27 February 2010

Countdown to Northwestern at Penn State

Northwestern travels to The Bryce to take on Penn State at 11:00AM Central on Sunday February 28. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network and radio coverage is on WGN 720-AM wgnradio.com.

The game is being built up as a potentially historic game for NU. This is because Northwestern (18-10, 7-9 Big Ten) is poised to break its all-time record for number of victories in a season. We're not particularly enthused by this potential record setting event because it is a function of having more games played these days as well as a reminder of NU's historical futility. We will be perfectly fine being reminded about this futility in the context of making the NCAAs for the first time, but reaching 19 or even 20 wins is not the same in our book.

Penn State (10-17, 2-13) put the nail in NU's NCAAs coffin for this season when the Nittany Lions visited the Welsh recently and soundly defeated NU for their first Big Ten victory. Penn State followed up that game with an encore victory performance at the Crisler for impressive back-to-back victories on the road. NU hopes to avenge the loss to Penn State just as they did the Iowa loss earlier this week. It won't be easy as Penn State has NU's number.

What to expect? We think a light has gone off with this team in the form of balanced scoring inside and out. This be the difference in this game as NU wins a tough game on the road.

Recap: Northwestern 74 Iowa 57

Now this is what a game against Iowa should look like. NU had a 20 point lead by halftime and coasted from there. We said we hoped that NU would come out breathing fire and smoke and empty the bench by the end of the game. Mission Accomplished!

John Shurna poured in 29 points while displaying his wide array of shots. Jeremy Nash excelled with 15 points in his final home Big Ten game, and Juice Thompson and Luka Mirkovic each chipped in a dozen.

25 February 2010

Countdown to Iowa at Northwestern

Iowa travels to The Welsh to take on Northwestern at 6:00PM Central on Thursday February 25. The game will be televised on ESPN and radio coverage is on WGN-AM 720 wgnradio.com.

ESPN is televising this game to kill the least amount of airtime while fulfilling its contractual obligations to televise each Big Ten team at least once per season. A nationwide audience has the chance to see Iowa (9-18, 3-11 Big Ten) really embarrass Northwestern (17-10, 6-9) and sweep the season series. For a recap of the previous game at the Carver here are the gory details.

What to expect? We'd like to say NU will come out breathing fire and smoke the Squawkeyes. The spread is nine points so the bookies think this should be a comfortable NU win. We will be disappointed if NU doesn't walk over these chumps and empty the bench by the end of this game

23 February 2010

Recap: Wisconsin 70 Northwestern 63

Northwestern gave it the old college try at the Kohl and came up empty. It was a valiant second half effort in which Northwestern (17-10, Big Ten 6-9) closed a 14 point halftime gap to a one point deficit at the 2 minute mark. But Northwestern would get no closer down the stretch.

Northwestern was given a golden opportunity when John Leuer missed 3 of 4 free throws while the outcome was still in doubt. But John Shurna missed an awkward looking shot from eight feet at the one minute mark that would have tied the game. Then in the most critical possession with 30 seconds down to go and trailing by three the Northwestern offense sputtered. Not only did NU allow valuable seconds to melt away but also NU never got off a good shot. The best NU could manufacture was a Juice Thompson layup attempt that was blocked by Jon Leuer into the hands of Jason Bohannon with just 11 seconds to play. Game. Set. Match.

NU fans have whined about the officiating down the stretch. This leaves us cold. Sure the call against Shurna with 30 seconds to play was bogus and inconsistent with how the game was reffed the rest of the game. But you know what? That's the reality of life on the road. Deal with it.

NU had its chances to overcome the adversity but didn't get it done. Shurna, who had played marvelously the entire game (26 points, 4 boards), didn't execute when he couldn't tie the game with a minute to play. And the offensive execution on the most critical possession in the last half minute was poor.

Perhaps those who question whether Carmody should have called a timeout for that last possession are correct. The other school of thought is to let the teams play so that the opponents can't get their defense/strategy set during the timeout. NU's offense had executed well all game long so we have no problem with opting out of a timeout there.

Big Ten Power Rankings as of Feb 23 2010

The Big Ten is coming into focus with only three or four more conference games to play...

1. Purdue (11-3)
PU won at Ohio State and defeated Illinois at home. An impressive week and now a nine game winning streak. No change.
2. Ohio State (11-4)
Last week OSU lost to Purdue at home but won at Illinois. No change.

3. Michigan State (11-4)
MSU won at Indiana and lost at home to Ohio State. Plus one because...
4. Wisconsin (10-5)
UW lost at Minnesota and narrowly defeated Northwestern at home. That's some lost mojo. Minus one.

