Once again Northwestern looked unprepared to play in a game that really mattered. I know Northwestern’s players and coaches want to make the NCAA Tournament, but they don’t seem to play like it or coach like it when the NCAA Tournament is actually on the line. I can make a huge list of key games where NU came out flat with the dance on the line in recent years, but off the top of my head I have Ohio State 2009, Wisconsin 2010, and tonight.
In the first half Michigan took a 15-point lead thanks to some bad NU shooting (32%) and terrible defense which allowed Jordan Morgan to get basically any shot he wanted from about two feet and in. Actually, I think a good number of Morgan’s points came on dunks. NU also allowed too many easy breakaway baskets which mostly occurred due to their missed long distance shots.
In the second half NU’s terrible defense continued which allowed Darius Morris and Tim Hardaway, Jr to continue to get the ball inside to Morgan or take the ball to the hoop for easy dunks. I put a lot of the issues with Morris and Hardaway getting to the hoop on NU’s switching man-to-man which resulted in Michigan’s guards often being defended by Luka Mirkovic or Davide Curletti. I thought Mirkovic and Curletti actually did as well as they could in that matchup, but they aren’t going to win it more than about ten percent of the time. NU’s guards need to get over screens and not put their centers on an island against a much more athletic player. What really upsets me about this is the fact this has been a problem all season long and its clearly not sound basketball yet it continues. At some point this needs to change.
Northwestern’s offensive strategy changed for the better in the second half when they went away from the slowdown and started shooting any good shot they had. In the second half NU made 18-of-29 shots and that includes the slew of missed shots they threw up at the end. I’m all for the slowdown offense vs teams NU isn’t much better than, but tonight I think the ‘Cats should have been aggressive from the start. Certainly, their six point advantage in the second half seems to show that.
The second half was a good showcase for Juice Thompson who scored 17 points and made it look like at least he wanted to win, but at the same time I have to say Juice was just as ineffective on both offense and defense as everybody in the first half so I can’t praise him too much. Drew Crawford also made some good shots in the second half and did a nice job on the glass, but he missed three big free throws and still seems often times to be the guy who is most impacted by not playing well. Drew really needs to learn to “flush” his negative plays and not let them stay with him for extended periods. JerShon Cobb made some nice plays, but took a bad shot late with the score 69-66. I know Cobb’s a freshman, but we can’t have dumb shots under pressure in big games. Crawford took one on the next possession which was even worse. Also, Bill Carmody basically said after the game on WGN that John Shurna isn’t ready to play and he looked like it today in scoring just four points. I don’t want to place NU’s recent tailspin all on Shurna’s injury because that’s not the only cause (see: defense), but the fact is that if Shurna were at 100% NU wouldn’t need to play as much defense because he’d score 22 points each night.
The bottom line is NU lost a big game—again. Bill Carmody sounded really upset after the game on WGN. I think some of that was due to his team’s poor ability to execute on defense, but I have to wonder if some relates to wondering about his job status. Several commentaries have pointed out that Carmody is only under contract through next season and lame duck seasons are pretty rare in college athletics. Next year would be one of NU’s most experienced teams in recent memory which might make NU say, “Sure, we’ll keep the guy as a lame duck for one more year.” Doing that, though, would probably harm recruiting because Carmody won’t be able to prove he’ll be able to coach those recruits. It’s a tough conundrum for Jim Phillips and his staff to try and resolve.
Northwestern’s obviously now probably totally on the outside of the NCAA Tournament and I’m not loving the NIT scenarios either. They play at Penn State on Sunday and watching NU play Penn State the last few years has been about as comfortable as watching your dog get hit by an eighteen-wheeler, so I’m not optimistic about that contest.
I don’t know about others, but I feel this season ceased to fun along time ago. Now, it’s like watching an in progress car accident. It might be exciting for an instant, but you know it won’t end well, yet you can’t turn your head away even though you really, really want to turn your head away.