Sunday, December 23, 2012

Northwestern Closes Out Non-Conference Season Win Over Brown

Northwestern moved to 9-4 on the year with today's 63-42 win over the Brown. The key was a little sloppy at times but playing without not only JerShon Cobb and Drew Crawford but also Reggie Hearn the 'Cats did play a game which they can feel good about going into a 10 day break before facing #2 ranked Michigan after the new year.

The biggest thing NU did well that gives fans hope for the rest of the season was their shooting. NU hadn't really shot well recently but today they finally seemed to find their outside shot as a team. That  is critical because NU won't pull off Big Ten upsets without shooting well. Kale Abrahamson made two threes early and I continue to believe that if he takes time to set his feet he could be about a 60% three point shooter. Somehow the NU staff needs to get him to relax and just play the game without rushing. Alex Marcotullio also hit a couple threes which was nice to see. He's a guy who has seemingly always had an impact on the game when he played but hasn't always been able to play thanks to health reasons. Now, he seems like he's back healthy and I expect he'll be able to make good things happen for NU.

They guy I really want to see more of is Tre Demps. He's a little out of control at times, but he looks like NU's best natural scorer. He can hit the three, he can hit the mid range shot, and he can score on a floater in the lane. NU's last guy with that much variety of a game was probably Juice Thompson. I really would like to see Demps on the court for 25-plus minutes as the season continues.

As we look at the Big Ten season I think the obvious question NU has to ask is about health. Nikola Cerina's size would help and he's probably a better shooter than Jared Swopshire (who did make a couple threes today) and NU needs Reggie Hearn's leadership and scoring ability as well as his aggressive rebounding. These ten days off are huge for NU and we can all hope that when NU plays again on Jan. 3 they are healthier than they are now and are ready to compete with Michigan.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Northwestern Basketball: That’s Not the Sky Falling…It’s Pieces of the Scoreboard

NU fans might want to bring their hard hats to Welsh-Ryan on Sunday

Yes, pieces of Northwestern’s ancient scoreboard fell on to the court before Friday night’s game nearly hitting Dave Sobolewksi, Nikola Cerina, and an NU trainer in the head. If that doesn’t just about sum up Northwestern basketball then I don’t know what can. I’ve had my moments of criticism for head coach Bill Carmody, but the fact the guy chooses to stick it out at Northwestern in spite of everything he has working against him (which is pretty much everything) is really pretty impressive. I still think he made a mistake in not sticking with the 1-3-1 after it worked for a possession early in the game, but he’s not the first coach or person to make a mistake (I’ve made mistakes and actually one might be believing anyone else would have more success as NU’s coach) and at least he was smart enough to eventually go to it instead of being so stubborn that he wouldn’t admit his mistake. I also want to point out that this isn’t second guessing. I stated in my preview that NU should play 1-3-1 and I tweeted great excitement at seeing it early and then great dismay when the ‘Cats went away from it and Stanford went on a 12-2 run. Not that I feel like I need to prove it to the 25 people who still read this blog regularly, but here’s my tweet after NU first played 1-3-1 when the score was 10-10:

And here’s my depression after NU went back to man-to-man and Stanford went on a run:

Regardless, the law of Northwestern basketball (which is apparently Murphy’s) has once again hit as NU not only lost last night’s game, but also saw leading scorer Reggie Hearn go down with an ankle injury. Hearn may or may not return for tomorrow’s game vs Brown. Overall, Northwestern now has had injuries to seven key players during this season. Two of them (JerShon Cobb and Drew Crawford) won’t be back the rest of the season and a third (Nikola Cerina) hasn’t come back yet. My guess is that two more (Sanjay Lumpkin and Alex Marcotullio) aren’t playing at 100% despite playing well last night.

All those injuries would be hard enough to deal with for any coach, but at Northwestern Bill Carmody also has to face playing in an out of date gym that has a scoreboard that’s falling apart and various clocks with light blubs burnt out and practice facilities which are worse than those at some division three schools. There is also the issue of NU’s academic restrictions limiting the recruiting pool and the fact the Big Ten is probably the NCAA’s best conference. This isn’t meant to be an excuse for Carmody, but at this point I feel like I’m about ready to throw up my hands and declare “I’m done!” with Northwestern basketball and all I do is watch so I’m pretty impressed that despite having to actually work with all those issues that he sticks around. I can guarantee any Patriot League or Ivy League school would hire Carmody if he asked for a job and he’d probably get better facilities at a good percentage of them.

So what’s left to look forward to this season? I’d like to think NU can compete with a number of Big Ten teams if they can compete with Stanford who will finish in the top half of the PAC-12, but if injuries keep mounting that could be a problem. The bad luck surrounding NU basketball has just become ridiculous at this point and I think the only way to reverse that bad luck for Northwestern is to buy themselves some good luck. That starts with upgrading Welsh-Ryan Arena. I know it’s going to happen tomorrow (though the falling pieces of the scoreboard should be addressed rather quickly) but at some point NU needs to get serious about investing in basketball or we’re all just wasting our time and energy in hoping for an NCAA bid. It doesn’t matter if it’s Carmody or a resurrected John Wooden the Wildcats coaching staff cannot be seriously expected to compete for a Big Ten Title and an NCAA Tournament bid while playing in a 1980s relic while other traditional non-basketball powers like Nebraska and Penn State invest hugely in their programs. At some point that investment is going to payoff and if Northwestern hasn’t made at least some similar invest they’re going to be even farther behind the times and the task of making the NCAA Tournament at NU which is already nearly impossible will truly become impossible.

By the way, Northwestern plays another game tomorrow against Brown. Brown should have a fairly big crowd at Welsh-Ryan since they have three players from the Chicago-area. However, the Bears are just 3-5 and shouldn’t be all that much of a challenge for NU. I predict: Northwestern, 78 Brown, 64

Friday, December 21, 2012

Stanford edges NU

Ladies and gentlemen I give you every NU game of any importance ever: Kind of fun to watch, some hope,  ends in depression, and a key player gets hurt. I don't know what else to say. I said NU should play 1-3-1 in this game. They had a great 1-3-1 possession early then went away from it and Stanford went on 12-0 run. Then they go back to it and it gets them back into the game. That's just terribly disappointing from a coaching staff I'm trying to stay positive with. Honestly, though, does anyone think that I should have a better idea how to game plan for NU's opponents than our coaches? I don't. But apparently today I did. What exactly did they do over the last three days. When Jim Philips finally does what he's wanted to do since he got to Northwestern and fires Bill Carmody and saddles us all with Chris Collins I hope Bill Carmody remembers this game is a major reason why. That's a 15-point NU win if the 'Cata play 1-3-1 all night which was obvious to anyone who watched Stanford play except for NU's coaching staff. That s awful. I doubt 2,000 people will show up for the Brown game now and you can count on Welsh-Ryan being 60-70% Michigan fans for the Big Ten opener. 

Some other thoughts: I loved Reggie Hearn's guts as he battled on an injured ankle to keep NU in the game. Overall Hearn was great with 18 points and 9 rebounds. Tre Demps, despite some tough misses including the last shot, was also excellent playing limited minutes due to injury. The kid is a great athlete who will do big things in his career, I also expect big things from Alex Olah. Olah had a career game vs really good opposition. In fact, Olah has played very well vs talented bigs from both Baylor and 
Stanford. His backup Mike Turner made a nice three, but did have one of the worst sequences of basketball ever in the first half. 

Also, lack of production from Dave Sobolewski and Jared Swopshire hurt NU tonight as well. Swop has to make threes at some point or he's not nearly as useful as we'd like to think in the lineup. Sobo saw more defensive attention tonight, but that's going to become the norm. He needs to adjust. It was good that Alex Marcotullio got back from injury to pick up some of the slack, but Sobo has got to be the main guy for NU at this point. 

The other positive I can find is that Stanford is an upper level PAC-12 team and NU should and could have won this game, but isn't that where we started tonight. Every 
significant game for NU seems to end with coulda, shoulda, or woulda but that will never get it done and maybe that's the sad truth. Maybe that day where NU makes the tournament just isn't going to happen. Who knows. NU plays Brown in two days. All we can do is watch.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Short Handed ‘Cats Face Key Test vs Stanford

Tre Demps may not play on Friday night as a result Northwestern is now missing four players out of my projected nine man preseason rotation. Say what you want, but I’m not sure any team would be expected to win under those circumstances. Especially when those four missing players include three of your most athletic players and a 6-8 guy who can hit outside shots in an offense that is built around 6-8 guys who can hit outside shots.

Simply stated, Northwestern is in a tough spot as they face the Stanford Cardinal. The 7-4 Stanford squad features some similarities to NU, but have an obvious advantage of having their top scorers able to play in the contest. The best player on the Cardinal roster is 6-10 forward Dwight Powell who will provide another challenge for NU’s young center Alex Olah. Say what you want about Olah, but he’s faced good competition in virtually every game and that has to have a payoff over the long haul of the season. Plus, while he’s had some struggles, I feel he’s done reasonably well overall. I’d give him a sold “B” grade to this point. Powell is a guy who gets 15.5ppg and 7.0rpg. He’s also a very good free throw shooter and on a team that doesn’t shoot three pointers well his 5-of-14 35.7% mark ties him for the highest percentage on the Cardinal roster.

The Cardinal’s other top player is an Illinois native in Chasson Randle. Randle is a sophomore and Illinois high school fans will no doubt remember him leading the Rock Island Rocks to a double overtime win the state title game in 2011. He was recruited by virtually the entire Big Ten, but ended up at Stanford where he has become their starting point guard. He averages 14.1ppg and leads the team in assists. However, he makes only 19% of his three point looks therefore his scoring is almost all going to the basket looking to get fouled where he also is an outstanding foul shooter (which is true of most of Stanford’s team in contrast to NU). He’ll be a tough matchup for Dave Sobolewski who just barely missed out on facing Randle in high school when his Benet Academy team suffered a tough loss that denied them the chance to go to Peoria for March Madness.