5. Illinois (9-5)
Last week UI lost at Purdue. No change.

6. Minnesota (7-7)
Last week UM swept home games against Wisconsin and Indiana. Plus one.
7. Northwestern (6-9)
Last week NU lost a home game to Penn State and lost at Wisconsin. Minus one.
8. Michigan (6-8)
Last week UM won in OT at Iowa and lost to Penn State at home. No change.

9. Iowa (3-11)
Last week Iowa lost in OT to Michigan at home. Plus one because...
10. Indiana (3-11)
Last week IU lost to Michigan State at home and at Minnesota. Hoosiers are in a eight game free fall including five straight losses by 14+ points. Minus one.
11. Penn State (2-12)
Last week PSU broke through for two road victories at Northwestern and at Michigan to notch their first two victories of the year. Could they pass the Hoosiers by this time next week? No change.

21 February 2010

Countdown to Northwestern at Wisconsin

A thousand apologies for this late preview. As they say it's better late than never. For those of you who miss it prior to the game this may be a good time for you to google RSS and learn the virtues of that service. RSS really makes life much easier on the interwebs.

Northwestern (17-9, 6-8 Big Ten) travels to the Kohl to take on big bad Wisconsin (19-7, 9-5) at 1PM Central on Sunday February 21. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network and radio coverage is on WGN 720-AM and wgnradio.com.

Wisconsin leads the series 108-61 which includes a 60-50 Wisconsin victory earlier this year at the Welsh. For our recap of that game see this link.

John Leuer is back in the Wisconsin lineup for this game. This will be his second game since returning from injury. He had a lackluster performance in his first game back -- a surprisingly easy victory for Minnesota at the Barn.

NU's best hope is to keep this game in the 50s and hope to sneak out a win at the end. This is not likely. NU has lost by average score of 68-49 at the Kohl during the Carmody Era. The closest game during this period was a 12 point loss during the 2007-08 season. The worst loss was last year's 74-45 beat down. Ruh Roh Raggy!

The good news is that NU has shown the ability to bounce back from tough losses. And the home loss to Penn State most certainly falls into the tough loss category. The bad news is that Wisconsin also had a tough loss prior to this game. Neither team has the motivational edge.

There are a number of Wildcat faithful who think NU could pull off the epic upset including our friends over at Welsh-Ryan Ramblings. We at Carmody Court tend to see the glass as half-full, but we can't drink this kool-ade. We'll hope for the best but expect history to repeat itself in the form of a Wisconsin blowout.

20 February 2010

Shurna in the spotlight

We'll leave the gruesome business of picking apart the carcass of NU's loss to PSU to those who are more inclined to such things. Rather we would like to divert your attention to this nice article on John Shurna in the Trib.


John Shurna: The Smilin' Assassin

17 February 2010

All Big Ten

During last night's Indiana-Michigan State game ESPN ran a poll for Big Ten MVP. The choices were Kalin Lucas, Evan Turner, and E'Twaun Moore. Kalin Lucas was a runaway favorite. Granted this poll was biased as there was a disproportionate amount of MSU fans watching the game. But still. Lucas for Big Ten MVP? No way!

The poll did get us to pondering whom we would place on our All Big Ten teams. Here we go.

Big Ten Player of the Year: Evan Turner
Big Ten Freshman of the Year: Drew Crawford
Big Ten Coach of the Year: Bo Ryan

First Team
G Talor Battle (Jr)
G E'Twaun Moore (Jr)
F Evan Turner (Jr)
F John Shurna (So)
C DeShawn Sims (Sr)

Second Team
G Kalin Lucas (Jr)
G Demetri McCamey (Jr)
G Manny Harris (Jr)
F Robbie Hummel (Jr)
C JaJuan Johnson (Jr)

Third Team
G Verdell Jones III (So)
G Trevon Hughes (Sr)
G Blake Hoffarber (Jr)
F Damian Johnson (Sr)
F Draymond Green (So)

Honorable Mention
William Buford (So), Lawrence Westbrook (Sr), Jason Bohannon (Sr), Mike Tisdale (Jr), Blake Hoffarber (Sr), Jon Diebler (Jr), Juice Thompson (So), Drew Crawford (Fr), David Lighty (Jr).

There are few things to note about these selections.

1. Selections were based upon in-conference performance primarily.
2. We tried to pick teams by position with the following caveat...
3. We picked the best player if there was significant difference between him and the next best player at a position.
4. These picks are merit based. They do not reflect whom we think the media and/or coaches will ultimately select.

