Nothing all that unexpected happened in Wisconsin’s 78-63 win over Northwestern and from NU point of view the loss itself isn’t that depressing. After all, everybody losses at Wisconsin. What is depressing is that you could probably have predicted how the game would go without having to see it and that shows NU’s total lack of progress. Once again the Wildcats got buried in a huge hole, played awful defense (especially to start the game), stayed close with threes, had a chance to swing momentum, but in the end lost because the other team made more clutch shots. It was much like the game Thursday vs Penn State or any number of other NU games this season.
It’s this holding pattern of the same mistakes over and over again that has me so frustrated with this team and coaching. Once again, NU started the game with some of the most fundamentally unsound defense you can play in Division 1 basketball. They tried to bail themselves out with the 1-3-1, but the Big Ten has adjusted to that gimmick in the last two years it seems. Plus, with as good as Wisconsin shoots and passes the ball, the 1-3-1 isn’t going to beat this Badger team. It is the total lack of defense that has me most upset and I’m really getting sick of zones all the time. In basketball I believe you should play man-to-man defense most of the time and have a zone to use against poor shooting teams and as a key change up. Honestly, man-to-man defense doesn’t take that much talent. It takes wanting to make an effort to play hard ALL OF THE TIME Wisconsin had a bunch of guys on the floor who wouldn’t beat many NU guys in a foot race or jumping contest, but who play 100 time better defense than NU and actually do a far better job of moving their feet to contest drives because it is important to them and doesn’t seem to be to NU’s players or coaches. Sorry folks, but no team can be fundamentally as bad on defense consistently as NU and have the coach not deserve some blame. In the second half, NU played much better defense after going away from the 1-3-1 for the most part and actually made a game of the contest. Unfortunately, they missed a couple key shots whereas Wisconsin made some and that was enough to push the Badgers over the top.
I was happy to see Drew Crawford get more assertive on both offense and defense in the second half (he does need to make free throws) and David Curletti played a career game. Crawford to me is far too bothered, though, by not scoring. When he didn’t score in the first half he played crap defense, when he got aggressive on offense and saw the ball go in the hoop in the second half he played hard defense. Curletti saved NU from getting blown out a couple times with some nice baskets and some decent defense as well. Luka Mirkovic was terrible tonight against Jon Leuer’s superior athletic skill. Perhaps the whole night was summed up in a sequence were Luka had a point blank layup and threw it basically from one side of the glass to the other almost as if he were trying to use the glass to pass the ball (but, sadly, he was trying to score) and then on the other end of the floor Leuer made an inside bucket as he was falling out of bounds and got fouled. And, yes, Luka got fouled on his miss too, but the point is Leuer converted a much tougher shot and took contact and Luka missed a 1-footer by 3-feet.
Northwestern is now 6-11 in the Big Ten and plays 6-10 Minnesota on Wednesday. Those teams will likely also play in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. I don’t really know what to expect, but I hope a good crowd comes out to honor Juice Thompson on his senior day. This team has massively underachieved and they’ve caught some bad luck (the latest another injury to JerShon Cobb) but Juice has fought through all of it and deserves respect for that.
I am tremendously sick of the DVR stuck on reply collection of mistakes NU makes game after game and desperately want someone to make those stop, but I’m willing to sit through them to say thanks to Juice and the other seniors. After that, unless NU learns to play defense and rebound they’ll only have one more game anyway because a 6-12 Big Ten team that hasn’t won in three weeks is not getting an NIT invite.