Thursday, February 17, 2011

Northwestern Snaps Losing Streak; Sweeps Hawkeyes for First Time Since 2004

As expected this was a close game between two teams who were seeking to break losing streaks. Iowa is certainly improved from the team NU beat in January and while beating them isn’t a major accomplishment, this is a good win to get as NU moves to 5-9 in the Big Ten and knocks Iowa back to 3-11.

With the victory Northwestern HAS won their last two games and home and HAS played really well in their last three home contests. However, NU’s inability to win on the road has really been their problem the last two seasons. Last year NU only won on the road at Michigan in Big Ten play and this year they’ve only won on the road at Iowa. While the odds are this game won’t silence Bill Carmody’s critics (and really should it? Probably not yet.) and certainly won’t get Northwestern in the NCAA Tournament or even the NIT, the fact is Northwestern has a real good chance to make the NIT if they can continue to win at home. However, NU’s remaining home slate includes Penn State, who dominates NU’s men’s hoops squad with the same ease the NU football team dominates Iowa (and their aren’t many teams that dominate another team like NU does the Hawks in football), and Minnesota, a possible tournament team. In their other remaining games NU is at Indiana on short rest (Bill Carmody ripped the Big Ten office’s scheduling for this short rest road trip on WGN after the game) this Saturday and has to go to Madison, Wisconsin where they’ll try to be just the 13th opponent in the last decade to beat the Badgers on their home court. NU may very well be underdogs in every remaining game and that means that the ‘Cats will need an even better effort than their uneven effort tonight to get themselves in the NIT.

The best part of tonight was NU’s return to a pretty smooth offensive system (other than missed layups). The ‘Cats came out hot early and did job of moving the ball and shooting early in the shot clock if the opportunity presented itself. NU finished with 17 assists on their 27 made fields. They also made 12 threes which were, of course, ten more than Sunday at Penn State. No doubt exists that NU shoots better at home which is probably why they are 11-3 at home and 4-7 in locations that aren’t Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Four of NU’s five starters scored in double-figures and JerShon Cobb posted 8 points and 6 rebounds while only hitting 3-of-9 field goals and 1-of-4 free throws (after coming into the game as NU’s top free throw shooter) which means he could have scored more. Juice Thompson led NU with 16 points and 9 assists. Although he only hit 1-of-4 threes, he made a number of huge shots which once NU regained the lead early in the second half kept Iowa from making any sort of run to get the advantage back. Drew Crawford scored 15 points of his own and had an awesome tip on an Alex Marcotullio miss which turned out to be a big play as well. He also had 4 assists and 4 steals. Also, I take some comfort in the fact that 1/3 of NU’s made threes came from John Shurna who hit 4 treys and scored 15 points. However, Shurna still looked a little off at times. He’s missed way more free throws than before his injury and only got two rebounds, but he did show some ability to elevate on a give-and-go dunk.

NU’s final doube figure starter was Luka Mirkovic. Let me say that Luka hitting 2-of-2 threes is huge. I think NU becomes a remarkably better team if Luka is freed to take threes and knocks them done. Also, the fact is that Luka was pretty bad playing on the inside hitting only 3-of-8 two point shots, which means he might be better off shooting the wide open threes he gets anyway. I don’t understand how a guy who is almost seven feet tall can’t convert from two feet away, but Luka often can’t. Yet, somehow he finished today with 13 points and was really the guy who wont he game for Northwestern. He also got seven rebounds, though, if he could jump at all he’d probably have doubled that total. Still, he was better than Davide Curletti who played one of his weakest games of the season posting just a rebound and 3 fouls in 12 minutes. Both need to be much better against Indiana on Saturday.

Indiana, like Iowa, has gotten better since NU played them last and Coach Carmody clearly thinks NU is at a disadvantage based on his short rest rant to WGN, but the bottom line is that Northwestern needs to beat IU just as badly as they needed to beat UI tonight if they want to secure a postseason bid (and really get the heat off their coach) before the regular season’s final days.

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