29 December 2011


The bad news is that NU started off B1G play with a thud when they were obliterated by Ohio State in Columbus.  The good news is that it was the last game was 2011, and NU can turn a new page in 2012 as it hosts woeful Penn State on New Year's day.

It is very difficult to find a silver lining from yesterday's game.  Maybe we could point to Dave Sobolewski holding his own against the #2 team in the land by being aggressive and attacking the rim (10 points including 5-7 on FTs).  That's a stretch and really is about it.  Things got very ugly for NU starting about 8 minutes into the game.  The final 2:30 of the game probably summarizes this game the best.  During this stretch NU's first string was outscored by the end of OSU's bench 6-0.  Woof!

Even though the Welsh is likely to be dead on Jan 1 this is just about as good a time as any for Penn State to visit the Welsh.  NU needs a shot of confidence, and the clawless Nittany Lions are just what the doctor ordered.  Since on paper this is the easiest W remaining on the schedule we are willing to allow that there is some urgency for a win on Sunday.  However with 17 games remaining plus the conference tourney this ain't a "must win" game even though we are certain others will attempt to paint it as such.  There is plenty of time remaining for NU to right the ship, and only something short of a 2-4 start to conference play would make us start to reach for the panic button. 

It's time to take care of business.  Show your mettle Johnny Shurna et al.!

27 December 2011

B1G Power Rankings: Conference Eve Edition

1.  Ohio State  Don't be surprised if they hold this spot throughout.  
2.  Wisconsin  Dominating defense.
3.  Michigan State  Legacy rights.
4.  Indiana  Drinking the candy stripe koolade. For now.
5.  Purdue Hummel needs another threat to emerge.
6.  Michigan  Still meh on the Wolvies. Too much national media influence?
7.  Northwestern  Chicago's B1G Team!
8.  Illinois  Weber's seat is warming up.
9.  Minnesota Impressed by post-Mbakwe showing. Can they do it in B1G play?
10.  Nebraska Big drop off from #9.
11.  Iowa At least they play fast.
12.  Penn State NU better sweep these guys.

23 December 2011


The game went about as expected in the world as seen through kenpom's eyes.  Due to highly efficient performances from both offenses the score was a bit higher than expected, but the post-game rankings for both teams and #21/23 Creighton's 72% win probability if the two teams laced 'em up again tonight in Omaha remain largely unchanged from pre-game expectations.

So if the game in fact went largely according to plan then why do NU fans suddenly feel so sure that NU doesn't have what it takes to make the NCAAs?  Were there irrational expectations prior to last night's game?  Maybe, but we think it's mostly typical post-game "the sky is falling" reaction to a loss from fans.  In our view we have a hard time watching this game and concluding that the NCAAs dream is once again dead.  To the contrary once time passes and the dust settles we are confident that we will be able to look back at this game as evidence that NU is very much in the mix for the NCAAs.

Here's why.  Despite some questionable foul calls that we shrug off as typical home court bias and despite Creighton gaining nine points on NU over 5+ minutes while an unconscious Drew Crawford (34 points, 13-17, 3-4) was forced to sit with four fouls, the game hung in the balance with 8 minutes and the score knotted at 58.  In a game played on the road against a ranked opponent in a very hostile environment that is a sign of a team that belongs.

Creighton managed to put the game on ice with a 20-10 run over the next five minutes.  This run was partly a result of their figuring out the 1-3-1 but also from some fortunate Creighton bounces.  The run started with a misguided three point shot that drew iron and bounced high off the glass to ultimately fall through the hoop.  This was the second such lucky bounce for the BJs on a three pointer.  Creighton then extended the lead to seven points when another BJ rattled home a three and got a freebie when the ref fell for the good old shooter flop and whistled Cobb for being in the proximity.

The ultimate dagger occurred around the 4 minute mark when NU failed to corral a rebound as Sobo and Mirk fought each other for the ball and knocked it out of bounds (can somebody please yell SAME!!!!????).  NU had a chance to make amends by grabbing the ensuing rebound, but once again fate would have the ball bounce long and directly to a BJ).  On the third opportunity Creighton got the ball down low to McDermott who laid the ball in for a 78-68 lead.

There is no denying that the BJs played well last night.  But so did NU.  If it were not for some questionable refereeing and some unfortunate bounces NU was positioned to sneak out of O-town with a top 25 roadie scalp.  It was not meant to be, but NU will live on to fight for the NCAAs in conference.  Conventional wisdom says 9-9 is the bar, and this team has it in them.

Next up is NU's first conference game at Columbus to take on #2/2 Ohio State.  This game will undoubtedly be a huge challenge, but as with all challenges there comes opportunity.  NU showed last year that it could hang with the Buckeyes in E-town and down in Indianapolis.  We are penciling in a L but would not be surprised if NU hangs around to make the end of this game interesting.

22 December 2011

On tonight's game at Creighton

We have been surprised to read how jacked the BJs are for this game.  Coach McDermott has implored the good people of Omaha to rock the 17K seat house tonight.  Not impressed?  Wait there's more!  The BJs have sent two free tickets to season ticket holders to help pack thy house.  Not coincidentally the students are on break but let's be real.  Creighton ain't exactly a national destination so chances are that student section will be packed with the sizable local student population who "went home" for the holidays.

BJ fans are also talking up the game.  There is a long thread over at bluejayunderground that ponders when was the last time Creighton has hosted such a big game.  Holy smokes!  Not to belittle our beloved Wildcats but life must be quaint in good ol' O-town.

Did ya know that Coach McDermott only recruited his blossoming star of a son, Doug, only after he left Iowa State for the "hilltop"?  If this were nationally broadcast there is little doubt we would've been force fed this info.  As it is the national media have missed the ball on this exciting game and only a local affiliate is picking this game up.  ESPN has added the game to their Full Court menu which makes us yawn even more than an ESPNU feed.

If there is a MO on McDermott coached teams it is that they play close to the vest.  Fundamental man defense.  Protect and share the ball on offense.  Protect the defensive glass.  McDermott is blessed with probably the best offensive team of his D1 career but is cursed with maybe his worst defensive outfit.  Sound familiar?

NU is a 7 point dog tonight.  That jives with kenpom's forecast which gives NU just a 28% chance at victory.  Coach Carmody has defeated Coach McDermott twice in the past two years (at the Chicago tournament two years ago when he was at Iowa State and last year when the BJs were blown out of E-town).  This is a game that NU very well could win.  If it were in Evanston then we'd feel more confident. 

20 December 2011

On NU's lucky 2011-12 season to date

Among primary ranking sites after 11 games in NU (10-1) is a bit of an enigma.  Sagarin has NU at 33 and kenpom at 58.  That doesn’t sound so far out of whack until you consider that Sagarin’s ranking is a weighted average of the ELO Chess (7) and Predictor (67) rankings.  This large gap in Sagarin tends to happen when teams win several games by narrow margins.  It can also be seen in kenpom’s luck statistic.  So far in 2012 NU is the 8th luckiest team.

Is it a good thing or a bad thing that NU has been lucky?  And more to the point does it say anything about NU’s chances for making the NCAAs?  We reviewed the past three years of kenpom data and found that of the 25 luckiest teams 8, 8, and 6 made the NCAAs in 2009-2011 respectively.  That means nearly 30% of the 25 luckiest teams made the NCAAs whereas the rest of the teams had less than a 20% chance.  Furthermore there were 7 BCS teams among the Top 25 across those years and of those only one did not make the NCAAs (#18 PSU in 2009 – which incidentally went on to win the NIT).

So the good news is that if NU can continue its lucky streak then the NCAAs look like a near fait accompli.  The bad news is that there is no reason to expect NU will continue its lucky streak and hold the inexorable regression to the mean at bay.

19 December 2011

NU 87 E Ill 75 (F)

What a difference a day makes.  Johnny Shurna couldn't do much in Saturday's game against CenConn.  A day later he was unstoppable against Eastern Illinois.  Shurna had 32 points (11-14, 9-12), 5 assists, and 2 blocked shots against the E Illers.  In contrast Reggie Hearn, who tallied 17 crucial points in the narrow victory over CenConn,. was held scoreless last night.  It's statistics like these which make it a fool's errand to try to get too fined tuned in one's game and player predictions.

The other player of note was favorite NU fanatic whipping boy Luka Mirkovic.  In 29 minutes of play Luka netted 18 points  (7-12, 0-1), grabbed 10 boards, and was 3 assists shy of a triple double.   Not bad.

Next up is the much anticipated trip to Omaha to tangle with the Creighton Blue Jays who are hovering around the bottom of the national Top 25 rankings.  Creighton plays at Tulsa tonight in what is sure to be a closely dissected game by NU fanatics in a futile attempt to forecast Thursday's game.  We're hoping Creighton blows out Tulsa.  It's much better that way than have the BJ's coming off a loss and feeling like they need to come out and prove something against NU.

17 December 2011

NU 70 CCSU 64 (F)

We've got to hand it to CenConn. They (principally frosh stud Kyle Vinales but also seniors Horton and Ptacek) came in ready to play, and they darn near won the game if it were not for poised play from Reggie Hearn and Drew Crawford down the stretch.  JerShon Cobb is still getting back in the flow.  His shooting eye is true (3-5, 9 points in 16 minutes), but he made a couple of sloppy passes (he wasn't alone).  The center position played well as one would hope against an undersized opponent.   And Dave Sobolewski made his best Juice Thompson ironman impression going 40 minutes. 

Many people are gnashing their teeth over John Shurna's relatively poor game (3-14, 1-9 for 12 points in 36 minutes).  Folks let's not lose our minds.  Shurna is Shurna which is to say he is our all-star.  Even all-stars can have a down game or three. 

Next up for Northwestern (9-1) is Eastern Illinois (6-3) an also-ran in the Ohio Valley Conference.   Unlike today's game this one should be another cupcake blowout.   Game is on BTN.  Huzzah for out-of-town studentatics who can finally catch a far away glimpse of this team. 

15 December 2011

NU 81 Texas Southern 51 (F)

NU shot out to a 23-3 lead in the opening 10 minutes of this game and basically never looked back. That and the fact no one got injured are all one really needs to take away from the game. Alex Marcotullio sat out in a precautionary move for his turf toe. Good choice as his absence did not matter one iota.

