to start in the zone. If he does start man-to-man look for Reggie Hearn to get Theodore and Alex Marcotullio to potentially play some point guard as Theodore will be a tough guard for Dave Sobolewski.
Personally, I’m expecting to see NU play 1-3-1 for most of the game and it’ll be a test to see how well the extra day between games has been used by Seton Hall Head Coach Kevin Willard to prep has team for NU’s unique offense and defense. This game should be close, but I’m optimistic that NU will get some production from Luka Mirkovic, who will be the biggest player on the court, and that will push the ‘Cats over the top. I predict: Northwestern, 67 Seton Hall, 65
Friday, November 18, 2011
The hero today was Drew Crawford, who was everywhere, making 5-8 from 3, driving and kicking, and making short jumpers. He still takes some bad shots, but I don't actually mind because he needs to be a big part of this team's offense. Carmody himself said he wants Drew to play "loosey-goosey", which I think Drew did tonight. He also grabbed a few rebounds and played some pretty good D. Shurna had an off shooting night and had a quiet (for him) 15, but made a huge and-1 with a minute and a half to go to put NU up by 5.
We were badly outrebounded, 36-20. Shurna led us with 6, but Mirk and Curletti only combined for two. The centers have been getting a lot of flak from the fans lately. These past two games these bigs from LSU and Tulsa have been bigger and stronger and have outplayed them. However, I actually think both Mirkovic and Curletti (especially Curletti) played better today than yesterday and had some success with slowing down Tulsa's big men. The damage could have been a lot worse. Anyway, I believe in those two and think they'll both have strong games this year, especially against some of the less dominant centers in the B1G.
We won this game because we were able to force 15 turnovers (9 steals) while we only turned it over 6 times, which made up somewhat for the bad rebounding and enabled us to take 9 more shots from the field than Tulsa. The ability to force turnovers that we've shown through three games is something that makes me hopeful, though the trend may be tough to continue in the Big Ten given how disciplined Big Ten teams tend to be with the ball.
A few notes on other players: Marco only played 10 minutes -- I wonder if he's still somewhat injured or if Carmody simply went with other players. Jershon was crafty in his 16 minutes today, picking up 2 assists and 3 steals and getting to the foul line. Sobolewski once again was solid, with 9 points, 3 assists and 0 turnovers.
Northwestern will be playing the winner of tonight's Seton Hall/St. Joseph's game on Sunday in the Charleston Classic Championship game. Great win and go 'Cats!
The first thing you notice about Tulsa is that they're big at every position and very athletic. They play a bunch of 6'4", solidly built guards and have three huge forwards/centers who play a lot of minutes in Steven Idlet, Kodi Maduka and DJ Magley (speaking of Magley, how does a 6-9, 270 guy run around a basketball court for 20 minutes a game? Your guess is as good as mine.) So they're big. What are their other strengths? Well, as their size would suggest, they're strong in the paint, as Maduka and Idlet are their leading scorers. They've got a guy, Scottie Haralson, who has made 38% of 21 3-point attempts in three games this year. And their man defense, with their size and length, looked pretty good yesterday against Western Kentucky.
So what does Northwestern need to do to beat this team? One thing that might be on NU's side is that Tulsa doesn't seem to have a player like LSU's Anthony Hickey, those fast guards that NU always seems unable to guard. Yesterday we addressed the Hickey problem by switching to the 1-3-1, but if LSU had known how to beat that we would have been in trouble. My guess is that Tulsa might actually be a slightly easier matchup for us in man-to-man. For that to happen, though, NU will need better efforts from Mirkovic and Curletti than we saw yesterday. We'll probably play some 1-3-1, especially because outside shooting isn't really Tulsa's game, but we're not going to be able to do that the whole time, and those two will need to play tougher defense and rebound. They didn't do either of those things well yesterday.
We're going to have to run the offense and avoid getting bogged down around the perimeter like we were so much of the first half yesterday. I loved watching John Shurna take over and play so assertively when that happened yesterday, taking it to double- teams to take a shot, draw a foul or pass to an open shooter. He took on the number 1 player role yesterday, and while he's not going to score 37 every game, the fact that other teams have to pay so much attention to him will open things up for other players to drive or take open threes. I think we'll see that today, and we'll need to see it if we're going to win this game.