NU fans should also watch for 6-7 forward Josh Huestis who leads the Cardinal in blocked shots and is a very strong defensive presence. The ‘Cats will have to put their shoulder to the rim when going up for shots if Huestis occupies the lane. Finally, also watch Aaron Bright who is a 5-11 guard that is supposed to be able to shoot, but like the rest of his team he’s struggled for the most part his year. The major exception was Stanford’s last game at N.C. State when he hit four three pointers.

Prediction: I think for NU to win the Wildcats need to make sure they’re defending with far more intensity than they did vs Texas State. Maybe use the 1-3-1 more unless Bright gets going early. Also, NU needs to get some production from Sanjay Lumpkin who will get a lot of minutes if Demps can’t play. Lumpkin looks athletic to me, but I’m not yet sure about his shot. Hopefully, he can show some touch which will allow him to use his quickness to go backdoor. This is as winnable a game for NU as virtually any game left on the schedule with the possible exceptions of Brown and Purdue at Welsh-Ryan. However, the Wildcats are just too much of a MASH unit right now to expect them to pull out this one. Stanford, 60 Northwestern, 57

Monday, December 17, 2012

Northwestern Survives Sloppy Play to Post W in First Post-Crawford Game

I'm not 100% sure that having Drew Crawford would have made that much of a difference in this game. He might have made a few more shots, but the problems we saw tonight were the same problems we saw when Drew Crawford was on the floor. The most critical of which is free throw shooting. I'm tempted to say that all NU should do at practice tomorrow is shoot free throws. That's an area that has to improve for Northwestern to have any chance of being competitive the rest of the season.

Turnovers were also a problem for some of NU's better players. NU only turned the ball over 12 times, but the two primary ball handlers Dave Sobolewski and Reggie Hearn had two-thirds of those and that's a potential problem. Without Crawford those two guys are going to have the ball in their hands most of the time. Sobolewski shouldn't turn the ball over that much. He's coming off a season where he was one of the best in the B1G at taking care of the ball and he only turned the ball over 10 times in NU's first 9 games. What's gone wrong over the past two games is honestly something of a mystery, but I suspect it's more mental than physical for Sobo and he needs to get through that sooner rather than later. Hearn probably has the ball in his hands more often which might account for more turnovers, but I think he still needs to take care of the ball better if he's going to be NU's top scoring threat which he probably is at this point. Even today, he was one of NU's leading scorers with 15 points (right behind Sobo's 18) and showed some nice moves around the hoop, but he's got to take care of the ball.

Aside from Sobo and Hearn NU got double figure efforts from Tre Demps and Jared Swopshire. Demps did a great job coming off the bench and sparking NU. However, Demps went down with an ankle injury early in the second half. Swopshire scored 10 points and got 5 rebounds and 3 assists. His solid all-around effort is something that needs to be duplicated regularly.

NU also got a decent scoring game from Kale Abrahamson who hit three threes. When Kale sets his feet he's probably a 60% shooter but far too often he just launches shots without getting his feet set. I don't know if he just feels rushed in a college game compared to a high school game, but I have no doubt he can score. He just needs to understand how.

This obviously was kind of an ugly game, but the post-final hangover is something many teams deal with. I think Friday's game will tell us more. I see Stanford as very similar to Iowa and Iowa's probably about the eighth best B1G team. If NU wants to make a postseason tournament of some sort then they have to beat that type of team at home. I do hold out some hope that Nikola Cerina will be something of a difference maker when he gets healthy as I really like his game, but NU also needs Sanjay Lumpkin to contribute and if Tre Demps is now out, well, that would be bad. Somehow NU needs to show some perseverance and get through some very tough times but if they can improve day by day they can make a postseason tournament, but to circle around back to where we started the most important improvement has to be at the free throw line.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Looking Ahead for NU Hoops Without Drew Crawford

On Monday Northwestern takes on Texas State. It’s a game Northwestern should win, but if that was a certain result a few hours ago, it’s less certain now. Continuing a long line of major injuries, and one that’s been especially notable in recent years, Drew Crawford will miss the rest of this season with a shoulder injury. Crawford hadn’t played well for the majority of this season and I’d say we at least now know why, but his injury is still something that makes me refer back to the idea that Northwestern basketball seems to have unbelievably bad karma. I don’t know who in NU hoops history walked under far too many ladders or blew up a mirror factory, but someone has to take blame for this program’s incredible bad luck. It could even be a something. I mean the Cubs blame a goat.

Without Crawford I’d look for Kale Abrahamson and Tre Demps to see more playing time. It would also help if Sanjay Lumpkin and Alex Marcotullio could get back to 100%. Lumpkin was said to be the best of NU’s freshmen, but his case of mono has kept him off the court for all but two minutes this season. Marcotullio would probably step into Crawford’s starting spot if he were 100%, but based on his lack of playing time part of me wonders if he’ll be inquiring about a medical hardship year in the same letter to the NCAA as Drew Crawford. As far as filling the spot, Demps has a little more experience than Lumpkin or Abrahamson and looked good late in the Butler game. Still, I like Abrahamson’s size at 6-7 and his willingness to shoot the ball. It hasn’t always gone in, but I think if he gets his feet set when he shoots he’ll make more shots than he’ll miss. Of course, now that NU has to play slow maybe we don’t want Abrahamson and his hot potato style of play on the court.

The fact is NU’s strategy has to change without Crawford and I think it needs to change right away. Texas State is only 4-5, but NU’s mindset needs to alter regardless of the opponent. NU needs to go all slow down on offense. If they shoot before 10 seconds are left on the shot clock that’s got to be a problem for the coaches. Every game NU plays needs to be in the 50s (or even the 40s) for the ‘Cats to have a chance to win. The defense needs to be super-intense and physical and other teams need to feel frustrated when facing the ‘Cats on both ends of the court. If the rest of the team plays like Dave Sobolewski NU still has a shot. The ideal of model would be the late 1990s Wisconsin teams which won with defense and long possessions on offense and seemed filled with Sobo like players in guys like Kirk Penny and Mike Kelley. Can NU be that type of team? It’s possible, but such a style of play means you also need to shoot a very high percentage from three because you won’t be getting that many shots and need to maximize the ones you get. The good news is that Dave Sobolewski and Reggie Hearn who are NU’s best shooters thus far should be getting more shots with Crawford out. NU also really needs Nikola Cerina to take some of Jared Swopshire’s minutes or for Swopshire to regain his early season form and hit some outside shots. That outside shooting ability is why I expect you’ll see more Kale Abrahamson as the rest of this year goes along.

I know people will say this is a blessing in disguise as NU will potentially be able to play Crawford along with JerShon Cobb and incoming top-100 (by some services at least) recruit Jaren Sina together next year, but right now I think we should focus on this season because NU’s athletic department won’t cancel the rest of it and there are still at least 22 games left to play.

Prediction for Texas State: Texas State has two key players in Matt Staff (16.2ppg and 6rpg) and Joel Wright (15.2ppg and 6.2 rpg). They’ve both got nice size as well with Staff being 6-10 and Wring 6-7. It’ll be another good challenge inside for Alex Olah who while he’s had some tough games has to be learning a lot because he hasn’t faced many teams that haven’t at least had one 6-10 player. I think Northwestern does the classic rally together during the first game the star is out and wins this game by about seven points, say 64-57. However, I worry that after this game we could see some real struggles. Next week will be a good week to learn as not only does NU have Texas State on Monday, but they’ll face a Stanford team on Friday that is probably equivalent to some of the middle tier Big Ten schools (say Iowa and Nebraska) if they can beat Stanford there might still be hope for NU to at least keep their streak of postseason births alive (even if it’s the NIT or CBI). If not watch out. I’m going to try to stay away (at least for awhile) from discussing how this impacts the future of NU’s coaching staff, but to be frank, if NU has a terrible record Drew Crawford being injured shouldn’t be enough to save their jobs. If NU ends up 10-22 then if Jim Phillips wants to make a change he should feel free to do so. I hope, though, that the staff pulls things together and makes a great statement about their ability to coach because if they end up 17-15 with what they’ll be running out there each night that’s coach of the year level stuff for Bill Carmody.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Northwestern's Inconsistency Stays Consistent

If Northwestern could be consistent in shooting and ball handling they might become a pretty good team. However, at this point the only thing consistent about them is that they aren't. Put this game on the list of frustrating games you've seen as a Northwestern fan because Butler did nothing that really impressed me in this game but they came away with a win because they were more consistent team than Northwestern. They took care of the ball and didn't miss opportunities to take advantage of Northwestern mistakes whereas Northwestern turned the ball over too often and couldn't take advantage when Butler made mistakes.

I'm almost at a loss about what to say at this point. I feel NU has made some strides as a free throw shooting team and I like that Dave Sobolewski impacted the game on offense. We could talk a bunch about how Drew Crawford once again disappeared, but I blame coach Carmody for that. No reason existed sit Crawford the majority of the first half just because he had two fouls. Butler coach Brad Stevens had multiple players with two fouls on the court and since those guys were better than NU's subs it helped Butler build a lead. I would Stevens totally out coached Carmody in this matchup.