This list makes it clear the Big Ten is guard dominated and junior dominated. That is no big revelation. If the most of the junior class sticks around then the Big Ten is going to be as good as it has been in recent memory next year.

16 February 2010

Countdown to Penn State at Northwestern

Penn State travels to The Welsh to take on Northwestern at 7:30PM Central on Wednesday February 17. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network and radio coverage is on wgnradio.com.

Penn State (8-16, 0-12 Big Ten)leads the series 22-11 and has been a real thorn in Northwestern's (17-8, 6-7) side. Despite having similar squads to NU, at least record wise, PSU has won two straight and six of the last seven games.

Penn State is not as bad as its record suggests. They've come up about two or three minutes short in a number of losses. The Nittany Lions are led by likely first team all big ten junior guard Talor Battle. Battle may be a novice when it comes to twitter, but he knows how to chuck it and take it to the hoop.

What to expect? Northwestern very much needs to win this game as its at-large NCAA tourney berth hopes will not survive a home loss to the conference doormat. Penn State will be motivated to win this game as they are tired of seeing that conference record goose egg. However they are probably pointing to the rematch in Happy Valley as their most likely game to grab a win in conference. NU should win this game handily.

15 February 2010

Big Ten Power Rankings as of Feb 15, 2010

1. Purdue (9-3)
PU won at Michigan State and defeated Iowa at home. A seven game winning streak with a win at EL. Plus one.
2. Ohio State (10-3)
Last week OSU won at Indiana and at Illinois. The Buckeyes have now won nine straight in conference. Wow! Plus two.
3. Wisconsin (9-4)
UW split two home games. The Badgers lost a stunner to Illinois and took out their frustrations on hapless Indiana. They drop two spots behind the two hottest teams in the Big Ten.
4. Michigan State (10-3)
MSU lost a home game to Purdue and won at Penn State. They drop one because OSU is en fuego.
5. Illinois (9-4)
Last week UI won at Wisconsin and lost to Ohio State at home. A pretty impressive split that is making us eat our words. Plus one.
6. Northwestern (6-7)
NU was embarrassed at Iowa and won a thriller at home against Minnesota. Minus one.
7. Minnesota (5-7)
Last week UM lost at home to Michigan and at Northwestern. They are on downward watch.
8. Michigan (5-7)
NU won at Minnesota. They could go up a notch next week.
9. Indiana (3-9)
Last week IU lost to Ohio State at home and at Wisconsin. That's some tough sledding. No change.
10. Iowa (3-10)
Last week Iowa defeated Northwestern at home and lost at Purdue. Is it possible they will overtake the Hoosiers? Not yet anyway. No change.
11. Penn State (0-12)
Last week PSU lost to Michigan State at home. No change.

Recap: Northwestern 77 Minnesota 74 OT

It's a good thing cats have nine lives. By our count Northwestern has spent five lives against the likes of Tennessee State, Texas Pan American, Illinois, at Michigan, and now Minnesota.

In each of these games Northwestern (17-8, 6-7 Big Ten) overcame significant second half deficits to steal victory from the jaws of defeat. The Wildcats' overtime win over Minnesota (14-10, 5-7) may have been the most death defying of the bunch.

Northwestern trailed by a baker's dozen with eight minutes to go. The turnaround was sparked by a nice move in the low post by Luka Mirkovic for an easy bucket. A quick Minnesota turnover and a John Shurna bomb, his fifth of six on the afternoon, trimmed the deficit to eight points and swung momentum squarely to the white and purple.

From that point a balanced scoring effort and some solid defensive pressure, including two Luka Mirkovic steals, rallied Northwestern to a three point lead with 35 seconds to play. Blake Hoffarber, who had been held scoreless until that point, coolly knocked down a trey to knot the score at 57 at the end of regulation.

Cognizant of the importance of this game to keeping NCAA dreams alive, neither team backed down an inch during overtime. Northwestern opened up the period with a quick Shurna bucket on a beautiful up-and-under move. Minnesota responded with two free throws and a Hoffarber three, his second in a row. At that point it was difficult not to worry about a repeat of the game in Minneapolis in which Hoffarber heated up late to win the day for the Gophers.

NU remained calm and stuck to what got the Wildcats back into this game. Juice Thompson knocked down a big three to draw NU back into a tie. Then it was NU's defense which really made the difference. A Drew Crawford steal in the backcourt resulted in a Jeremy Nash layup and a two point NU lead. Then after Mirkovic got yet another steal Northwestern executed its offense beautifully which resulted in a crowd rousing layup on an assist from Juice Thompson to a cutting Drew Crawford.

