Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Wildcats Pass Georgia Tech’s Challenge to move to 6-0

John Shurna started hot to get Northwestern an early lead and played an all around excellent game both on offense and defense to lead Northwestern to a 76-60 win over Georgia Tech. The win was Northwestern’s fourth straight in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge meaning that Shurna’s class went 4-0 in the event.

Shurna scored 25 points and grabbed 8 rebounds. I also thought he did a great job on defense as he grabbed three steals which helped result in some of NU’s 17 fast break points. On defense Shurna played both 6-11 center Daniel Miller and athletic forward Glen Rice, Jr. at various times in NU’s man-to-man. I thought it was impressive how Shurna handled the various skills of both players well and kept them contained. I think it is also huge that Shurna showed up so well on defense as it shows the emphasis that NU must be placing on defense this season. It would be real easy for a scorer like Shurna to take an easy on the other end of the court, but he doesn’t and the result is nothing but positive for the ‘Cats.

Another area where I thought NU looked good in this game was bench production. Tonight, Alex Marcotullio was the leader off the bench as JerShon Cobb was held out after not passing a post-concussion test after suffering a head injury in the game against Stony Brook. Marcotullio had 7 points, 2 steals, and 3 rebounds. He also showed his usual good understanding off the offensive system and it seems the team really plays well when he comes on the court. Along with Marcotullio his fellow Michigan-native Davide Curletti also stepped up off the bench. He became the first NU center this season to hit a three which is huge in NU’s offense and he got four rebounds as well. After the issues Curletti and fellow center Luka Mirkovic had versus Stony Brook it was nice to see them both do well tonight. Mirkovic ended the day with 13 points and three rebounds. If NU gets 18 points total from their centers (as they also did versus Seton Hall) they will win. Can they win with less? Yeah, but it’s so much tougher. The center position is really critical to NU’s success.

Also critical to NU’s success is continued strong play of guard Dave Sobolewksi. I know the Rivals boards have had some debate about Sobolewski, but some of that seemed spurred by animosity amongst posters as much as any debate on Sobolewski’s skill level. After all, I think he’s more than proven he can play. Not only did he post a 6-to-1 assist to turnover night, but he made some moves to the hoop tonight that I didn’t see Juice Thompson make until he was a more experienced player. The area where Dave still might need to get more consistent is three point shooting, but he’s got that skill in his tool kit as evidenced by his early shots against Stony Brook and his big three versus LSU.

Before closing, I also want to draw attention to Drew Crawford’s 14 points and 3 steals and Reggie Hearn’s 5 rebounds. I’m certain both players would admit they could play better with Crawford having some turnover issues and Hearn missing a couple threes that I expect him to knock down, but they both contributed to the win. Also, my compliments to guard Omar Jimenez a Georgia-native who scored the first two points of his career tonight. That was pretty cool. Now, NU is ready to face Mississippi Valley State on Friday before a huge game vs Baylor Sunday.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Wildcats Travel to Georgia Tech for ACC/Big Ten Challenge

Last year when Northwestern met Georgia Tech in Evanston the game wasn’t all that much of a challenge for NU, but this year the ‘Cats are on the road in Atlanta and new Tech head coach Brian Gregory (an NU assistant under Kevin O’Neil) has the Yellow Jackets playing some pretty good basketball. Tech sits at 4-2 on the season and is 3-0 in home games (though this is actually the first game at Philips Arena for Tech in seven years) with all three wins coming in blowout fashion. This will be Northwestern’s first true road game of the year, but the ‘Cats are 3-0 away from Welsh-Ryan with three wins in the Charleston Classic. Whether or not the Philips Arena setting makes this more of a neutral court game remains to be seen, but despite the fact that NU’s JerShon Cobb should have a large contingent of family and friends in the stands, the crowd should be pretty partisan in favor of Tech.

The Jackets feature a three guard lineup around 6-11 center Daniel Miller who averages 9.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. He’s also a good shot blocker and an overall decent athlete. He’s potentially a difficult matchup for NU’s Luka Mirkovic, however, Mirkovic’s best game of the season was against Seton Hall’s Herb Pope who is probably the best player NU has faced this season. However, Luka has massively underachieved in most of the other games the ‘Cats have played this year so it is hard to know what to expect. I’d say that a good game from Luka and his backup Davide Curletti will probably propel the ‘Cats to victory, but NU could win without their tag-team centers doing a lot of damage—it’ll just be a lot harder.

While Miller is a good player, Tech’s biggest star is Glen Rice, Jr. Rice was suspended at the start of the season and didn’t start when he came back, but he still has scored double figures in three consecutive games. He’s shot pretty much lights out with 66.7% overall and 42.9% from three being his season marks. If NU goes to the man-to-man look for Cobb, Drew Crawford, and Reggie Hearn to get a rotating assignment on Rice in order to slow him down and potentially tire him out. It’ll also help NU’s case if Rice has to play defense on either Crawford or John Shurna when the ‘Cats are on offense.

It would really help NU in this game if Shurna shows up from start to finish. Looking at Tech’s roster I’m not sure who their best bet to play Shurna man-to-man would be. You know whoever does it will work hard because Coach Gregory learned from Tom Izzo how to teach defense (a maybe a little from KO as well), but I can’t tell if Rice or 6-8 Kammeon Holsey (he averages 12.3 and 5.2) would be the best bet to defend Shurna. Rice is more athletic, but smaller and Holsey might be the type of player that Shurna can beat from the perimeter.

Brian Gregory is a good coach (he actually was rumored to be some NU administrators preferred choice for head coach when Kevin O’Neil left and Bill Carmody got the job). However, he’s new to his team hasn’t had a ton of time to prepare them for the Princeton Offense and 1-3-1 zone. Yes, some of the players saw it last year, but Tech has several new starters as well. In addition, I think a lot of what Tech does mirrors what Michigan State does and while NU hasn’t had great success versus the Spartans, at least they are familiar with the concepts of how to approach such a team. Combined with Tech not really having a home arena and hopefully NU getting a big game from JerShon Cobb as he comes back home, I like Northwestern to win this one. I predict: Northwestern, 71 Georgia Tech, 61

Pooley's Big 10/ACC Challenge Predictions

So pumped for this.

Michigan @ Virginia: Michigan. KenPom has Virginia as a Top 10 defense, but Michigan got some really valuable experience in their Maui games against Duke and Memphis and plays an unusual style. I think they win a close game in the high 50's/low 60's.

Northwestern @ Georgia Tech: Northwestern. The fact that it’s on the road scares me, but Georgia Tech is playing in a new building while theirs is being renovated, so it’ll be pretty new to them too. Also, we won the Charleston Classic and they went 1-2 in it, so there’s that.