I'm still very worried about Northwestern in the Big Ten. If they don't hit threes they will lose. That means Jared Swopshire needs to start hitting some shots. Reggie Hearn and Drew Crawford need to get consistent and I really think NU's centers need to be allowed to shoot. I'm hopeful that when Nikola Cerina comes back from injury he will be at center because he has an outside shot which NU really needs the guy at that spot to have. I obviously want Northwestern to be good, but while the Baylor win was great we've seen more bad than good from NU at this point. I'd say at this point unless major improvements happen that NU will pull off some other big upsets, but they won't be consistent enough to win half their Big Ten games or even 7 or 8. Now, they'll take a long break before finishing their non conference season with three home games, two they should win and one vs Stanford which is a toss up. A 3-0 finish would be great, but it'll still be a disappointment considering how NU couldn't finish the UIC game and just disappeared at times tonight.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Northwestern Continues the Search for Consistency vs Butler

On Friday night I’ll be at the Potterdome in Morton, Illinois to watch future Wildcat Nathan Taphorn and the Pekin Dragons battle the Morton Potters. Despite living in Morton I suspect I’ll be rooting for Taphorn and the Dragons. I’m sure people who are used to seeing me support the local kids are going to be confused, but I can’t help it, when it comes to sports loyalty I’m a Wildcat above all else. That loyalty has resulted in a lot of pain many times since I first entered Welsh-Ryan Arena in 1993, but I know all the pain will be worth it when the Wildcats, my Wildcats, our Wildcats, make the NCAA Tournament for the first the time. All of you who regularly read this blog, all the fans who regularly attend games or rearrange their nights to watch on TV, and myself will share a level of joy which will probably be unparalleled in fandom given what we’ve suffered through. Even Cubs fans have at least seen their team post the best regular season record in the National League before imploding in the playoffs. The point of this preamble is to say that Saturday night’s tilt between the Wildcats and the Butler Bulldogs is potentially a major way station on the road to that first NCAA Tournament. The Big Ten is good enough this season that Northwestern’s win total of eight conference games in recent years might be enough to push the ‘Cats into the dance if they have a decent Big Ten Tournament (which I’m well-aware is non sure bet) and if they don’t drop anymore non-conference contests and in the process pick up some nice wins over Butler and Stanford. This Butler team isn’t the strong group that made back to back final fours, but they’ve got talent and will be a challenge for the young Wildcats.

The player who will be the most significant challenge is potential All-American Rotnei Clarke. He’s by far the best player the Bulldogs have. He averages 18 points per game and is the only player on the Butler roster to make more than 40% of his three point shots (Does this mean 1-3-1 zone from NU? Maybe.). He’s the type of guy who can singlehandedly beat a team and NU better keep sight of him or that could happen. His supporting cast is led by forward Khyle Marshall who scores about 13 points per game, but is probably more of a factor as someone who has 22 offensive rebounds already this season. NU has to contain him and Butler big man Andrew Smith the same way they kept the bigs from Baylor away from the glass. My final concern is Kellen Dunham. He’s supposed to be a great shooter, but hasn’t really had a lot of success thus far this season coming into the game at just 31.7% from behind the arc this season. I worry that Dunham will get hot because, well, as we know Northwestern tends to be the type of unlucky team against who some guy that hasn’t done anything all year catches fire. If Dunham continues to stay cold and Clarke doesn’t go crazy hitting everything he throws at the hoop, I like NU’s chances.

Prediction: I’ve been bad at predicting games this season and I think that’s due to NU’s lack of consistency. Someone recently asked for an overall season prediction. At this point I don’t think I could even hazard a guess except to say this game is a big one for where the season goes. Basically, I think it is a game Northwestern should win. I’ve looked at the stats for both teams and my evaluation of personnel is while Butler has the best player between the two teams, I think NU has the deeper team. If Reggie Hearn and Jared Swopshire can keep Clarke contained and NU plays with the same aggressiveness we saw for 30 minutes against Baylor then I think NU should come away on top. Northwestern, 60 Butler, 58

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Northwestern Survives Pressure at Baylor

Coming down the stretch of tonight’s game Northwestern resembled a man hanging onto a cliff screaming, “aaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” and hoping someone will come and save him.

Overall, I thought Northwestern played 30 good minutes and 10 poor minutes of basketball. The 10 poor minutes almost cost Northwestern the game, but they survived to hold on for the win and that’s what’s important.

I was really impressed with the attitude and focus Northwestern started the game with. They had a plan to attack Baylor’s zone and executed it with ease. Multiple NU players got easy looks against the zone and helped NU build a halftime lead. I liked that Alex Olah found a couple open looks for points and looked comfortable passing the ball to cutters including one really nice dish to Jared Swopshire. Olah totaled 6 assists in the game and 10 points (all the other NU starters joined him in double figures). Mike Turner played, at least to me, his best game of the year backing up Olah, but I do think Olah ought to record the majority of the minutes. Turner really isn’t a threat on offense, but he also looked comfortable passing the ball and played his first game without turning the ball over in his 13 minutes of action. Obviously, both of those players need to make free throws better, but at least we saw some solid progress.

The other thing I liked in the first 30 minutes of the game was Northwestern clearly had an aggressive mindset. Not only in the game plan to attack the basket with cutters, but I loved the fact that Dave Sobolewski was intense enough to get a warning for taunting. Baylor sure wasn’t backing down as Rico Gathers seemed to be in the game just to hammer NU’s players. I don’t really even mind Drew Crawford getting called for hanging on the rim. It was stupid, but it was the most intense act I’ve ever seen from Drew Crawford and he needs to be more intense as a senior leader. Reggie Hearn is always intense and I was impressed he put his poor performance from Saturday behind him to play perhaps the best game of his career in posting 17 points and 10 rebounds. If Northwestern wants to win Big Ten games they need that aggressiveness mindset and intense effort.

Perhaps Hearn’s effort is a microcosm of this team as a whole. NU did virtually everything wrong for the majority of the UIC and Maryland games, but tonight for ¾ of the game they did nearly everything right. Maybe the team’s youth explains the inconsistency, but I just like the fact they didn’t stay stuck in the rut of failure. They did what the needed to in order to comeback and pick up a win which gives them hope for a making a postseason tournament which looked all but impossible on Saturday. In the end, I hope the coaching staff truly does emphasize the one game at a time mentality with this group. I know people will look at the end of the season and a possible NCAA bid, but this is a team which has clearly shown they can play great or terrible on any given day. If they’re focused simply on what they have to do in order to win every single game maybe the terrible games will be kept to a minimum.

NU’s coaching staff also will need to be as effective as they were in developing a game plan for attacking Baylor’s zone consistenly because NU will be overmatched physically (as they were tonight) more often than not. Also, I would strongly suggest a review of how to handle pressure defense and a little more work on free throw shooting. Although, I think a lot of the free throw shooting was mental, though, I can’t understand how Sobo went from being so intense that he was warned for taunting to looking like he was choking with the pressure on. In order to sleep tonight I’m going to assume he was just gassed from having to handle Baylor’s press. NU really needs a real backup point guard (Tre Demps needs to get it together quickly), but I will also say that while I thought NU got some calls early that during the period of time where Baylor cut the lead from 18 points to 9 points I thought NU got as homered as any team I’ve ever seen. Baylor defenders were basically pushing Hearn and Sobolewski to the ground and fouls weren’t called. Oh well, bottom line, Northwestern won the game and while we saw major areas where improvement is needed we also saw a stretch of how good this team can be and it looked good.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Northwestern Has to Handle Pressure vs Baylor

Northwestern isn’t handling pressure well. I’m not just talking about tight intense defense which makes it hard the Wildcats to get open shots. However, that is something which Northwestern clearly needs to handle better. We saw examples of NU rushing shots and struggling to get good looks against ISU, Maryland, and UIC. What I’m more worried about NU handling, though, is the pressure of expectations. This Northwestern team came into the season with high expectations and those can often be very dangerous because they place pressure on a team. Some teams will thrive under such pressure, but others will not. Right now, Northwestern doesn’t look like the type of team that will thrive. Part of the problem may be the youth of the squad. Several freshmen and sophomores are key contributors and another two transfers are expected to play heavy minutes. In addition, the fact is the team really is leaderless. Reggie Hearn seems like a potentially good leader, but pretty much ate the big one against UIC when he missed five consecutive free throws and a point-blank layup which could have given NU the lead. Drew Crawford might be NU’s best player, but he’s always been inconsistent and every NU fan knew that counting on him to lead wasn’t a smart bet. Finally, Coach Carmody doesn’t seem to be handling the pressure very well either. I don’t think his strategy on the court is bad, but he’s pulling guys after one mistake which I really don’t like and don’t think he’s ever really done before (with the possible exception of Luka Mirkovic). That type of one mistake and you’re gone to the pine coaching puts even more pressure on players and I don’t think that is what this team needs. Is Carmody worried if he doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament he’s going to be let go at the end of this year? Maybe, but let’s not start that discussion yet. Let’s just hope both he and his team relax and just play basketball like they can against Baylor on Tuesday night.

Baylor’s 5-2 and has one really good win over Kentucky. They also have a pretty bad loss at home to the College of Charleston and a loss to Colorado that looked bad at the time, but now looks okay if not great. I would consider their other wins on par with what Northwestern has done this year or slightly worse. What I expect from Baylor is they’ll use point guard Pierre Jackson to attack the NU defense. He scores nearly 20 points a game and dishes out more than 6 assists per contest. If NU plays man-to-man it might be a situation in which Reggie Hearn or even 6-8 Jared Swopshire plays Jackson to try and make the 5-10 guard uncomfortable. Baylor also two solid big guys inside in Cory Jefferson who has turned in a couple double-doubles this year and freshman center Isaiah Austin who is another 7-footer with a solid all-around game. Alex Olah will be a good player for NU, but seeing more fully developed big men like Austin and Maryland’s Alex Len shows how far NU has to go in recruiting to make it to the next level.

Prediction: Unless Northwestern’s shooting touch which has been absent almost all season suddenly shows up NU has no chance to win this year. Even if they do shoot well I expect Baylor to be able to score on NU thanks to Jackson’s savvy. Baylor, 75 Northwestern, 60

Saturday, December 1, 2012

UIC Defense and Free Thrown Shooting Edge Northwestern

Northwestern simply didn't do what they needed to in order to win Saturday afternoon. UIC on the other hand did. While Northwestern made only 10-of-19 free throws (and missed the front end of several bonus chances) UIC made all but one of their free throws. Also, Northwestern seemed unable to handle UIC's defense and their lack of a go to guy was once again exposed.