Minnesota then shot itself in the foot when Ralph Sampson III missed the front end of a one-in-one with 1:14 to play. From that point it was a free throw contest. Luka Mirkovic defied the Gopher strategy to foul the worst FT shooter on the floor and knocked down four big free throws. NU wanted the ball in Juice's hands, and he made Carmody look like a genius as he knocked down all six of his FTs. Drew Crawford had the lone miss, but that came with only 0.2 seconds left on the clock with the game on ice.

John Shurna showed why he has been mentioned as a Big Ten MVP candidate with a 22 point effort including 6-13 shooting from distance as well as pulling down 5 rebounds and swatting two shots. Drew Crawford poured had 16 and 9 in addition to 3 steals, and Luka Mirkovic recorded another double-double with a 11 and 10 effort and 4 very important steals.

Jeremy Nash made his presence known on defense with 4 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 3 steals. Juice Thompson struggled most of the game but came up big with two big bombs down the stretch and going 6-6 from the charity striped in OT.

It was a great victory for Northwestern that showcased the mental tenacity of this squad. The final 13 minutes of this game are a good example of this team's potential. A harassing defense, a lethal and balance offense, and composure from the charity stripe during pressure packed moments. This team is fun to watch!

13 February 2010

Countdown to Minnesota at Northwestern

Minnesota travels to The Welsh to take on Northwestern at 4PM Central on Sunday February 14. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network and radio coverage is on WCPT and wgnradio.com.

This game is a rematch of a game at the Barn last month. Minnesota (14-9, 5-6 Big Ten) won that game in the waning moments on the strength of Blake Hoffarber's sharp shooting. Northwestern (16-8, 5-7 Big Ten) withstood several Hoffarber body blows but ultimately came up just four points short.

Both teams limp into this game with their NCAA aspirations in dire straits. In their previous games NU was embarrassed at Iowa while Minnesota also laid an egg in a 71-63 home loss to Michigan. The talking heads have varied opinions on NU's chances, but the general idea is that NU will need to go either 10-8 or 11-7 in the conference to be in the discussion. With five additional conference games including a trip to Madison year remaining on NU's schedule, NU must win this game to keep its at-large berth hopes alive.

Minnesota also has to be looking at this game as a must win. Like the Wildcats, the Gophers will need to be either 10-8 or 11-7 to be in the discussion. That means 1 or 2 more losses in conference. The Gophers have three difficult games left including a trip to Illinois and home matches against Wisconsin and Purdue, and those games alone are likely to account for those losses.

What to expect? NU played well in the first game and handled Minnesota's athleticism well. Ironically it was the lesser-athletic suburban driveway bomber who ultimately thwarted NU bid for a big road victory. The switch of venue gives us reason for optimism. That is if NU students shows up in full voice. Here's to hoping tomorrow's game has an atmosphere similar to the Illini and Purdue games.

12 February 2010

Note to Jim Phillips

It's time to start preparing to wage war on the RPI. Have your minions find articles that expose the flaws of the RPI. Then have them do some quantitative analysis that shows how the Sagarin and Pomeroy statistics are better predictors for NCAAs success. Finally, boil it all down to five salient talking points to submit to the NCAA Selection Committee.

It is our understanding that, among other criteria, the Selection Committee evaluates a school by how it fared against different tiers of opponents. The Selection Committee uses RPI to tier the opponents into Top 25, Top 50, and Top 100 buckets. Currently NU is 1-4 against Top 25 opponents, 1-5 against Top 50 opponents, and 3-7 against Top 100 opponents per the RPI. These records have been used as the primary argument for why NU stands little chance on Selection Sunday. On this point there is little to debate.

However NU's resume looks better if the Selection Committee were to also consider a team's record against opponents using the Sagarin and Pomeroy statistics. Per the Sagarin ratings NU is 1-5 against the Top 25 (and Top 50) and 7-7 against the Top 100. That doesn't look so bad. Most bubble teams will have poor records against the Top 25, and 7-7 against the Top 100 will also be in the ballpark.

The primary difference between the RPI and Sagarin is that four of NU's wins have moved into the Top 100 category per Sagarin. These wins are the road win at NC State, the neutral court win against Iowa State, and the two wins against Michigan. That's two road wins, one neutral court win, and one very solid home victory that is added to NU's resume.

The Pomeroy statistics also shine a better light on NU's resume. NU is 1-4 against the Top 25, 2-7 against the Top 50, and 7-7 against the Top 100.