Illinois @ Maryland: Maryland. Illinois could still be very good this year, but I see them struggling as an inexperienced team in their first true road game.

Miami @ Purdue: Purdue. They seem to have gotten it together a bit after some scares in their first few games (High Point?).

Clemson @ Iowa: Clemson. What happened to Iowa? Basabe was supposed to blossom into a star this year, but he’s playing less than 20 minutes a game and averaging 7.2 and 4.5. As a team they’re shooting pretty well but have been struggling defensively but got blown out by Creighton on a neutral court and by Campbell at home.

Duke @ Ohio St.: Duke. I hope I’m wrong on this, but I’ve watched a lot of Duke games and they’re sneaky good. Curry, Dawkins, Kelly, and Rivers combined with the Plumlees will be tough for Ohio St. to handle. Ohio St.’s favored but my hunch is that Duke is one step ahead of them, even in Columbus.

Indiana @ NC State.: Indiana. Only slightly though. Indiana has looked good in their wins but still hasn’t done anything that impressive yet, as a very down Butler at home is their best win. NC State, on the other hand, beat Texas and played close with Vanderbilt. Still, Indiana is humming so far and I haven’t seen any glaring weaknesses from them yet, so I’m going to give them the nod.

Penn St. @ Boston College: Penn St. Penn St. is not as bad this year as they could have been, having lost most of their players and their coach, while Boston College is just as bad as everyone expected them to be.

Florida St. @ Michigan St.: Michigan St. Florida St. should be extra motivated, trying to avoid losing 3 in a row, but Michigan St. wins this at home. Get ready for an ugly, low-scoring game.

Virginia Tech @ Minnesota: Virginia Tech. I’ll be shocked if Minnesota is able to pull this one out four days after losing Trevor Mbakwe for the season/forever. Virginia Tech is a pretty good team, and Minnesota was struggling even with Mbakwe.

Wake Forest @ Nebraska.: Nebraska. They’re the better team and playing at home.

Wisconsin @ North Carolina: North Carolina. If UNC hadn’t lost to UNLV, I would have picked Wisconsin to win this, but I’m not going to bet on UNC losing twice in a row, especially since they’re at home. Wisconsin is scary so far this year, though.

Result: 7-5 B1G, we win another Challenge.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

'Cats Fall to DePaul

We're catching up with the women's team who lost to No. 20 DePaul this afternoon, 88-72. The game was very close throughout, however, and the final score is misleadingly lopsided. Northwestern was down by only 4 with 3 and a half minutes left, but was unable to stop DePaul from scoring. There were other problems -- NU turned the ball over 19 times and didn't shoot well themselves, but NU was in a position to win it at the end and couldn't get the stops when they mattered most. Coach McKeown sounded extremely frustrated with the team's defense in the post-game interview and I imagine that'll be the focus of upcoming practices. It should be noted that DePaul has been a high-scoring team in general this season, scoring over 80 in every game this season, so it's not that NU struggled defensively against DePaul more than other teams.

Dannielle Diamant had a big first half and finished with 19, playing most of the second half with 4 fouls. Brittany Orban had 7 offensive rebounds and 16 points and Morgan Jones had 17 points, including hitting some clutch free-throws near the end of the second half to keep NU within reach. Kendall Hackney had an off-night but should bounce back. One big bright spot today was NU's excellent free-throw shooting, going 22-24 from the line (NU has struggled with free-throw shooting at times this season). All in all, NU played tough and was close but just couldn't get over the hump to pull it out.

The team is now 4-1 on the season, having beaten No. 23 LSU and Illinois St. last week and will face NC State on Wednesday in Evanston.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Northwestern Survives Stony Brook’s Upset Bid

This game was much closer than I expected, but that’s not bad. Northwestern is clearly learning how to play and win close games which is critical. I’m convinced that the Big Ten is the most even conference in college basketball and that means any number of the 18 conference games that the ‘Cats will play might come down to the final possession. Therefore, I’m pleased that we’ve see a number of Wildcats step up in the clutch so far this year. Today, it was JerShon Cobb knocking down the clutch three pointer when Stony Brook triple teamed John Shurna in an effort to not let the NU star beat them. Cobb played 25 minutes toady in part because Alex Marcotullio didn’t see any time (though Marco twice went to the scorer’s table and then came back to the bench). That’s big for Cobb to see that much time since he’s still recovering from his injury.

Stony Brook did a pretty good job with hard-nosed man-to-man defense (and so did NU) the Stony Brook defense helped make it tough for John Shurna and Drew Crawford to get doing early for NU. That meant that early on Reggie Hearn and Dave Sobolewksi had to step up for the ‘Cats. Hearn hit two early threes and Sobolewski made a total of three three-pointers and scored a career high 16 points. Sobolewski, who has taken a lot of strange criticism from some fans, did turn the ball over three times today, but dished out four assists and played very good defense against some athletic guards.

As the game went into the second half it seemed Shurna and Crawford tried to step up more. I still think Shurna needs to look to score more often, but he did enough to help the ‘Cats to victory with 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting. His three point shot seemed off, but I have no doubt it’ll be on the money in future games. Crawford scored 12 points and had 7 rebounds. He also absolutely posterized a Stony Brook defender with one of the most athletics dunks I’ve seen from an NU player.

Overall, this game seemed to be a game NU played without great focus at times, but the defense was good and some new players stepped up. The biggest issue is still inconsistent play from the center position. Today the centers did combine for 6 rebounds and 5 assists, but they didn’t score at all. They cannot get shut out in Big Ten games.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Northwestern Ready to Host Stony Brook in Post-Thanksgiving Game

If you’re looking to take a break from post-Thanksgiving shopping tomorrow you might want to stop by Welsh-Ryan Arena at noon to see Northwestern take on Stony Brook. Now, you first reaction might be to assume that this game wouldn’t be all that entertaining, but the fact is Stony Brook is a respectable team that could give Northwestern a challenge. Of course, Northwestern should win the game, but the Sea Wolves played close with Indiana for a half and are projected as an NCAA Tournament team. Therefore, a win over Stony Brook would give NU wins over three potential NCAA teams in their first five games. Hopefully, that fact makes the ‘Cats focus as this could be a trap game with the ACC/Big Ten Challenge against Georgia Tech coming up on Tuesday.

Stony Brook is one of the most balanced offensive teams I’ve ever seen. They manage to score more than 70 points per game, but don’t have a single player who averages double figures. Instead, they have seven players, including Chicago’s Al Rapier, who average more than 6.5 points per game. Looking at those numbers it becomes hard to decide who to focus the defense on. Hopefully, NU can play man-to-man and work on that defense.