UIC had a go to player inside in Josh Crittle whereas Northwestern lacked production from Drew Crawford and Reggie Hearn, especially late in the game. Hearn played terrible missing five free throws and a point blank layup that would have given NU a late lead. Crawford simply tends to disappear at times during the game and he's been doing that for years.

Northwestern being unable to make free throws is where I'm going to place the blame for this loss. NU would have lost to ISU if they hasn't made free throws so we know NU is capable of shooting well from the line, but they didn't show that today. ISU by the way was good enough to play #5 Louisville very close today, but of course that means very little for Northwestern.

Northwestern really isn't very good right now. If they make more shots and get some leadership they might get better. It'll also help if the young big men improve or if Nikola Cerina can come back healthy and take some minutes from Olah and Turner. Turner right now is, in my opinion, frankly, terrible. He's a nice athlete, but he can't play basketball at all. Olah at least clearly has potential, but he's several years away from really being good.

It's hard expect anything less than a disaster on Tuesday night when NU travels to Baylor to face a
team that just upset Kentucky. Still, Baylor is a young team and might be beatable coming off such a big win. The positive is this team can still get better, but right now this looks like a team which will struggle in Big Ten play.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Northwestern and UIC Battle in Evanston

I like playing other Chicagoland teams. I wish the Wildcats would do so more often, though, I know the blame for the lack of those games rests on the other school in some cases. Nonetheless, I’m excited the NU hosts UIC tomorrow and hope this series continues in future years and that eventually DePaul, Loyola, and even Chicago State return to Northwestern’s schedule.

Northwestern is coming off a bad loss to Maryland, but I think Maryland was a talented team that will give many other squads trouble this season. Still, NU needs to play better if they want to compete in the Big Ten. UIC sits at 5-1 overall and while they haven’t posted in any huge wins, they have played a solid schedule to accumulate that record including wining three games away from home.

As a result, I don’t think playing at Welsh-Ryan Arena is going to give NU much of a home court advantage in this one, but hopefully the Wildside at least shows up. Anyhow, UIC features three experienced senior starters in Gary Talton, Daniel Barnes, and Josh Crittle. The disadvantage for the Flames is Crittle is their tallest starter at 6-9 which means NU has a distinct size advantage in the front court. I look for NU to potentially try to do to UIC what Maryland did NU and get the ball inside. I’d really like to see Alex Olah have a good game. I know I talked about a potential small lineup, but in retrospect I think maybe what should happen is Coach Carmody needs to let Olah play through some mistakes. I know a lot of NU fans are ga-ga over Mike Turner’s athletic skill and I’ll admit he’s way more athletic than any NU center I can remember, but Olah is about 1000 times better basketball player at this point and the Princeton Offense needs basketball players to work. It needs guys who can dribble, shoot, pass, etc. Not just fantastic athletes. Olah can do those things if he’s allowed to develop his skills.

Prediction: I think Northwestern wins this game because they’re due for a good shooting day and because I think Reggie Hearn, Drew Crawford, and Jared Swopshire will get some cheap points attacking against some of the smaller UIC defenders. Still, I expect a close game and I know UIC will play with a lot of intensity since they’ve got a chance to make a statement with a win over Chicago’s Big Ten Team. Northwestern, 66 UIC, 59

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Poor Shooting Dooms Northwestern

We all knew that with Northwestern being as young as they are that at some point a huge clunker of a game would occur at some point. I thought it would be against one of the weaker opponents they played because NU would be focused for games like tonight, but I was wrong. Tonight I hope was as bad as NU can play, but it's unfortunate because this was another great résumé game which NU just played awfully in. The good news is that playing in the Big Ten (not to mention Baylor, Butler, and Stanford) will give NU many more chances to boost their resume for a potential tournament bid.

What went wrong tonight? Honestly, mostly the fact NU couldn't free throws or three pointers if they had only struggled in one area they might have had a shot, but they didn't hit either so they got massacred like Custer at Little Big Horn.

Also, NU got creamed on the glass, which wasn't a huge shocker,but I was really disappointed with just how inept Mike Turner and Alex Olah looked. I know they're freshmen, but they were, frankly, terrible. Unless they show a lot of growth I don't envision NU having a lot of success against solid teams. They are both basically walking turnovers who shot when they shouldn't and pass when they should shoot. NU either needs Nikola Cerina back ASAP or once again needs to resort to the small lineup vs good teams because at least that would put complete basketball players on the court when NU really needs it, Turner and Olah can develop against the lesser teams on the schedule.

Still, NU has survived growing pains from the centers in other games. What they can't survive is Drew Crawford hitting just 30% of his shots. I think every NU fan knew that as streaky as Drew was and how missing shots seems to bother him that he as the go to guy was potentially dangerous and right now we see some of that danger. Drew Crawford needs to start letting go of missed shots, focusing in the moment, and playing without concern over past failures or Northwestern's season will include many more of these games because NU must make shots to win and Crawford needs to make the most. Right now he's maybe NU's third best player and that's not because other guys are greatly exceeding their ability.

Oh, and NU's defense wasn't great, but honestly I thought Maryland made some tough shots to get a double digit lead and then was just really comfortable once they had the lead so they made some other crazy shots.

This loss stinks but let's learn from Coach Fitz and focus on what's important now. NU has a big Chicago- land show down with UIC and another resume game with Baylor in the next week. Getting Ws in those games are what's important so let's focus on that.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Northwestern Puts Multiple Win Streaks On the Line in Battle with Maryland

Northwestern Puts Multiple Win Streaks On the Line in Battle with Maryland

Northwestern has won four straight in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, 21 straight in November, and 6 straight to start this season. The only one of those that really matters is the 6-0 mark so far this year, but all three will be on the line Tuesday night in Evanston.

Maryland enters this game with a 4-1 record. They’ve won four games at home against inferior competition and lost a very close (72-69) game on a neutral floor to Kentucky to open the season. The fact is from my point of view I don’t really know exactly what to expect from Maryland, but I know they have some solid size and several nice athletes.

Although Mike Turner saw the majority of the time for Northwestern at center in the final game at South Padre Island, I expect Alex Olah will return to the lineup for this contest. He’ll face a tough matchup in 7-1 Maryland center Alex Len, but at least Olah’s 7-foot 275-pound frame should allow him to match Len physically. Still, Len is probably a more skilled player at this point and I’m sure he’ll get his points. The key is for Olah not to let him get cheap points.

Maryland’s other key front court player is 6-8 James Padgett. He’s a guy that’s close to averaging double figures in scoring and pulls down around four rebounds a game. The matchup between him and Jared Swopshire should be an interesting one to watch.

A couple other Maryland players to watch are guards Dez Wells and Pe’Shon Howard. NU recruited Howard pretty aggressively and I can see why. He’s not much of a scorer, but he averages seven assists a game. Wells was the A-10 freshmen of the year before he transferred to Maryland and scores about 10 points a game and nets about 5 rebounds per contest. I’m guessing he’ll be guarded by Reggie Hearn in Tuesday’s game and if Reggie can shut him down that’ll be a good sign.

Of course, NU might very well use some 1-3-1 now that they’ve deployed it after using it in the second half against ISU. In fact, I hope the ‘Cats do use that zone. Other than one freakishly good game vs LIU-Brooklyn Maryland hasn’t done much from beyond the arc and the surprise factor of that zone along with the Princeton Offense can be a huge positive for Northwestern. Maryland is also a team that has turned the ball over a fair amount this season.

Prediction: I think it’s the uniqueness of the Princeton Offense and the 1-3-1 which has carried NU to victories in the Challenge the past couple years. I think this year’s game will be close, but I think NU’s oddness will work in their favor. Plus, I’m expecting a big game from Drew Crawford since he’s been somewhat quiet of late. Northwestern, 66 Maryland, 65

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Wildcats Survive OT Run by Illinois State to Post Potential Resume Win

Thanks to some clutch free throw shooting from Dave Sobolewski and Jared Swopshire Northwestern survived a strong comeback effort from Illinois State and remarkable shooting from ISU’s Tyler Brown to win the South Padre Island Invitational. With the win Northwestern has now won 21 straight November games and captured a preseason tournament title for the second consecutive year.

ISU never let up and thanks to Brown’s shooting and stayed in the game until the last buzzer sounded. ISU is a good team and this win is something which could potentially help boost NU’s case to the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee come March. However, what to me was more significant was that NU won the game at the free throw line. Consistent free throw shooting was something NU lacked at times last season and was costly in several games. Today NU went 23-of-27 from the line with huge clutch shooting from several players. Specifically, Sobolewski, Swopshire, and Drew Crawford all hit big free throws down the stretch.

The free throw shooting was also significant because of the fact that NU’s overall 34% shooting was not good. For the second night in a row NU survived a tough game without shooting great. Making nine three pointers tonight helped, but a lot of credit has to go to guys stepping up from the line in the clutch and good defense. I liked that NU chose the right spot to throw on the 1-3-1 for the first time this season and it looked like ISU was a little perplexed with how to attack it.

Mike Turner got the majority of the minutes at center and though he had some turnover issues he did play well in the middle of that zone and grabbed 10 rebounds. Also, he dished out four assists on offense. If he can get more comfortable shooting he has potential as does starter Alex Olah who sat most of today’s game due to ISU’s speed.

Drew Crawford will probably be maligned for another poor shooting performance (6-of-20) but I feel like you have to give him credit for his 9 rebounds and three steals. Also, he did score 20 points and made one of the toughest shots of the night hanging in the air to hit a short floater. Hopefully, Crawford will hit a higher percentage Tuesday, but he did alright tonight.

