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.