Stony Brook has some good shooters in Anthony Jackson, Bryan Dougher, and Ron Bracey. I’d think that given that fact the 1-3-1 won’t be a defense NU plays much in this contest. The only possible reason to consider the 1-3-1 might be because Stony Brook isn’t the greatest ball-handling team ever. Guard/Forward Tommy Brenton has a 16-to-6 assist to turnover ratio, but most of the rest of the Sea Wolves are turnover prone.

I’m hopeful that this game will present Northwestern the chance to use some of the bench a bit more. If Nick Fruendt and Tre Demps are going to play any sort of a role for this team they need to get some action on the court before the Big Ten starts. This could be a chance to do so. Also, given that Tuesday will be another road trip and the ‘Cats still aren’t 100% healthy I’d like to see if some of the ‘Cats who aren’t feeling their best don’t have to play 30+ minutes. That might limit the scoring a bit, but I’ve still got a fairly easy Wildcat win. I predict: Northwestern, 77 Stony Brook, 54

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Northwestern Overcomes 15-0 Seton Hall Run to Hold on For Charleston Classic Title

Early in the second half of the Charleston Classic Title Game between Northwestern and Seton Hall it seemed Northwestern was in control. However, a 15-0 Seton Hall run put the Pirates up and forced Northwestern to have to play from behind. With great leadership from John Shurna and Drew Crawford Northwestern responded to that adversity and eventually regained the lead and held on at the end thanks to clutch free throw shooting from Shurna, Davide Curletti, and Alex Marcotullio to post an 80-73 win. This is Northwestern’s second in-season tournament title in the last three seasons joining the 2009 win of the Chicago Invitational Challenge against Iowa State.

What really makes this a good win besides beating another team (like Tulsa) which could compete for an at-large NCAA-bid is the fact that NU got production from several key supporting players to get the win. Most notably and most importantly Luka Mirkovic scored 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting and contributed 2 assists. He struggled somewhat on defense, but he made enough of an impact that he stopped NU from having to just be the John Shurna and Drew Crawford show. Developing that third scoring option will help NU when Big Ten play starts. If Mirkovic can hit some three pointers he’ll become a serious scoring threat as that shot will be open for the center in Northwestern’s offense on most nights. Credit also has to go to Luka’s tag-team partner at center Davide Curletti who also did a nice job in tonight’s game. Not only did he make some key free throws, but he contributed 3 assists and had a huge block of SHU star Herb Pope late in the game.

Also contributing off the bench was Alex Marcotullio. Marcotullio clearly has an excellent understanding of the Princeton Offense and made some extremely tough passes to setup teammates for easy backdoor layups. He also did a nice job at the top of the 1-3-1 which while it didn’t cause turnovers did somewhat slowdown SHU’s offense, though, Herb Pope never was completely stopped. Another member of the supporting cast who deserves note is guard Dave Sobolewski. Although the freshman guard had some trouble defending Seton Hall’s Jordan Theodore, he once again played heavy minutes and kept possession of the ball. In 31 minutes Sobolewski had 2 assists and 0 turnovers.

In the end, though, you have to once again say that NU’s leaders were John Shurna and Drew Crawford. They’ve both developed their game over the summer and the evidence of that is clear as each has shown the ability not only to hit threes, but also to score at the hoop. Crawford led the way with 27 points and was tournament MVP. He made 4-of-8 threes (including one he banked in with the shot clock running out) and also grabbed six rebounds. Shurna scored 19 points and most importantly made all his free throws which were often occurring when NU desperately needed points. He also had 7 rebounds and 4 blocks.

With both Crawford and Shurna showing the ability to score heavy point totals NU is getting tougher to defend and if Luka Mirkovic starts hitting his threes the ‘Cats will become nearly unstoppable. Now at 4-0 NU will play a home game on Friday against Stony Brook in Evanston, and then they go back on the road to play Georgia Tech who was also in the Charleston Classic. Clearly the early season is presenting Northwestern with chances to get solid wins over BCS-conference or tournament-level teams and so far they’ve taken advantage. Hopefully that will continue as boosting the tournament resume early in the year is something which bubble teams have to do.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Wildcats Get Another Chance to Add to Resume Early vs Seton Hall

It’ll be Northwestern versus Seton Hall for the Charleston Classic Title on Sunday night, but what’s potentially more important for both squads is the fact this is a game between two teams which might be on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament in March. Like Northwestern this Seton Hall team is trying to move up from the lower-tier of their conference into a position where they could potentially crack the NCAA Tournament. Last year Seton Hall picked up four wins over NCAA Tournament teams, but like NU their overall performance was not enough to make the Big Dance. This year’s version of Seton Hall is improved and they’ve started the year 3-0 just like Northwestern. So far the Seton Hall schedule looks like this:

St. Francis (NY)…W 75-71 in overtime
VCU………W 69-54
St. Joseph’s…..W 78-70

While Seton Hall doesn’t have any blowout wins like Northwestern has with the 60-36 victory over UTPA, one can certainly classify the Seton Hall performance thus far as very solid. The player who has led Seton Hall to those solid wins is 6-8 forward Herb Pope. Pope was once one of the nation’s top recruits but is now more famous for an odyssey of a career which includes getting shot at a party, being arrested for driving under the influence, and punching a Texas Tech player below the belt twice in an NIT game. All those negatives aside, though, Pope can still play basketball as well anyone. Like NU’s John Shurna he declared for the NBA draft but can back to school. It’s paying off as he’s started the season posting dominating stats which include averages of 19.3ppg and 12.3rpg. Some will point to a Pope-Shurna matchup at Power Forward, but they are very different players. Pope’s an inside scorer who wants to make post moves to score or get fouled (he’s an excellent free throw shooter) whereas Shurna has the outside shot and the ability to attack the hoop going at a defender. If Seton Hall tries to have Pope guard Shurna look for Shurna to take the ball at Pope in an effort to get him to commit fouls. If NU plays man-to-man I’d rather see Drew Crawford on Pope than Shurna, but really as I’ll mention below, this game is more of a 1-3-1 from the start type of matchup.

Pope’s not the only Seton Hall player who qualifies as more of a scorer than shooter. The leading Seton Hall scorer is guard Jordan Theodore who scores 21ppg. However, he’s made just one three pointer in three games. The only real serious shooter threat from Seton Hall is 6-6 forward Fuquan Edwin (50% 3PT). Combined with the fact that aside from Pope Seton Hall hasn’t shown great ability to hit the glass and the fact Theodore averages four turnovers a game it might be a good idea for NU to use the 1-3-1 zone even more often than they have in the first two games of the Charleston Classic. In fact, the numbers would make you believe that you couldn’t blame Bill Carmody if he wanted to start in the zone. If he does start man-to-man look for Reggie Hearn to get Theodore and Alex Marcotullio to potentially play some point guard as Theodore will be a tough guard for Dave Sobolewski.

