Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Five Ways for NU to Start Making Progress This Year

A giant snowstorm is in the process of stopping the progress of almost a third of the county today and somehow that seems to connect at little bit to the current status of NU’s men’s basketball team. I think we all came into this season with a lot of very high expectations for the season and a good feeling about the progress which had been made in the program over the past couple years. Now, however, with a 13-8, 3-7 record it seems like that progress has been halted. That’s part of the frustration for many unhappy NU fans. A win against Ohio State would have obviously proved progress was being made in the midst of this underachieving year, but that didn’t happen. Still, the game might have provided some hope, or at least an idea of how this season can be saved and forward restored. Here’s five items I picked up:

1) The most important thing I think Northwestern learned in the Ohio State game was they are capable of rebounding with other Big Ten teams. However, it takes a five man effort. This means that NU can’t shoot a shot and sprint back on defense or try to get out super fast on offense. All five players need to go to the offensive and defensive glass. If this happens NU will get more shots than their opponents and that’s critical because even in NU’s good effort versus Ohio State, the Buckeyes shot 57% from the field.

2) Item two relates to that last number. I think we can note the Northwestern still needs a lot of work defensively and probably isn’t going to get their failings corrected before the end of this season. That means NU’s game plan needs to start to take the Wildcats defensive liabilities into account.

3) Therefore, that game plan must be the slow paced game we saw versus Ohio State. If a team is going to shoot over 50% against you, you don’t want to give them very many shots. NU’s slow paced game limited Ohio State to just 37 shots. It also means that NU can’t give up on the five man rebounding game plan because if teams get more than one shot per possession vs NU it is almost automatic they will convert the second chance.

4) Mike Capocci actually might be NU’s most competent post defender. It seems odd considering he’s only 6-6, but he was able to use his strength to make life tough for Jared Sullinger and Dallas Lauderdale. Even if John Shurna is okay, I think Capocci still needs to find heavy minutes against the Illinois duo of Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis. That might mean sacrificing some minutes from Shurna, Drew Crawford, and JerShon Cobb, but all three could benefit from increased rests as well.

5) Cobb and Crawford are as good of athletes as NU has had. Cobb’s first step on his dribble drive in the first half vs OSU was the quickest I’ve seen from an NU player in fifteen years. I’d like to see him attack the basket more regularly. Drew Crawford will be a key player in NU’s efforts to rebound if they stick with the five man approach, but he needs to get more consistent on offense. I think having him attack the hoop more might help. Crawford is such a streaky jump shooter, that I wonder if getting into the game with some more easy shots and free throws might relax him and let his jump shot start to fall.

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