We do have one bone to pick, and it's with WGN and the NU blogosphere who have repeatedly mentioned that this was NU's most lopsided victory of the year. While this is technically true if one looks solely at the final score, the reality is that this game wasn't quite as one sided as that MVSU game a couple of weeks ago when NU led by 41 points. In the first half!!! That game was easily the most lopsided NU victory in recent memory if not ever.

Moving on. Next up is Central Connecticut State of the Northeast Conference on Saturday. CenConn is one of the top programs in the NEC but that just means their cream filling is only slightly denser than Texas Southern which is one of the top programs in the SWAC. We last saw CenConn and Howie the Dick Dickenman two year ago when NU easily dispatched the CenConners 74-54. According to kenpom CenConn is similar in strength to Stony Brook. Someone get Coach C to point this out to the team so that they don't nearly sleepwalk their way to a loss like they did against SBU. Other than that let's just get a W and again with no season jeopardizing injuries. That is all.

It feels like midnight on Christmas Eve

The long wait is finally over.  The much anticipated game against the Texas Southern, errrrr, "Southerners?" is nigh.  The interwebs have been abuzz for a week, press row will be jammed pack, standing room only, the band a-blazin', the Welsh a-rockin'.

What's that?  The students are on break?  Skeleton band at best?  The Southerners suck eggs?  OK so this isn't the game of the year, but one thing is for sure--the players have been looking forward to washing out the taste of that ugly Baylor game for quite some time.  We actually have been looking forward to this game because 10 days between games is far, far too long of a wait in college basketball.

06 December 2011

NU's 2012 B1G Schedule Analysis

By now we have an initial feel for the B1G's overall strength as well as some familiarity with our conference foes.  This is as good a time as any to peak ahead at what's in store for NU next year in conference with an eye for what it will take for NU to finally get the monkey off its back and make the NCAAs.

In our estimation to be on the bubble NU will need to finish 8-10 in conference assuming a win at Creighton on December 22nd and otherwise 9-9.  The bubble would burst if NU lost its first round B1G tourney game against a bottom B1G team.  So how does this season shape up as NU once again strives to break through that NCAAs glass ceiling?   As we did last year, we find it helpful to chart NU's course by first organizing NU’s conference games into four categories: Egg, Low Hanging Fruit, Bling, and Wheaties games.

Categorizing NU's B1G Schedule

Egg (2)
Egg games are those in which NU is projected to win at least 3/4ths of the time (per kenpom.com):

Penn State, Iowa

Low Hanging Fruit (6)
These are games that NU is projected to win but with less than a 75% probability:

Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota, Michigan, at Penn St, at Iowa

Bling (5)
These are games that NU has between 25%-50% chance of winning:

at Michigan, Michigan St, at Minnesota, Purdue, at Illinois

Wheaties (5)
These games are those which NU has less than a one in four chance of winning:

at Ohio St, at Wisconsin, at Purdue, at Indiana, Ohio St

Plotting NU's B1G Schedule

Now the 18 game conference season is more of a marathon than a sprint.  And as any experienced marathoner knows it is helpful to split a race into definable segments so as to plot progress and determine in real time whether one is ahead of pace, on pace, or behind pace.  In deference to NU's academic system we break the B1G marathon into trimesters to benchmark's NU progress.  Together with our the organized buckets of games above we are able to use this trimester framework and adjust for differences in schedule difficulty, or hill gradients if you will, along the set schedule/course.

First Trimester
Egg: Penn St
LHF: Illinois
Bling: at Michigan, Michigan St
Wheaties: at Ohio St, at Wisconsin

In recent years the schedule makers have shown an affinity for throwing NU right into the B1G fire.  This year is no different.  The six game first trimester features just two games in which NU is favored, and NU will be significant underdogs in two of the other four games.  With this difficult start to the B1G slate a 2-4 start to conference season would not be ideal but should be taken in stride if it were to come to pass.  A 1-5 start would be cause for concern while a 3-3 record (e.g., defending the Welsh) would be cause for optimism.

Second Trimester
Egg: Iowa
LHF: Nebraska
Bling: at Minnesota, Purdue, at Illinois
Wheaties: at Purdue

Once again NU is favored in only 2 of these 6 games although there is only one Wheaties game during this stretch.  Assuming a 2-4 first trimester record anything worse than 3-3 record here starts to back NU against the wall.  NU successfully defending the home court would again do the trick.

Third Trimester
Egg: None
LHF: Minnesota, Michigan, at Penn St, at Iowa
Bling: None
Wheaties: at Indiana, Ohio St

NU has a chance to finish strong with four very winnable games and two golden opportunities to make a big impression on the Selection Committee.  While the first two trimesters will be more about positioning NU for the NCAAs this last trimester will be make or break.   There are a couple of winnable roadies during this stretch run.  Win those and NU is looking ok.  Better yet defeating OSU at the Welsh in the penultimate regular season game could really sway the Selection Committee.

Overall B1G Course Analysis
The way the schedule makers have set it up a sluggish start to the conference season is to be expected.  NU fans should take this account and not be quick to toss out their NCAA dreams if NU finds itself at 2-4 to start out conference play.  The middle part of the schedule eases ever so slightly, and it is by the end of this six game stretch NU will hopefully be at no worse than 5-7 so as to provide itself some cushion for the home stretch.  And it is during this home stretch that NU has some downhill running and will need to get its kick hard for that NCAAs finish line.

There is a real opportunity here for NU to finish strong which would help with the NCAAs resume.  The layout of the B1G schedule is both a blessing and a curse.  It is a blessing in that it will give the freshmen guards time to acclimate to B1G play in time for this pivotal stretch run.  The blessing could turn into a curse if 1) the freshmen struggles through the first two-thirds of the season are such that NU's back up is put up against the wall or 2) the freshmen themselves hit the proverbial wall by then.

What happens is anyone's guess at the moment.  Stay tuned.

05 December 2011

B1G Power Rankings - Finals Week Edition

With 12 teams now in the B1G this power ranking stuff is going to take 9.1% more effort.  We're up to the task.

1.  Ohio State (8-0)  No brainer. Two big home wins over Florida and Duke.  Only question remains how they will play on the road.  
2.  Wisconsin (6-2)  Lost at home to Marquette and at UNC.  Marquette loss was a surprise but may have just been one of those nights.  Only notable win against BYU on neutral court.
3.  Purdue (7-2) Lost to Alabama in a tourney and Xavier on the road.  Defeated Iona (no typo - they are good!), Temple and Miami.
4.  Michigan State (6-2)  Lost to Duke and UNC on neutral courts.  Defeated FSU at home.
5.  Illinois (8-0)  Defeated the 'Zags at home, Richmond on neutral court, and Maryland on the road.  Difference has been Maniscalco their PG transfer and emergence of Meyers Leonard.
6.  Indiana (8-0)  Defeated NC State on the road.  Zeller looks good, but the jury is only beginning deliberations on the Hoosiers.
7.  Michigan (6-2)  Lost at UVA and to Duke on neutral court.  Defeated Memphis on neutral court.  Will Trey Burke be able to fill Darius Morris's shoes?  Hardaway and Morgan will help the cause.
8.  Northwestern (7-1)  Lost to Baylor at home.  Three neutral court wins against NIT-type teams.  Game at Creighton will be a good litmus test.
9.  Minnesota (8-1)  Surviving so far without Mbakwe but for how long?  Nice win at home against VT.
10.  Nebraska (4-3)  Bad loss at home to Wake Forest.  Also lost to Oregon at home and at Creighton.  Best win was double OT at USC.
11.  Iowa (5-3)  Bad loss to Campbell at home.  Also lost to Clemson at home and to Creighton on neutral court.  No meaningful victories.
12.  Penn State (6-3)  No bad losses (Kentucky, St Joes, Mississippi) but no real meaningful wins.  In basement until we see more under new coach without Talor Battle.

Baylor 69 NU 41 (F)

Overheard in stands: "Am I really jeopardizing by macro grade for THIS?!?!?!"  It could be worse.  We could be subjected to this kind of offense game-in and game-out if NU's previous head coach, Kevin O'Neill were still the coach.  Davide Curletti should give thanks on a daily basis that ain't the case (just ask Aaron "f#$k you" Molnar) although Luka Mirkovic is missing out on a golden opportunity to expand his repertoire of American expletives.

Suffice it to say that NU wilted like a flower in this game.  The conventional wisdom is that Baylor was simply too much for NU.  We kinda disagree.  Baylor probably has the most NBA-level talent of any NU opponent this year not located in Columbus.  To be sure it was an uphill battle with their strengths matched up against our weaknesses.  However to get blown out like that was a direct reflection of NU's lack of senior leadership.  Does anyone really think that Juice Thompson wouldn't have rallied the troops better than John Shurna did?  C'mon.

And that is what was most disappointing about the blowout loss.  Bad shooting happens, but there is no reason it must snowball into the drubbing that occurred on Sunday.  Fact is that NU was getting good looks with its offense.  Just stick with it and keep plugging away until momentum shifts.  We were the HOME team for goodness sakes.   A couple of bombs and the Welsh was ready to rock and roll.

Instead NU went into a shell on offense.  Open looks from distance were passed up in favor of drives to the lane which were promptly swatted into the third row.  Passes to the unguarded charity stripe were never capitalized upon as our centers didn't realize they were allowed to turn around and shoot the damn ball.

On defense NU was simply overmatched down low.  We needed more ball pressure given Baylor's propensity to turn it over.  We saw that on occasion early in the second half, but inexplicably NU didn't keep it up.  WTF?!?!?

NU is down from #34 in kenpom to #52.  Ugh.  NU is now projected to go 8-10 in the B1G and 18-12 overall.  Not good.

On the lighter side check out this thread on Texas A&M's message board.  Several of our buddies concur.  We got a good chuckle out of the Aggies throwing in the towel at the end and posting a pic of Sig from Deadliest Catch.  It's a good thing Loyola is only a short CTA trip away, and it's not a good thing that NU is going to get thrashed by the Aggies in the Meineke Bowl.

NU is back in action against Texas Southern after finals week on December 15.  If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it...

04 December 2011

NU debuts at #15 in unbiased Sagarin

That is up from 20 in the bayesian rankings and good for second in the B1G. Of note is Baylor at 28 and Creighton at 13.

03 December 2011

NU 92 MVSU 67 (F)

This game was the very definition of a mismatch. Simply put NU (7-0) could do whatever they wanted on offense, and conversely MVSU could do absolutely nothing they wanted on offense. Late in the first half NU led 59-18. We could go on about record setting team efforts and a run down of individual play, but that score captures the very essence of this game. The final score was only a 25 point margin since NU called off the dogs in the first part of the second half and then called off the pups for the remainder.