The good news is that the Selection Committee does consider Sagarin and Pomeroy statistics in its deliberations. The bad news is that the RPI is the primary consideration especially when evaluating a school's performance against quality opponents. The RPI is not going away (at least for this year's selection process), but NU can help its case by lobbying for more emphasis to be placed on the Sagarin and Pomeroy statistics.

Recap: Iowa 78 Northwestern 65

Two words best describe this game: Epic fail.

The best spin we can put on this game is that Juice Thompson played well (20 points on 7-14 shooting, 4-9 from distance). John Shurna also chipped in 16 points plus 4 rebounds which was ok effort by his impressive standards.

Otherwise NU stunk up the joint. First and foremost the defense was atrocious. There is simply no defending a defensive effort that allowed Iowa to score 78 points. The Hawkeyes, the worst offensive team in the Big Ten, shot 50% from the field including 50% from distance. Inexcusable.

NU's center play was horrid. Coach Carmody tries any number of solutions to this gaping hole, but nothing worked. Not Mirkovic. Not Rowley. Not Curletti. Heck, he even tried turning the clock back two years when he tried Peljusic but to no avail.

NU also got very little from the 2 and the 3 positions. Crawford was invisible on offense and absent on defense. Ditto that for Jeremy Nash except for the fact he launched 10 shots despite the fact that he was having an off-night shooting (0-4 from distance). Alex Marcotullio probably did the best out there. His "resurgence" really isn't too surprising since Iowa's talent level is on par with some our non-conference opponents whom Alex helped to tear apart.

Iowa also seemed to get every rebound (we're exaggerating, but Iowa did win the rebounding battle 36-28) and every loose ball. To us this means Iowa was mentally more ready to play this game than Northwestern. And that is inexcusable given the little room for error NU can afford in its quest for an NCAA bid.

Was this a case of overconfidence? We think there may be something to that though that is pure conjecture on our part. Regardless of the why's and the how's the simple fact remains that NU was embarrassed in Iowa City on Wednesday night.

We hope that Carmody uses this game as a valuable lesson to this young squad. Maybe it would be a good idea to have the team watch this game before each of its remaining games against Iowa, Penn State, and Indiana. Let it serve as a reminder as to what will happen if the team doesn't bring it on any given night. That is all.

08 February 2010

Countdown to Northwestern at Iowa

Northwestern (16-7, Big Ten 5-6) travels to Iowa City to take on Iowa (8-16, 2-9) at 7:35PM Central on Wednesday February 10. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network and radio coverage is on wgnradio.com.

Iowa leads the series 107-52 though things have been more competitive of late as the two teams have split the last ten games. Last year each team defended its homecourt. Iowa is coached by Todd Lickliter who is in his third season with the Hawkeyes after adding to the impressive Butler Bulldog coaching lineage.

Preseason expectations for the Hawkeyes were about as low as they can get. There was much talk among Big Ten coaches about how tough the league was top-to-bottom. Most people just assumed there would be an asterisk next to these statements when put into print with the fine print saying, "Iowa Hawkeyes not included."

The low expectations were a symptom of the fact that Iowa had lost most of its personnel from an already unimpressive outfit in the 2008-09 season. It turns out that Lickliter has his Hawkeyes playing harder and more competitively than anyone imagined possible. That is not to say that Iowa has made some kind of miracle breakthrough this season. Their conference victories come against the other two teams generally considered as fellow bottom-tier teams, Indiana and Penn State.

Iowa resembles Northwestern teams of the not-so-distant past. The Hawkeyes have a hard time filling the hoop and like to take the air out of the ball. Therefore most of their games are low scoring (Iowa is last in the Big Ten scoring 57 PPG) and somewhat closer than one might expect given their talent deficit (they lose by 8 points on average to Big Ten foes -- not good but not so bad relative to preseason expectations). Oftentimes the Hawkeyes appear to be frustrating their more talented, more athletic opponents. The Hawkeyes have been close to getting some decent wins but have yet to get over that hump.

Sophomore Matt Gatens and Freshman Eric May are the Hawkeye iron men as both are averaging about 35 minutes per game. Sophomore Aaron Fuller joins these two as an offensive threat though none of them average more than 11 PPG in conference play. Former NU recruiting target Devan Bawinkel is now a senior and can shoot the rock from distance at a 40% clip.

What to expect? The old adage that it is difficult to win on the road rings true. The Wildcats are clearly the better team and should win this game. But Iowa may keep it interesting given 1) their style of play (notably, they lead the Big Ten in 3FG% defense), 2) the game is at The Carver, and 3) NU may be peaking ahead to its biggest game of the year on Valentine's Day against Minnesota. We expect NU to prevail, but NU fans may no longer be as bullish about the Wildcats as they are right now after two comfortable home victories.

