31 January 2010

Recap: Michigan State 79 Northwestern 70

Northwestern was able to dictate the pace of play during the first half. But Coach Izzo decided to take advantage of the mismatches inside early in the second half that proved decisive. With the victory Michigan State (19-3, 9-0 Big Ten) kept its strangle hold on the Big Ten. Meanwhile Northwestern (14-6, 3-6) survived its brutal first half stretch to conference play and kept its dreams alive for the NCAAs.

The first half was much to Northwestern's liking. The tempo was slow, and Michigan State was unable to get out and run. Furthermore Michigan State hoisted an uncharacteristic number of threes which is just what Northwestern had hoped to happen. Net result: a 30-28 MSU lead that even could have been a slight NU lead had Jeremy Nash not missed the front end of a one-and-one nor fouled a MSU shooter as their shot clock wound down.

The second half was a completely different game. Michigan State succeeded in getting the ball on the blocks where they could a) use their superior athleticism, b) get offensive rebounds, and c) get Mirkovic his fourth foul. In fact the rebound part didn't really happen as MSU shot a blistering 75% in the second half.

At the same time MSU ratcheted up the defensive pressure, and NU wilted under the pressure save for a gamely John Shurna. To NU's credit the game never got completely out of hand, and Northwestern managed to cut it to two possessions in the last couple of minutes. MSU put the game on ice with solid free throw shooting.

NU had three players in double figures with John Shurna once again leading the way. This time his 31 point total set another career high and demonstrated just how good this young sophomore is already. Jeremy Nash was quiet most of the game but was able to get into double figures with some late bombs. Drew Crawford also tallied double figures, but it was another inefficient effort the frosh.

Lastly we want to give a quick shout out to Mike Capocci for providing some solid minutes off the bench. It is ironic that he couldn't see significant game action until playing our best opponent, but it makes sense that he played given he's one of the few players on NU's roster who match up physically with the Spartans.

29 January 2010

Countdown to Northwestern at Michigan State

Northwestern (14-6, 3-5 Big Ten) travels to the Breslin Center to take on Michigan State (18-3, 8-0) at 6PM Central on Tuesday January 26. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network and radio coverage is on WYLL-AM 1160 and wgnradio.com.

Michigan State leads the series 78-37 which includes the game played earlier this year in which Sparty ran the Wildcats out of the Welsh en route to a 91-70 drubbing. Northwestern shocked Michigan State at the Breslin last year and left East Lansing with a 70-63 victory in its pocket. In that glorious game the stars aligned with Kevin Coble knocking down a variety of circus shots while Juice Thompson and Craig Moore were knocking down bombs from the parking lot. It was Northwestern's first ever victory at the Breslin and snapped MSU's home winning streak over NU which dated back to 1984. Since that game MSU has dominated NU to the tune of 44-4. Wow!

MSU got off to a slow start this year (by their lofty standards). MSU lost three non-conference games including head scratchers against Florida and at North Carolina. These losses can be partly explained by Izzo's tendency to use the non-conference schedule to test his team with good competition while at the same time trying different things to see what works best. Who can argue with this formula as Sparty has raced off to an 8-0 record in Big Ten play?

Early in Big Ten play MSU was playing so well that we weren't sure if Michigan State would lose any conference games. However MSU squeaked out road victories over Minnesota and Michigan in its past two games. Are teams figuring out how to attack MSU? Is MSU losing its competitive edge as they have raced off to a large conference lead? Is this just simply a reflection of how difficult it is to win on the road? Or is MSU just going through one of its down periods that temporarily happens to all teams? We think it's a combination of all the above.

As for Saturday's game the best thing Northwestern has going for it is that Michigan State held on for victories in its last two games and kept its perfect conference record intact. It also helps that Sparty humiliated NU at the Welsh since it gives NU the motivational edge in the rematch. On the flipside Sparty will be motivated to avenge its loss last year at the Breslin. And then there is the fact that MSU is uber-talented and will blow away Northwestern if they bring their "A game."

In the rematch a no-brainer adjustment will be for NU to slow down the tempo and keep Sparty within range for a final game push. In Evanston MSU built up a sizable lead that forced NU to take more risks and opened up the flow of the game. Sparty with its superior athletes was able to take full advantage and pulled away. In this game Northwestern will want to slow the Spartans down and keep MSU transition baskets to a minimum. With this strategy and MSU's dominance of the boards in mind we don't expect NU to crash the offensive boards. NU shooting accuracy will be a necessity in this game. Some long rebounds off missed bombs would also be helpful.

What to expect? We hate to say it but even with the emotional edge NU doesn't stand much of a chance. Then again we thought the same going into last year's game. Nothing would make us happier than for Mssrs. Thompson, Shurna, Crawford, et al. to make us eat our words.

26 January 2010

Big Ten Power Rankings as of January 26 2010

1. Michigan State (8-0)
MSU began to come back to Earth since our last poll but still managed narrow road victories at Minnesota, at Michigan, and defeated Iowa at home. A no-brainer top pick once again.
2. Wisconsin (6-2)
Last week UW won home games against Michigan and Penn State but struggled in both games. They are unchanged but on negative watch.
3. Purdue (4-3)
Last week PU righted the ship with a road victory at Illinois and a home victory over Michigan. Still third.
4. Ohio State (4-3)
Last week OSU crushed Northwestern at home but lost a road game at West Virginia (NU fans could've really used a different Buckeye split last week). Despite an impressive showing against Northwestern we will keep them at fourth as the top three held their ground.
5. Northwestern (3-5)
NU won a home game against Illinois and lost road games at Ohio State and Minnesota. Each result was as expected so power rating neutral.
6. Minnesota (4-4)
UM lost a home game against Michigan State and won a home game against Northwestern. Both results were as expected. No change.
7. Illinois (4-3)
Last week UI lost at home to Purdue and lost at Northwestern. No change.
8. Michigan (3-5)
UM lost road games at Wisconsin and at Purdue. UM also lost a squeaker at home to Michigan State. Sorry Wolverines. You appear to be improving but you still lost three games. No change.
9. Indiana (3-4)
Last week IU won at Penn State and was crushed at home by Iowa. The good road victory was neutralized by the bad home loss. No change.
10. Iowa (2-5)
In its only game since the last ranking Iowa won at Indiana. The Hawkeyes may be improving. Plus one.
11. Penn State (0-7)
Last week PSU lost at home to Indiana and on the road at Wisconsin. The Nits battle the Badgers hard but the moral victory was not enough to overcome the loss to Indiana. Minus one.