Finally, Jared Swopshire was awarded the MVP of the tournament and that is well deserved. Not only did he post a double-double today with 15 points and 10 rebounds, but his solid defense and clear leadership role with NU’s young players will be huge as the season continues.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Northwestern Moves to 5-0 will Face 5-0 Illinois State Tomorrow

A great defensive effort, against an admittedly overmatched TCU, resulted in a 55-31 win for Northwestern in the semi-finals of the South Padre Island Invitational. Holding TCU to 26.5% shooting overall and 0-for-6 from three is something I think Northwestern should be proud of regardless of TCU’s weaknesses on offense. It is hard to assess exactly what the defense was like since the live video stream was so poor it was unwatchable, but the radio broadcast’s color analyst, former NU star Jitim Young, repeatedly praised the defense of the Wildcats and I’ll take his word for it and say nice work to the ‘Cats on defense. The 31 points allowed were the least in 12 years, so that’s something worth noting as well.

On offense NU kind of struggled shooting just 38.3% overall and 31% from three point range. Drew Crawford continues to lack the consistency we really want from him posting a 4-of-13 night shooting and going 0-for-4 from three point range. On the positive side Drew did pull in six rebounds and make all four of his free throws. Plus, on the crappy video stream I did see him throw down on a monster dunk which was pretty cool. On a more serious note, the other positive is that Drew can catch fire at any time. I hope tomorrow is that day as Illinois State is very good.

NU will need more points to beat ISU tomorrow and that’ll start with Crawford, Jared Swopshire, who was the ‘Cats leading scorer tonight with 15 points, and Reggie Hearn who posted 12 points today and has been the ‘Cats best overall scorer this season.

ISU is a team which also holds a 5-0 mark on the season. The team is lead by 6-9 senior forward Jackie Carmichael. Carmichael had 11 points and five rebounds in the Redbirds win over UAB this afternoon. His physical presence will be a challenge for NU freshmen Mike Turner and Alex Olah who combined tonight for a solid 9 rebounds, but also were just 1-of-3 shooting and had 5 total turnovers. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Cheir Ajou even get a shot tomorrow in limited time just to give ISU a different look. Going into this game the ‘Cats are really missing Nikola Cerina.

The other guy to watch out for in tomorrow’s game is Bryant Allen who scored 30 points for the Redbirds in this afternoon’s game. A former Minnesota football player, Allen is another example of the physical type players ISU will run out on the court. Despite being a Missouri Valley team, I think ISU will feel like playing a Big Ten team. That’s a good thing for the young Wildcats. The trouble is at this point I’m not sure NU is ready for that type of challenge. ISU is a more complete team and as a result my prediction is ISU by two.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Looking Back and Ahead to South Padre Island

Northwestern heads to South Padre Island for a matchup with  TCU on the heels of a 69-50 win over Delaware State. NU’s effort in that win wasn’t outstanding, but in the end it was solid and I expect Northwestern to have a little better focus when they face a Big 12 opponent on Friday.

Looking at the Delaware State game for a moment, I found myself very pleased with the shooting of Drew Crawford and Dave Sobolewksi. It wasn’t a great shock that both shot the ball well, but a number of those shots were deep threes. If those guys continue to show such extended range it’ll make NU’s offense tough to defend. I also liked the continued aggressiveness of Alex Olah. He’ll face bigger stronger players soon such as TCU forward Devonta Abron, but it is still a good sign that Olah understands how to attack the basket when he has the chance.

NU’s offense impressive in that they held themselves under 10 turnovers once again. If NU consistently has less than 10 turnovers in games I like their chances based simply on the fact they are a team which shoots a high percentage.

TCU is 4-1 and it pretty much known for playing defense. The Horned Frogs have allowed less than 65 points in all five of their games. Facing the strong NU offense should be an interesting contrast in styles.

I look for TCU to try and get a little more offensive production centered around guard Jarvis Ray as they take on NU as the Frogs have scored less than 60 points in three of their four wins this year. TCU has some advantage in that Coach Trent Johnson has coached vs NU at LSU and Stanford so he knows how to prepare for the Princeton Offense.

Prediction: Despite Johnson’s experience with the Princeton Offense I think NU wins a close one in this contest. Northwestern, 66 TCU, 59 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Northwestern Moves to 3-0

Not sure we can take much away from this game as Fairleigh Dickinson was a pretty weak opponent, but I saw some good things from Northwestern on Sunday. I liked the defense played by NU's regulars. The bench didn't play much defense late in the game, but that's probably a product of the game flow as much as anything else. I also liked the aggressive approach Northwestern showed on the glass. It wasn't as impressive as it would have been versus a team with any size, but it was better than many pervious efforts. I also liked the fact NU found ways to score that were not overly dependent on three point shooting.

Alex Olah is filled with potential as a big man. He wasn't facing real stiff competition today, but I liked many of the moves he showed in the post and he seems to have a high basketball IQ when it comes to decision making with the ball which is a very positive trait and one which many young players do not have. His backup Mike Turner played his best game of the young season as well showing a nice touch on some passes and attacking on offense.

Reggie Hearn continues to be a leader for Northwestern on offense and was the player who got the team stated today. I like that Reggie can shoot and attack the basket off the dribble even better than last year. He's probably NU's best all around player and that's a great story from where he started as a walk-on. Drew Crawford still needs to find that consistency, but he seemed less bothered by misses than in the past which is a huge step forward.

Hopefully NU keeps up this level of defense during the rest of the season, but fans need to know the team will be tested much more significantly on defense over the next couple weeks and I suspect we may see the 1-3-1 in the near future. If that occurs look for Alex Marcotullio, who had a nice game today, to see even more time and Tre Demps, who has struggled with his outside shot, to get less time. Also, the status of Sanjay Lumpkin who is out with mono is worth paying attention too as he fits well into the zone defense concept. NU has to play Delaware State first, but they'll need to bring all their tricks when they face Big 12 competition TCU and potentially a solid mid-major in Illinois State in Texas next weekend.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Northwestern Continues Busy Stretch vs FDU

Fairleigh Dickinson comes to Evanston Sunday to play the Wildcats. The Wildcats have been very busy over the last week and they'll stay busy until they get a few days rest after Tuesday night's Delaware State tilt. The play of Reggie Hearn and Jared Swopshire paced NU to their 81-68 win over MVSU on Thursday night, but without a doubt the guy the 'Cats need to show his leadership skills is Drew Crawford. It was great NU won without Crawford being a factor on Thursday, but Crawford's inconsistent play has been an issue during his career and the fact he has to be the leader now means that inconsistency needs to end. I'm hoping we see Crawford reassert himself in this contest.

NU needs to play better defense in this game than they did vs MVSU. FDU is led by two senior guards in Lonnie Robinson and Melquan Bolding. They both need to be contained and not allowed to explode like Davon Usher Thursday night. I think the key will be communication on switches in man to man defense. I also want to see NU control the glass and get Alex Olah involved inside since FDU doesn't have a player over 6-7.

Prediction: I was a little disappointed in NU's last game, but I think the 'Cats did learn something from the close win. Plus, I think the fact FDU allowed over 100 points last time out indicates NU should score and if Drew Crawford comes back playing well I like NU. Northwestern, 90 FDU, 74

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Northwestern Gets an Ugly Win

Tonight's 81-68 Northwestern win over Mississippi Valley State wasn't a thing of beauty, but it was a win and in the end maybe the fact the Wildcats can learn some tough lessons and get a win is a good sign.

The biggest issue Northwestern had tonight was on defense as I felt the 'Cats somewhat reverted back to the poor defense shown in their exhibition game. NU must solidify the defense they play especially their communication and rotation in order to compete in the Big Ten. I must admit that some of tonight's troubles started with the flat out amazing performance of MVSU's Davon Usher who for the first 35 minutes of the game couldn't miss. At times he was well defended and yet he still scored. In fact, his 35 point game tonight might be the best game by a guy NU faces all year. Still, I know the Wildcats can defend better. I credit Coach Carmody for sticking with the man defense though and forcing the players to realize they need to win or lose with man and can't always depend on the 1-3-1 zone to bail them out.

One positive sign for NU was that despite Drew Crawford being saddled with foul trouble all night NU put up 81 points. A great all around game from Reggie Hearn who scored 23 points and hit the glass hard highlighted the effort and Jared Swopshire posted a career high of 22 points and hit his first Wildcat threes which will be an important aspect of his game. Dave Sobolewski scored his first three point baskets in the second half as well and his overall floor game and leadership was outstanding as usual.

I would like to see shoot better from the free throw line. Especially since they are a shooting team and as I said in my pregame write up, NU needs points from their centers. I don't like when it appears the coaches have Alex Olah and Mike Turner worried about missing shots. Those guys need to be willing to shoot the ball. If they miss sometimes that's a shame, but I think in the long run the payoff will be worthwhile.

The bench was a little shorter tonight as well, but all in all this was an odd game. I'll be interested to see Sunday. I'll also be interested in see if any more fans show up. These two games have been some of the worst attended games I can remember regardless of who NU was playing. I really wonder what's going on since many more tickets are apparently sold and the team is expected to play well.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Alex Olah has Great Chance to Continue Development Thursday Night

Almost all of Northwestern's significant upset wins over the past three years have occurred as a result of great center play. Sadly, that great play has been a rare occurance as have huge Wildcat wins over top teams. If the 'Cats are to make a run in this year's Big Ten it is imparative that NU's Alex Olah become a consistent player on the inside. So far Olah has done a nice job, but he hasn't yet matched up with players who equal him in size. That'll change Thursday as Mississippi Valley State features two players who are 6-11 or above.

Those players, Julius Francis and Montreal Holley, might not be at the talent level of Cody Zeller or Mitch McGary, but they'll be a good test just to see how Olah, who to this point has been very aggressive, handles guys who are his equal in size and who might not allow him the same easy looks at the basket. Francis is by far the better of the two playing 24 minutes a game and posting norms of seven points and five rebounds. He's had some foul issues so it'll be interesting to see if NU does try to feed the post and get Olah going early. With the Delta Devils size I also think Cat Coach Bill Carmody might use Cheir Ajou a bit early than he did on Tuesday night. At 7-2 it'll be hard to keep Ajou on the bench against such a large opponent.