Our depth at guard is also really fun to watch this year and should help us out. For once, our guards can afford to play a little more aggressively on defense, and they seem to have a little more energy for every possession. Look for active hands on defense from these guys today.
Tulsa is a talented team that scares me a bit, but I think NU can utilize the 1-3-1 in spurts to force turnovers and long-range shots and will make enough shots themselves to pull out a close game. NU 72, Tulsa 65
Thursday, November 17, 2011
My other observation in the first half was that John Shurna wasn’t getting the ball enough. Shurna has the ability to just eat people alive on the court if he gets the ball because little guys can’t stop him from getting shots because of his height and big guys can’t stop his ability to go to the hoop because of his quickness. Yet, in the first half John seemed too content to just go through the motions as he did vs UPTA. Thankfully in the second half he woke up. Personally, if I were coaching Shurna I’d tell him, “John we’re probably going to play somewhere around 35 games this year. That means you’ve got 35 times you need to go out there and just be a killer whether it’s Central Connecticut or Ohio State doesn’t matter. You’re gonna be the best scorer out there so go out there and look to score.” When he did look to score in the second half Shurna lit up LSU. He finished the game with a career-high 37 points and added 7 rebound and 4 assists. I’d also say that while making 4-of-9 threes as John did is statistically very good, I think he can actually shoot a higher percentage. Basically, as good Shurna was today he can better and that’s something which has to make NU fans grin from ear to ear.
Aside from thinking just how great Shurna can be, I’m also thrilled with how Dave Sobolewski and JerShon Cobb played down the stretch of the game. Without Juice Thompson I didn’t know who would hit big shots for NU. Sure, Shurna will get some, but at times it’ll hard to get him the ball when a defense is totally focused on him. That means NU needs clutch guards. When LSU cut into the lead late, first it was JerShon Cobb drilling a pull up jumper and then it was Sobo knocking down the ice-cold three pointer as Shurna drew the defense inside the arc. Those were big time shots and types of shots which makes me believe NU has guys they can count on in the backcourt. Overall, Sobolewski had a Juice-like line with a very solid 10 points and 6 assists against only two turnovers. Cobb took some madding Jordan-like fade-away shots in the first half, but he can make those and showed that down the stretch. He scored 8 points total. The major flaw in his game is that he’s probably NU’s worst three pointer shooter of the regulars and eventually he’ll need to hit threes or else people will play off him and take away his mid-range shot.
I don’t know if Reggie Hearn has a fan club, but he should. If he doesn’t I’m willing to start it. The guy is all over the court with hustle and he has enough of an offensive game that he’s worth having on the court. Hearn finished with 6 points, 2 rebounds, an assist and a steal, but numbers don’t tell the impact he had. When Alex Marcotullio went to the bench in foul trouble Hearn along with Drew Crawford and Cobb played the top of the 1-3-1 zone and made LSU make the mistakes which got Northwestern back in the game. This also is probably a good time to mention Crawford who helped lead the comeback on offense and finished with 17 points and 8 rebounds. He, like Shurna, just needs to go out there and just play with attitude all the time. He’s got all the skills to be a big time player, but sometimes he seems to get lost in the shuffle. That can’t happen if this time wants to be big time. The best players need to look to be assertive all the time.
The other thing that needs to happen if Northwestern wants to be any good is the center position needs to step up. A Princeton Offense team will never be truly good without a good center and today NU’s tag-team duo of Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti were pretty much awful. One might say they both managed their worst game ever at the same time. In total they scored 4 points and grabbed 3 rebounds to go along with 2 turnovers on 1-of-5 shooting. The fact NU won with the centers playing so bad is fantastic and pretty remarkable. When 6-11 Tulsa center Kodi Maduka fresh off a 16-point 7-block performance in a win over Western Kentucky shows up tomorrow with his running mate 6-11 Steven Idlet who was C-USA player of the week last week Luka and Davide better be a lot better than they were today, especially on defense. Overall, tomorrow’s game will be the toughest in this tournament for Northwestern I’m very sure (and today wasn’t easy). Tulsa is big and athletic and they’ll avoid some of LSU’s dumb mistakes. I’d look for more 1-3-1 and hope that NU’s 56.7% second half shooting percentage holds for the entire game.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
LSU also didn’t shoot very well against Costal Carolina, but NU needs to make sure they’re ready to defend a number of talented LSU scorers. Guard Ralston Turner led LSU with 15 points vs Costal and made two three pointers as well. Several other LSU outside shooting threats, including highly-touted freshman Johnny O’Bryant, had poor games but came fill the scorebook. NU needs to play with the same level of defensive intensity they brought at the end of last season and that Reggie Hearn showed in the opener on Sunday.