On Northwestern's Current Chances of Making the NCAAs

To be sure tonight's loss at Minnesota puts a dent in Northwestern's NCAAs aspirations. But the Wildcats are still in position to make the Big Dance if they manage to take care of business for the remainder of the season.

Northwestern has eleven remaining games on its regular season schedule. A Northwetern victory in two of these games, roadies at MSU and Wisconsin, would be a real boon to NU's tournament resume. Neither win seems likely. Despite Wisconsin's recent struggles at home Northwestern has struggled immensely at the Kohl. And you can forget about a win at East Lansing as Sparty will be out for revenge after last year's stunning Northwestern victory at Breslin.

Each of NU's other nine games is winnable. If NU were to sweep these games, a very big if, then NU would finish the season at (23-9, 11-7). You can safely get out your dancing shoes if that were to happen.

More than likely NU will lose at least one of its winnable games which would put NU on the bubble come Selection Sunday. Two losses would get Northwestern in the conversation but would likely require two Northwestern wins at the Big Ten Tourney to light the CBS camera at the Nicolet Center on Selection Sunday.

In sum after tonight's loss the NCAAs are still in sight and NU has a very slim margin of error. In our estimation NU can afford to lose three more regular season conference games. The only game on the schedule that looks like a "must win" at this point is the home rematch against the Gophers who will likely be scratching it out with NU for a tourney berth.

Recap: Minnesota 65 Northwestern 61

Northwestern fought valiantly but could not close out Minnesota at the Barn tonight. With the victory Minnesota (13-7, 4-4 Big Ten) kept alive its NCAAs hopes while Northwestern (14-6, 3-5) missed a golden opportunity to move itself off the bubble and into the field of 65.

Northwestern got off to a fast start behind stellar shooting on a balanced team effort. Midway through the half foul trouble forced Jeremy Nash to sit with his second foul, and Minnesota took advantage of Northwestern's short bench to climb back into the game and surge to an eight point lead at half.

Minnesota continued its run early in the second half and built its lead to thirteen points. John Shurna scored NU's first eleven points of the second half on three bombs and a pair of free throws to keep NU in the game. Eventually Northwestern clawed their way all the way back and took a one point lead on a Shurna free throw.

Then it was the Blake Hoffarber show. The marksman lived up to his billing and knocked down three key treys. Northwestern tried to withstand the barrage but ultimately fell short after Shurna missed on a pivotal possession during the last minute and failed to corral a rebound off a Minnesota miss on a front end of a one-and-one.

Northwestern's big three on offense all scored in double digits. Shurna led the effort with 19 points including 4-9 from distance. Juice Thompson knocked down five treys for 15 points, and Drew Crawford sliced his way to 11 points despite some struggles from beyond the arc.

Luka Mirkovic continued his tour de force on the glass in conference play as he hauled down a game-high 14 rebounds. Jeremy Nash played some solid defense and knocked down a key trey as Northwestern made its second half run.

Northwestern is edging closer to the NCAAs

The bracket project currently collects predictions from 44 different bracketologists. These data show that NU is the second team out while the Gophers are the third team out.

That would suggest tonight's game is a meeting of equals. However this doesn't reconcile with the fact that Minnesota is a dozen point favorite tonight is anyone's guess.

What does this portend for tonight's game? When in doubt go with the peeps who have skin in the game.

25 January 2010

Countdown to Northwestern at Minnesota

Northwestern (14-5, 3-4 Big Ten) travels to Williams Arena to take on Minnesota (12-7, 3-4) at 8PM Central on Tuesday January 26. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network and radio coverage is on WIND 560-AM and wgnradio.com.

Minnesota leads the series 99-58. Last year the two teams met three times with each team defending its homecourt and the Gophers winning the rubber match in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. Northwestern has had recent success up at the Barn winning three straight games starting in 2005. That was during the Dan Monson days, and Northwestern has lost both games in Minneapolis since Tubby Smith arrived on the scene. On the whole Tubby has had Carmody's goat as Minnesota has won 5 of 6 meetings over the past couple of years.

Minnesota has been somewhat of a disappointment this year. The Gophers returned all of its key players from last year's team that made the NCAAs. The Gophers also added a nice freshman class -- headlined by Royce White -- in the spring to what was already a deep team. Despite all of the momentum behind the program the Gophers got off to a slow start in the non-conference with three straight losses at one point including what was then considered an embarrassing loss to Portland (they aren't really too bad it turns out). The Gophers did manage a nice win against Butler on a neutral court, and several huge blowouts of cupcakes have impressed some of the various computer ranking sites out there.

In Big Ten play the Gophers have been erratic. The Gophers best victory was a home game against OSU when Evan Turner was still getting his sea legs back; their worst loss was overtime loss to Indiana. That loss is part of Minnesota's current three game conference losing streak (the other two losses were to Michigan State including a nail biter at the Barn).

In other news Al Nolen, the starting point guard, has been ruled academically ineligible. The Gophers are currently challenging that ruling (apparently Mr Nolen had a bunch of incompletes during the fall due to some family troubles), but currently it doesn't look like he will back at all this season. Nolen's abesnce is in addition to Royce White's season-long absence due to legal issues.

Minnesota is desperate for a victory. A home loss to NCAA tourney bid rival Northwestern would be a serious blow to the Gophers. Northwestern would like to win this game as it would help to "build the resume," but the urgency is not quite the same as it was in the game defending the home court against the Illini.

