Okay, I’m not ready to write off this season yet, but I think a change needs to be made if Northwestern wants to seriously compete for that elusive NCAA berth (which after the loss to Illinois looks once again like it’s slipping away). In that contest against Illinois the Illini defense forced the Wildcats to shoot outside jump shots which weren’t falling because they kept 7-1 Myers Leonard in the paint instead of brining him out on the perimeter to guard NU centers Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti when they had the ball 15 feet or farther from the basket. The reason Illinois was able to do this was because after one miss from each player it seemed they both decided (or were told) not to shoot anymore. The fact is that the best Princeton Offense teams had centers who could hit jump shots because it opened up more of the offense. Right now Northwestern doesn’t have that and as a result the backdoor cuts and drives to the hoop aren’t there.
In the past Luka and Davide have hit such shots. Davide has even made a few this season, however, Luka has really struggled shooting. Overall, though, neither has shot well recently. Given that, I can somewhat understand the reluctance to have them shoot, but I think they’re almost hurting the team more by not shooting than they would be missing. The shots Illinois was allowing Luka to take and that he was passing were wide open 15-foot shots. Instead, he’d give up the ball and NU would settle for a poor three point shot that would rim out of the new exceedingly unkind Welsh-Ryan rims. If Luka had taken and even made 33% of the shots Illinois allowed him NU probably would have won the game. Instead, he passed and the result was an Illini triumph.
If Luka and Davide aren’t going to take such shots my proposal is that NU switch to the small lineup they used briefly vs Illinois. Playing John Shurna at center might create issues on defense at times, but probably not against every Big Ten team as there are some undersized teams in the league. Plus, I’m not saying Shurna play 40 minutes at center. I’m saying get him 8-10 minutes there to help open up driving lanes and backdoor cuts. Plus, moving him to center might get him some more easy shots because it’ll create mismatches with larger defenders. Bottom line, NU needs a center that can shoot and the 6-9 Shurna is an undersized, but reasonable option for a team that needs a spark.
Let me shift gears slightly here. I was pretty upset at the loss to Illinois. I’m pretty upset after every loss now that we have expectations for Northwestern hoops. I think you could all probably tell that from reading my unedited frustration on Wednesday night. However, I can’t give up on this team (even if I may want to at times). They’re my team. I’m a Northwestern fan. I have been since I was 10 years old. I don’t cheer for an NFL team or an NBA team or really care that much about the White Sox or Cubs. It’s my dream to see Northwestern in the NCAA Tournament and to paraphrase a line from this song by musician Will Hoge, I’m going to keep on believing in that dream no matter how many times it breaks my heart.