As a whole it'll be interesting to see NU's rotation. With Nikola Cerina likely back will that mean Kale Abrahamson will be behind him in minutes or did the young player from Iowa earn more court time? I'd say if Abrahamson continues to give the look of a natural scorer he needs to get time. I also think developing a second opinion behind Dave Sobolewski at point guard is still critical. I though Tre Demps might be the guy, but I didn't see much play at point from him the other might. Also, Jared Swopshire needs to hit an outside shot or two in order to open up driving lanes.

Prediction: Mississippi Valley State an score as 6-6 Davon Usher has posted some nice games early, but they do have a record as a real strong defensive team. Last year's Wildcats scored nearly at will on them and just Tuesday night Cincinnati torched MVSU for over 100 points. With the fire power NU showed in their opener I like the 'Cats to score big in this one, but I hope they keep playing defense as well. Northwestern, 88 MVSU, 52

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Solid First Half Leads NU Past Texas So.

One of the fastest starts you'll ever see opened tonight's contest as Northwestern used 20 first half points by Drew Crawford to jump out to a 40-9 lead in what eventually became a dominating 30 point win over Texas Southern.

Crawford's fantastic effort in the first half is what most fans will talk about at the end of the day, but I was personally most impressed with the Wildcats defense. NU went all man to man and it looked vastly improved from last year and even better than their effort in last weeks exhibition. I saw far better communication on switches and hedges and the increased athletics skill of this young team was certainly on display as Texas Southern had trouble finding open shots.

Northwestern on the other hand didn't have trouble with finding open shots. The Wildcats made 11 threes tonight led by four from Crawford and three each from Reggie Hearn and Kale Abrahamson. Abrahamson was a surprise as some speculated he might be a potential redshirt, but his ability to put the ball in the basket and the absence of Sanjay Lumpkin(mono) and Nikola Cernina(personal reasons) put him on the court and he played great. Kale showed great range from three and very nice quickness as well as a nice touch at the free throw line which is a spot I have some conerns about with this group of Wildcats. In fact, as Kale hit shots I was thinking Sanjay and Nikola might want to look up the story of Wally Pip.

Overall, while Texas Southern wasn't great, I left this game with a positive feeling. Everyone who played for NU did something good. For some guys it was points, for other rebounds, and for others assists. Now, the key is to stay consistent and play another good game on Thursday night. That's a short turnaround, but these guys are worth watching so tell a friend to check out the game, because the limited crowd was about the only let down tonight.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Wildcats Open at Home vs Texas Southern

I'm going to first say that I'm pretty excited to see this season tipoff. I've got some doubts about this NU team truly being good enough to make the NCAA Tournament, but I like the depth of this squad and think they'll be entertaining to watch once the new players get comfortable. The season opener is against Texas Southern who comes to Evanston on the heels of an 18 point defeat at the hands of  Boise State.

Texas Southern features star Omar Strong who was preseason player of the year in the SWC and Raymond Penn was a star in Boise posting 25 points. 6-7 Fred Sturdivant was also honored with preseason accolades. Still, Texas Southern is a team with a new coach and was picked fourth in their league. That new coach is former Indianan boss Mike Davis. I often worry when opposing coaches are familiar with the Princeton Offense, but NU regularly scored well vs the Indiana teams Davis coached. I also think having only one day between two games won't help Texas Southern. I'd look for Northwestern to try to attack the basket on both backcuts and in the post with Texas Southern featuring only one player 6-9 or taller. I would love to see Alex Olah continue to show his aggressiveness that he demonstrated vs Chicago in the exhibition game. I also look to see how coach Bill Carmody uses a bench which features three players in Nikola Cerina, Tre Demps, and Alex Marcotulllio who I think will be major contributors and two young guys in Mike Turner and Sanjay Lumpkin who are major upgrades in the athleticism of Northwestern's team. Really, in the past those five players would have been about the level of talent that NU's starting lineup. Things have certainly improved in Evanston talent wise.

Prediction: With as young as this team is at some point during the non-conference there will be a total clunker at some point during the non conference in which NU either losses to someone they shouldn't or gets badly beat by a strong BCS conference team. That'll be a good learning experience but it won't come Tuesday night. Northwestern, 77 Texas Southern, 53

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Wildcats Defense Will Be Key

After Northwestern's exhibition win over Chicago, I felt that one area where we would need to look closely to determine Northwestern's long term success would be defense. We didn't see any zone vs Chicago and I think that's good. Northwestern needs to master man to man to have long term success. At times I thought that man to man was good, but there were also some issues. The major issue seemed to be in communication. Northwestern had better athletes and when simply matching up with Chicago they played good in man to man. However, Chicago also got a lot of open shots. To me that seemed to indicate that at times NU wasn't t communicating when they switched on defense.

With the number of new players on the NU roster I'm not shocked that communication was an issue, but it is an issue which needs to be resolved. The future opponents Northwestern has will take advantage if they get a bunch of open shots or lanes to the basket. When players on NU's defense want to switch on screens they need to let their teammates know that is happening. This is something which will be especially true when facing the strong backcourt opponents in the Big Ten.

Of course, NU will use the 1-3-1 zone at some point. I think one major question with that defense is who aside from Alex Marcotullio should play at the point of that defense. The suspension of JerShon Cobb really hurts NU in the 1-3-1 but I'm hopeful that freshman Sanjay Lumpkin might have similar enough athletic ability to make things happen. Without a doubt throwing that defense at unsuspecting opponents is part of NU's success in recent years and it will be used this year.

Northwester hosts Texas Southern on Tuesday and that game will be carried live on the Big Ten Network. I'll have more on that match up the next couple days.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Some Quick Thoughts Post Chicago

For what tonight was I thought we saw a lot of good things from Northwestern. Remember, Coach Carmody probably wasn't playing anything like his normal rotation and that has to make an impact on the way things work. Plus, with nine new players on the roster (most of who played) you can't expect a perfect day the first time out in a real game. Still, NU won but left with lots to work on.

To me three big areas exist to work on. The first is that Chicago still managed to grab a lot of offensive rebounds despite NU's increase in height. Now, in someways it can be tougher to block out a quick 6-6 guy if you're 7 feet tall 270 plus pounds, but we can all agree we want NU doing better on the glass than they did tonight.

The second area of concern was free throw shooting. NU lost some early Big Ten games last year (most notably Illinois and Michigan) because they didn't shoot we'll at the charity strip. This team needs to improve in that area, especially because it looks like with their increased size that they'll get there somewhat regularly.

The final area where I'd like to see NU be more consistent is three point shooting. Tre Demps was on fire tonight but beyond that NU tossed a lot of bricks out there. I'm sure we'll see better nights from guys like Crawford and Sobolewski because we've seen them do it before, but the Wildcats need consistent three point games from those guys and guys like Jared Swopshire to compete in the Big Ten. I did like that Alex Olah hit a three and that Nikola Cerina seems to have a nice jump shot as well.

Aside from Demps, who to me was the most impressive player, and Crawford who was solid in limited time, I was most pleased with Olah. He wasn't facing great competition but he put the ball in the basket a variety of ways and looks more like a B1G center than many of NU's past centers did from day one. I also like that Cerina seems to have an outside game which he can use to help open up the inside.

I suspect we'll probably see less of guys like Ajou, Abrahamson, and James Montgomery III when we get into regular season games, but it was good to see those guys get time and I think they all learned a bit tonight.

What did everyone else think?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

What do we expect vs Chicago?

Northwestern will play an exhibition game vs the University of Chicago tomorrow night. At one time this was a conference game but now UC is a division three team. The teams have met in regular seasons games since Chicago left the B1G but this contest is simply an exhibition in which I expect NU to use all of the 15 players on the roster. The end result could be a close game or even a Chicago win, but I'm not worried about the final score of this game. I'm much more concerned with seeing what combination Coach Bill Carmody puts on the court first and what players get some run off the bench. I'm also interested in seeing what the newcomers look like and seeing how comfortable they looking running the NU version of the Princeton Offense. I suspect transfers Nikola Cernia and Jared Swopshire will pick up what Coach Carmody wants them to do, but freshman center Alex Olah is a critical player for NU's tournament chances and how well he plays and how many points he produces could make a huge difference for the Wildcats.

Another guy who I think is critical for NU and who I can't wait to see on Wednesday is redshirt freshman guard Tre Demps. Dave Sobolewski had a great freshman year for Northwestern, but I feel like playing 36 minutes a game kind of led to him showing signs of fatigue down the stretch. Demps might be the guy who gives NU a solid backup point guard for the first time in my memory. That means Sobo can get a break for 10 minutes a game and be much energized down the stretch of games and in the stretch of the long Big Ten season. Demps was regarded as something of a guy who could score going at the hoop and hit an open shot if needed when he was recruited out of Reagan High School in Texas. If he brings those skills that'll be a nice compliment for what NU has in Sobo as well as his backcourt mates Reggie Hearn and Drew Crawford.

Finally, I hope NU plays man to man defense in this game. Yes, the 1-3-1 will be used by the 'Cats during the season but being able to play solid man to man defense might help NU vs some of their Big Ten opposition who has now seen the 1-3-1 for several years. I also wouldn't be shocked to see NU redeploy their match up zone which was a stable of Carmody's early years in Evanston but which hasn't been used as regularly in recent seasons.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

…And We’re Back

We are back and ready to start the 2012-13 men’s basketball season for the Northwestern Wildcats. This is a season that many fans once again enter with great expectations, but it will feature a somewhat different looking Northwestern team. Gone is NU’s all-time leading scorer in John Shurna and missing due to suspension is dynamic (but often injured) guard JerShon Cobb. Instead, the Wildcats will need consistency from the maddeningly inconsistent Drew Crawford and some help inside from several fresh faces.