What to expect? This is going to be a difficult game for Northwestern to win. Williams is a tough place to play, and Tubby Smith has shown that he can coach his team to victory over the quirky Wildcats. Minnesota has athletes all around its lineup which traditionally spells trouble for Northwestern. NU needs to get off to a fast start and heat up from outside to keep the crowd out of the game and build upon the self doubt that most likely has begun to creep into the back of the Gophers' minds during their three game losing streak. Even then it won't be easy.

24 January 2010

Recap: Northwestern 73 Illinois 68

The beat goes on. Northwestern (14-5, 3-4 Big Ten) won a pivotal game over Illinois (12-8, 4-3) at the Welsh last night. In so doing the Wildcats kept their dreams of an NCAAs berth alive and well.

Two themes emerged in a wild game before a raucous student body packed into the baseline stands like sardines. First the Illini failed to put away an ice cold Wildcat squad in the second half. At the 14:16 mark Illinois took an eight point lead on DJ Richardson layup. Over the ensuing seven minutes Northwestern managed to score just three points.

This seven minute stretch was a golden opportunity for the Illini to land a huge psychological blow and sew up the victory. Remarkably the Illini lead actually shrunk by a point during that time as the Illini shot just 1-5 from the field and turned the ball over five times. Instead of a dejected crowd and team from an insurmountable Illini lead there was a palpable feeling that it was only a matter of time until Northwestern heated up and got back into the game.

This brings us to the second theme of this game: Northwestern outcoached Illinois. During the under 8 minute media timeout Coach Carmody drew up an inbounds play from under the Illini hoop that netted a Shurna backdoor dunk. The crowd and the team were instantly inflated. At this same time NU switched to a half court press that took the ball out of McCamey's hands and the Illini out of their rhythm. This change in strategy and the switch in momentum resulted in just two Illini buckets until the last minute. By that time Northwestern had built a seven point cushion and NU eased off the defensive pressure to keep the clock running and force the Illini to make baskets to climb back into the game.

Illinois did make shots to keep it interesting, but Northwestern hung on for the victory thanks to good free throw shooting by Shurna and Nash down the stretch.

Jeremy Nash has received much pub for his 22 point performance. It wasn't the most efficient 22 points, but Nash made shots when they mattered most -- including the aforementioned free throws down the stretch as well as three pointer that gave NU the lead and a driving runner in the lane that gave NU a two possession lead.

Juice Thompson has also received some well-deserved attention. Juice was in foul trouble throughout and played just 8 minutes in the first half. During his absence the Illini went on a 20-2 run which made it became abundantly clear to casual observers how important Juice is to this team. Juice's unofficial plus-minus for the game was a remarkable +18. Juice only scored 4 points which goes to show that he is the straw that stirs the drink and makes everyone else better. That is the essence of a team MVP.

Drew Crawford had a solid game including a 12 point first half. Luka Mirkovic just missed a double-double with 9 points and 9 rebounds. When you add Luka's and Kyle Rowley's stats together the center position provided a double-double (13 points, 12 boards) and arguably outplayed Mike Tisdale who abused them down in Champaign in late December.

Congratulations to the team on a hard earned victory. You've put yourselves into position for a run to the NCAAs. A tough week lays ahead with trips to Minneapolis and East Lansing. The good news is neither game is a must win. If NU can steal one of these two games then fans can start getting serious about making plans for mid-March.

21 January 2010

Countdown to Illinois at Northwestern

Northwestern (13-5, 2-4 Big Ten) hosts Illinois (12-7, 4-2) on Saturday January 23 at 7:00PM Central. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network and radio coverage is on WYLL-AM and wgnradio.com.

Illinois leads the series 126-34. Last year the two teams met just once with the Illini winning the game at the Welsh in stunning come-from-behind fashion. The Illini currently hold a ten game winning streak over the Wildcats. Over the past three decades Northwestern has managed to beat the Illini just five times. In one notorious game during the Kevin O'Neill regime NU managed to score only 6 points in a half against the Illini.

The most recent Northwestern victory over the Illini came at the Welsh during the 2003-04 season when Jitim Young was still donning the purple and white. That game also occurred during Bruce Weber's first season with the Illini and sent Illini beat writers into a tizzy as they questioned whether Weber could hack it at the Big Ten level. It's odd how these same journalists suffered from a serious case of amnesia the very next season when the Illini nearly won it all behind the stellar play of Deron Williams, Dee Brown, and Luther Head.

Some Wildcat fans like to point to last year's Illini game as the one that cost NU its first ever an NCAA bid. We're not so sure about that unless one also includes the second half meltdown loss to Purdue at the Welsh. In the Illini game NU led by 14 points with 5 minutes to go and 59-50 with just over two minutes left in the game. The Illini closed the game on a 10-0 run and won the game on a last second shot by Demetri McCamey. The Illini heroics overcame a dismal 2-12 effort from the charity stripe and spoiled Luka Mirkovic's impressive debut as a starter in which he recorded his first career double-double.

Earlier this season Illinois narrowly defeated NU down in Champaign. Northwestern held a large second half lead but once again surrendered the lead before a last ditch three pointer by Alex Marcotullio sent the game into OT. The story of the game, however, was NU's inability to stop Mike & Mike (Tisdale and Davis) down low.

Carmody Court can not stress enough how important this game is to Northwestern's NCAAs aspirations. Why? As we previously wrote, the Illini are a direct competitor for a NCAA bid. Don't take our word for it. According to the bracket project's bracket matrix NU is the fourth team out and the Illini the fifth.

A loss to the Illini would seriously damage NU's hopes for an NCAA berth as both teams appear destined for the bubble. Two losses to the Illini would make it impossible for the selection committee to pick Northwestern over the Illini since head-to-head is a primary consideration when deciding between bubble teams.

