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

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