Big Ten Power Rankings as of Feb 8 2010

1. Wisconsin (8-3)
UW defeated Michigan State and won at Michigan in impressive fashion. They jump two spots to the top of the heap.
2. Purdue (7-3)
Last week PU won a rivalry game at Indiana. Not terribly impressive but good enough to keep the status quo.
3. Michigan State (9-2)
MSU lost at Wisconsin and at Illinois. The once no-brainer top pick slipped a couple of spots partly because of the losses but also because of the uncertain status of Kalin Lucas who injured his ankle in Madison.
4. Ohio State (8-3)
Last week OSU held on for home wins against Penn State and Iowa. We are still tempted to move them up the rankings but it was too much to drop MSU more than two spots this week.
5. Northwestern (5-6)
NU easily defeated Michigan and Indiana at home. Maybe this will quiet the homer accusations from some of Carmody Court's readers?
6. Illinois (8-3)
Last week UI won at Iowa and at home against Lucas-less Michigan State. We hate to reward them for taking advantage of MSU's injury problems, but you have to give them a little credit.
7. Minnesota (5-5)
Last week UM sneaked out a victory at Penn State. Any road victory should not be a demotion but the Illini did help their cause this past week
8. Michigan (4-7)
UM lost at Northwestern and to Wisconsin in Ann Arbor. No change, but the wheels are falling off.
9. Indiana (3-7)
Last week IU lost to Purdue in Bloomington and at Northwestern. No change.
10. Iowa (2-9)
Last week Iowa lost to Illinois at home and at Ohio State. No change.
11. Penn State (0-11)
Last week PSU lost at Ohio State and to Minnesota at home. The games were competitive and we really wish PSU had been able to pull one of these games out. It's only a matter of time until they get their first conference win, and they will have two shots at it against NU.

Recap: Northwestern 78 Indiana 61

Northwestern looked very much the part of an NCAA caliber team. Northwestern was in complete control of this game from wire-to-wire. After a rare NU win of the opening tip Drew Crawford juked his defender and slammed down a thunderous two handed jam for a 2-0 lead. Northwestern never looked back.

It took Northwestern (16-7, Big Ten 5-6) just over five minutes to build a double digit lead. For the rest of the game Northwestern cruised in a comfort zone. The lead grew to as many as 20 points while Indiana (9-13, 3-7) would get no closer than nine points.

It was a complete team effort for Northwestern. All five starters scratched out double digit scoring efforts, and Jeremy Nash added 10 rebounds for a double-double effort. The game was pretty clean as both teams combined for only 18 turnovers. The refs did their best to smudge up Northwestern's work of art and blew the whistle a painful 45 times for personal fouls.

This was the second consecutive Big Ten game that NU won by 15+ points. That is a feat that hasn't been accomplished since the 1950s. It wasn't the only notable accomplishment on the afternoon. As we wrote in our game preview, with the win NU now has a three game winning streak over the Hoosiers for the first time since 1933.

Expect more long standing records of futility to be broken this season and next. Hopefully NU will stay on track to snap that most embarrassing of streaks, the 0-for-NCAAs streak, this season. We don't know if we can take another year of the media beating that drum!

06 February 2010

Countdown to Indiana at Northwestern

Northwestern (15-7, 4-6 Big Ten) hosts Indiana (9-12, 3-6) at 1:30PM Central on Sunday February 7. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network and radio coverage is on WGN-AM 720 and wgnradio.com.

Indiana, the blue blood of the Big Ten, leads the series 107-44. Indiana has fallen on tough times as they have had a difficult time finding an adequate Robert Montgomery Knight replacement. IU may have finally found their man in Tom Crean who is in his second season after departing Marquette, a team he led to the Final Four with the help of D-Wade.

Northwestern currently holds a two game winning streak over the Hoosiers. Last year the Hoosiers gave a valiant effort in Evanston but ultimately came up a bucket short. The rematch in Bloomington was a blowout that had to make the Hoosier faithful grumble. If NU wins on Sunday then Northwestern will have a three-game winning streak over the Hoosiers which hasn't happened since 1933.

Indiana added some talent this year with a solid freshmen class, but the Hoosiers' main problem has been a lack of leadership from upper classmen. IU is one of the youngest teams in the land. The talent is apparent from some eyebrow raising wins against Pittsburgh and Minnesota, but the youth factor has led to some embarrassing moments like a home loss to Loyola MD and a neutral court loss to Boston U.