Northwestern could conceivably recover from a loss but this is highly unlikely since it would require NU to win one of the following games: at Minnesota, at Michigan State, at Wisconsin. Good luck with that. The other possible avenue would be a deep run in the Big Ten Tournament, but that doesn't seem likely as we would expect NU to quickly wear down with its short bench.

Illinois also need to win this game because of its non-conference performance. The Illini lost five games in the non-conference including three bad losses to Utah, Bradley, and Georgia. The Illini partly balance those losses with a nice win at Clemson in which the Tigers inexplicably folded in the second half and a good home win over surprising Vanderbilt.

The Illini's Big Ten schedule is the yin to Northwestern's yang. The Illini have a easy first half to their schedule and then run the gauntlet during the second half. The difficult second half conference slate could be viewed an opportunity for the Illini to make amends for its non-conference blemishes. Still the Illini have to be nervously looking at what lays ahead and consider this game as a must win to give themselves some NCAA tourney wiggle room down the road.

What to expect? Northwestern needs to solve its interior defense problems to win this game and make the heralded Illini freshmen guards beat them. Luka Mirkovic has shown some promise of shoring up the interior since the game in Champaign, but his most recent game at Ohio State was forgettable to be kind. Which Luka will show up on Saturday? If Luka doesn't bring it then will Rowley or Curletti step up into the void? The answer to those questions will go a long way in deciding this game and NU's NCAAs hopes.

19 January 2010

Recap: Ohio State 76 Northwestern 56

This just in. Ohio State got another dunk! ESPN is reporting this game as a "Buckeye Blowout." That is a fair assessment.

That Northwestern lost this game was not a surprise. In fact Carmody Court wrote back in December that this could be one of NU's toughest games if Evan Turner were healthy. Guess what? Evan Turner was healthy.

What was surprising was that Northwestern (13-5, 2-4 Big Ten) was blown out of the building by Ohio State (14-5, 4-3) from the opening tip. This was NU's second Big Ten blowout. What is the common denominator between Ohio State and Michigan State? They are both good teams obviously, but it goes beyond that because there are other good teams that NU has hung with (Wisconsin) and even defeated (Purdue). No the Achilles heel appears to be the combination of penetration with deadly three point shooters and an athletic big man who can finish at the tin.

Northwestern is certainly not alone in its struggles against such teams so there is no reason to panic. Evan Turner playing in the Big Ten is akin to a D1-bound high school senior playing a game on the JV squad. No one is going to stop him at this level as he is a Mismatch with a capital M.

The only redeeming aspect to this game was John Shurna's 22 point, 5 rebound, 4 steal effort on 7-10 shooting from the field and 5-6 from the line (his perfection streak was bound to end at some point). Drew Crawford was the only other NU player in double figures (11), but he struggled from the line (3-6), from the field (3-10), and turned it over three times. It wasn't Crawford's best game, but it was probably an education for a young frosh who had only once been in a game of this caliber previousy (MSU). Maybe he learned a thing or two from his first hand look at Evan Turner and his all-around game.

Thank goodness Northwestern only plays Ohio State once this year.

Big Ten Power Ratings as of Jan 19 2010

1. Michigan State (5-0)
Last week MSU successfully defended the home court against Minnesota and Illinois. The Spartans are on a roll.
2. Wisconsin (4-2)
Last week UW won at Northwestern and lost at Ohio State. The Badgers may vie for the Big Ten title if the Spartans miss a beat.
3. Purdue (2-3)
Last week PU dropped a home game to Ohio State and a road game to Northwestern. Arguably the Boilermakers should slip below the Buckeyes but we still think Purdue is the better team.
4. Ohio State (3-3)
Last week OSU won at Purdue and defeated Wisconsin at home. It was a very impressive week for the Buckeyes but not quite enough to crack the top three just yet. We'll get a first hand look at the Buckeyes tonight.
5. Northwestern (2-3)
Last week NU lost a home game to Wisconsin and defeated Purdue at home. The Wildcats' split of a pair of home games against ranked opponents is power rating neutral.
6. Minnesota (3-3)
Last week UM lost two road games at Michigan State and Indiana (OT). The first loss was expected for the Gophers but the second loss not so much.
7. Illinois (4-1)
Last week UI won at home against Penn State and lost to Michigan State on the road. Both of these outcomes were as expected, but the manner in which the Illini narrowly defeated the Nits and were blown out by Sparty left much to be desired and validated a power rating well below their conference record.
8. Michigan (3-2)
Last week UM won home games against Indiana and ranked non-conference foe Connecticut. The Wolverines helped their post-season cause with the victory over the Huskies, but much work still needs to be done to make the NCAAs.
9. Indiana (2-3)
Last week IU lost to Michigan on the road and defeated Minnesota at home in OT. The Hoosiers' win over the Gophers turned some heads, and Pitt's resurgence makes that road victory look more impressive.
10. Penn State (0-5)
Last week PSU lost at Indiana and at Iowa. The Nits' loss at Iowa hurt their power rating. As consolation we thank the Nits for proving once again that Seth Davis is a moron (he said Iowa might go winless in conference).
11. Iowa (1-5)
Last week Iowa won home games against Tennessee State and Penn State. Although the Hawkeyes defeated the Nits we are not fooled. The Hawkeyes are a bad team (see their narrow victory against a poor Tenn St squad).

18 January 2010

Son of a B!tch - NU back on AP radar

NU collected 6 votes in today's AP Poll (and continues to receive no recognition in the ESPN/Coaches poll). This is an unwelcome development, and Carmody Court wishes Northwestern had continued to receive no AP votes.

Why? NU's 6 votes came courtesy of a #20 ranking by none other than Seth Davis. Can you think of anything that could be possibly as damaging to a team's hopes than a Seth Davis outlier endorsement? Simply put Seth's negative karma makes the "SI Cover Jinx" seem like a desirable accolade.

We pray that the team does not become aware of this development. Carmody Court was holding out hopes for one and possibly two wins this week, but that now appears to be a pipe dream. Thanks for nothing Seth!