What do I expect this season? Well, I must admit that I feel similar to what I’ve felt the last couple years which is the feeling that NU will be right in the thick of the race for an NCAA Tournament bid, but will in the end fall a little short. What’s different though is that in the last few years NU’s failure to make the tournament was based on failures on defense or rebounding, this year I’m worried about offense. I think the ‘Cats will take a major step forward on the glass this season. Adding 7-foot 275-pound freshmen Alex Olah who is reported to be “the real deal” by NU insiders should help tremendously with the lack of rebounding NU struggled with in the past. In addition, Olah is reported to be a competent scorer around the basket who knows how to make sure the ball ends up in the hoop. Even better, he said that when watching the ‘Cats play last season he was most frustrated by the lack of offensive aggressiveness shown by his predecessors at center Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti. Olah will be joined in the starting front court by one of the more exciting additions NU has had via transfer. Jared Swopshire is a 6-8 forward who joins NU for a year as a grad student after playing three years for Louisville. Swop hit two threes in the Final Four against Michigan State last March. I’m not sure if any of NU’s other transfers (such as the big Mike Thompson) played in the Final Four at their previous schools, but I’m certain none were as significant contributors to a team which was just a step away from the National Title as Swopshire was. His addition should be a huge boost for NU not just in terms of talent, but in terms of providing NU a leader who knows what it takes to reach that next step which NU keeps missing. Backups in the front court are another transfer in 6-9 245-pound Nikola Cerina who sat out last year after transferring from TCU and 6-8 Mike Turner who redshirted last year, but is expected to provide NU with a unique athletic dimension the team has not previously featured. I’m probably most excited to see Cerina amongst the newcomers as he’s reported to be the team’s most explosive player. I’m really curious what that explosiveness looks like. NU also has three true freshmen front court players. 6-7 forward Kale Abrahamson, 6-10 Aaron “The Jewish Dwight Howard” Liberman, and 7-2 Chier Ajou. How much those three will play is unclear and I wouldn’t be shocked to see at least one redshirt, but without a doubt NU has more depth than ever before up front.

NU’s backcourt has some less depth thanks to JerShon Cobb’s academic issues, but the ‘Cats do return 6-5 swing man Drew Crawford who was third in the Big Ten in scoring last season along with fellow starters Dave Soblewski and Reggie Hearn. Hearn shot 44% from three point range in Big Ten games last year before hitting the wall totally in the NIT at Washington and looking like he couldn’t have thrown the ball into Lake Michigan from Lakeside Field. Sobolewski was one of the best distributors in the Big Ten last year as a freshman, but needs to become a more regular producer of points this season. The good news is that he showed flashes of offensive punch and if Olah, Swopshire, and Cerina make teams worry about NU’s production in the post it seems logical that Dave will be the player who most benefits. A close second to that might be Alex Marcotullio who probably contributed more last year as the dynamic defender at the top of NU’s 1-3-1 zone, but who has the ability to be a light’s out three point shooter. Alex Marco3llio4 as he goes by on twitter will need to drill some big threes this year and along with Crawford show the leadership Coach Bill Carmody needs from his seniors. Somewhere in the guard rotation should be redshirt freshmen Tre Demps and true freshmen Sanjay Lumpkin. I’m hoping both will provide not only added depth but a little more athletic skill which will get NU more points going towards the hoop and give Marcotullio some rest and help in playing aggressive defense.

The team plays an exhibition against former Big Ten Conference foe the University of Chicago this Wednesday and then opens officially next Tuesday against former Big Ten Conference coach Mike Davis and Texas Southern.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Quick Thoughts on Bill Carmody’s Return

Frustrating as Bill Carmody’s team are to watch at times I have no problem with him coming back to coach Northwestern next year. The odds are that NU wasn’t going to hire a game changing type of coach, especially if the University of Illinois couldn’t land one. Therefore, it’s better off with Carmody who knows the massive restrictions which NU has and is willing to work under them and make NU competitive. The key now is if Carmody can find a way to improve his own weaknesses.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Just Down Right Bad

Northwestern was just flat out bad in this game. They couldn’t hit enough shots to stay in the game and they turned the ball over so much they missed chances to get more shots. I’m sure a lot of people will blame Bill Carmody for this loss because that’s just what is done at Northwestern, but it’s not his fault that his players just seemed completely overwhelmed tonight. I’m sure he prepared them for the fact that Washington was going to play pressure defense. They just clearly didn’t get the message.

I think the key to Northwestern’s failure to win in the Big Ten Tournament and in this game was the fact that point guard Dave Sobolewksi was overmatched against very athletic teams. It’s also possible he just burnt out at the end of season after playing nearly every minute of every game, but the fact of the matter is his production when the season was on the line was less than impressive. It’ll be interesting to see if Tre Demps helps put NU on more even footing athletically at the point guard spot when NU faces very athletic competition.

The loss isn’t all on Sobolewksi, though, the fact is believe it or not Northwestern had chances to make a run in the second half, but just missed far too many open looks. Yes, Sobo had some of those, but he wasn’t the only one. Reggie Hearn was so cold I thought on saw icicles on his nose.

To be honest, other than John Shurna I’m not sure Northwestern had a player who looked to have any idea how to put the ball in the basket tonight. Making matters worse, Northwestern actually got some steals and made probably more stops against Washington than I thought they would, but it didn’t matter because they couldn’t even finish on fast breaks. Washington sure could, though.

Washington was far more athletic overall and really just made Northwestern look bad. I still think Northwestern could have hung around if they’d made more shots, but Washington was the better team. They handled Northwestern’s 1-3-1 zone really well and NU couldn’t play man-to-man because Washington would have scored at will.

This is disappointing because it ends a season which while tough at moments, was mostly filled with good competitive basketball with a game which was anything but competitive.

As I said above, this game was lost due to turnovers and missed shots. That’s not the fault of the coach, but this might still be Bill Carmody’s last game at Northwestern. This major laying of an egg type performance is the type of game that gets a coach fired. Whatever the case, Jim Phillips needs to make some decision on Carmody’s future because his contract runs out after next season and he can’t coach 2012-13 as a lame duck. That’s not a productive way to run a program. It’ll be interesting to see what happens. I suspect we will hear something on that issue very soon.

I really am sorry the season ended this way for John Shurna, but let's remember his great record setting career and hope that he makes an NBA roster as that would help build the NU basketball brand for young people out there as much as anything besides making the NCAA Tournament.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Wildcats in Washington for NIT Round Two Matchup

Turn on your favorite episode of Frasier, get your umbrella, order some Starbucks, and grab your favorite grunge mix tape, because the Wildcats are going to Seattle.

The NIT seeding document (which is clearly just for show) says that geography is included in placing teams in regions. Therefore, based on the last two years we can only conclude that the geniuses at NIT HQ believe that Washington is right next to Illinois. Clearly, the need to take a geography class. Either that or they’ve discovered wormhole travel and haven’t let anyone else in on the secret. Whatever the case, like last year’s quarterfinal game, Northwestern must travel west to play a team in Washington. On the positive side, UW is located in the easy access city of Seattle while the trip to Washington State forced the ‘Cats to travel to difficult to reach Pullman. With that in mind, I’m hoping NU gets off to a better start in this contest and I’m hoping that we’ll see a good NU turnout as even in Pullman the west coast Wildcat alums represented NU well.

Washington won the Pac-12 regular season title, but was upset by Oregon State in the Pac-12 tournament. Thanks to that loss and overall weakness of the Pac-12, the Huskies are in the NIT instead of the NCAA Tournament making them the first major conference team to win their league regular season title and not play in the NCAAs. Washington is a young team with only one senior who sees significant time. That senior is Darnell Grant one of two big front court players for UW. Grant has posted 10+ rebounds three games in a row and when teamed with 7-0 center Aziz N’Diaye the two certainly seem a formidable presence inside the paint. Of course, Northwestern isn’t know for getting rebounds, but they’ll have to do a better job on the glass against Washington than they did vs Akron or Minnesota if they want to get out of Seattle with a win.

In the back court Washington has one of the nation’s best freshman guards in Tony Wroten. He’s the team’s leading scorer and posts almost five rebounds and four assists a game. He’s 6-5 and should be an interesting matchup if NU goes man-to-man. I wouldn’t be shocked to see JerShon Cobb or Drew Crawford draw that defensive assignment. Another tough guard for Washington is Terrence Ross who scores more than 15 points per game. He’s 6-6 so he’s another guy that one of NU’s bigger guards (maybe Reggie Hearn) needs to defend. The only small Washignton guard is 6-3 Abdul Gaddy and 6-3 isn’t that small. He’s the point guard who will try to distribute the ball around for the Huskies.

I’m sometimes off on predicting how NU will defend a team, but considering that C.J. Wilcox off the bench and Ross are the only Washington players who make more than 35% of their threes and that Washington is barely better than 1-to-1 in assist-to-turnover ration I’m betting we see a lot of 1-3-1 from Northwestern.

On offense, the Oregon State version of the Princeton Offense was good enough to upset Washington recently, so we have to hope NU’s version (which is reportedly a little more creative) can do the same. It’ll probably come down to three point shooting and minimizing Washington’s rebound advantage for NU. The other intangible is the road environment. Washington had just under 3,000 people for their first round game and I can’t think this game will bring that many more to Alaska Airlines Arena. I do know that NU will have a nice crowd so that ought to help somewhat. Also while it probably means nothing Northwestern is 7-0 this season on ESPNU and is 5-0 on ESPNU away from Welsh-Ryan Arena. Also, the ‘Cats will likely wear their black jerseys which they’re 4-1 in this season. I know none of that really impacts the outcomes, but I’m liking the omens I see. I also like the fact that I think Washington will turn the ball over. If NU gets production from players other than Shuna, Crawford, and Cobb they can win this game. Of course, they haven’t gotten that production in the last two contests. Still, I feel this game is a lot like the game at Illinois which NU pulled out thanks to Reggie Hearn’s huge afternoon. I predict: Northwestern, 69 Washington, 67

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Wildcats Finally Survive a Close one at Home: Advance to Round Two of the NIT

Amazingly Northwestern had actually pulled off more close wins on the road than at home this season (see: Penn State, Iowa, and Illinois) tonight though the Wildcats managed to pull off a 76-74 victory over Akron and now move on to play in the second round of the NIT for the second straight year. This win also gives the Wildcats 19 total wins on the season which leaves them one win away from a school record three straight 20 win seasons. At this point it’s unclear when NU will be playing again, but I’ll post that as soon as I learn.