The Hoosiers surprised some onlookers by shooting out to a 3-3 record in the Big Ten. They currently are on a three game slide and the Hoosiers look to be underdogs in each of their remaining games.

What to expect? While the Hoosiers are a dangerous team because of their raw talent, this is a game that NU should win and handily. NU's unusual looks on offense and defense should prove to be too much for the young Hoosiers. The real danger to NU is if both of the Hoosiers' main threats, Verdell Jones and Christian Watford, go off. We're sure they're front and center on NU's game plan so hopefully our boys will execute.

05 February 2010

From the mailbag: Should NU fans root for ND?

ND is a tricky one. On the one hand ND's success makes NU's victory over them stronger. On the other hand ND is a competitor for those last NCAAs at-large bids. What is the best ND outcome from NU's perspective?

We think NU fans should take the Goldilocks Approach in rooting for ND. NU fans should hope that ND is neither too hot nor too cold. Ideally ND would play itself to the "first team out" spot. That outcome maximizes the benefit NU can take from its neutral court victory while at the same time ND does not take a spot in the Big Dance from NU.

Of course it is difficult to say just how ND gets there, but right now ND is close but on the outside looking in. We will be quite satisfied if ND maintains its current status.

Do well Domers, but not too well!

04 February 2010

ReNUed Hopes: Part I

In the buildup to the 2009-10 men’s basketball season the general consensus was that this would be the year that Northwestern finally ditched its albatross and made the NCAAs field of 65. Then lightning struck in the form of a Kevin Coble season-ending Lis Franc injury that occurred on an innocuous play during a late preseason practice. Coble, a senior and three-year starter, was NU’s star player and expected to shoulder much of the load in the Wildcats’ run to the tourney. In 2008-09, Coble led the Wildcats in both scoring and rebounding en route to being named second team All-Big Ten by both the media and coaches.

And then, quite befitting for a program with NU’s moribund history, lighting struck twice. This time it was Jeff Ryan, a versatile senior and key sub, who suffered a season-ending knee injury during NU’s first game of the year. In a week’s span the air was completely expelled from the media-hyped balloon. In its place was that all-too-familiar pall hanging over the program.

The beginning to Northwestern’s season did nothing to dispel notions that NU’s goal of making the NCAAs was now no more than a pipe dream. The first game after Ryan’s injury was against a ranked Butler squad. Last season the Wildcats gave NCAAs-bound Butler all they could handle in a narrow NU loss at the Bulldog’s Hinkle Fieldhouse. In the rematch that was supposed to be an early measuring stick for how much NU had improved, NU proved to be no match for the fundamentally skilled ballers visiting from Indianapolis.

Next up was a home contest against lightly regarded Tennessee State of the Ohio Valley Conference. This game was originally intended to be a glorified scrimmage for Northwestern, but it turned into a monumental struggle. Incredulously we watched as Northwestern trailed by eight points with only five minutes remaining in the game. But, Juice Thompson donned the Superman cape and willed NU to a 16-1 run to close the game and steal the victory. An audible sigh of relief could be heard emanating from Evanston, but there was this disheartening and inescapable feeling that this was not the kind of game NCAA-bound teams play, even when bringing their “D” game.

But just when all hope seemed lost a funny thing happened: NU righted the ship. While most people were still recovering from their Thanksgiving-induced food comas Northwestern’s hardcourt heroes went out and defeated Notre Dame and Iowa State and won the Chicago Invitational Challenge championship. Suddenly, the once thinkable that had become unthinkable was once again thinkable. Yes, it no longer seemed like just lip service from the players and coaches that the goal of making the NCAAs was unchanged in the aftermath of NU’s injury woes.

Over two months have passed since the CIC championship. While NU has not played itself into the NCAAs field just yet, NU is still in position to make a very realistic run at the NCAAs. Northwestern’s record currently stands at 15-7 overall and 4-6 in the Big Ten play. At this time last year NU was 13-8 overall but had the very same 4-6 conference mark.

You don’t have to be some graduate student locked away in Tech’s sub-basement to understand that NU is now in a similar position to last season with respect to the Big Ten conference. Despite the identical conference records, there is one significant difference between the two seasons: the remaining schedule.

Last season NU played six of its final eight conference games against teams that would ultimately make the NCAAs. Depending on how one views Minnesota’s chances of making the NCAAs, NU will only face one or two NCAAs-bound teams during the remaining portion of this season’s schedule. In other words, NU’s stretch drive is much easier this season than last.