Countdown to Northwestern at Ohio State

Northwestern (13-4, 2-3 Big Ten) travels to Columbus to take on #21 Ohio State (13-5, 3-3) on Tuesday January 19 at 6:00PM Central. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network and radio coverage is on WCPT (click here for a link to their website for more info) and wgnradio.com.

Ohio State leads the series 112-45. Last year the two teams split the season series with each team successfully defending its home court. Northwestern's victory at the Welsh marked the first time Coach Carmody had defeated the Buckeyes and snapped NU's 17 game losing streak to OSU.

Last year's game at Value City Arena was the last game of the regular season and had NCAA implications for both teams. The game was a series of spurts. The Buckeyes stormed out to a 21-6 lead, but NU answered with nine straight points. OSU then closed with the final four points to lead 25-15 at half.

The second half began with a big Northwestern run which culminated with a 28-27 lead at the 12 minute mark. The teams then battled back and fourth with NU holding a 2 point lead at the 3:30 mark on the strength of a Juice Thompson four point play. The rest of the game was all Buckeyes as Diebler responded with a trey to retake the lead and Evan Turner doing his thing by imposing his will down the stretch to build upon the Buckeye lead.

Earlier this season Ohio State had to make due without Evan "Mr Everything" Turner's services for about a month after he broke two bones in his back during a scary looking fall in a 111-60 rout of Eastern Michigan. Mr Turner returned on Jan 6 against Indiana and now has four post-injury games under his belt. It is safe to say that Turner is back to form as he was personally responsible for negating a record setting first half for Robbie Hummel and handing then #6 Purdue a home loss.

OSU's only game since that glorious road victory was a home victory against then #13 Wisconsin. The win kept the Buckeyes home winning streak alive which stretches back to last season.

What to expect? The good news is that Ohio State is probably feeling pretty full of themselves after consecutive victories against ranked opponents that have put them solidly into the NCAA tournament. The bad news is that they have Evan Turner who is a shoo-in for "Mr. Big Ten" and routinely takes over games. Two of the main reasons why NU hung tough with OSU last year (Moore and Coble) are not playing in this game so NU will need some new heroes on Tuesday night.

A Wildcat victory is not expected so Northwestern should play loose and perhaps with a bounce in their step after defeating then #6 Purdue this past Saturday. If NU can stay mentally and physically tough then anything is possible.

17 January 2010

Recap: Northwestern 72 Purdue 64

In a Big Ten slug fest conventional wisdom would say Purdue wins the battle against Northwestern. As a sign of possible things to come as Northwestern aims to make history, Northwestern (13-4, 2-3 Big Ten) turned conventional wisdom on its head and out-slugged rugged Purdue (14-3, 2-3) and sent the Boilermakers home with a three game losing streak intact.

At one point Northwestern had literally beat up the Boilers. Defensive standout Kramer was knocked out of the game with a bad ankle while Robbie Hummel was in the locker room to get some stitches for a wound courtesy of an incidental John Shurna elbow. Plus JaJuan Johnson was on the bench in foul trouble. Without their uniforms it might have been hard for casual observers to know that this was a Purdue squad that Northwestern was dicing up.

Could this be the watershed moment in which Northwestern turns the proverbial corner? Probably not but some oddities show that Northwestern has started to become a team that bears little resemblance to past editions. The most obvious departure from previous years of Carmody's tenure was Northwestern's pure domination of the glass. This was a paradigm shift from past teams which have traditionally been the team dominated on the glass.

For the game NU had a near 2:1 ratio on the boards (NU grabbed 42 rebounds to Purdue's 23). We dug up the official media guide to see how this compared to past teams, but the rebounding margin stats were not published. We did notice that the high water mark for rebounds during the Carmody Era is 48 which came in 2002 against UM Eastern Shore. This is only 6 more than last night -- it's a very safe bet that this was the largest rebounding margin NU has enjoyed against Big Ten competition under Coach Carmody.

The other heartening aspect of last night's game was how NU stared a possible 1-4 conference start in the face and did not wilt. NU stormed out of halftime to a 7 point lead by the 16:00 mark, but Purdue showed its mettle and battled back to take the lead at the 7:30 mark. NU could have shrunk away from the challenge but instead responded in impressive fashion.

The first punch came in the form of a Crawford three pointer at about the 7 minute mark that came on an inbounds play with two seconds left on the shot clock. On the play Jeremy Nash screened Crawford's defender, and Drew immediately rose for the uncontested shot from beyond the arc. The next big punch was another Crawford three which finally gave NU a two possession lead and some vital breathing room at the two minute mark. The kill shot was Crawford's drive to the hoop for a three point play the conventional way at the 1:30 mark to extend NU's lead to 7 points. From that point Purdue was in foul mode, and NU iced the game with continued excellence from the charity stripe on this night (26-30).

Heroes beside Crawford included Juice Thompson who scored 20 points and only turned the ball over once in 39 minutes of play against intense Purdue defense. Luka Mirkovic also continued his mid-season revival with a 16 point, 10 rebound effort.

John Shurna had a quiet night for him as Purdue appeared intent on preventing him from beating them. Jeremy Nash had a few nice slashes to the hoop and got a key steal and breakaway layup down the stretch. Kyle Rowley provided some nice relief in the first half and even made all 4 of his free throw attempts. Alex Marcotullio did not attempt a shot as Purdue aggressively defended the perimeter but he did manage to facilitate the offense with some "oohh inspiring moments" from the packed house.

When it was over NU students stormed the court in celebration. My voice is still hoarse from a game that is certain to be emblazoned on my memory banks. This is what big time college basketball is all about!

Congrats to the team on a great victory! Let's keep it rolling!

15 January 2010

Countdown to Purdue at Northwestern

#6 Purdue (14-2, 2-2 Big Ten) visits the Welsh on Saturday January 16 at 4:30PM Central to take on Northwestern (12-4, 1-3). The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network and WGN 720AM will have the radio coverage.