That brings up the question of whether Hearn will start and just what NU’s lineup will be come Thursday afternoon. JerShon Cobb is reportedly ready to play, but he may or may not get that start. I think Cobb’s an important player for Northwestern, but if he’s not 100 percent I don’t know that he has to start with options such as Hearn and freshmen Dave Sobolewski and Tre Demps available to Coach Bill Carmody.
Obviously, the two freshmen were somewhat underwhelming in their first official action, but they were good in the exhibition. Also, look for Alex Marcotullio and Drew Crawford to get back into the starting lineup and see significant action if the game is close. I’d really like to see Crawford assert himself on offense and have Marcotulllio take the led as he did last season in getting NU’s entire team to play hard on defense.
I’ll also pay close attention to John Shurna who more or less looked like he was just going through the motions against UTPA. Now, Shurna’s going to face tougher challenges on both offense and defense, but he’s still going to be the best player on the court. He, like Crawford, needs to get assertive and demand the ball because when he does the ball usually goes through the hoop.
Overall, I actually like NU’s matchup with LSU and think it gives the ‘Cats a good shot to start this tournament well. I see a close game, but I think Shurna will help edge the Tigers. I predict: Northwestern, 71 LSU, 65
McKeown lengthened the bench slightly in this game, but he's still relying mainly on the starting 5 with Tailor Jones first off the bench. Alex Cohen got 11 minutes off the bench, but seems to still be adjusting to the college game, while Morgan Jones is still struggling to make shots. Overall, though, We've got a solid six players and a few more who could be almost there. The next test is Illinois St. tomorrow night. Good win, go 'Cats!
Sunday, November 13, 2011
To start though I have to say that one of the strangest things was to watch this game without Juice Thompson playing point guard for Northwestern. When you consider Thompson played virtually every meaningful minute of basketball for the past four years it makes sense that not saying Juice running the show was rather odd. Other guys have been four year starters, but none were on the court from day one as much as Juice.
Without Juice Northwestern gave the point guard reins over to a combination of players. Freshman Dave Sobolewski got the majority of the time and did a nice job. He handled the team well and usually got NU into the offense without a lot of trouble. He also posted a 3 assist and 0 turnover line which was great to see from a freshman. I was also glad to see him finally hit a three pointer late in the game because it should at least give him some confidence. However, he didn’t have Juice’s ability to take the ball with the shot clock running down and make something happen. To be honest, I’m not sure who on NU’s squad has that ability. The best candidate is JerShon Cobb, but his health remains a question mark at this point.
One player who very few questions remain about is John Shurna. Shurna played enough to make a mark on the game, but Coach Bill Carmody did a nice job of getting him out of the game with the lead and letting some other guys play. Shurna scored 15 points and grabbed five rebounds. He also notched two steals. NU’s three point shooting wasn’t great in this contest, but Shurna who might be NU’s best shooter didn’t really seem to look to shoot the three all the much. I expect to see him look for shots more when the ‘Cats travel to the Charleston Classic.
NU also got a decent game from Luka Mirkovic (though I’d like to see him shoot better from the line and from three) who asserted himself early as the tallest player on the floor. He posted 12 points and five rebounds for the day. Granted the competition gets a lot tougher, but those numbers from Luka would be solid and probably help NU to a number of victories. Especially if NU gets anything out of Luka’s tag-team partner at center Davide Curletti. Tonight, though, Curletti really struggled and was basically a non-factor.
Two players that were factors were Reggie Hearn and Drew Crawford. Crawford came off the bench to post 11 points and grab six rebounds. He also almost brought the house down with an attempted tomahawk slam. If he could have finished that play it probably would have been the best dunk in NU history. Hearn was all over the place with 7 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, and a block. I was really impressed with the quick release he showed when shooting from three point range. A case could be made that Hearn’s effort on defense and all around game dictates keeping him in the starting lineup. It might not be a bad idea either as Alex Marcotullio has shown nice ability to bring energy off the bench. I’d look potentially for a Sobolewksi, Crawford, Hearn, Shurna, Mirkovic lineup in the future.