Personally, I’m expecting to see NU play 1-3-1 for most of the game and it’ll be a test to see how well the extra day between games has been used by Seton Hall Head Coach Kevin Willard to prep has team for NU’s unique offense and defense. This game should be close, but I’m optimistic that NU will get some production from Luka Mirkovic, who will be the biggest player on the court, and that will push the ‘Cats over the top. I predict: Northwestern, 67 Seton Hall, 65

Friday, November 18, 2011

'Cats Win Again In Charleston; Beat Tulsa

Whew. That game was close from start to finish. Neither team led by more than 6 at any point, but Northwestern once again pulled it out at the end. These two close wins have got to be huge confidence builders for the 'Cats, who have been poised down the stretch (even though they missed a few free throws today) and made plays on both offense and defense to seal the deal.

The hero today was Drew Crawford, who was everywhere, making 5-8 from 3, driving and kicking, and making short jumpers. He still takes some bad shots, but I don't actually mind because he needs to be a big part of this team's offense. Carmody himself said he wants Drew to play "loosey-goosey", which I think Drew did tonight. He also grabbed a few rebounds and played some pretty good D. Shurna had an off shooting night and had a quiet (for him) 15, but made a huge and-1 with a minute and a half to go to put NU up by 5.

We were badly outrebounded, 36-20. Shurna led us with 6, but Mirk and Curletti only combined for two. The centers have been getting a lot of flak from the fans lately. These past two games these bigs from LSU and Tulsa have been bigger and stronger and have outplayed them. However, I actually think both Mirkovic and Curletti (especially Curletti) played better today than yesterday and had some success with slowing down Tulsa's big men. The damage could have been a lot worse. Anyway, I believe in those two and think they'll both have strong games this year, especially against some of the less dominant centers in the B1G.

We won this game because we were able to force 15 turnovers (9 steals) while we only turned it over 6 times, which made up somewhat for the bad rebounding and enabled us to take 9 more shots from the field than Tulsa. The ability to force turnovers that we've shown through three games is something that makes me hopeful, though the trend may be tough to continue in the Big Ten given how disciplined Big Ten teams tend to be with the ball.

A few notes on other players: Marco only played 10 minutes -- I wonder if he's still somewhat injured or if Carmody simply went with other players. Jershon was crafty in his 16 minutes today, picking up 2 assists and 3 steals and getting to the foul line. Sobolewski once again was solid, with 9 points, 3 assists and 0 turnovers.

Northwestern will be playing the winner of tonight's Seton Hall/St. Joseph's game on Sunday in the Charleston Classic Championship game. Great win and go 'Cats!

NU Faces Tulsa in Charleston Semifinal Today

At 2:30 Northwestern plays Tulsa in the second game of the Charleston Classic. Tulsa is a tougher team than LSU, who NU won a close comeback win against yesterday, but I still think Tulsa could be a favorable matchup for NU and we should pull out the win if we bring the kind of effort we brought in the second half yesterday.

The first thing you notice about Tulsa is that they're big at every position and very athletic. They play a bunch of 6'4", solidly built guards and have three huge forwards/centers who play a lot of minutes in Steven Idlet, Kodi Maduka and DJ Magley (speaking of Magley, how does a 6-9, 270 guy run around a basketball court for 20 minutes a game? Your guess is as good as mine.) So they're big. What are their other strengths? Well, as their size would suggest, they're strong in the paint, as Maduka and Idlet are their leading scorers. They've got a guy, Scottie Haralson, who has made 38% of 21 3-point attempts in three games this year. And their man defense, with their size and length, looked pretty good yesterday against Western Kentucky.

So what does Northwestern need to do to beat this team? One thing that might be on NU's side is that Tulsa doesn't seem to have a player like LSU's Anthony Hickey, those fast guards that NU always seems unable to guard. Yesterday we addressed the Hickey problem by switching to the 1-3-1, but if LSU had known how to beat that we would have been in trouble. My guess is that Tulsa might actually be a slightly easier matchup for us in man-to-man. For that to happen, though, NU will need better efforts from Mirkovic and Curletti than we saw yesterday. We'll probably play some 1-3-1, especially because outside shooting isn't really Tulsa's game, but we're not going to be able to do that the whole time, and those two will need to play tougher defense and rebound. They didn't do either of those things well yesterday.

We're going to have to run the offense and avoid getting bogged down around the perimeter like we were so much of the first half yesterday. I loved watching John Shurna take over and play so assertively when that happened yesterday, taking it to double- teams to take a shot, draw a foul or pass to an open shooter. He took on the number 1 player role yesterday, and while he's not going to score 37 every game, the fact that other teams have to pay so much attention to him will open things up for other players to drive or take open threes. I think we'll see that today, and we'll need to see it if we're going to win this game.

Our depth at guard is also really fun to watch this year and should help us out. For once, our guards can afford to play a little more aggressively on defense, and they seem to have a little more energy for every possession. Look for active hands on defense from these guys today.

Tulsa is a talented team that scares me a bit, but I think NU can utilize the 1-3-1 in spurts to force turnovers and long-range shots and will make enough shots themselves to pull out a close game. NU 72, Tulsa 65

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Wildcats Use 1-3-1 Defense to Comeback on LSU

I’m not a basketball genius at all, but early in the first half of Thursday afternoon’s game between Northwestern and LSU I repeatedly stated that Northwestern needed to go into the 1-3-1. I was well aware on the new emphasis that Coach Bill Carmody was placing on man-to-man but the fact was that LSU’s athletes were just killing the Wildcats in man-to-man. Now, to be honest I think NU’s players didn’t work very hard in man-to-man and could have done a much better job, but the fact was Carmody wasn’t getting them to work any harder at that moment and the game seemed to be slipping away. Thankfully, in the second half the Wildcats went to the 1-3-1 and forced LSU to turn the ball over and settle for the threes and the result was a victory for the Wildcats 88-82. It’s a good start to the Charleston Classic where the ‘Cats will next face a Tulsa team that could win Conference USA this year and will no doubt provide a good challenge to the guys from Evanston, IL.

My other observation in the first half was that John Shurna wasn’t getting the ball enough. Shurna has the ability to just eat people alive on the court if he gets the ball because little guys can’t stop him from getting shots because of his height and big guys can’t stop his ability to go to the hoop because of his quickness. Yet, in the first half John seemed too content to just go through the motions as he did vs UPTA. Thankfully in the second half he woke up. Personally, if I were coaching Shurna I’d tell him, “John we’re probably going to play somewhere around 35 games this year. That means you’ve got 35 times you need to go out there and just be a killer whether it’s Central Connecticut or Ohio State doesn’t matter. You’re gonna be the best scorer out there so go out there and look to score.” When he did look to score in the second half Shurna lit up LSU. He finished the game with a career-high 37 points and added 7 rebound and 4 assists. I’d also say that while making 4-of-9 threes as John did is statistically very good, I think he can actually shoot a higher percentage. Basically, as good Shurna was today he can better and that’s something which has to make NU fans grin from ear to ear.

