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.