Thus, it is fair to say that NU is in good position to improve upon last year’s regular season conference record of 8-10. Even if NU were to only improve on its conference record by one game, a 9-9 conference record (and 21-10 overall), NU would land on the NCAAs bubble.

So now we have established that NU has in fact rescued its season and the hopes for a NCAA bid. But we still haven’t answered how exactly they were able to do it. Carmody Court’s answer to that question will be provided in the other two parts of this series.

‘til next time, Go ‘Cats Go!

03 February 2010

Northwestern 67 Michigan 52

Northwestern (15-7, Big Ten 4-6) took it to Michigan (11-11, 4-6) in the second half of last night's game at the Welsh. We won't go into detail as there is no use in recreating the wheel. John Templon does a superb job of summarizing our thoughts on the game with this post.

The only nugget of information we'd care to add is that John Shurna now leads the Big Ten in scoring for conference games only. Impressive stuff.

Highlights have been cobbled together by NUBears. Thanks again dude. You rock.

02 February 2010

NU is still on NCAAs fringe

Despite what the good folks over at Sippin on Purple say, NU still is on the NCAAs radar. Two brackets released yesterday still have NU in the tournament.

These esteemed foresighted bloggers are:

Bracket Predictions
March Madness 10

Who will join these intrepid souls as they pull a Seth Davis and go against the grain? Speaking of our favorite windbag, Seth no longer is voting for NU in his Top 25. Huzzah!

Leverage, says you. I think I feel a change in the wind, says I. No holds barred now as NU is set to sweep the slate of home games this week!

Countdown to Michigan at Northwestern

Northwestern (14-7, 3-6 Big Ten) hosts Michigan (11-10, 4-5) at 6PM Central on Tuesday February 1. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network and radio coverage is on WGN-AM 720 and wgnradio.com.

Michigan leads the series 101-54 which includes the game played earlier this year in which NU stormed back from a 17 point first half deficit to win in Ann Arbor. Drew Crawford led the way with 25 points (and 8 rebounds) including 4-5 shooting from distance and knocking down four key free throws down the stretch that helped to put the game on ice. Luka Mirkovic had an efficient 13 point, 8 rebound effort while Juice Thompson poured in 15 points including 4-7 shooting from distance. John Shurna netted 11 points but needed 14 shots to do so. Michigan was paced by its dynamic duo. Manny Harris had a 24 and 9 effort while DeShawn Sims chipped in 17 and 8.

Michigan has won three straight at the Welsh including an overtime victory last year. Coach John Beilein holds a 3-2 advantage in head-to-head battels with Coach Carmody.

Michigan desperately needs to win this game if it is to have any chance of making the NCAAs. Northwestern also is eying a victory in this game as it would like nothing better than to eliminate the Wolverines from NCAAs consideration. Furthermore a loss in this game would be quite damaging to NU's own NCAAs aspirations. It is important that NU find a way to win this game.

What to expect? Michigan may take a page from MSU's strategy of letting Shurna get his points but stop everyone else. This is easier said than done, and Michigan does not have the horses outside of their dynamic duo to effectively implement this game plan. NU should be able to find a way to win this game at the Welsh.

01 February 2010

Big Ten Power Rankings as of February 1 2010

1. Michigan State (9-0)
MSU handily defeated Northwestern at home. Ho hum. A no-brainer top pick once again.
2. Purdue (6-3)
Last week PU defeated Wisconsin and Penn State at home. The Wisconsin game was close but the game would not have been close without a six sigma effort from Nankivil. Plus one.
3. Wisconsin (6-3)
UW lost at Purdue despite some unconscious shooting from Nankivil. Minus one.
4. Ohio State (6-3)
Last week OSU woke just in time to win at Iowa and then spanked Minnesota in Columbus. We will keep them at fourth but they are on positive watch.
5. Northwestern (3-6)
NU lost at Michigan State. It happens even to good teams. Ranking neutral.
6. Minnesota (4-5)
UM got crushed at Columbus. It happens. No change.
7. Illinois (6-3)
Last week UI won at Penn State and narrowly avoided a costly loss to Indiana at home. Beginning this week we will see why their record is a sham. No change.
8. Michigan (4-5)
UM defeated Iowa at home. Yawn. No change.
9. Indiana (3-5)
Last week IU nearly pulled off the upset at Illinois. No change.
10. Iowa (2-7)
Last week Iowa lost to Ohio State at home and to Michigan on the road. It happens.
11. Penn State (0-9)
Last week PSU lost at home to Illinois and on the road at Purdue. Life is getting rough in not-so-Happy Valley.