Last year the two teams split the season series as neither squad was able to defend its home court. The game at the Welsh was especially painful for NU fans as Northwestern was unable to hold onto a 10 point lead with less than 8 minutes to play in the game. If any of you masochists wishes to relive this painful game then click here.

Purdue is a better team this year which is a scary thought. Last year Robbie Hummel was slowed by a bum back. This year he is healthy save for a dislocated pinky finger suffered in Purdue's most recent game. Furthermore Purdue returns all of its major contributors from last season so they are squad that is "a year older, a year wiser."

To make matters worse Purdue steams into Evanston with a sense of urgency. The Boilermakers are riding a two game losing streak and facing a two game deficit to Michigan State. Expect their A game.

NU is also motivated for this game. Not only does this squad want to avenge last year's meltdown but also NU is off to a slow start in Big Ten play. NU lost a valuable opportunity to make a statement against Bucky on Wednesday, but that can be salvaged with a victory over Purdue.

What to expect? Last year NU had decent success against Purdue. NU's defense caused Purdue to turn the ball over, and NU's offense was able to generate good looks at the basket. Matt Painter is no Bo Ryan so if NU can once again execute on both ends of the court then a victory is possible. Robbie Hummel is the x-factor as he was extremely hot in Purdue's last game until he dislocated his finger. Will the finger affect his shot? NU can only hope this to be the case.

14 January 2010

Midseason consensus and post season implications

Current State of Affairs

Pomeroy, Sagarin, RPI, and Basketball State all provide unbiased views of college basketball for fans to digest. Each of these statistical measures uses its own set of techniques to analyze actual results and to estimate team rankings. Throughout the year these rankings fluctuate and oftentimes provide varied results even at season's end.

Carmody Court was interested to note that for the first time this season these four statistical measures have reached a consensus on Northwestern basketball. NU is ranked anywhere from #71-77 in the nation and is consistently ranked as the seventh best team in the Big Ten. It's not very difficult to read these tea leaves. If the season were to end today then NU would land in the NIT.


NU needs to make hay if that elusive first ever NCAAs bid were to happen this year. The next five games provide a real opportunity to make up some ground.

Jan 16 Purdue
Jan 19 at Ohio State
Jan 23 Illinois
Jan 26 at Minnesota
Jan 30 at Michigan State

Win two of these games and NU would be at (14-7, 3-6). This doesn't sound so great on the surface, but it would give NU at least one and possibly two conference wins to crow about. Plus it would set the stage for a late season run at the NCAAs since the schedule then lightens up considerably.

The remaining 10 games are as follows:

Feb 2 Michigan
Feb 7 Indiana
Feb 10 at Iowa
Feb 14 Minnesota
Feb 17 Penn State
Feb 21 at Wisconsin
Feb 25 Iowa
Feb 28 at Penn State
Mar 3 Chicago State
Mar 6 at Indiana

The only game during this stretch that we'd mark in ink as a loss is the game at the Kohl. Hold serve otherwise and NU would stand at (23-8, 11-7) and would be a lock for the NCAAs. Plus there would still be a requisite margin for error as a couple of additional losses would land NU (21-10, 9-9) on the bubble.

Then there is the Big Ten Tournament which is whole other ball of wax. But it's way too early to think about the conference tourney or even the closing ten game stretch.

Near term keys to making the NCAAs

As a practical matter the Big Ten stands to get 5 or 6 teams into the tournament this year given the conference's overall strength. Michigan State, Purdue, and Wisconsin are locks. Ohio State is a probable tournament team. That leaves NU, Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan to slug it out for those 1 or 2 remaining spots.

It is important that NU wins games against these direct competitors for post-season berths. This is why of the next five games only the Illini game is a "must win" in our view. A win against Purdue sure would be nice to have as a feather in our cap, but it is interchangeable with the three road games during this stretch (preferably a victory at The Barn).

Recap: Wisconsin 60 Northwestern 50

Wisconsin (14-3, 4-1 Big Ten) won a battle of wills against Northwestern (12-4, 1-3) down the stretch of last night's game at the Welsh. During a pivotal second half stretch NU failed to capitalize on Wisconsin's cold shooting and stretch a narrow lead. UW's stout defense played a part in that, but even Bo Ryan can't impose his indomitable will when opponents reach the charity stripe. And NU inexplicably failed on several occasions to knock down the freebies that would have netted NU some valuable breathing room. NU made 9-16 FTs which really, really hurt NU's chances at victory.

As predicted this was a slow paced brute of a game -- right up Wisconsin's alley -- that was close until the final two minutes. Northwestern's Jeremy Nash and Luka Mirkovic pace NU early as Wisconsin deployed their defensive forces along the perimeter and in John Shurna's general direction. Jason Bohannon stepped it up for Wisconsin to help keep the Badgers in the game and send the teams knotted at 27 points a piece at halftime.

The second half was a slug fest with neither team able to escape suffocating defenses for any appreciably length of time. Down the stretch Wisconsin was close the gap and then build an insurmountable lead (for this type of game) thanks to the efforts of Trevon "Phoenix" Hughes. Hughes had been held in check for the first three quarters of the game but ignited down the final five minute stretch. Despite scoring one point in the first 33 minutes he finished the game with 16 points including three consecutive bombs that were the collective kill shot.

Neither team substituted much in this game as it seemed neither coach trusted their bench in a game where every possession mattered greatly. There is much consternation about this in Wildcatland but Buckyville doesn't seem nearly as concerned about it. That just goes to prove once again that winning is a great salve.

There is no rest for the weary. Next up for the Wildcats on Saturday are the #6 Purdue Boilermakers who visit the Welsh. Purdue comes to town riding a two game losing streak including a home loss at the hands of Evan Turner and the Ohio State Buckeyes. Expect the Boilers to play with a great sense of urgency since Michigan State has raced out of the gates once again to a 4-0 conference start.

13 January 2010


Things are really heating up in Evanston (no this is not a forecast for the Welsh tonight). Today Evanston cracked the freezing point for the first time since Christmas. This is cause for rejoice in all corners except but Evanston Branch of the Polar Bear Club!