The biggest issue NU had was that they did get out rebounded 35-32, but some of those were long rebounds that just happened to bounce the Broncs way. Basically the same NU team (minus Juice who wasn’t a rebounder) NU competed on the boards with Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament last year so the potential exists. The other issue NU faces is neither NU nor UTPA shot well. Some of UTPA’s issues were NU”s nice man-to-man defense, but NU better hit more shots if they want to compete in their upcoming games. I’d especially look at Sobolewski and Demps who want 1-of-9 combined from three. Juice on percentage would have made about four of those and they have to do the same. I’d also like to see Marcotullio and Crawford get going from the outside, but ankle issues impact the ability to get lift on a shot so let’s just hope they’re in the process of healing.
Overall, NU won and that’s good, but we’ll get a better sense of where this team is over the next week of games.
Saturday, November 12, 2011
Freshman Morgan Jones played well in her first (real) collegiate game, scoring twelve points and grabbing 6 rebounds. She was inefficient, but her shot selection should improve quickly as she gets used to the college game and not being the team's number one scorer. Freshman Karly Roser also had a good game. She's been a big surprise with her huge contributions in the preseason and now in the team's first game. She ended up with 10 points, 8 assists, and 4 rebounds and has taken over the role of starting point guard.
The team mostly played 6 players -- Orban, Hackney, M. Jones, Roser, and Diamant starting with Tailor Jones coming off the bench for 23 minutes. Alex Cohen and Meghan McKeown each played 6 minutes. I don't know if the short bench was a the coach's decision or if there are injury issues, but I'd like to see more players play significant minutes in the future. We've got a lot of size on the bench that we could use come Big Ten play.
The team did a lot of things well in this game, but there are a couple of weaknesses I hope they can sort out as the season goes on. First, they shot a low percentage from the field, only 37.7%. Getting offensive rebounds, as this team does, reduces the need to shoot well, but it obviously doesn't eliminate it. We can hope that the poor shooting was a fluke -- we'll see as the season goes on. Second, the team turned the ball over 20 times (Roser unfortunately accounted for 7 of those). Turnovers were a big problem for this team last year and I hope that doesn't repeat itself again this season.
All in all, the 'Cats played a good game and got the first W of the season! Congrats to them -- we'll see more from them on Tuesday when they play Western Kentucky. Go 'Cats!
As far as this game goes, UTPA was a 6-win team last year and dropped a 91-72 game to DePaul on Friday night. Some people aren’t happy with NU playing UTPA because they refer to the game as an RPI killer, it’s true UTPA isn’t going to be a top-100 squad in March, but NU does get a great advantage from playing UTPA. The advantage? It’s a team NU plays every year. Why is that important? Because UTPA won’t be as clueless as to what NU’s Princeton Offense entails and NU will actually have to work to get good shots. That’s important because I think some of the success NU has had in non-conference, including the 10-1 and #25 national ranking start of two years ago, has been because they’ve played teams that weren’t used to seeing the Princeton Offense. Well, the Big Ten has all seen the Princeton Offense so playing other teams that have also at least makes NU not get so many cheap baskets because defenders are essentially running into each other trying to defend backdoor cuts.
For NU, it looks like JerShon Cobb and Alex Marcotullio might not see the court as they’re still hurt. Drew Crawford isn’t listed as a starter, but was reported to be closer to 100% than the other two. Even if all three sit, NU should score points, though, UTPA’s knowledge of NU’s system has kept this game close the last two years. UTPA guard Brandon Provost scored 16 points and grabbed 8 rebounds against DePaul on Friday. He didn’t miss a three in the game as well. He’ll be an interesting matchup for NU’s freshman guards Dave Sobolewski and Tre Demps who will be in their first official college basketball game. With Marcotullio (who many expected to be a team leader) out, those two will need to step up. Another UTPA guard Jared Maree is also a capable outside shooter who the ‘Cats can’t lose sight of. Reggie Hearn played good defense against Robert Morris in NU’s exhibition win and may be a key factor in helping stop opponents’ top shooters this year. Hearn may be a former walk-on, but he’s a big guard with good length and decent athletic skill. Plus, he seems to have the level of “want to” which all great defenders have.