As far as tonight’s game goes, this was really all about the Wildcats two stars John Shurna and Drew Crawford winning the game for the their team with some solid support from JerShon Cobb who provided 19 points, but the rest of the ‘Cats pretty much just seemed to stand around and watch those guys play offense. I will give point guard Dave Sobolewski credit for a game with 5 assists and only 1 turnover in 32 minutes, but after a terrible shooting day against Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament it now looks like Sobo is reluctant to shoot the ball. No matter who NU plays in the next round of the NIT, I think Sobo will need to step up as will Reggie Hearn, Alex Marcotullio, and Davide Curletti. The ‘Cats won’t be able to pull off another game with just Shurna, Crawford, and Cobb scoring.

For what it’s worth, though, I thought it was a great game by Drew Crawford who pulled his typical Houdini magic and reappeared after disappearing in the Big Ten Tournament against Minnesota. It would be amazing if Crawford were consistent at all or even if his bad games just weren’t so bad. An average game from Drew would be fine, but being so erratic won’t help if he’s expected to be the star next season. Still, today he was very good with 27 points and 7 rebounds and was really the guy who got the ‘Cats going in this game.

Equally good was John Shurna who posted a double-double with 23 points and 11 rebounds, also added seven assists and hit the 2,000 point mark for his career. His work was even more impressive in considering that he was facing 7-0 Zeke Marshall who at one point was a top-50 recruit. I’ll be honest while Marshall had a nice game with 17 and 7, I thought he’d be much more of a factor which is why I thought the ‘Cats were in trouble in this contest. I’m glad I was off on that prediction. NU will also face size from whatever team they play next so it’s a good sign they didn’t let Marshall totally have his way and Shurna deserves credit for that. If this was John’s last home game (and I hope it’s not) it was a great way for the Wildcats all-time leading scorer and shot blocker to go out. But I hope NU’s fans get to see him in Welsh-Ryan again.

As noted above the only Wildcat who really provided a supporting role today was JerShon Cobb. I’m convinced that if Cobb had been healthy this NU team was NCAA Tournament material. But that’s just more bad NU luck. On the positive side, Cobb made some shots today that I can’t remember another NU player making. The most impressive was a step-back jump shot when the ‘Cats had fallen behind which gave NU back the lead. Also, fantastic was a drive were he reversed in a layup. Cobb’s got big time potential and him being hurt really did limit NU for the season’s first 2/3s.

I’ll look forward to seeing what happens in the second round of the NIT to NU. Last year’s second round game vs Boston College was one of the best games the ‘Cats played all year. Hopefully we’ll see a similar result this season.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Difficult NIT Draw Puts Wildcats and Coach Carmody in Tough Spot

Somehow Northwestern went from being an NCAA bubble team to being a #4-seed in the NIT. That means in the eyes of the NIT Northwestern hasn’t improved at all from last season where they were in as #4-seed. Even worse perhaps is the fact that Akron is probably a tougher draw than last year’s opponent Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

I’m disappointed by what happened today on a lot of levels. I think in all honesty that Northwestern not making the NCAA Tournament was the right thing. However, I think NU got screwed big time by the NIT committee. All the other so-called NCAA bubble teams were #1 or #2 seeds in the NIT. Northwestern was a #4. Also of note is the fact that NU at a #4 seed was the highest seed out of the Big Ten. Essentially, it seems despite the Big Ten’s great reputation all season that the NIT didn’t think much of the Big Ten. Even the NCAA Tournament didn’t seem as high on the Big Ten as some might have though with only six teams in the tournament and Purdue in as only a #10-seed.

I could complain more about where NU is, but I feel like anybody with a brain knows that having three teams from a very (maybe below) average Pac-12 ahead of three teams from the best conference in the country doesn’t make sense. The NIT claims they aren’t in it for money any more, but it sure looks like the higher seeds are those places where they’ll be more likely to sell tickets. Basically, the same thing happened to Northwestern last year and in the 2008-09 season when a team that was a borderline NCAA team was sent to play on the road at Tulsa in the NIT. I know a lot of Northwestern fans don’t like Bill Carmody and I’m starting think some of them might be on the NIT selection committee.

Since I brought up the topic let’s address the Carmody situation. The Chicago Tribune did a point-counterpoint as keep-fire recently which I thought was very fair. Personally, I’ve been more impressed by Carmody and how he held this year’s team together despite its major low points than I was in the past. However, I think this game is the one which could really determine his fate. NU’s players are going to be disappointed. If Carmody can rally them and have them come out and play well Northwestern should be able to squeak by a solid Akron team. Is winning one game enough for him to keep his job? Well, considering how totally hosed he was by the NIT committee I’m going to say yes. It’s not Carmody’s fault the garbage Pac-12 is apparently better than the Big Ten in the eyes of the people seeding the NIT. However, if Carmody drops this game to Akron he might as well pack his bags.

So what will happen in this game? I don’t exactly know, but I’m really worried from NU’s point of view. I just don’t see NU’s players having any enthusiasm for this game. I sure don’t. I’ll watch, but today has just crushed me. I was disappointed NU didn’t make the Big Dance, but I kind of assumed that was going to happen and I figured the silver lining was two or three NIT home games where John Shurna could shine and help lead the ‘Cats to New York. Instead, NU has one home game against a very good team with a talented 7-0 center in Zeke Marshall and six guys who make more than 34% of their three pointers. So basically NU doesn’t have a player who can defend Marshall in the post and the 1-3-1 is almost unplayable because Akron will hit open threes all day. The only hope NU has is that Akron won’t be able to defend the Princeton Offense given limited prep time. I’m worried though because I thought NU would be able to at least play free and loose as a high seed, but now they’re stuck in a dog fight which could go down to the wire and that hasn’t been good of late in Evanston.

Like I said above, I feel terrible because I feel like the NIT selection committee just screwed Northwestern and Bill Carmody personally because I don’t think Northwestern wins this game and I don’t see how Carmody keeps his job after that. I predict: Akron, 70 Northwestern, 65.

NU is #4 Seed in the NIT

This doesn't make a lot of sense, but NU is a #4-seed in the NIT. I don't know what to say about this, but I'll do my best.

Oh, Well. NIT Show is on at 8CT on ESPNU

I don't want to say much now so I'll wait and be positive about where we are in the NIT after we learn that in just over two hours. Northwestern was soooo close, but really probably didn't deserve the NCAA-bid. I am suprised that Iona and South Florida got in instead of Northwestern, but I'd bet Miami fans think they were the last team out and they were the ones who got robbed. I guess we'll see who has the #1 overall NIT seed and find out just who that group thought should have been in the NCAAs.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Same Old Story

This game played out like seemingly countless games during the regular season. It’s a sad story, but it’s the true story of this team. They’re close, but it doesn’t seem like they’re close enough. Maybe being in seventh place in the Big Ten will count for something when Selection Sunday rolls around, but the official rule is the committee can’t consider conference affiliation. Still, I tend to think the seventh place Big Ten is a lot better than some second place team in a lot of mid-majors.

Honestly, Northwestern probably isn’t an NCAA Tournament and I’ve said that before, but they’re about as a good as a team can be without being an NCAA Tournament team and that hurts a lot. I mean they’re basically two plays away. If the proper call is made when Drew Crawford was fouled at Michigan or if Dave Sobolewski hits his runner at the end of this game then the Wildcats are in the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, those events didn’t go NU’s way and now things look pretty bleak.

A lot of people will want to blame Bill Carmody for this loss because that’s just what Northwestern fans do, but the fact is the two guys who deserve blame today are John Shurna and Dave Sobolewski. Shurna missed two front ends of 1-and-1 foul shots when the ‘Cats could have extended three point leads to five point leads and Sobolewski looked scared all day leaving shots short against the Gopher pressure all night. I’d also add that since he missed some early shots that Drew Crawford did nothing, but was anyone really surprised by that once his first shot didn’t go down?

Basically, Shurna, Crawford, and Sobolewski choked away this game. Some will say that’s too mean, but it’s a fact. When you front rim as many shots at they did that’s the sign of a choke. That right there tells you they don’t deserve to be an NCAA team. Also, I can’t say Bill Carmody is really blameless because the only player on the NU roster who has proven to actually have some guts is Alex Marcotullio and Carmody sat him for the game’s key moments.

JerShon Cobb did step up and basically he’s now NU’s only NCAA hope. Somehow, NU needs to hope that the committee decides that Cobb would have made a difference in enough losses that NU is better than their record, but the truth is NU is what their record says. After all, Cobb played great today and NU still couldn’t win.

I don’t know what to think right now in terms of looking at a possible NIT berth. I mean odds are NU will be one of the top-4 NIT seeds. That’s huge because the odds are that the first game will be one which NU isn’t actually jacked up for because of the disappointment of not making the NCAAs. At least if in round 1 NU can get an easy win maybe by round two they’ll realize that basketball is basketball and at least they’re playing for something. The Big Ten should get at least three teams in the NIT and so I expect that NIT to be pretty competitive, but if NU focuses they’ll have a great shot because they’ll have home court advantage all the way to NYC.

As for the NCAA Tournament, I’d say NU still has a 10% chance of making it, but I hope that’s not enough for people to actually want to have cameras in Evanston on Sunday. All that’s going to do is make the team more depressed and that’s not what we want right now. We need to get focused on the NIT and a chance to actually win a championship. It’s not the title people want to play for, but for Northwestern it would mean something.