Now back to your regular programming.

NU labeled a "tease" by Yahoo! Sports

Jason King wrote that NU is "in a funk" after teasing us with its #25 ranking in the AP Poll. The timing of this article is poor. Had it been written after the UTAP game then we would understand why NU was mentioned. Between what we could call a "bad win" against UTAP and the bad loss to MSU (MSU is very good, but NU should not have been blown out at home) it was arguable that NU was in a funk.

Perhaps Jason missed NU's last game in which NU stormed back from a 17 point deficit in Ann Arbor and win? A team that finished its last game at a Big Ten arena on a 54-31 tear is not in a funk.

Countdown to Wisconsin @ Northwestern

#13 Bucky (3-1) visits the Welsh tonight to take on a resilient Willy (1-2) squad. Last year the two teams split the season series as both squads defended the home court. The game at the Welsh was close, but Craig Moore's dead eye from distance made the difference.

Bucky has exceeded all expectations so far this season. Their marquee game was a home win over the Dukies as part of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge (hey! no quotes anymore since the Big Ten finally won it this year). Wisconsin has gone back to basics with solid fundamental basketball on both ends of the court and crashing the boards hard. Super guard Trevon Hughes gets most of the pub, but the key to Wisconsin's season has been the emergence of Jon Leuer. He poses a big matchup problem when on offense as he is 6'10" and can knock it down from distance at a 35% clip.

NU finally appears to have caught a break as Leuer will be out for the game due to surgery on his non-shooting hand. This will be Bucky's first game without Leuer, and his absence will require some adjustments that should alter Bucky's chemistry.

What to expect? A low scoring game with tough defense is almost an absolute certainty. Aside from that it is nearly impossible to say who will step up for NU on offense since we don't have access to Bo Ryan's defensive game plan. Will they focus on stopping Shurna? Crawford? Thompson? We are tempted to say that Marcotullio will have a break out game since 1) it's been some time since he's had one and will most likely want to make up for his worst game of the year on Sunday in Ann Arbor, and 2) he is filling Craig Moore's role this year -- and Moore lit it up in last year's tilt.

12 January 2010

Jay Bilas continues to undermine anti-Dukedom

Hat tip to NUera for alerting our attention to Jay Bilas' Jan 11 blog entry. Bilas writes,

"Best Unknown Freshman of the Weekend: Drew Crawford, Northwestern. The son of NBA referee Danny Crawford, the younger Crawford played his guts out in an improbable win over Michigan in which the Wildcats were down 17 at one point. Crawford gave his team some life going into halftime and things looked bleak, and Northwestern came out in the second half and was the aggressor. Crawford scored 25 points on 7 of 9 shooting, and added eight rebounds. Northwestern has had a tough start to Big Ten play, and was staring down an 0-3 start before Crawford brought the Wildcats back.

Best No-Call of the Weekend: Late in the Northwestern-Michigan game, Manny Harris was speed dribbling the ball upcourt in front of his own bench against Wildcats defender Jeremy Nash. Harris was closely guarded, then went down into a heap, appearing to be tripped. The Michigan coaching staff reacted quickly that Harris was fouled, especially head coach John Beilein, but Harris was nonplussed. A replay showed that Harris tripped over his own feet, and Nash didn't touch him. As much as we all like to second-guess officials (and no reasonable person could blame the Michigan bench for reacting to the play), the officials get it absolutely right the vast, vast majority of the time. This was just another high-profile example."

Damn you, Jay! Are you on a mission to counterbalance all the Dukie wrongdoings with such reasonable and intelligent analysis? At this rate we will have to google DukieV, Seth Davis, Christian Laettner, Greg Paulus, and WoJo to restore balance to our anti-Dukedom views.

Bleacher Report says Drew Crawford is the key

See this link. That may be a bit of an oversimplification, but as we wrote back in November we agree that Crawford will be instrumental in NU's postseason possibilities.

Big Ten Power Ratings as of Jan 12 2010

Everyone else seems to do it so why not us?

1. Michigan State (3-0)
Izzo seems to have mastered using a slow start against superior non-conference competition and parlaying it into a Big Ten champion. They may not run away with the Big Ten title by 4 games this year (thanks to Robbie Hummel regaining his health) but expect Sparty to once again win the regular season title. Same old, same old.
2. Purdue (2-1)
We are very impressed with Purdue to date. The only blemish is a loss at Kohl which happens to nearly all teams. What's interesting is that Wisconsin won with their trademark hard nosed defense and deliberate offense which could be a template for NU's strategy later this week. Certainly NU doesn't have the athletes to employ the helter-skelter style that Alabama nearly rode to victory.
3. Wisconsin (3-1)
Never doubt Bo Ryan. Those preseason rankings were a joke. I'm guessing people will learn their lesson and give Bo the benefit of the doubt from here on out.
4. Ohio State (1-3)
They sit at 1-3 in conference, but Evan Turner is back. We haven't watched any games since his return, but we assume he will be back to 100% soon. That's good enough for fourth in the rugged Big Ten.
5. Northwestern (1-2)
A record of 1-2 with a road victory, a close OT loss on the road, and a spanking applied by Sparty playing at their highest level. Not exactly an impressive resume but still good enough for fifth since...
6. Minnesota (3-1)
Tubby has yet to get his Gophers firing on all cylinders though a soft schedule to date has them near the top of the standings. A depleted roster has something to do with this though the Gophers should be deep enough to be performing better.
7. Illinois (3-0)
The Illini beat NU at home in OT and are unbeaten in Big Ten play but they have been less than impressive in doing so. Expect the Illini to struggle for a berth in the NCAAs despite an impressive showing by underrated Mike Tisdale.
8. Michigan (2-2)
The Wolverines have the talent to be higher but Manny Harris has fallen in love with his press clippings. Harris oozes athleticism but his shooting accuracy is not terribly impressive and his attitude is even worse. We like Sims but he is not an immovable object as evidenced by Luka Mirkovic's solid performance on Sunday.
9. Penn State (0-3)
DeChellis is a fine coach working with limited talent (Battle not withstanding).
10. Indiana (1-2)
They would be higher with Creek but that is moot.
11. Iowa (0-4)
Someone has to be last and Iowa is clearly in the basement.