Aside from thinking just how great Shurna can be, I’m also thrilled with how Dave Sobolewski and JerShon Cobb played down the stretch of the game. Without Juice Thompson I didn’t know who would hit big shots for NU. Sure, Shurna will get some, but at times it’ll hard to get him the ball when a defense is totally focused on him. That means NU needs clutch guards. When LSU cut into the lead late, first it was JerShon Cobb drilling a pull up jumper and then it was Sobo knocking down the ice-cold three pointer as Shurna drew the defense inside the arc. Those were big time shots and types of shots which makes me believe NU has guys they can count on in the backcourt. Overall, Sobolewski had a Juice-like line with a very solid 10 points and 6 assists against only two turnovers. Cobb took some madding Jordan-like fade-away shots in the first half, but he can make those and showed that down the stretch. He scored 8 points total. The major flaw in his game is that he’s probably NU’s worst three pointer shooter of the regulars and eventually he’ll need to hit threes or else people will play off him and take away his mid-range shot.

I don’t know if Reggie Hearn has a fan club, but he should. If he doesn’t I’m willing to start it. The guy is all over the court with hustle and he has enough of an offensive game that he’s worth having on the court. Hearn finished with 6 points, 2 rebounds, an assist and a steal, but numbers don’t tell the impact he had. When Alex Marcotullio went to the bench in foul trouble Hearn along with Drew Crawford and Cobb played the top of the 1-3-1 zone and made LSU make the mistakes which got Northwestern back in the game. This also is probably a good time to mention Crawford who helped lead the comeback on offense and finished with 17 points and 8 rebounds. He, like Shurna, just needs to go out there and just play with attitude all the time. He’s got all the skills to be a big time player, but sometimes he seems to get lost in the shuffle. That can’t happen if this time wants to be big time. The best players need to look to be assertive all the time.

The other thing that needs to happen if Northwestern wants to be any good is the center position needs to step up. A Princeton Offense team will never be truly good without a good center and today NU’s tag-team duo of Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti were pretty much awful. One might say they both managed their worst game ever at the same time. In total they scored 4 points and grabbed 3 rebounds to go along with 2 turnovers on 1-of-5 shooting. The fact NU won with the centers playing so bad is fantastic and pretty remarkable. When 6-11 Tulsa center Kodi Maduka fresh off a 16-point 7-block performance in a win over Western Kentucky shows up tomorrow with his running mate 6-11 Steven Idlet who was C-USA player of the week last week Luka and Davide better be a lot better than they were today, especially on defense. Overall, tomorrow’s game will be the toughest in this tournament for Northwestern I’m very sure (and today wasn’t easy). Tulsa is big and athletic and they’ll avoid some of LSU’s dumb mistakes. I’d look for more 1-3-1 and hope that NU’s 56.7% second half shooting percentage holds for the entire game.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wildcats and Tigers Battle for Early Season Momentum In Charleston

Northwestern has some more significant non-conference games this year than in years past. As a result, building some early momentum could be key for the Wildcats. They’ll get a chance to start to do that in the three games in four days Charleston Classic which tips off Thursday. In the first game for NU the ‘Cats will battle LSU. LSU comes into the contest with a 1-1 record desperately seeking some positive momentum of their own after losing to Costal Carolina in their last contest. LSU coach Trent Johnson, who knows NU from his days at Stanford, specifically called out his team’s inability to rebound as Costal Carolina outrebounded the Tigers by 19. With NU’s own rebounding issues versus UTPA one starts to wonder if anybody plans on grabbing the ball when it goes off the rim in this game. Theoretically, 7-0 260-pound LSU center Justin Hamilton should be the main man on the glass as he pulled down 7 boards to go along with 9 points versus Costal Carolina. He should give Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti a more Big Ten-like challenge than the players from UTPA did. Also in the LSU front court is forward Strom Warren who played a nice game against Costal Carolina with 14 points and 9 rebounds of his own. NU needs to be able to keep both Hamilton and Warren from getting easy inside looks.

LSU also didn’t shoot very well against Costal Carolina, but NU needs to make sure they’re ready to defend a number of talented LSU scorers. Guard Ralston Turner led LSU with 15 points vs Costal and made two three pointers as well. Several other LSU outside shooting threats, including highly-touted freshman Johnny O’Bryant, had poor games but came fill the scorebook. NU needs to play with the same level of defensive intensity they brought at the end of last season and that Reggie Hearn showed in the opener on Sunday.

That brings up the question of whether Hearn will start and just what NU’s lineup will be come Thursday afternoon. JerShon Cobb is reportedly ready to play, but he may or may not get that start. I think Cobb’s an important player for Northwestern, but if he’s not 100 percent I don’t know that he has to start with options such as Hearn and freshmen Dave Sobolewski and Tre Demps available to Coach Bill Carmody.

Obviously, the two freshmen were somewhat underwhelming in their first official action, but they were good in the exhibition. Also, look for Alex Marcotullio and Drew Crawford to get back into the starting lineup and see significant action if the game is close. I’d really like to see Crawford assert himself on offense and have Marcotulllio take the led as he did last season in getting NU’s entire team to play hard on defense.

I’ll also pay close attention to John Shurna who more or less looked like he was just going through the motions against UTPA. Now, Shurna’s going to face tougher challenges on both offense and defense, but he’s still going to be the best player on the court. He, like Crawford, needs to get assertive and demand the ball because when he does the ball usually goes through the hoop.

Overall, I actually like NU’s matchup with LSU and think it gives the ‘Cats a good shot to start this tournament well. I see a close game, but I think Shurna will help edge the Tigers. I predict: Northwestern, 71 LSU, 65

'Cats Get Another Win vs.W. Kentucky

Quick post today. Another win for the 'Cats last night as they beat Western Kentucky, 71-57, and have now moved to 2-0 on the season. Kendall Hackney once again led the team with 17 points. Dannielle Diamant had a big game with 15 points and 9 rebounds in 28 minutes, Brittany Orban notched 11 and 8, and Karly Roser had a double-double with 12 points and 10 assists.

McKeown lengthened the bench slightly in this game, but he's still relying mainly on the starting 5 with Tailor Jones first off the bench. Alex Cohen got 11 minutes off the bench, but seems to still be adjusting to the college game, while Morgan Jones is still struggling to make shots. Overall, though, We've got a solid six players and a few more who could be almost there. The next test is Illinois St. tomorrow night. Good win, go 'Cats!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Wildcats Notch Easier Win Over UTPA

For the first time in three seasons the game between Northwestern and Texas-Pan America didn’t come down the final few minutes as NU posted a 60-36 victory. Combined with Northwestern beating Robert Morris by 30 more points than they did a year ago I hope that means this Northwestern team is better than last year’s Northwestern team. I’m not sure if that’s the case yet, but I did see some good things along with some areas that need work.