NU's next opponent, #7/8 Baylor Bears (6-0), couldn't provide a much starker contrast for an opponent to MVSU. Baylor is undefeated, a favorite in the rugged Big 12, and oozing with tall, rangy athletes bound for the NBA. We read that this game features the highest ranked visitor from outside the B1G in over 20 years (Duke 1989). The Welsh should be rockin'--finals week be damned. With a top 25 ranking all but assured with a W it will be high time to storm the court after NU dispatches of da bears and raises the programs profile onto the national stage. Make it so!

02 December 2011

B1G 8 ACC 4 - Recap

The B1G reinforced its early reputation this year as the nation's best conference.  Which B1G teams gained the most from their ACC challenge?  Which lost the most?  We use the endlessly entertaining kenpom data to answer these questions:

Most Gained

1.  Northwestern  Ranking improved 8 spots from 42 to 34, which is tied with Illinois for the largest leap up the rankings.  NU's pre-game 48% win probability jumped to a post-game 55.8% win probability, the largest increase of all B1G teams.  Add in the fact that NU led wire-to-wire on the road and that at its peak of suspense only 4% of this evenly matched game (on paper) had a medium-high leverage, and it's somewhat surprising that NU's victory hasn't raised more eyebrows among the pundits.

2.  Illinois  Ranking improved 8 spots from 46 to 38.  Pre-game 55% win probability jumped to a post-game 60.6% win probability, the second largest increase of all B1G teams. Illinois had a more competitive game than NU with 44.1% of the game played with medium-high leverage and 1.5% of the game played with high leverage.  All in all an impressive win for the Illini at Maryland -- just not as impressive as NU's at GT.

3.  Ohio State  Statistically OSU did not improve much, but that is partly a function of the fact there wasn't much statistical upside for the Buckeyes.  Their already lofty #3 ranking bumped up one spot as they switched places with Wisconsin.  The win probability increased by 3.3% to 81.3%, the fifth largest increase for B1G teams.  We rank OSU third in this list because of the manner in which they pantsed the Dukies (93% of the game was of medium-low or low leverage) which has elevated the Buckeyes in the national conversation from B1G favorite to serious NCAAs contender.

4.  Michigan State  Ranking improved just one spot (up to 13) but win probability jumped 5% up to 73% (3rd largest increase).  The win was expected and the game was played in EL, but the manner in which Sparty dispatched of FSU with its stout defense was impressive -- only 17% of the game was played at medium-high leverage.

5.  Indiana  At first blush we thought the Hoosiers would be higher on this list since they won on the road against a respectable NC State team.  However the stats don't really support it.  This is because kenpom already had the Hoosiers ranked #20 (now #19).  When we considered the fact that the win probability increased by 4.5% (just behind Sparty's increase) together with the more highly leveraged nature of IU's game (over half the game was medium-high or high levered) we felt justified putting them behind MSU on this list.

Most Lost

1.  Iowa  Pre-game Iowa had a 45% chance of winning their home game with Clemson.  Post-game that probability dropped to 37.2%, a 7.8% decrease that was easily the largest drop among B1G teams.  Furthermore the Hawkeyes ranking dropped 20 spots from 105 to 125.  These decreases are supported by the leverage statistics -- for a game on paper was supposed to be a near toss-up, a loss played nearly half of the time under medium-low or low leverage with no minutes played above medium leverage is just plain bad.  There is no way around it -- this was an ugly loss for Iowa.

2.  Nebraska  As newcomers to the B1G the Huskers were an unknown quantity.  Needless to say our first look did not impress as they were upset at home by a weak Wake Forest squad.  Given a 86% pre-game win probability there is no way nearly half the game should've been played under medium-high or high leveraged conditions let alone resulted in a loss.  To be frank we were surprised that Nebraska's win probability dropped by only 4.8% and their ranking fell only 6 rungs from #60 to #66.  We will try to remember that this was just one game, but we are having a hard time imagining the Huskers finishing anywhere higher than 9th in the B1G.

3.  Michigan  The Wolverines had a fair amount of buzz going into Tuesday's game in Charlottesville thanks to a decent showing in Hawaii against Memphis, Duke and UCLA.  The problem with the early season is that reputations sometimes don't meet reality.  In this case it is becoming ever more clear that those three opponents aren't living up to their billing at the moment.  In other words the Wolverines reputation was overblown since it was predicated on performances against overrated teams.  Anywho back to the game with Coach Bennett's Cavs ... Michigan was expected to lose (38% pre-game win probability) but just not so badly.  The game was somewhat more competitive than the final score indicated (nearly 40% of the game was medium-high leverage), but that wasn't enough to drop the Wolverines 5 spots in the kenpom rankings and decrease their post-game win probability by 3.6%.  It was a disappointing effort from the Wolverines.

30 November 2011


We are on Cloud Nine.  Not only did NU's wire-to-wire victory last night at Georgia Tech provide for a most enjoyable meal but also it was followed by a delectable dessert when Ohio State pantsed Duke on ESPN with a disheartened DukieV on the call.  What a perfect evening of college basketball.

Northwestern outclassed the Yellow Jackets once again in the Challenge rematch.  The game was over for all intents and purposes with 5 minutes to go in the second half.  What a joy it was to watch NU dominate an ACC foe on the road.

Johnny Shurna showed off his all-around game.  Drew Crawford continued to show that he is ready to elevate his game this year.  Dave Sobolewski continued to grow remarkably into the point guard role.  Reggie Hearn provided solid minutes especially on the defensive end.  Luka Mirkovic got his offense on.  Alex Marcotullio showed improvement.  Even Davide Curletti knocked down a wide open three.  The only real downer about the game was JerShon Cobb dressed in street clothes for his homecoming.  JerShon's family and friends had to be disappointed when they received the news that he sustained a mild concussion in the Stony Brook game and would be forced to sit this one out.

In the bigger picture the B1G leads the ACC 4 games to 2.  We aren't surprised by the W-L outcomes of last night's games, but we are surprised by the lack of competitiveness in each of the games.  To whit the closest final margin of victory was 9 points (Illinois over Maryland in College Park). Things are looking good for the B1G in this year's challenge.  Even if we adjust the kenpom probabilities to reflect the fact that North Carolina is favored by 7 points or so in their battle with Wisconsin, the B1G now stands about a 83% chance of winning this thing for three years running with the most likely outcome a 8-4 victory.

In the even bigger picture NU basketball has now put together several rock solid foundation stones for its proverbial NCAAs facebook wall.  Two more large stones are on the horizon with Baylor coming to visit the Welsh on Sunday and then a roadie at Creighton on December 22nd.  However let's not get the cart before the horse.  Next up is a Friday evening date at the Welsh with M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I Valley State (1-5) of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.  The Delta Devils are projected to be the class of the SWAC which really isn't saying much since the SWAC is rated by kenpom as the weakest in all the land.  MVSU is currently ranked #275 by kenpom which is subject to change with a game at Arkansas on the docket for tonight (forgive us for penning in a L for the DDevils in the countdown clock).

28 November 2011

NU 63 Stony Brook 58 (F)

We didn’t get to watch this game so we don’t have much to say. From the box score Sobolewski had his most productive offensive game so far knocking down 5-9 shots from the field including 3-7 from beyond the arc. He also had 4 rebounds and 1 blocked shot. More troubling are the three turnovers he had on just four assists – with this coming against a Stony Brook team not known for its ball hawking abilities.

Anywho others of note include Johnny Shurna who had a rather poor shooting game from beyond the arc (2-8) but made up for it by knocking down all five his two point shots and 4/6 free throws for a total of 20 points. Drew Crawford poured in 14 points and nabbed a team high 7 boards (Shurna had 6). Reggie Hearn had a productive 24 minutes which included 8 points, 3 boards and a steal.

Next up for NU (5-0) is a road trip to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech (4-2) as part of the B1G-ACC Challenge. This is the second straight game between these two squads as part of this Challenge with NU last year riding an extremely efficient 55 point first half to an easy 91-71 victory at the Welsh. This year’s game will be different for a couple obvious reasons. First: location. ‘nuf said. Second Ga Tech is now coached by Brian Gregory. We'll go out on a very thick limb and predict that Gregory will do a much better job coaching up his team to defend NU’s offense than former coach Hewitt (it would be hard to do any worse). It’s still early but Ga Tech has shown an improved defense this year lending additional reason to believe this will be a much tougher slog down in Mylanta.

The B1G has only recently started to hold up its end of the bargain in this annual challenge. Before the B1G won the last two years 6-5 the ACC had started off the series 10-0 including some lopsided victory totals. This year the B1G is favored in 9 of the 12 games per kenpom. NU is expected to be one of the losses (falling 65-66 to the Rambling Wrecks). The other expected losses are Michigan (at UVA) and Iowa (hosting Clemson). Minnesota is expected to defeat VaTech by 4 points at McDonalds Arena, but Mbakwe may be out for the game so that forecast goes out the window.

Other fun facts: overall NU is 5-7 in this Challenge, tied with the Illwhini for the third best B1G record (Wisky and OSU both are at .500). NU is riding a three game win streak in the series which is tied for the longest B1G streak (Wisky, OSU). NU’s opponent this year, Ga Tech, is 4-7 in the Challenge which is the third worst ACC record.  Most interesting game of the slate: Wisky at UNC.  This will be a battle of tempo between two heavyweights.  Wisky has the 345th fastest tempo (i.e., they are the slowest team in Div 1) while UNC plays the 5th fastest.

24 November 2011

NU 80 Seton Hall 73 (F)

We are four days late with this recap which makes us about as timely as Sports Illustrated. Thus we figure it apropos that we take this post then to anoint Drew Crawford, "The Real Deal Too". Tourney MVP Crawford led NU (4-0) to the Charleston Classic title with a 27 point effort that kidney punched the Pirates who game planned to pull out the stops and slow our man Johnny Shurna. Drew showed a dead eye from distance, a tenacity in attacking the tin, solid defensive effort in help and on ball defense, and improved shot selection. Alls we gots to say is it's about time you started fulfiling your potential Drew.

The Hall were led by future NBA mainstay Herb Pope who really looked like a man among boys out there (as much as we like Johnny S and Drew C, Pope is a bona fide, prototypical NBA talent). SHU looked to be outclassed until they realized the mismatch they had with Pope which helped propel the Hall to a 15-0 run over a six minute stretch in the second half Pope was very impressive down in the blocks and looked effortless in knocking down a couple of bombs.

