Thursday, March 24, 2011

Season’s Over, But Not Without a Fight

Sometimes you don’t win in sports. It’s as simple as that. Even if you play well the other team comes out on top. What’s kind of depressing about Northwestern’s season end loss to Washington State is that while NU played well, they could have played better and with such a narrow margin of defeat you can’t help thinking about what went wrong. Still, the fact of the matter is the game was close and well-played on both sides so it really isn’t productive to focus on NU’s poor start, some odd officiating, poor shooting all night from three (especially from John Shurna), or the fact that WSU’s Casto had himself magically unsuspended to play in this game. Northwestern lost because they couldn’t score more than two points in overtime. That’s the fact of the matter and I’m not going to put the loss on anything else.

I’m sorry to see Juice Thompson go and so much wish he would have made just one more shot, but again he played a great game making multiple big shots and hustling from the opening jump to the last buzzer. I sincerely hope Alex Marcotullio and JerShon Cobb learned something from him about competitiveness because he was teaching a great lesson about how competing all out for 40 minutes makes you a better player every time he stepped on the floor.

I did think Alex continued to show his growth versus Washington State. He does play hard and has gotten way more comfortable on offense. I so wished he would have made one of his two final shots, but obviously the first one was something of a panicked shot because he wanted to give NU a chance for a rebound and the second was totally rushed with less than two seconds left. I think as he gets into his junior and senior year when he gets his feet set Alex will be one of the best shooters the Big Ten has to offer.

Marcotullio and the ‘Cats also played very good defense in the second half. Unfortunately, their first half defense reverted to the defense NU played for the majority of the season as WSU got whatever shot they wanted. Some of that I think was because Northwestern early on looked unprepared for Washington State’s trapping defense and that got WSU easy shots, but regardless the truth of the matter is that even though NU got the lead briefly and got the game tied at the end of regulation, in a lot of ways Washington State won the game when they built up a 14 point first half margin and forced NU to virtually always play from behind.

That playing from behind is part of the reason NU shot so many threes, but that’s also part of NU’s game. I just wish John Shurna could have made closer to his average. Instead, he hit just 2-of-10. That’s too bad because I think he’s almost over his injury, he just missed. Of course, some credit for that has to go Washington State’s physical defense. I think one of the offseason goals for NU has to be for Shurna to get into the weight room so physical defenders can’t wear him down as much.

So, the season is over. This is a tough end, but if I had to pick anything other than a championship to end my year, I’d pick finishing my year with a close loss to a higher ranked team every time. Sure, you’re stuck wondering “what it?” but the close loss also proves you belonged in the game with that opponent. It wasn’t a lucky break you were there and it wasn’t the fault of the teams you beat. You deserved your opportunity to play for something special and though it didn’t work out, you still have reason to be proud of your effort.


Jon said...

I can't remember the last time that this program finished a season on such a strong run. With back-to-back wins over Minnesota, a heart breaker against the top ranked team in the country, cruising to a victory over UW Milwaukee, crushing BC on the road, and then falling to a good Washington State team in a hostile environment on the road in overtime, I'm left feeling a lot more optimistic about the future of this program than I have in previous years after the season ended.

Let's just keep our fingers crossed that we can stay healthy through the summer and next season with no surprises.

jimbones said...

Thanks for blogging this year to an East Coast fan who has followed the Wildcats for 5 years now on the BTN. I was struck by a comment one of the TV announcers made during the BC game. He spoke out loud wondering how much better NW would have been had Kevin Coble played. He thought the Cat's would have made the NCAA's finally. Mayber next year will finally be the year.

macarthur31 said...

Thanks for blogging this year!

Always appreciate your well-thought out takes, especially on this last game.

This game reminded me of the Outback Bowl loss to Auburn, not just because of the "nine lives" we had as the game wore down -- but also because both NU and Wazzu were two flawed teams that gave a ton of effort and an entertaining game.

Even several days later, I'm still a bit sad about the end of Juice's career. Much like that ill-fated "fastball" play, it just ended abruptly. I wanted him to have a sub, the opportunity to walk-off. Or maybe, that isn't just Juice's way -- he had to play every minute of the game.

Finally, while I agree that Shurna could use some more muscle, I'd be careful about the weight room as the panacea. Both Mirkovic and Crawford put on significant muscle in the offseason, and it appeared to me that both lost some agility or are still trying to figure out how to move in their newly buffed bodies. If I recall correctly, Craig Moore had a similar setback when he also bulked up a bit and it affected his mechanics.

This is not to say they won't excel next year, I think that both Craw and Mirk showed improvement towards the end of the season. They're finally adjusted to their new frames. That'd be my only caution for Shurna -- the guy plays well because he is agile and plasticman like, I don't know if it's the best thing to neutralize that for his senior season.

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