To start though I have to say that one of the strangest things was to watch this game without Juice Thompson playing point guard for Northwestern. When you consider Thompson played virtually every meaningful minute of basketball for the past four years it makes sense that not saying Juice running the show was rather odd. Other guys have been four year starters, but none were on the court from day one as much as Juice.

Without Juice Northwestern gave the point guard reins over to a combination of players. Freshman Dave Sobolewski got the majority of the time and did a nice job. He handled the team well and usually got NU into the offense without a lot of trouble. He also posted a 3 assist and 0 turnover line which was great to see from a freshman. I was also glad to see him finally hit a three pointer late in the game because it should at least give him some confidence. However, he didn’t have Juice’s ability to take the ball with the shot clock running down and make something happen. To be honest, I’m not sure who on NU’s squad has that ability. The best candidate is JerShon Cobb, but his health remains a question mark at this point.

One player who very few questions remain about is John Shurna. Shurna played enough to make a mark on the game, but Coach Bill Carmody did a nice job of getting him out of the game with the lead and letting some other guys play. Shurna scored 15 points and grabbed five rebounds. He also notched two steals. NU’s three point shooting wasn’t great in this contest, but Shurna who might be NU’s best shooter didn’t really seem to look to shoot the three all the much. I expect to see him look for shots more when the ‘Cats travel to the Charleston Classic.

NU also got a decent game from Luka Mirkovic (though I’d like to see him shoot better from the line and from three) who asserted himself early as the tallest player on the floor. He posted 12 points and five rebounds for the day. Granted the competition gets a lot tougher, but those numbers from Luka would be solid and probably help NU to a number of victories. Especially if NU gets anything out of Luka’s tag-team partner at center Davide Curletti. Tonight, though, Curletti really struggled and was basically a non-factor.

Two players that were factors were Reggie Hearn and Drew Crawford. Crawford came off the bench to post 11 points and grab six rebounds. He also almost brought the house down with an attempted tomahawk slam. If he could have finished that play it probably would have been the best dunk in NU history. Hearn was all over the place with 7 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, and a block. I was really impressed with the quick release he showed when shooting from three point range. A case could be made that Hearn’s effort on defense and all around game dictates keeping him in the starting lineup. It might not be a bad idea either as Alex Marcotullio has shown nice ability to bring energy off the bench. I’d look potentially for a Sobolewksi, Crawford, Hearn, Shurna, Mirkovic lineup in the future.

The biggest issue NU had was that they did get out rebounded 35-32, but some of those were long rebounds that just happened to bounce the Broncs way. Basically the same NU team (minus Juice who wasn’t a rebounder) NU competed on the boards with Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament last year so the potential exists. The other issue NU faces is neither NU nor UTPA shot well. Some of UTPA’s issues were NU”s nice man-to-man defense, but NU better hit more shots if they want to compete in their upcoming games. I’d especially look at Sobolewski and Demps who want 1-of-9 combined from three. Juice on percentage would have made about four of those and they have to do the same. I’d also like to see Marcotullio and Crawford get going from the outside, but ankle issues impact the ability to get lift on a shot so let’s just hope they’re in the process of healing.

Overall, NU won and that’s good, but we’ll get a better sense of where this team is over the next week of games.

Injury Update

Hopefully we won’t be posting many of these injury updates during the year as the healthier Northwestern is as a team they better chance they’ll have to compete for that NCAA bid. As it stands, the latest news is Alex Marcotullio and Drew Crawford got the okay to play, but JerShon Cobb still out. The odds are Alex and Drew still probably won’t start, but at least they’re good to go and will get some on court time before the Charleston Classic. Cobb is still suffering from his lingering hip injury. Hopefully he gets over that as he is an athletic player who needs to be 100% to bring his total game.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Women Beat Central Michigan 69-60

The women's basketball team knocked off Central Michigan, 69-60, in their season opener yesterday. Kendall Hackney led the team in points and rebounds with 18 and 8 while Brittany Orban had 16 and 6. Hackney put up a really nice stat line: besides the 18 and 8, she shot 4-7 from behind the arc and had an assist, a steal, and a block. Five players had 6 or more rebounds in this game. Rebounding was the biggest difference maker, as we outrebounded them 39-28, including getting 23 offensive rebounds to their 8. Those are eye-popping numbers that tell me NU could once again be tough to keep up with on the glass this season.

Freshman Morgan Jones played well in her first (real) collegiate game, scoring twelve points and grabbing 6 rebounds. She was inefficient, but her shot selection should improve quickly as she gets used to the college game and not being the team's number one scorer. Freshman Karly Roser also had a good game. She's been a big surprise with her huge contributions in the preseason and now in the team's first game. She ended up with 10 points, 8 assists, and 4 rebounds and has taken over the role of starting point guard.

The team mostly played 6 players -- Orban, Hackney, M. Jones, Roser, and Diamant starting with Tailor Jones coming off the bench for 23 minutes. Alex Cohen and Meghan McKeown each played 6 minutes. I don't know if the short bench was a the coach's decision or if there are injury issues, but I'd like to see more players play significant minutes in the future. We've got a lot of size on the bench that we could use come Big Ten play.

The team did a lot of things well in this game, but there are a couple of weaknesses I hope they can sort out as the season goes on. First, they shot a low percentage from the field, only 37.7%. Getting offensive rebounds, as this team does, reduces the need to shoot well, but it obviously doesn't eliminate it. We can hope that the poor shooting was a fluke -- we'll see as the season goes on. Second, the team turned the ball over 20 times (Roser unfortunately accounted for 7 of those). Turnovers were a big problem for this team last year and I hope that doesn't repeat itself again this season.

All in all, the 'Cats played a good game and got the first W of the season! Congrats to them -- we'll see more from them on Tuesday when they play Western Kentucky. Go 'Cats!

‘Cats Ready to Tip-Off Regular Season Versus Texas-Pan America

Northwestern officially opens the 2011-12 season on Sunday versus Texas-Pan America. The game is on the Big Ten Network at 6PM CT and seats remain inside Welsh-Ryan Arena for those who are thinking about attending. Of note is the fact that Northwestern could potentially play their first four games of the season on national TV. The first two will be on for sure with ESPNU telecasting Thursday’s showdown with LSU at 2PM CT. This is a huge step for a program which at times has been pretty much an afterthought (if a thought at all) when it comes to the media. Obviously, some of this media attention is the result of the national attention which has been on the ‘Cats the last three years as they’ve come close to making their first NCAA Tournament. When you consider the role this year’s seniors have played in turning program into a competitive force in the Big Ten you can’t help but hope they’ll be the group to breakthrough in March.