NU employed the 1-3-1 to successfully stem the tide and put NU back on even footing. The game was nip and tuck for 8 minutes following the big Pirate run. It wasn't really until after Marcotullio knocked down a couple of big free throws to stretch the lead to 75-69 with about a minute to play that we felt comfortable with the game. Shurna's emphatic dunk that stretched the lead to eight with about 20 seconds to play was the final nail in the Pirates' coffin.

Next up are the Seawolves of Stony Brook. Who is Stony Brook? They are a SUNY school located on the northern shore of longgisland. They play in the America East Conference and have kenpom rating of 177 which is the second highest ranking in their conference (Vermont - 120). The seawolves are coming off a comfortable 67-53 victory over Columbia. Their colors are scarlet red and gray (tOSU anyone?), the school has been around for just over half a century, and their mascot's name is Wolfie the Sea Wolf (we'd say that's pretty lame but really is no different than our Willie the Wildcat. Expect a slow paced game with bothering teams trying to protect the ball on offense and force turnovers on defense. We expect some one-on-one plays from The seawolves, and we expect to see lots of room for NUs bombers. Bring it on Wolfie!

18 November 2011

NU 69 Tulsa 63 (F)

So far so good.  NU (3-0) won a closely contested battle with the Golden Hurricanes this afternoon thanks in no small part to Drew Crawford's efforts.  Crawford picked up where he left off in the second half of yesterday's victory over LSU with solid all around play.  Drew scored a game high and efficient 28 points on 11-19 shooting including 5-8 from downtown.  He also collected 4 boards, 1 assist, 1 block, and 1 steal.

Crawford's efforts were needed because Shurna was slowed down by Tulsa's focused defensive efforts and the length of soph center Kodi Maduka.  Shurna managed to score 15 points but needed 16 shots to do so.  Sobolewski played a solid 35 minutes while tallying 9 points and, more importantly, 3 assists to zero turnover ratio.  This kid's ball handling and decision making is impressive given this was just his third game at the collegiate level.  Reggie Hearn also got the start, and we like what he brings to the table on the defensive end, and he can take advantage of open shots on offense while at the same time not making dumb decisions.  The other starter, Mirkovic, had a better game than yesterday but still nothing to write home to Belgrade about.

Off the bench, Cobb looked a bit shaky while Curletti and Marcotullio again had games to forget.  For some reason fans love to make excuses for Marcotullio while nit pick every little thing that Mirkovic doesn't do perfectly.  Mirk ain't exactly Superman out there, but these increasingly common calls for going small are simply ridiculous. Mirk is at worst serviceable.  We think that he's just getting warmed up.

Next up is Seton Hall on Sunday evening at 730pm Central.  NU last played the Hall back in December 2006 in a forgettable 44-42 victory.  We're grateful we weren't around to witness such an epic thriller.  Anywho this year the Hall is comparable to NU at least per Sagarin and Pomeroy.  Color us skeptical about the Hall as memories of how overrated the Big Least was last year is fresh in our memories.

Sparse NU basketball coverage

The usual media outlets have mailed it in and used the AP's report on the NU-LSU game.  We miss you already, Lindsey Willhite.  'nuf said.

17 November 2011

NU 88 LSU 82 (F)

Carmody gambled a bit by holding off deploying the 1-3-1 until the second half .  Good idea, Coach.  By holding your cards, it prevented Trent Johnson from using halftime to coach up his kids on the 1-3-1 with some actual experience to draw upon.  The chess master got out maneuvered!

LSU had the speed advantage, but their young back court was flummoxed by the 1-3-1 which NU used nearly exclusively in the second half after going with primarily man-to-man defense in the first stanza.  We didn't see a single ball fake or a single head fake that is key to making the 1-3-1 lose its integrity.  Nor did we see LSU stationing a shooter in the unguarded corners so perhaps Trent Johnson really doesn't know how to attack the 1-3-1.  Doubtful seeing that he was COTY for three different conferences during his career.

Anywho NU used the 1-3-1 to force copious amounts of turnovers that turned into easy NU points while at the same time transferred confidence from LSU's precocious freshmen stars to the likes of Drew Crawford, JerShon Cobb, Reggie Hearn, and Dave Sobolewski.  Shurna was already playing lights out in the first half so he just kept on keeping on en route to setting his collegiate high water mark of 37 points.

Drew Crawford's game really impressed us.  He was easily NU's best defensive presence out there, and his offense looked brisk and efficient.  This brought smiles to our faces because NU desperately needs him to step up as the #2 scoring option.  JerShon Cobb made up for a rough first half by flashing his smooth midrange game and showing his savvy by getting hands in passing lanes.  Reggie Hearn knocked down some big threes early on in the second half to knock LSU back on their heals including the shot that completely erased LSU's edge.  And Sobo displayed his heady ball handling skills as well as a willingness (and ability) to knock down big shots as the game winds down.  His three to put NU up by two scores with about 30 seconds to play was the dagger.

On the downside Marcotullio, Mirkovic, and Curletti all had games to forget. They need to come down with quick cases of amnesia since next up is Tulsa at 2:30pm Central tomorrow.  We didn't see Tulsa's game, but the ESPN talking heads were quite impressed with their defense and the play of their soph center who reminded at least one analysts of Jerome Jordan (who had a large hand in Tulsa's NIT victory over NU three seasons ago).  Tulsa is still coached by Izzo acolyte Doug Wojcik.  Even with Wojcik's recent experience against NU, one day to prepare for NU's schemes is a tall order.  FWIW, here is the Tulsa U installment in our "Better Know an Opponent" series for the March 2009 NIT game.

We couldn't find odds for the game.  It looks like a draw from the Sagarin ratings, but Pomeroy had NU ranked 38 vs Tulsa's 78 prior to today's games.  A win is doable and we believe would look pretty nice come March.

LSU 41 NU 32 (H)

Shurna has come to play, but no one else really has.  Shurna has half of NU's points and probably close to half the rebounds.

Crawford looks ok on defense but has yet to get in the flow offensively.

Our guards look pretty bad.  Sobo is getting consistently beaten on the defensive end whether in half court or on fast break.  He needs to box out. 

Marcotullio doesn't look improved.  Same lazy passes, same gambling defense.

Where is Demps?  He is more fleet of foot than Sobo so he should be able to handle the defensive end better.

The good news is that is probably as bad as NU can look, and the deficit is just nine points.  This game is winnable.  Lineup for most of 2nd half should be Mirk, Shurna, Crawford, Cobb, and Demps.  We need athleticism out there to tighten down the defense.  The shots should start falling on offense as we were about as cold as can be not withstanding Shurna who is Steady Eddy. 

2010-11 Season Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

Within hours NU will face its first meaningful test of the 2011-12 basketball season as the Wildcats are set to tipoff with the LSU Tigers at 2pm.  Before our focus completely shifts to the season at hand, we came across a previously unnoticed Coach Carmody quote about last season on Fox Sport's Northwestern page.

"October to Nov. 15 to December to January to February to March, that's five months," Carmody said. "So much can happen. We were going to be a shoe-in [for the NCAA tournament] last year until Shurna got hurt. That's how I feel." (emphasis added)

Shurna got hurt against the Mount on December 23.  We're glad to hear that our going on record just prior to the unfortunate injury jived with Coach Carmody's feel for the team's NCAAs prospects.  We'd be curious to know his honest take on our NCAAs prospects this year come mid-December.  It's clearly too early to say one way or the other as yet.

15 November 2011

NCAAs Watch

Most teams have one or two games under their belts so it goes without saying that it's incredibly premature to forecast March Madness brackets.  That doesn't stop intrepid bracketologists from filling out their brackets and putting their stakes in the ground.  Of the 21 bracketologists to have gone on record ten have included NU in their brackets.  This more or less jives with Sean Morris's 50% probability estimate and means that on the whole bracketologists think NU is good enough to be one of the "last four in." 

For more detail check out the Bracket Project link on the right. 

14 November 2011

LSU Tigers -- quick snipet

The LSU Tigers are NU's first opponent down in Charleston SC.  Countdown clock has been updated for the 2pm tipoff on Thursday.  Tigers have a "diaper dandy" -- be very thankful DukieV will not be on the call. 

They are coached by Trent Johnson whose name may be familiar to NU diehards as he coached a couple of Stanford teams that defeated the Wildcats.   Those of you who are hoping NU sneaks up on the Tigers with the Princeton O are going to be sorely disappointed.

The Tigers have a decent name as an SEC team that has had some pretty stellar players (Shaq-daddy, Big Baby, Tyrus Thomas).  However, LSU is not a world-beater at least under current collective pundit wisdom.  In fact kenpom.com has them projected to lose a game at Coastal Carolina on Tuesday night.  [UPDATE: LSU did in fact lose to the Coastal Carolinans]  Oh that wily Trent Johnson..... getting his squad out to the Carolinas before the Charleston Classic to acclimate them to playing before unfriendly crowds in the dense sea air with palmetto scent wafting about.  We tip our cap to you Coach Johnson, or should we call you Garry Kasparov?

What is a Bronc?

Just who are the UTPA Broncs?   After three years you'd think that NU diehards would already know.  Then again most of us still think of them as the Broncos.  The Broncs are one of those 50-100 teams that only a procrastinating blogger whose team has crossed paths would know next to nothing about.  Just in case you want to waste some of your braincells with useless knowledge.... the Broncs play in the six team Great West Conference which is in its third year of existence.  The Great West Conference makes just about as much geographic sense as the current incarnation of the Big East.  But, that's where the Big East comparisons begin and end.  The Big East is regularly one of the power conferences in college basketball while the Great West, well, has ranked behind those unruly Independents in power ranking and are in close competition with the Southwestern Athletic Conference (no this is not the conference f/k/a SWC!) for worst conference in all the land.  The best fun fact we could find here is that NU has played another Great Wester, Chicago St. Yes that fun fact is pretty lame. 

We get that it is tough for NU to schedule non-conference opponents, but really?  Three years in a row?  After two years of nearly suffering the blackest of black eyes at their, errrrr, hooves?  No disrespect to Bronc Head Coach Tom Schuberth who is a friend of the program and of Northwestern, but if we never ever again schedule the UTPAers we would be quite fine with that.  Their unis are pretty snazzy, and they are well coached (per the esteemed Sean Morris), but they are Northwestern-squared, a team that is to be avoided at all costs by Northwestern-type teams.  A loss to them is unthinkable even for teams desperate to fill schedules -- and they are well coached enough to make it happen to a sleep walking major.

