People who didn’t see this game are going to think Northwestern played a good game in losing to Michigan State 65-62, but to be honest the Wildcats did not play well, especially on offense. A lot of those offensive problems probably relate to John Shurna’s injury (which obviously was a total freak event), but still NU’s lack of execution in their offense, especially in the second half, can’t all because Shurna is hurt.
Looking specifically at NU’s offensive problems, Coach Bill Carmody highlighted NU’s first half successes and second half problems in his postgame interview with WGN. Those second half problems, as Carmody pointed out, and was clear to really anybody watching, came from the fact that the Wildcats basically stopped running their offense. On many occasions NU’s players basically stood around the perimeter, didn’t cut towards the hoop at all, and then somebody tried to go one-on-one with a Spartan to make a shot. As much as I think NU has upgraded their athletic skill with Drew Crawford and JerShon Cobb, the Spartans still maintained a significant advantage in one-on-one plays. NU also suffered a major disadvantage when they tried to go one-on-one because of Shurna’s injured ankle. Shurna’s size advantage can negate athletic advantages, but because of his injury he really can’t make smooth moves and get good shots. In contrast to NU’s attempt to play macho-ball and go one-on-one in the second half, the Wildcats in the first half did a great job running their offense and getting shots. They didn’t shoot a great percentage, but the number of open shots they got speaks well to what NU can do when they execute their offense correctly.
As far as production overall on offense, NU got a decent game from Drew Crawford. It wasn’t one of his best, but it was better than his last couple. He made 3-of-5 threes and scored 17 points, got 8 rebounds, and recorded 3 blocks. However, he was one of the Wildcats who forced several bad shots when tried to go macho against the Spartans. Still, Crawford played a better game than Juice Thompson who scored just 3 points until he awoke in the game’s final 3 minutes where he scored 9 points to lead NU’s comeback. However, his overall game still wasn’t the strong “Juice-like” game that we all have come to expect from him. I want to quickly point out that Luka Mirkovic went 3-of-9 from the floor for 6 points and grabbed 4 rebounds. That’s better on the boards and he actually battled more than his 4 rebounds showed, however, his inability to make point-blank layups is driving me nuts so I can’t imagine what it’s doing to his coaches. How can a guy who is 6-11 not be able to make a layup? He’s 70% of the way to the basket just by standing!
NU’s comeback was really good, but I just can’t get over some of the end of the game mistakes they seemed to make after cutting the lead to 63-62. Not only did NU waste an inexplicable 17 seconds before they fouled MSU when down just one point, but then they let Draymond Green grab an offensive rebound that essentially gave them the win. What really upsets me about the rebound is that Green went over Shurna on the block. Shurna showed the whole game that he couldn’t get any elevation when he jumped. He made 1-of-11 from the field and even looked in pain from the free throw line. Why then did Bill Carmody have Shurna on the block? I know it’s the spot Shurna usually goes to in NU’s normal alignment, but given Shurna is obviously hurt I don’t think he should have been on the block. Put Capocci in front of Green or Crawford or Curletti or Cobb or even Luka. Anybody except an injured Shurna would haven given NU a better chance. Overall I thought NU’s coaches had a good plan which fell apart because of poor execution by the players, but that was a coaching gaffe.
The worst part about this loss is I think NU could have won with a healthy Shurna, but he looks so hurt that I’m starting to wonder what advantage NU actually gets from playing him. I know theoretically teams have to still guard him, but watching him hobble around and miss shots I’m not sure that’s an advantage. I’d almost rather have NU sit Shurna and lose a couple more games if it meant he could come back totally healthy in a couple weeks. I don’t know if that’s even possible, but with this loss I think NU’s essentially out of the NCAA Tournament unless they make a run in the Big Ten Tournament and I’d hate to still have Shurna hurt then.