As far as this game goes, UTPA was a 6-win team last year and dropped a 91-72 game to DePaul on Friday night. Some people aren’t happy with NU playing UTPA because they refer to the game as an RPI killer, it’s true UTPA isn’t going to be a top-100 squad in March, but NU does get a great advantage from playing UTPA. The advantage? It’s a team NU plays every year. Why is that important? Because UTPA won’t be as clueless as to what NU’s Princeton Offense entails and NU will actually have to work to get good shots. That’s important because I think some of the success NU has had in non-conference, including the 10-1 and #25 national ranking start of two years ago, has been because they’ve played teams that weren’t used to seeing the Princeton Offense. Well, the Big Ten has all seen the Princeton Offense so playing other teams that have also at least makes NU not get so many cheap baskets because defenders are essentially running into each other trying to defend backdoor cuts.

For NU, it looks like JerShon Cobb and Alex Marcotullio might not see the court as they’re still hurt. Drew Crawford isn’t listed as a starter, but was reported to be closer to 100% than the other two. Even if all three sit, NU should score points, though, UTPA’s knowledge of NU’s system has kept this game close the last two years. UTPA guard Brandon Provost scored 16 points and grabbed 8 rebounds against DePaul on Friday. He didn’t miss a three in the game as well. He’ll be an interesting matchup for NU’s freshman guards Dave Sobolewski and Tre Demps who will be in their first official college basketball game. With Marcotullio (who many expected to be a team leader) out, those two will need to step up. Another UTPA guard Jared Maree is also a capable outside shooter who the ‘Cats can’t lose sight of. Reggie Hearn played good defense against Robert Morris in NU’s exhibition win and may be a key factor in helping stop opponents’ top shooters this year. Hearn may be a former walk-on, but he’s a big guard with good length and decent athletic skill. Plus, he seems to have the level of “want to” which all great defenders have.

UTPA’s starting front court of Earl Jefferson and Josh Cleveland posted a total of 14 points and 6 rebounds versus DePaul. In addition, 6-7 sub Ruben Cabrera scored 12 points and grabbed 5 rebounds. These players don’t have the size of Big Ten front court players, but they’ll play hard. They might not offer a great simulation for 7-0 260-pound LSU center Justin Hamilton who NU will face Thursday, but I don’t they’ll be pushovers either and I’ll be looking to see how Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti respond to the challenge.

Looking at the overall matchup, NU’s missing starters might limit the game’s scoring a bit as all three of those guys can put the ball in the basket. However, NU’s still got more fire power than UTPA. I predict: Northwestern, 92 UTPA, 70

Monday, November 7, 2011

Wildcats Learn Something about Depth in Exhibition Win

My theme all off-season was on the importance of NU developing depth to compete in the rugged Big Ten. Tonight’s 99-47 exhibition win over Robert Morris probably doesn’t reveal a lot about Northwestern, but it does show the ‘Cats might have some quality depth on their bench which certainly didn’t exist the last several seasons.

Thanks to ankle injuries to Drew Crawford and Alex Marcotullio and JerShon Cobb still slowed from his hip-injury, NU went pretty young and inexperienced in the starting lineup. Tre Demps and Dave Sobolewksi got the call at the guards and Reggie Hearn saw his first serious action as a starter at small forward. All three looked very good. I know it was action against an NAIA school, but Robert Morris is a very good NAIA school. An NAIA school that was good enough to beat a solid NU team a few years back. I liked how all three hung in with the level of athleticism that RMU but on the court and seemed to play with control for the most part. Demps may have fired up a few ill-advised shots, but I think he’s a good enough player that some of those are going to go in from time to time. Plus, Demps, who I thought was more of the pure-scorer of the two freshmen guards, showed a nice three point shot making 3-of-4. He also dished out 3 assists to only 1 turnover. Sobolewski, who I thought was the more of the pure-shooter, didn’t disappoint as a shooter as he made both his three point shots and looked solid from the free-throw line sinking 7-of-9 charity strip shots. He also had 2 assists to 0 turnovers. Hearn got in on the action from three making 1-of-2 and in passing handing out 4 assists to 1 turnover. I also just felt like he showed great understanding of the offense. He seemed to find himself in position to make or pass to teammates for easy shots. I don’t know if we’ll see much Reggie Hearn in regular season games, but I think he’s clearly a valuable player to have on the team.

Nick Fruendt came off the bench in NU’s guard/small forward rotation and led the ‘Cats in scoring with 17 points. Fruendt is a good shooter and he showed it by going 4-for-4 from the field and 7-of-8 from the line. With that type of offensive ability you’d expect to see Fruendt finally become a consistent contributor, but I think it’ll be his defensive progress which we’ll have to keep an eye on to see if he can crack double-digit minutes when the Big Ten season starts.

The NU front court starters were mainstays John Shurna and Luka Mirkovic. Shurna looked solid in his 19 minutes and finished with 12 points. Luka only played 17 minutes, but he grabbed 5 rebounds, dished out 5 assists (a huge asset in a Princeton-style center) and hit a three. He’s a decent three point shooter and I think the center position needs to make at least 3 threes a game against NU’s tougher opponents for the ‘Cats to have the best chance to pull out W’s in those contests.

Off the bench in the front court I was really pleased with Davide Curletti who scored 16 points, notched 6 rebounds, and 4 assists. His only real failing was only hitting 3-of-6 free throws. I really like Davide’s shot and I think he shot make a much higher percentage. I’ve also got to give a big thumbs up to freshman Mike Turner who I think is a legit Big Ten athlete. He might need some work on his basketball skills, but I liked how he hit the glass (8 rebounds) and just his overall hustle approach. Will he play much this season? Maybe not. Still, he’s got a future that I see as pretty bright. Walk-on James Montgomery III seemed similar as well as he blocked 2 shots, scored 2 points, and had 2 assists. He looks quick as well and might take a Hearn like route to being a contributor someday.

Overall, every Wildcat who played looked as if they could play. Even with competition that wasn’t Big Ten caliber that’s saying something when compared with past NU teams. The ‘Cats start regular season play on Sunday. The big question is how healthy are Cobb, Marcotullio, and Crawford, but seeing the talent on the court with those guys out, I’m confident that ‘Cats have enough depth they’ll be able to compete in the Big Ten this season once their roster returns to full strength. As it stands, they should be able to compete with Texas-Pan American on Sunday as they are, but we’d like to see the full crew ready for LSU in a week and a half.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Tip Off Monday…What to Watch?