It is tempting to compare this year's results to those in past years.  Must.Resist.Foolish.Temptation.  It is tempting to extrapolate player's performances in last night's game to season-long effort.  Must.Not.Fall.For.Trap.

NU won the game 60-36.  NU started both frosh guards and former walkon Reggie Hearn.  Crawford and Marcotullio subbed in as they are recovering from ankle injuries.  Cobb was a DNP as he recovers from offseason hip surgery.  And that's all we have to say about that.

02 November 2011

New (Old) Carmody Court Feature

Glance to your right.  You may notice something new and different about this blog.  Take a second and hone your observation skills.  Why yes! A countdown clock has been added to this feature rich virtual soapbox.  Some of you old timer Carmody Courters may recall that two seasons ago we integrated this clock into our game previews.  Last season our schedules did not permit for regular previews so we did away with this feature.

We've added it back for this season because 1) we are as excited as ever about this season, and 2) our technical guru showed us how to add it to the blog outside of post entries. The presentation of the countdown clock is not perfect (seconds are hidden) -- this is yet another case of "you get what you pay for" as our geek squader wannabe is devoting his time "pro bono."

Now we're no Latin experts in these here parts (our time is too scare to devote effort to learning a dead language -- certain papal states not withstanding).  Truth be told we prefer to spend our time becoming experts on Latinas.   Anywho we've been given assurances that pro bono does not mean our tech ween friend flooded the DWTS box with votes for Chaz Bono.  Not that there would be anything wrong with that...

The keenly observant may notice that the clock shows Robert Morris (IL) visiting "NWU" on the 7th.  We made this "typo" to pay homage to the mind numbingly boring banter back and forth this week between Northwestern and Nebraska fans as to which school can use the "NU" shorthand.  Shirley you can't be serious!

28 October 2011

Coming full circle on NU's 2010-11 efficiency

Carmody Courters – we thank you for your kind words about our article on NU’s 2010-11 defense.  We hear you, and we are here for you.  First things first – yes our trend line analysis of the defense was statistically significant.  The F test exceeded the critical level, and the t statistic for the slope was 1.75 -- significant at a 90% confidence level.  Note that if we were to drop the games against the Evil Bo Ryaners from the analysis (Ha! Don't we wish!) then the fit shoots through the roof and significant with over 95% confidence.  

Second, you asked for it and below is a similar analysis of NU’s 2011-12 offensive efficiency.  The chart below shows NU’s game-by-game offensive PPP performance adjusted for differences in the quality of the opponent’s defense.  Now, before all you readers get all hot and bothered again about it, let’s say up front that the trend line is NOT statistically significant.  Even if it were significant the very flat positive slope wouldn’t exactly tell a compelling story.  

 Still there are some interesting nuggets that have been dug up by our completing the circle of analysis on NU’s 2010-11 efficiency.  First, the randomly moving solid line is what one would expect to see from an offense that is neither improving nor regressing.  Second, save for an embarrassing offensive performance in Nittanyville the offense had equal ranges for under- and over- performance.  

In what may come as a surprise to folks NU outperformed on offense in 12 B1G games and underperformed in 8 B1G games.  How could this be?  After all NU was ranked by kenpom as the 18th best offense in all the land and third best offense in the B1G.

The reason for the rather lackluster offensive performance is that NU’s kenpom statistics were largely based on NU’s offense feeding on non-conference cream puffs.  If you look at just the B1G games NU’s offense only ranked 7th in efficiency.  In short, NU’s offense was not the juggernaut that some may have falsely believed.  

Our last tidbit is how starkly this chart sheds light on NU’s woes against the Nit Wits.  While the Fightin’ Ed DeChellises performed better than expected against NU’s defense last year, the true reason for PSU’s domination of NU was its solving the riddle of NU’s offense.  NU underperformed on offense by an eye popping 0.39 PPP in State College and managed to narrow that underperformance slightly in the rematch at the Welsh to the tune of a 0.19 PPP offensive underperformance.  These two blights on the chart are encircled in Nittany Blue (or symbolic of the bruises that PSU defenders left on our blocked cutters?).  Thankfully NU no longer needs to worry about Ed DeChellis and his mastery of Coach Carmody's schemes.  The curse will be lifted this year!

For 2011-12 the hope on offense is that some combination of Marco, Cobb, and one of the frosh guards can step into Juice’s shoes and facilitate the offense and knock down some important shots from deep and runners in the lane.  Time will tell.  Certainly a healthy Shurna and Cobb would help greatly in filling in the gaping hole left by Juice’s departure. 

27 October 2011

Hope for NCAAs-worthy defense in 2011-12?

For a couple of years now close observers of Northwestern basketball have noted that defensive woes have held this team back from that elusive first NCAAs bid.  Despite lip service from Coach Carmody to a newly found focus on defense at the onset of the 2010-11 campaign there wasn’t much visible improvement on that front last year.  Or was there?

On the surface all one needs to do is look at NU’s statistics to understand why folks have their knickers in a twist over the defense.  NU’s defensive efficiency in conference -- the best benchmark for comparing NU to its peers -- was tied for last in the Big Ten with Indiana.  That leads many to the logical if simplistic conclusion that it’s more of the same when it comes to NU’s defensive woes.

However, when you dig more deeply there are glimmers of hope for improved defensive performance during this year’s campaign.  The chart below analyzes NU’s 2010-11 B1G and NIT results from a defensive efficiency perspective. The data plotted show NU’s game-by-game point per possession (PPP) defensive performances adjusted for differences in the competition’s offense.  This adjustment is important and necessary if one is to truly evaluate NU’s defensive performance as it allows for comparison across games.
To explain how we’ve adjusted the PPP data, it’s easiest to use NU’s first B1G game at Purdue to illustrate the calculations.  In that game NU had a defensive PPP of 1.26.  That means for every Purdue possession, the Boilermakers scored on average 1.26 points.  Purdue had an average offense PPP of 1.12 during the 2010-11 B1G campaign.  Thus, NU’s defensive PPP in the game at Purdue was 0.14 PPP worse than what Purdue’s average conference opponent yielded to the Boilers (i.e, the difference between 1.12 and 1.26).  The data point for this game on the chart is -0.14 (we use the more intuitive negative value for the difference since NU’s defense was worse than the average B1G defense in this game). Clear as mud? 

The solid line plots NU’s defensive PPP performance over the B1G and NIT games.  Simply put, anytime the line crosses above the 0.0 “Mendoza” line, then NU’s defense fared comparatively well.  Anytime the line is below 0.0, then NU’s defense fared comparatively poorly. Most of the data points on the chart are below 0.0 which comes as no surprise.  NU’s defense last season was subpar no matter how you slice and dice it.  In only 5 of 20 conference games did NU’s defense perform relatively well (@MSU, Michigan, Minnesota during the regular season, and in both tournament games).  Furthermore, NU’s peak performance was in the final regular season game against Minnesota in which NU only held the Gophers 0.1 points below their normal offensive efficiency.  In contrast, NU’s worst defensive performance came on “Chicago-Wisconsin Showdown Weekend" when the Badgers scored 0.37 points more per possession than average for them.  That, friends, is one U-G-L-Y statistic.

However this story is not all doom and gloom as hinted in our intro to this article.  The dotted line shows the trend line in NU’s defensive performance.  Notice that the line is decisively positive and even reached the 0.0 line once NU’s final NIT game loss at the Wazzu’s was factored into the analysis. 

This trend, friends, gives us hope that the defense was in fact improving during 2010-11.  Frankly we are not surprised by this trend as it matches our instinctive reaction to NU’s defensive performances during the latter part of the season.  Perhaps this was the case of NU priming the defense pump starting in the preseason practices, and the defensive juices finally started flowing in March.  Certainly the statistics support this hypothesis.

Another factor to consider when projecting this year’s defensive performance is the fact that NU’s lineup will be without NU’s diminutive MVP, Juice Thompson.  We love Juice, and we hate to throw him under the bus, but it is perfectly reasonable to suggest that he was a defensive liability given his height disadvantage.  Anyone who does not believe this to be the case will have to explain to us a more logical explanation for why Carmody would default to a gambling 1-3-1 defense which compromised defensive integrity in the corners as well as rebounding if it weren’t to minimize Juice’s defensive liability.  (you can save your breath Carmody detractors, it is not more logical to posit that Carmody has no clue about coaching defense or defensive strategy -- while Carmody is an offensive minded coach he is no fool and understands that defense is half of the game as well).  Let’s face it – the B1G was a guard dominated league last year, and Juice would likely have been eaten alive in man defense by his taller and offensively gifted defensive assignment.

One last tidbit -- Carmody does need to learn how defend the swing offense.  Those defensive performances against Wisconsin (circled in Wisconsin Red -- or is it blood red?) leave MUCH to be desired.  Hopefully Coach Hill will have some input on this front.

16 October 2011

It's that time of the year!

2011-12 Wildcat basketball is in the air. None too soon, we say, as the football team's season has quickly gone down the drain, and most NU fanatics are in desperate need to latch onto something not so depressing. On a related note, we wonder when LTP is going to post a referendum poll on Fitz? He wasn't too shy about putting Carmody's neck out there. It would seem to us appropriate to make the same distasteful poll on Fitz seeing that the football program has regressed under Fitz whereas the basketball program under Carmody is at all time modern era heights.

Enough about the football train wreck -- let's move on to cheerier topics -- NUs impending popping of its NCAAs cherry. The scuttlebutt is that Marco is much improved -- his exploits on the England national team this summer actually provides some basis for this wishful thinking. The frosh guards, per scout.com early practice report, are coming along nicely. We are skeptical but hope for one to emerge during non-conf season as grasping the Carmody intricacies. Luka is much improved, which smacks of purple koolaid, but we are inclined to drink that koolaid as he played pretty well at the very end of last season and he is a fifth year senior. [thanks for the input Carmody Courters but our point still stands -- it was late and our copy editor was distracted by Da Bears running roughshod over the vikes]

Two question marks are JerShon and Drew. These two are next tier type recruits for NU with their athleticism and bball IQ. Cobb was slowed by injury last year, and we love his upside. To be frank, we expected more from Crawford last year. Will he break out of his soph slump and show improved decision making and a better ball handle? If those two step up their games, and Shurna remains healthy, then there is no doubt NU breaks out the dancing shoes in March.

