Saturday, March 19, 2011

Wildcats Top Top-Seeded Boston College to Advance to NIT Quarterfinals

That was awesome! This morning’s dismantling of Boston College was probably the best game Northwestern played since they dismantled BC’s fellow ACC team Georgia Tech. Making this win even better, I actually think as well as Northwestern played, they could still play even better. And they get a chance to do so against the winner of the Washington State-Oklahoma State game which will be played in Pullman, Washington on Monday night.

Today’s brilliant performance started about five minutes into the game and continued until the final horn sounded. All five NU starters scored in double figures and all five contributed to NU winning the rebounding battle 29-20 (and 10-3 in offensive caroms) and holding BC’s All-ACC guard Reggie Jackson to just 8 points, the Los Angles Dodgers wish they could have contained Reggie that well (yes, that was another baseball joke, sorry).

It’s hard when watching a game on TV to really say a team “wanted” to win more, but it sure looked like Northwestern did. As pointed out on the broadcast, the ‘Cats seemed to get to almost every 50/50. The last time NU played with such aggressiveness was when they lost to top-ranked Ohio State by just one point late January. If NU plays with that type of intensity they are tough to beat because since they are such good shooters they can turn an offensive rebound into three points with ease.

That intensity also carried over on defense. BC only turned the ball over 11 times, but 6 of those were off NU steals and the ‘Cats made life tough for BC on a number of other offensive possessions. NU played their man-to-man almost the entire game. One possession of 1-3-1 was played, but Coach Carmody called it off after BC hit a three. Actually, the 1-3-1 possession did force BC to burn a ton of clock and NU almost got a TO, but with as well as NU was playing in the man, it was probably the right move to stick with it. I also liked how NU didn’t switch as much in the man-to-man as they have in the past. They pretty much tried to fight through screens with the exception of guarding Jackson. In order to ensure Jackson also had a guy in his face, the ‘Cats would switch when BC set ball screens for their star. Alex Marcotullio and Drew Crawford statistically led the ‘Cat defense with two steals each, but the whole team was involved. I’ve been critical of how well Bill Carmody motivates his players to hustle and play defense, but I have to say NU looked well motivated to do those things today. Actually, I think the last two (maybe even three) games have been amongst the best of Carmody’s career in terms of having the team motivated to play and in terms of handling the in game coaching situations.

On offense NU shot 54.8% overall and 41.7% from three. The ‘Cats knocked down 15 threes which was huge in extending and then holding the lead. Every time BC looked like the might come back it seemed NU found an open man who canned a three. Juice Thompson led NU with 6 made threes and 22 overall points along with 6 assists. Drew Crawford showed up and as I anticipated his reemergence was part of what sparked NU’s success. For the game Crawford connected on 3-of-5 threes, scored 13 points, and dished out four assists. Alex Marcotullio also made three three-point shots. Alex finished with 12 total points and three assists.

Though they weren’t big three point shooters today (only one each) NU’s staring bigs, John Shurna and Luka Mirkovic, also played great games. Shurna scored 20 points to along with 9 rebounds and 4 assists. He also had three dunks which had both him and every Wildcat fan nationwide grinning like the Cheshire Cat. Luka Mirkovic scored 13 points, 5 rebounds and dished out 7 assists. Most impressively for Luka, he didn’t miss a shot. Every time Luka had the chance to finish at the hoop he did so and some of the shots weren’t easy finishes. If Luka plays like that in NU’s next game I think the ‘Cats might be in Madison Square Garden for the NIT’s final four.

Without knowing who NU will play it’s a little tough to look ahead. I’ll simply say that continued hustle on defense and the glass and John Shurna adding a couple three pointers to his inside scoring could, and maybe even should, be a recipe for NU continuing this postseason run. It also might be nice to see NU add a little more scoring punch off the bench, but when the starters play as well as they did today that becomes less critical. Perhaps, JerShon Cobb getting back into form will make a difference in that area. Regardless, NU has now achieved milestones in tying the programs highest win total and advancing further than ever before in the postseason, even better, NU is now one win away from a couple more major program milestones. I look forward to seeing the next game which will likely be Wednesday with a location and time to be determined Monday evening after the Washington State-Oklahoma State game. Wildcat Nation will be waiting to see that result.

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