Northwestern play an exhibition game on Monday night against Robert Morris University. It’s exciting as it is the first time this year’s team will play in front of the public, but I don’t expect this game will reveal too much about the team as a whole. The starting lineup listed on nusports.com lists freshmen Tre Demps and Dave Sobolewski as well as junior walk-on Reggie Hearn as starters. Part of the reason for this might be the fact that JerShon Cobb still isn’t 100% recovered from his off-season hip surgery, but a bigger factor is likely that Coach Carmody is using this game to see just what he has on his bench (even if those players start this contest). I suppose to an extent that’s exciting as well. After all, I really believe Northwestern has to have depth to win in the Big Ten. Therefore, I’ll certainly be curious to see how those three potential key reserves play tomorrow against a team that is #3 in the NAIA rankings.

Aside from checking out the potential bench players, I think it’ll also be interesting to watch how much Luka Mirkovic has improved. Reports have Luka losing about 15 pounds, improving his shooting, and developing more post moves. All those things would be huge because the best Princeton Offense teams that Princeton ever had were highlighted by having centers who played key roles on offense. If Luka steps up his offensive game that’ll be big for the ‘Cats.

I know most fans will pay close attention to who handles the ball for the ‘Cats. I agree that’s important. It seems to me that if Demps and Sobolewski are starting that Carmody wants to take a look at them as ball handlers for sure. Does that mean one of them will be the guy who takes over for Juice Thompson? Maybe, but I still think a 100% JerShon Cobb and Alex Marcotullio are both capable ball handlers as well.

Another key factor that will impact Northwestern’s success not just Monday, but overall is defense. NU might not use everything that they have in the playbook on Monday and that’s fine. Personally, I’d like to see the team work on playing man-to-man. Robert Morris will bring several athletic players into Welsh-Ryan Arena and having to defend them man-to-man will be good work for NU. If NU does play the 1-3-1 zone, it’ll be interesting to see who plays in what spot with Juice departed.

Overall, it’ll be fun for the ‘Cats to be back in action, but I’m much more excited to see official action start a week from today. This contest will be a great chance for some of the young players to show off their skill, but I don’t think all our questions will be answered till we see games that count. After all, the best Northwestern team I’ve seen was the 2008-09 team that was basically eight minutes of basketball (four vs Illinois and four at Ohio State) from being in the NCAA Tournament and they lost an exhibition contest to Robert Morris. Still, the season is on and we have to be happy about that.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Interview with Wildcat Forward Brittany Orban

Brittany Orban is a 6-0 Senior forward for the ‘Cats who has made a name for herself through her elite rebounding (especially on the offensive end of the court, where she was 5th in the conference last year as a small forward), strong 3-point shooting, and overall toughness and hustle. She is one of two returning starters on a 2011-2012 ‘Cats team that will be very different from last year’s but that nevertheless looks like it can do some damage in the Big Ten. Brittany is a Mechanical Engineering major from North Canton, Ohio. She kindly agreed to take time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions for the readers of Welsh-Ryan Ramblings.

Q: First things first: the new court. It looks awesome, right? I can’t wait to see it in person.

A: It is definitely a fresh change and I love the new look! I have a feeling wildcat fans are going to like the new look of more purple on the court!

Q: Besides the new court, what are you looking forward to most this year, your senior year?

A: I look forward to playing with a new team and playing hard each and every day. It’s crazy how fast time flies as I enter my senior year. I know I have to give all that I can as it will be my last chance to experience a lot of things as a collegiate athlete.

Q: I know that the team started doing full practices earlier this month. How have these early practices been going so far?

A: Practices have been going well so far. It definitely takes some adjusting to get used to the rigorous schedule but I feel our team has responded well. With the addition of some new players and returning redshirt players, we are learning each other’s tendencies and gaining comfort in playing alongside of one another.

Q: You guys lost three senior starters to graduation – point guard Beth Marshall, guard Meshia Reed and center Amy Jaeschke. The loss of these players will obviously change the look of the team quite a bit, particularly the departure of Jaeschke, who was the face of the team and the first NU player to be drafted into the WNBA. What are you doing as a team to adjust to these changes?

A: The three seniors in Beth, Meshia and Amy were definitely a huge impact on last year’s team. As it’s a new year, we know that different players will have to step up on any given night to fill those gaps.

Q: There’s a lot of new faces on the team this year, and a lot of new players who seem like they can be huge contributors for the ‘Cats – McDonald’s All-American Morgan Jones (who is the sister of Junior guard Tailor Jones) comes to mind. What are you expecting from these new players, and what, if anything, will change to accommodate new playing styles and skill sets?

A: With the loss of the fore-mentioned seniors, we needed freshmen to come in and help make an impact on the team. The freshmen seem to be gaining confidence each and everyday as they adjust to a faster-paced style collegiate game. I see that these freshmen will help make a large impact on the team as they continue to grow as players.

Q: Has anyone really surprised you in practice? Does anyone strike you as someone who will have a breakout season?

A: Everyone seems to have worked on their game this summer and I am happy with where we stand as a team at this point. I think on any given night a new player could have a breakout game which will make our team hard to scout.

Q: As I mentioned, you and Junior Kendall Hackney will be the only returning starters this year. Can you talk about how you approach being a leader of this team?

A: As a senior, I feel my position of leadership is one of experience. Having done this for the past three years, I can advise new and returning players on any questions they might have. I would like to think my leadership will come with the hard work mentality I try to bring each and everyday.

Q: What are your personal goals for the season? Are you hoping to improve on what you’ve done for three seasons here, or do you think you might be doing some things on the court you haven’t done as a ‘Cat?

A: My personal goal is to complete my last season at Northwestern with no regrets. I want to know that I put everything I had into helping with the success of the team. I always believe that the success one has is a direct result of the effort he/she puts in.

Q: What are the team’s goals for this season? What is Coach McKeown really emphasizing in practice and at meetings?

A: As we are still early in the season, our initial goal is to develop as a team and to gain comfort in playing alongside of one another and to gain great team chemistry. As we have been able to make some runs in the WNIT, I know our team is hungry for more and our ultimate goal is always to make it to the NCAA tournament.

You’ve definitely been an impressive player for the ‘Cats as well as an incredible representative for the team and the school these last few years. Thanks again for your time – good luck this season and go ‘Cats!

A quick thanks...

I’m a little late in doing this, but I wanted to draw everyone’s attention to Pooley’s Big Ten rankings which she posted on October 21st. I’ve wanted to do something like that for a while, but simply haven’t ever really had the time, so I wanted to give credit to Pooley for brining a new feature to this blog. I also have to give her credit for some upcoming coverage of NU’s women’s basketball team. Again, that’s something that I’ve wanted to do for sometime now, but haven’t been able to find time for.