Lastly, the Welsh court got a makeover with fan input. We opted to decline participation as a matter of principle since none of the options had "Carmody court" emblazoned into the hardwood. For shame! Just as well that we didn't add our two cents because the AD went with an audible and chose none of the above for it's enwhitened and purple stained court. So long as the court looks purple on TV then we begrudgingly nod our heads in approval for this incomplete floor space.

05 April 2011

UConn smothers Butler in snooze fest

Zzzzzzzzzzz. CBS must have been terribly disappointed by the showcase game of this year's March Madness. UConn's dogged defense combined with Butler's utter ineptitude to shoot a ball through a small orange cylinder en route to Jim Calhoun's third championship.

What a shame that a dislikable man like Calhoun got to celebrate his ill-gotten title while Brad Stevens and his undermanned, large-hearted squad sat in the bowels of Reliant Stadium to ponder through tears the whatifs for a second straight year on championship night. There is no justice in the real world.

In the end UConn managed to salvage some honor for the big least while the less heralded teams in Butler and VCU demonstrated once again that good basketball is played outside the limited windows afforded by the ESPNs and CBSs of the broadcasting world. No conference really separated itself through play in the NCAAs nor could the NIT be used to corrobate any partisan arguments as Witchita St passed through that bracket like a hot knife through butter to the NIT title.

So that closes another chapter of men's college basketball. For Northwestern it was a season of what ifs. Northwestern had an NCAAs-worthy team this year but for the injury bug hamstringing the campaign. Next year the big question is how will Northwestern withstand the significant loss of its iron man and Mr Everything point guard Juice Thompson. It won't be easy.

The glass half full types can point to an improving Alex Marcotullio which is overblown but still provides some basis for hope. There is also the prospect of a healthy JerShon Cobb who has a smooth game but has to grow his game through improved decision making and three point shooting if the major downside of Juice's absence is to be mitigated. Finally there are two PG recruits coming into the fold this fall in local favorite David Sobolewski and Trey Demps.

It is difficult to say what the two freshman will bring to the table given differences between the high school and Big Ten level. Demps looks to have an explosiveness to his game that could give NU an extra dimension next year so long as he is able of picking up NU's nuanced offense and defense which is no small task. Sobolewski looks to be a facilitator who would be a capable man off the bench to hold the line while others get a blow.

Aside from avoiding more major injuries the five hole is the other key to success next season. Luka gets too little credit for improvements to his game, and we fully expect his game to take another step forward next year in his senior season. Anything we get from Davide is gravy, and if this year is any indication there should be at least a handful of games in which he steps into the spotlight.

A hearty thanks from carmodycourt to Juice, Mike Cappoci, Jeff Ryan, and Ivan Peljusic. You have been great representatives of Northwestern University which is something that is often overlooked but is much appreciated by your fellow students and alumni. Best of luck in the future and put that Northwestern degree to good use!

24 March 2011

MSG hopes go up in smoke

The Wazzus decided that their starting center, Casto, would not be suspended for tonight's game. It seems they took the Ohio State take on collegiate athletics and copped out that they would wait to see how his pot possession case played out before passing judgment. Whatever. Game on.

Turns out they needed Casto as NU forced the cougs to OT even with him in the starting lineup. In our view NU played a brilliant game. They master planned against future NBA 1st rounder Klay Thompson and largely marginalized his impact on the game. The Wazzus effectively game planned to double Juice and get us out of a rhythm offensively which helped them build a 14 point first half lead. To Coach Carmody's credit, NU adjusted on the fly and closed the gap to seven by halftime.

NU stormed out of the second half gates to quickly close the gap and even manage a small lead. NU would quickly relinquish the lead and stay within a possession or two until ultimately closing the gap by the end of regulation. Oh there was some drama at the end of regulation, but we are sure that will be highlights by others so google it.

To us, and we hate to lay the blame on any one player because it is grossly unfair, Shurna's poor shooting from distance cost us this game. 2-10 with most of the looks open is well below what we'd expect from any shooter let alone Shurna. We are not sure if it was the ankle or just an off night. Regardless with his struggles NU did not have the punch to take out the Wazzus.

It was a fun season even though it fell short of expectations due to Shurna's ankle. Our admiration and respect for Juice Thompson grew even more this season which is saying something because he was our MVP last year. Thanks for the memories fellas.

23 March 2011

Class participation time

Raise your hand if you know...

the town where Washington State University is located?
approximately where Pullman WA is on a map (without cheating)?
the name of Washington State's men's basketball coach?
the Washington State nickname?
the name of the Washington State mascot?

If you raised your hand...

zero times then consider yourself typical.
1x-2x then you are a knowledgeable fan of collegiate athletics.
3x-4x then you are a knowledgeable fan and have spent too much time studying US maps.
5x then either you're a liar or you need to get out more.

The point of this exercise is to demean the "wazzu's"/"cougs". Petty? Yes. Easy to do? Absolutely. Funny? Our Seattle beat reporter found a 4 to 1 like/dislike ratio which just so happens to be ratio of U "Dub" alums to non-alums in the Emerald City.

Did ya know that Tony Bennett, son of former Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett, used to coach the Wazzus? Did ya know that Tony, after leading the Wazzus to a Sweet 16 game a few years ago, hightailed it out of town ASAP for the ACC also-ran Wahoos of Virginia? And of course anyone who has stepped on Northwestern's campus knows all about WAMU.

Wazzu. Wahoo. WAMU. Look at that cosmic connection! Freaky! Maybe life is predestined after all. Time to smoke some dope and philosophize about it. Too bad we can't make it out to east bum fock Washington for the game as we understand that the Wazzu basketball team has a good dope dealer.

As an aside what the fock is that dumb Carmody poll still doing up on LTP? And fire Carmody or give him one more year are the only options given? What a douche.

Game time tonight is 10PM E-town time on the deuce. Deuce/douche. See what we did there? We're poets and didn't even know its.

21 March 2011

Second round NCAAs summary

Expected. Actual
BE 4-3. 2-5**
B10 3-2. 2-3
B12 2-1. 1-2
SEC 2-0. 2-0
PAC 0-3. 1-2
ACC 2-1. 3-0
MWC 2-0. 2-0
A10 1-1. 1-1
COL 0-2. 1-1
HOR 0-1 1-0

** 0-3 against non-big LEAST teams.

Any conference that matched up with the big LEAST. Colonial.

big LEAST, Big Ten (unfortunate to not have any games against big LEAST)

Favorite teams so far:
VCU. Richmond.

Most impressive teams so far:

Favorite moment:
Sir Charles railing on big LEAST in front of Pitino. No halftime coverage in R32 from Crean. Butler/the Pitts ending. FSU blowing out ND.

Least favorite moment:
Morris missing open 6 footer in the lane to send Michigan-Duke game into OT. Make up 5 second call at end of Texas-zona game that allowed the miracle and one shot for zona's win.

Key takeaway (other than big LEAST was uberoverrated):
10 conferences still alive in S16. Wow!

20 March 2011

Big Feast

Eleven big LEAST teams entered the first weekend of the NCAAs. Two teams remain. It was a bloodbath for the big LEAST teams as sharks from other conferences FEASTED on them one at a time. Things were so bad for the big LEAST that the only way UConn and Marquette survived was by cannibalizing Cincy and Syrexcuse. San Diego St and UNC must be licking their chops for their sweet 16 match ups against these overrated chumps.

Simply put this was the biggest conference flop in the history of the NCAAs. TOO F!CKING FUNNY!!!!!

19 March 2011

First round NCAAs summary

Expected Actual

BE 9-2. 7-4
B10 4-3. 5-2
B12 4-1 3-2
SEC 3-2. 2-3
PAC 3-1. 3-1
ACC 2-2. 3-1
MWC 3-0. 2-1
A10 2-1. 2-1
COL 1-2. 2-1
HOR 1-0. 1-0

Really only one conference has egg on its face through round 1 -- the overrated big least. We'll know more about the other conferences by the time the sweet 16 is set.

NU dominates BoCo on the road, enters uncharted territory

BC was a bubble team? They look poorly coached especially on defense. Hellz- NU looked to be a much better defensive team.

Pretty much everyone played well in this game for NU. Marcotullio picked it up where he's left off the past couple games with a missed wide open layup and bricking open treys, but he righted the ship and played a solid game overall. Shurna and Juice were who they are which is to say they were difference makers. Crawford had a good game with his shot falling early on. Mirkovic had his best road game ever.

We wonder if LTP is now having second thoughts about calling for Carmody's head? If not then he should. Either way one thing is clear--he should stick to covering NU football.

18 March 2011

Will talking heads get it right this year?

Every year the talking heads point to conference W-L records in the NCAAs to determine which conferences are under-performing or over-performing. Gross win totals for a conference are all well and good, but if you're talking relative to expectations, which is inferred by under- or over-performance then most of these folks fail to take into account expectations in said analysis.

Under the fair assumption that seeds were appropriate here is how conferences which have at least one projected first round winner are expected to perform during the first round (sorted by number of bids, then by number of wins):

BE 9-2
B10 4-3
B12 4-1
SEC 3-2
PAC 3-1
ACC 2-2
MWC 3-0
A10 2-1
COL 1-2
HOR 1-0

So there you have it. On Thursday there were 3 upsets out of 16 games. BE has already been dinged twice so Marquette (11) and Villanova (9) will have to pull off the mild upsets to rescue the BE's reputation. The other upset was Richmond over Vandy so Georgia (10) will have to pull off the mild upset over Washington to restore the SEC's honor.

We'll give a recap after the first round results to discuss which conferences are over- and under-performing.

17 March 2011

Please tells us that this CBS crew is temporary

Seth Davis? Tom Crean and his annoying scratchy voice? Boring Steve Smith? Ugh!!!!!!! Kill. Us. Now.

That bar is sooooooo low we would gladly watch Sir Charles and Kenny Smith who normally cover the NBA but have been roped into truTV's studio.

Wisky cruises, quiets naysayers

There was mucho chattero by los talking heados about how Wisconsin was ripe for an upset against a gamely Belmont squad. Say what?

Jordan Taylor proved why he was a first team All Big Ten guard in a guard dominant league. Bo Ryan proved once again he is a darn good coach as his team controlled this game from start to finish. Josh Gasser showed freshman nerves on the big stage. Gasser along with Nankavil really stunk up the joint. If it weren't for these two the margin at half would have been 15+.

