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.