UTPA’s starting front court of Earl Jefferson and Josh Cleveland posted a total of 14 points and 6 rebounds versus DePaul. In addition, 6-7 sub Ruben Cabrera scored 12 points and grabbed 5 rebounds. These players don’t have the size of Big Ten front court players, but they’ll play hard. They might not offer a great simulation for 7-0 260-pound LSU center Justin Hamilton who NU will face Thursday, but I don’t they’ll be pushovers either and I’ll be looking to see how Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti respond to the challenge.
Looking at the overall matchup, NU’s missing starters might limit the game’s scoring a bit as all three of those guys can put the ball in the basket. However, NU’s still got more fire power than UTPA. I predict: Northwestern, 92 UTPA, 70
Monday, November 7, 2011
Thanks to ankle injuries to Drew Crawford and Alex Marcotullio and JerShon Cobb still slowed from his hip-injury, NU went pretty young and inexperienced in the starting lineup. Tre Demps and Dave Sobolewksi got the call at the guards and Reggie Hearn saw his first serious action as a starter at small forward. All three looked very good. I know it was action against an NAIA school, but Robert Morris is a very good NAIA school. An NAIA school that was good enough to beat a solid NU team a few years back. I liked how all three hung in with the level of athleticism that RMU but on the court and seemed to play with control for the most part. Demps may have fired up a few ill-advised shots, but I think he’s a good enough player that some of those are going to go in from time to time. Plus, Demps, who I thought was more of the pure-scorer of the two freshmen guards, showed a nice three point shot making 3-of-4. He also dished out 3 assists to only 1 turnover. Sobolewski, who I thought was the more of the pure-shooter, didn’t disappoint as a shooter as he made both his three point shots and looked solid from the free-throw line sinking 7-of-9 charity strip shots. He also had 2 assists to 0 turnovers. Hearn got in on the action from three making 1-of-2 and in passing handing out 4 assists to 1 turnover. I also just felt like he showed great understanding of the offense. He seemed to find himself in position to make or pass to teammates for easy shots. I don’t know if we’ll see much Reggie Hearn in regular season games, but I think he’s clearly a valuable player to have on the team.
Nick Fruendt came off the bench in NU’s guard/small forward rotation and led the ‘Cats in scoring with 17 points. Fruendt is a good shooter and he showed it by going 4-for-4 from the field and 7-of-8 from the line. With that type of offensive ability you’d expect to see Fruendt finally become a consistent contributor, but I think it’ll be his defensive progress which we’ll have to keep an eye on to see if he can crack double-digit minutes when the Big Ten season starts.
The NU front court starters were mainstays John Shurna and Luka Mirkovic. Shurna looked solid in his 19 minutes and finished with 12 points. Luka only played 17 minutes, but he grabbed 5 rebounds, dished out 5 assists (a huge asset in a Princeton-style center) and hit a three. He’s a decent three point shooter and I think the center position needs to make at least 3 threes a game against NU’s tougher opponents for the ‘Cats to have the best chance to pull out W’s in those contests.
Off the bench in the front court I was really pleased with Davide Curletti who scored 16 points, notched 6 rebounds, and 4 assists. His only real failing was only hitting 3-of-6 free throws. I really like Davide’s shot and I think he shot make a much higher percentage. I’ve also got to give a big thumbs up to freshman Mike Turner who I think is a legit Big Ten athlete. He might need some work on his basketball skills, but I liked how he hit the glass (8 rebounds) and just his overall hustle approach. Will he play much this season? Maybe not. Still, he’s got a future that I see as pretty bright. Walk-on James Montgomery III seemed similar as well as he blocked 2 shots, scored 2 points, and had 2 assists. He looks quick as well and might take a Hearn like route to being a contributor someday.
Overall, every Wildcat who played looked as if they could play. Even with competition that wasn’t Big Ten caliber that’s saying something when compared with past NU teams. The ‘Cats start regular season play on Sunday. The big question is how healthy are Cobb, Marcotullio, and Crawford, but seeing the talent on the court with those guys out, I’m confident that ‘Cats have enough depth they’ll be able to compete in the Big Ten this season once their roster returns to full strength. As it stands, they should be able to compete with Texas-Pan American on Sunday as they are, but we’d like to see the full crew ready for LSU in a week and a half.