16 March 2011

Waaaay OT: MSU team photo 1990

So we're watching TruTV and they flash this photo up of MSU's 1990 team photo because Tom Crean and Steve Smith, who are both on the broadcast, are both in the photo. My lord does Crean look like a pompous young punk. And Izzo! The dude had a full head of hair back then!!!!

NU 70 UWM 61

The Fighting Ed McCants couldn't handle the 1-3-1. How a team led by a coach who won league honors couldn't solve the riddle is beyond us. Those must be some bad coaches up there in the Ho-ri-zon, except Brad Stevens who needed to blitz the league yet again to garner coach of the year honors.

Anywho. The UWMers couldn't buy an open trey until it was too little, too late. NU probably would've handled the green budgies had they solved he 1-3-1, but the Wildcats kept their powder dry.

John Shurna and Juice Thompson led the charge in the scoring department, and Luka Mirkovic had a nice game on defense and distributing the ball. NU continues to miss JerShon Cobb. We really don't understand the love that folks shower on Alex Marcotullio. The guy shot 3-12 / 3-9 from the field as we pulled our hair out on repeated missed bunnies and repeated missed WIDE OPEN looks from distance. Craig Moore he is not. Yes he had three assists but he also had three aggravating turnovers on ill advised passes. Why is Luka raked over the coals even when he plays ok but folks sing Alex's praises when he plays poorly? Life ain't fair.

Next up is Boston College. These losers lost to Yale. At home. Fock them and their Big East pedigree. Huh? Oh yeah, ACC. Even worse. NU should be a couple of points the dog in this because somehow they are seeded higher. All the better when NU hands their arse to them.

With the win at BoCo NU will make the 20 game plateau. Better late than never? Meh.

Good news, bad news

No preview forthcoming. We are putting the student back in stud ent (oy, awful Tolkien geek humor) and have focused on finals. That is the bad news for you anxiously awaiting our pearls of wisdom.

The good news is that the usual suspects (sip, ccb, media outlets) have it covered. Check 'em out and give them some additional clicks so they can earn some more pennies from advertisers and inch their way closer to the super groovy ipad2.

13 March 2011

Near miss against OSU, NIT home game reward

So NU gave OSU its stiffest competition in Indy, pushing the Buckeyes to OT before succumbing to Jared Sullinger and his indomitable will. Credit John Shurna for showing us what we have been missing most of the Big Ten season. Credit also goes to Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti. Yes, their box score was nothing to write home about, but the box score doesn't reflect, at least directly, the stellar work they did in bodying up Sullinger. The cumulative tally of their unsung efforts can be seen in Sullinger's woeful shooting from the field.

NU really missed JerShon Cobb in this game. Alex Marcotullio, thrust into a starting role in Cobb's absence, really struggled on both ends of the court. On offense, for someone billed as a bomber, Alex misses more than his fair share of open looks from downtown. On defense, he had too many breakdowns which gave OSU wide open looks. Diebler also successfully drove to the hole a couple of times against Marcotullio. Not good.

But onward and upward as they say. NU is the lone Big Ten rep in the NIT as seven brethren are bound for the NCAAs and Minnesota was wisely left out in the cold by the NIT. NU actually gets to host a game against UW-Milwaukee, a team we know very little about despite their proximity to Etown. We have a few days to bone up on the UWMers so fret not Carmody Courters. We will have your back with the definitive pre game rundown.

For now it's a hearty congrats to Juice, Mike, Ivan, and Jeff. One more game at the Welsh and a third straight NIT. Not what you dreamt of this offseason, but not all that bad given how the season played out.

06 March 2011

On Carmody and winningest senior class

FACT: Juice Thompson will leave Northwestern as the winningest player in history.

QUESTION: Has a coach ever been fired when the above is true?

We don't know the answer, but we suspect that, outside some kind of scandal, few if any coaches have been fired under such circumstances since it is a clear indication that the coach has a program on the rise. This suggests that firing Carmody would go against a precedent that inherently adjusts in some way the differences across programs.

Furthermore it is more than likely that John Shurna et al will break this winningest mark next year. Is this a sign of a program that has maxed out under a coach or even is pointed downward as NU blogger LTP has suggested? No!

As an aside we've seen arguments for firing Carmody on the basis of his recruiting. We agree that recruiting is paramount to a program's success, but we wonder how grounded in reality the criticism of Carmody's recruiting is. From our vantage point, NU's roster is as stacked with talent as it has been in DECADES. That says to us that Carmody is recruiting as well as can be reasonably expected at NU. Until something fundamental changes with the program, only coaches who can squeeze water out of a rock could do measurably better than what we're seeing on the recruiting front these days.

In short we feel that Carmody has the program on the rise and is doing a fine job within the context of NU's specific history. There is no reason to lock him up to a long term deal, but to fire him at this point would be placing a blind eye to the context in which he has been toiling over the past decade or so.

04 March 2011

NU takes care of business, matches 09-10 conference record

NU did what they should have done up at the barn. Namely defeat a mediocre Minnesota squad. It was a new cast of heroes on senior day--the Italian Stallions from greater Detroit. Juice Thompson came up big in the second half which--shock--is when NU made its run.

At 17-12 NU's magic number for the NCAAs stands at three. That translates into NU smashing through its B10 tourney glass ceiling to make not just Saturday's semis but the final game. If NU defies the odds and makes it to Sunday you have to know the folks in Indianapolis will be watching the results with much intent.

To get there NU must first defeat the goofers again. Doable? Check.

Next up is rested OSU. We do think Carmody has shown that he can coach up his guys to compete against the athletically superior bugeyes. Doable? As odd it sounds, we like NU's chances better against OSU than PSU. Which admittedly is not saying a whole heck of a lot. But it would not shock us nearly as much as pretty much all but the biggest purple koolade drinkers.

The Saturday game with NCAAs hopes on the line would be against the winner of the #4/5 game. It looks like that will be either Illinois or Michigan State. Neither of those teams are unbeatable and their motivation would be less than NU's with an NCAAs bid already sewn up. Doable? If NU makes it this far, a resounding YES!!!!!!

The clincher on Sunday would be against either Wisconsin or Purdue in all likelihood. Wisconsin is all but unbeatable for NU so we would hope Painter gets his squad to Sunday somehow. Doable? We have a hard seeing the magic carpet ride leading to an automatic berth, though there is a slim chance against the boilers.

21 February 2011

Presidents Day Big Ten Power Rankings

Much has happened since our last power ranking from MLK day. So let's get to it.

1. Ohio State. Lost a couple on the road to fellow elite. It happens. (no change)
2. Wisconsin. Final Four in the offing? (+1)
3. Purdue. Imagine if they had Robbie Hummel. (-1)
4. Illinois. Enigmatic. (n/c)
5. Michigan state. Lucas is baaaack (n/c)
6. Michigan. Beilein on hot seat? Ridiculous! (+2)
7. Northwestern. Shurna is baaack. (n/c)
8. Minnesota. No point guard=first round NCAAs exit (-2)
9. Penn State. Too little, too late. (no change)
10. Iowa. Juco PG is a baller (+1)
11. Indiana. Who's your daddy! (-1)

NU sweeps Indiana, NCAAs dreams alive

Despite the Big Ten schedule makers putting Northwestern in a difficult situation the Wildcats defied the modest odds and won at Bloomington on Sunday. That puts NU's magic number at 4 and keeps open the possibility that NU could still play its way into the NCAAs without winning the Big Ten Tournament.

Next up is the Penn State Ninny Lions who visit the Welsh on Thursday. The Ninnies are Northwestern's nemesis so we have to think NU is the underdog in this game despite the fact that kenpom.com, sagarin, vegas, et al say otherwise.

We continue to hold out hope for a dramatic last ditch run to the NCAAs simply because John Shurna is back (or at least close) to where he was before his string of injuries. We know Coach Carmody isn't exactly Vince Lombardi, but hopefully he has enough sense to point to Johnny's return to form as reason to believe that this team can do it if they take it one game at a time.

That starts with avenging an ugly loss at Penn State (among other losses to our bugaboo). The game is on ESPN2 which should help make the crowd electric. Make it so.

19 February 2011

On NCAAs -- finally a glimmer of hope

So Northwestern defeated Iowa to raise its record to 5-9 in the Big Ten and 15-10 overall. That puts NU's magic number at 5. With only four regular season games left you don't need to be a math whiz to realize that NU has no margin for error to make the NCAAs bubble. It's either:

* win out (including an improbable win at the Kohl--kenpom.com puts the odds at less than 10%) and win a first round Big Ten Tourney game; or

* win 3/4 and do something unprecedented--win twice in the Big Ten Tourney. Assuming a loss at the Kohl the biggest hurdle is today's two day turnaround game at Indiana--who has a week of rest and prep--thank you very much Big Ten; or

* hold serve and win just the home games against Penn State and Minnesota (NU currently favored in both) and make an even deeper run to the finals of the Big Ten Tournament; or

* fuggedabout the regular season and simply win the Big Ten Tourney.

You know we've been pretty pessimistic about NU's prospects ever since NU lost up at Minnesota. Part of that pessimism was rooted in our view that Minnesota without Al Nolen is an NCAA bubble type team. Part of it was the lingering ankle issues for Johnny Shurna and the newly suffered concussion (thank you Ralph Sampson Jr).

Well Shurna finally looked like himself against Iowa. He was knocking down bombs, throwing it down, smiling again. While the odds are clearly stacked against Northwestern making the NCAAs at this late juncture, at least Shurna appears healthy again which to us gives us at least some basis for holding out some faint hope that the NCAAs dream isn't completely dead.

We'll know more after a big game at Bloomington tonight. Indiana is shorthanded and has shown susceptibility to losing at home to lower rung Big Ten teams (Iowa). It is possible NU wins this game though kenpom.com puts the odds of it happening at only 35%. Those odds may be a bit low based on NU's results over 13 Big Ten games with Shurna nursing injuries and Indiana's depleted roster.

NU is capable of winning this game. Make it so.

From the "fans being fans" department

So our mouth was agape when, in the aftermath of NU's obliteration of Iowa at the Carver last month, redbirdhawk wrote something we never thought we'd read about a Northwestern team.

Flash forward to the aftermath of NU's narrow victory over Iowa on Thursday. Now catfan5's post on Lifting Program:

"Our team really needs to join this century and develop a good program. Iowa was physically bigger. You could see the visible difference in their arms. The only player on our team who has any size is Capaocci (sic), but he is small compared to other teams. The lack of girth/strength certainly hurts us on the boards."