11 January 2010

On Northwestern and early Big Ten statistics

OK. Three conference games does not a season make. NU fans are well aware of how skewed NU's conference schedule is this season with the first ten games against NCAA tournament teams from last year. Still Carmody Court was curious to see how NU stacks up after three games in the meat grinder. Some results will be familiar to close followers of the program, but other results are pretty surprising.

The Familiar:
1. Rebounding Defense: #11
2. Rebounding Margin: #11
3. Assists: #2
4. Turnover Margin: #1
5. Defensive Rebounds: #11
6. FG% Defense: #11

The Surprising:
1. Scoring Offense: #1
2. Scoring Defense: #11
3. Offensive Rebounds: #1
4. 3FGM: #1 (by a wide margin)
5. FG% Offense: #11

Two road games (one going to OT) and a home game against MSU will do some screwy things to team statistics. The most striking is the scoring offense and defense which is a HUGE departure from prior years. Carmody clearly adjusted his approach now that NU can match up better athletically in the Big Ten and let the kids play with more urgency on offense. This might not be a bad strategy generally speaking (e.g., second half of UM game), but MSU is still way out of NU's league athletically. Combine that with some poor interior defense down in C-U and you have a recipe for some anomalous results.

One other striking aspect of these early conference statistics is that NU is 1-2 despite being last in FG% offense and FG% defense. Just goes to show how much the 3 point line has affected the game and how protecting the ball can make up for alot of evils.

The defensive rebounding and overall rebounding statistics look familiar, but the offensive rebounding statistics are eye opening. And it's not like NU has played against poor rebounding teams (MSU in particular). Yes NU is doing more crashing of the O-boards and Shurna, Mirkovic, and Crawford give some more presence there than in the past, but this will not keep up. Rebounding statistics are correlated with FG% statistics so as the latter normalize (as Carmody Court expects) the former will also normalize.

10 January 2010

Recap: Northwestern 68 Michigan 62

The storyline is obvious and has been hit upon time and again by the press and blogosphere. Freshman Drew Crawford took NU on his shoulders and carried the team to victory in Ann Arbor. Crawford's 11 unanswered points late in the first half rescued NU which was down by 17 points at the time. NU still trailed by nine points at the half, but momentum had clearly swung in NU's direction thanks to Crawford's heroics.

NU came out on fire in the second half and in a blink of the eye Michigan's lead was trimmed to three. From there the game was a stalemate until the 11 minute mark when Luka Mirkovic knocked down a three that seemingly broke Michigan's levee. NU then went on to build a 10 point lead by the 7 minute mark on balanced scoring from distance.

Michigan managed to claw its way back to a one point lead with less than 2 minutes to play, but the star of the game was once again up to the challenge. On consecutive possessions Crawford received nice passes and took the ball strong to the hole. Michigan did the smart thing and fouled Crawford hard to make the frosh earn it from the charity stripe. And that he did. Four straight swishes and NU's lead was back to three points.

Michigan never threatened from that point as Coach Carmody called for a full court press for the first time in the game which completely disrupted Michigan's guards.

Crawford is making quite the name for himself and has made one reputable blogger's top 25 freshmen list. Carmody Court perused the Big Ten's statistics, and Crawford is arguably the leader for BTFOY given the in-conference statistics. Obviously it is way to early to hand out any hardware, and Crawford will definitely have his up's and down's the rest of the way this season. But we like Crawford's chances given how rapidly his game is developing.

One of the keys to the season we had been monitoring was Crawford's development, and we are glad to report that he is ahead of even our optimistic hopes at this juncture. Keep up the great work, Drew!

Time may be soon to start Marcotullio

The medium term plan for this year's squad in our opinion is to have Marcotullio replacing Nash in the starting 5 so that Jeremy can fill that spark plug role as he did so well last year. With Nash's struggles in recent games the time may be nearing to go with this plan.

We will be watching what happens today with Nash and Marcotullio in Ann Arbor. Tip off is in about 20 minutes.

Go Cats!

08 January 2010

Recap: NU 53 UTPA 44

Yuck. This game looked like a flashback to two seasons ago. Word is that Juice is hurt which explains why he's disappeared the last couple of games. Just goes to show how important Juice is to this team (MVP).

The good news is that NU won. Shurna continued to impress. That's about it on the positive spin front.

In related news to NU's next opponent, PSU pulled a NU and squandered a huge 2nd half lead and let Michigan steal a game on the road. What does this mean for Sunday's game? Who knows? Michigan is gaining confidence, but wounded animals tend to be the most dangerous.

07 January 2010

Countdown to University of Texas Pan American @ Northwestern

We at Carmody Court apologize profusely for the silence these past couple of weeks. Though it was nice to know we were missed some of the pointed accusations from the mail bag were a little much. Carmody Court vehemently deny we went into hiding as soon as the heat was turned up by the Illni big men and a highly motivated Sparty team. We wish it were really that simple but suffice it to say that we were offline for reasons beyond our control. "And that's all I have to say about that."

Now it's time to get back to business as usual. Time is short so a full installment of our countless-part "Better Know an Opponent" series is not possible. The good news is that Sippin on Purple has Carmody Court covered! Loretta8 took a nice stab at filling our shoes. Welsh Ryan Ramblings does a nice job previewing the game as always. And Chicago College Basketball also has a short pregame analysis.

Carmody Court's take on the game? It's good timing to host a cupcake and heal the bruises from MSU's beat down. We hope to see no NU forced shots and improved interior play. Even if adjustments are apparent in the UTPA game we still won't know how effective they will be until Sunday's journey to Crisler Arena.