Although Iowa isn’t the strongest opponent the Big Ten has to offer Northwestern’s 90-71 win over the Hawkeyes tonight is still significant. It gives Northwestern their first conference road win of the season and moves them to the middle of the pack in the Big Ten standings. In addition, NU maintains the strongest point of its potential tournament resume which is that the ‘Cats have no bad losses. At some point they need to post a signature win, but avoiding embarrassing defeats hasn’t always been an NU strong suit so a dominate win over a weaker Iowa team is a good feat. You also have to be both impressed, and kind of amazed, that a Northwestern team which was once lambasted from every corner of the Earth for its slow deliberate pace of play now has scored 90 points in consecutive Big Ten conference games and, to be frank, if Coach Carmody hadn’t tried to use the entire bench in the first half NU probably could have posted about 55 points in the 1st half and maybe gotten to 100 points in the game.
The great thing about this win was the multiple positive contributions from a number of players. It wasn’t just one or two guys doing one or two things that took NU to victory. It seemed everybody who played significant minutes tonight made significant contributions. The MVP of the contest, and a guy I was thrilled to see step up because I think he’s a huge key for NU, was Drew Crawford. Crawford got the ‘Cats going with four deep threes early in the game to begin the Wildcat three point assault (5-of-9 3PT over and 19 total points), but also ended up leading the team with 6 rebounds in the contest. The ‘Cats also got 3-of-6 three point shooting from Juice Thompson who had struggled a bit with his deep shot in recent games. In addition to scoring his 17 points, Juice also had 5 assists, 3 steals, and became NU’s all-time leader in minutes played. John Shurna is looking healthier and healthier each day and today totaled 16 points, 5 assists, and 3 steals. JerShon Cobb totaled 12 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists. Luka Mirkovic had 8 points and 4 assists in a game where he probably could have scored more, but had to contend with foul trouble and the fact his teammates were drilling threes left and right so they didn’t feel much need to throw the ball inside. Alex Marcotullio made every shot he took for 8 points and 3 assists and even Davide Curletti got into the act with 6 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists. Basically, every Wildcat who saw more than a little time qualified as what CBS’s Clark Kellogg would call, “a stat sheet stuffer.”
NU even played decent defense for much of this game. The Wildcats did a great job in the first half in the switching man-to-man of denying passing lanes and making it very hard for Iowa to enter the ball. This forced a number of Hawkeye turnovers. The only real problem NU had was if Iowa’s Bryce Cartwright got the ball in a position to aggressively attack the basket. In the second half NU struggled a bit early, but was able to limit Cartwright and his teammates’ aggressiveness when they switched to the 1-3-1 zone which bogged down Iowa’s attack and resulted in a number of easy baskets (including a John Shurna dunk) for NU. If NU can continue to switch defenses appropriately and play with the necessary effort to prevent easy passes and looks at the hoop they have a chance to pull some upsets and get a signature win. No team is going to be perfect, but NU has enough offensive weapons that if they play enough defense to keep themselves in games they will give themselves a chance to win.
That’ll be put to the test on Saturday when NU travels to Michigan State. This year’s Michigan State is beatable (NU almost did so in Evanston), but it’ll still take a better than average defensive effort along with NU’s strong shooting and an effort like tonight where NU won the rebounding battle 36-25 to knock off the Spartans in their building.