Not that so much we disagree with catfan5. It's the juxtaposition which is amusing. Just goes to show the old saying about opinions and assholes rings true.

10 February 2011

Second trimester report card

So NU got a solid "C" for the first trimester of Big Ten results. How did NU fare in the second trimester now that another six games are in the books?

Projected: 4-1
1st Trimester: 1-0 (Indiana)
2nd Trimester: 1-0 (Michigan)
Difference: 2-1 (Iowa, Penn St, Minnesota)

Low Hanging Fruit
Projected: 2-1
1st Trimester: 1-0 (at Iowa)
2nd Trimester: 0-1 (at Michigan)
Difference: 1-0 (at Penn St)

Projected: 2-2
1st Trimester: 0-1 (Michigan St)
2nd Trimester: 1-1 (W: Illinois, L: Wisconsin)
Difference: 1-0 (at Indiana)

Projected: 1-5
1st Trimester: 0-3 (at Purdue, at Illinois, at Michigan St)
2nd Trimester: 0-2 (Ohio St, at Minnesota)
Difference: 1-0 (at Wisconsin)

2nd Trimester Grade: D+

NU picked up some bling at long last, and NU was oh so close to notching that elusive Wheaties game against Ohio State. NU also nearly picked up that low hanging fruit in Ann Arbor but couldn't quite complete the comeback. Had either of those two losses come out differently things would have a much better look for Northwestern's NCAA dreams. Well it didn't and now NU is up against it.

Technically NU hasn't play itself out of 9-9 yet. In each category NU can make the target or even exceed it. To make the target the path of "least resistance" would be for NU to sweep the egg home games and win 2 of 3 road games at PSU, Indiana and Wisconsin. That's a very tall order for a team that is just 4-8 in conference so far and would be worthy of an A grade for the third trimester.

We would be more optimistic about acing third trimester if John Shurna were healthy. Instead of slowly recovering from his ankle sprain Shurna has gotten even more dinged up after suffering a concussion and now a hurt wrist.

Where is Mr Miyagi when you need him? NU is need of a miraculous crane kick right about now.

09 February 2011

Two pivotal road games this week

A close loss to Ohio State and a win against Illinois on CBS at the Welsh has hearkened back talk of NCAAs among the Wildcat faithful. We're all about optimism around here, but this talk is really getting the cart before the horse.

NU currently has a 4-7 conference record with a likely loss at the Kohl looming large. Under our running assumption that 9-9 gets NU onto the bubble NU must somehow go 5-1 in its games outside of Cheeseland. That is some pretty thin ice we be skating.

This week will go long a way in determining whether NU's NCAAs dreams are upgraded off of life support or if they are deep sixed. NU has two road games starting with a game at the Crisler tonight and another one at the BJ this weekend. NU is installed as a 2.5 point dog against Michigan and is projected to be a slight underdog at Penn State.

* Two losses and NU fans will have to pin long shot hopes on winning the BTT.

* Two wins and NU stands at 6-7 with 9-9 a real possibility.

* A split and the margin for error is nil.

NU has had Wolfies' number of late while the Ninny Lions have had NU's number. If NU is to achieve at least a split this week then it best put on a good effort tonight. Make it so.

NU's magic number: 6

29 January 2011

NU hosts #1 OSU, Shurna out with concussion

NU has officially gone from the frying pan and into the fryer. Barring an upset of epic proportions the NCAAs dream will have to be earned in the Big Ten Tournament. An NIT bid may even be in jeopardy unless NU can continue to have its way against the lower tier of the Big Ten.


24 January 2011

Just like football redux

As a footnote for most Chicagoans and Wisconsinites who had their eyes set on a stadium about a dozen miles south from Evanston along the lake, NU and the Badgers locked horns on the hard court this past Sunday. Just as well. NU got thumped by a grind 'em up offense and a ball hawking, hard nosed defense. Yup, just like football!

In addition to teams with brawny and athletic bigs, you can add teams that protect the ball to the "do not play" list for NU basketball. This one was ugly and vaguely reminiscent of our now partially repressed memories of the game in Shampoo-Banana, save for the immediate onslaught from the opening tip. Against Wisconsin NU made a game of it for the first 10 minutes or so before they wilted under the relentless pressure from Bo Ryan's team.

Enough about that. On to our next game up at McDonald's Arena, errr.... the Barn against the Gophers. Al Nolen is out, and we all know from earlier this season that he is the straw that stirs their drink. If NU is the team we think they are then they will go out and win this game and quiet the naysayers at least until Jared Sullinger and the #1 Buckeyes bulldoze their way through Evanston.

Make it so.

21 January 2011

Addendum: a wrinkle to our 20 win threshold

An astute point was raised by "jonesingcat" in response to our post from earlier today that NU is on track to make NCAAs. That is that imbalanced schedules could throw a monkey wrench into our simplified view of Northwestern's NCAAs chances.

Due to the Big Ten's imbalanced schedule NU plays only once what are arguably the top two teams in the Big Ten (Ohio State and Purdue). This scheduling quirk undermines somewhat Northwestern's ability to piggyback off of the Big Ten's overall conference strength. Therefore we acknowledge that a 9-9 Big Ten record for NU may in fact not be enough to make the NCAAs as it would be accomplished against a somewhat weaker Big Ten conference schedule than implied by overall conference strength.

We will take jonesingcat's point one step further. The Big Ten is not the only conference with an imbalanced schedule. In fact most of the conferences have imbalanced schedules. In converse to NU's favorable conference schedule situation there could be a team or three from the Big East etc... with relatively strong conference schedules that could look favorable to the selection committee despite conference records which on the surface appear unworthy of an invitation to the Big Dance.

Since we are already scratching below the surface of the landscape we should also mention the risk of an unusually large number of upsets of nationally prominent favorites in the lesser conference tournaments. This x-factor would reduce the number of at-large bids for teams like Northwestern. All along we have implicitly assumed that there would not be an unusually high number of upsets of the Gonzaga's of the world in their conference tournaments. We acknowledge the reality could turn out differently.

In sum we now think 9-9 would put us in prime bubble territory and not safely into the NCAAs. So if you want to think in terms of wins necessary for a likely NCAA tournament invite we now think that number is 21. Still we will keep with the 20 win threshold for now until the picture comes into focus over the next few weeks but with the thought that 20 wins would get us onto the bubble and allow for some serious Maalox moments come Selection Sunday.

Northwestern on track for NCAAs

NU's record is (13-5, 3-4) in the wake of last night's decimation of outmatched SIU-Edwardsville. We have said all along that 20 wins is the magic number for NU's NCAAs dreams. In the mailbag critics have argued this is an oversimplification. While there is no doubt that we have simplified the picture to better see the forest through the trees, this does not mean that we are off-base in our thinking.

The way we figure it a 9-9 record in the #1/#2 conference plus one Big Ten Tourney win implied by the 20 win threshold would be enough to make the NCAAs regardless of the particulars of how NU got there. The discussion will merit more fine tuning as season end nears and the outlook comes more into focus, but for now it will have to do.

Of note kenpom now shows that NU's expected regular season performance has improved to (19-10, 9-9). There are no guarantees that this will come to fruition, but it does show that NU is on track for its first ever NCAAs berth at the moment under the reasonable assumption that NU will win what is sure to be a favorable match-up against a lower-tier team in the first round of the Big Ten tourney.

A win against Wisconsin at the Welsh on Saturday would certainly help NU's causes. kenpom has NU's chances at 44% with an expected score of 65-66. The game is there for the taking, and NU has had success in the past against the Badgers at the Welsh. Make it so.

Magic number: 7

20 January 2011

On Luka Mirkovic

As the season wears on it is becoming increasingly apparent that the play of favorite Northwestern fan punching bag Luka Mirkovic is as good a barometer for this team as any. A review of the +/- stats from within conference play bare this out.

In the first three games of the Big Ten schedule (at Purdue, Michigan State, at Illinois) Luka had +/-'s of -19, -15, and -16 respectively. If we take these stats in isolation then it is clear that Luka struggled against these nationally ranked foes.

Luka's performance in those games looks even worse when one considers how NU fared with Luka on the bench. The Roland Rating ("RR"), computed as on court +/- less off court +/-, provides such insight. In those same three games Luka's RR was -25, -27, and -7.

For the math-challenged Carmody Courters, if a player's RR is less than the +/- then Northwestern gained ground on its opponent while that player sat on the bench. This is what happened with Luka in the games at Purdue and against Michigan State at the Welsh. The reverse is true in the game at Illinois, but we don't think it is wise to glean much from the Illinois game due to the blowout nature of that game. That said, NU was -16 during Luka's 22 minutes and -7 during Davide Curletti's 18 minutes (which were more heavily weighted during that sloppy second half) which is not exactly a resume building statistic for Luka.

With the easing of the schedule over the past four games (Indiana, at Iowa, at Michigan State, Michigan) Luka's performance has been markedly better. Luka had a +10, +3, +3, and +21 in those games, respectively. His corresponding RR statistics were +8, -13, +10, and +28. That is, NU was about equally well off in the Indiana game whether or not Luka was on the floor and was better off when Luka was sitting at Iowa. As was the case with the Illinois game we don't put much weight on the Iowa game statistics as that game was a blowout starting about midway through the first half.

To us what really jumps out is Luka's performance in NU's most recent two games at Michigan State and against Michigan at the Welsh. If you consider Luka's performances in both Michigan State games his +/- improved from a -15 to a +3, and this improvement was made by a typically under performing "Road Luka" over the comparatively better "Home Luka." Furthermore as mentioned above Luka's RR in the first game against Sparty was poor, but his RR flipped in the rematch with NU faring much better with Luka on the court.

To follow-up his solid performance in E Lansing, Luka had an outstanding game against Michigan at the Welsh. It probably would irk some NU fans and opponents, but it would be appropriate for Luka to do his vintage chest thumping over his +/- of +21 and an RR of +28 against Michigan.

In sum the trend is for a markedly improved Luka within the conference over the last four games. Similarly NU's performance in those games has also been markedly improved. Certainly some of that has to do with the quality of the opponent. However the +/- and RR statistics suggest that Luka has started to turn a corner. Let's hope this trend continues since NU's performance are pretty closely correlated to Luka's performance.

Hat tip to shatsheet.com which is our source for the +/- and RR statistics in the above analysis.