29 January 2012

Purdue 58 NORTHWESTERN 56 (F)

Northwestern's (12-8, 2-6) narrow loss to Purdue (15-7, 5-4) jeopardizes NU's NCAAs dreams.  To be sure there is still a chance of it happening.  It's just an uphill battle now which places a greater importance on NU executing near peak performance for the duration of the season.

We should know by Valentine's Day what be the dealio.  It is at that point that NU will be 2/3rds of the way through the B1G season, and it is imperative that NU's conference record be at least 5-7.  To get there NU must take care of business at home against Nebraska and Iowa.  We like our chances there.  To get that third victory NU must avenge a narrow loss when it travels to Illinois or Purdue.  According to kenpom.com between those two games NU has a 50/50 chance of winning one of them.  Sooner or later NU will get back to winning these coin flip type games right?

When it was not turning the ball over a shorthanded Northwestern squad actually held its own quite well against Purdue yesterday.  Purdue scored 21 points off an uncharacteristically high 16 Northwestern turnovers.  In a game that came down to a Robbie Hummel runner on the baseline with 8 seconds to play it is fair to say that turnovers cost NU this game.

Northwestern's "Big Two" came to play.  Drew Crawford had 23 points on 9-16 shooting including 4-7 from distance.  Johnny Shurna poured in 15 points on 6-11 shooting and 2-5 from distance (including the miss on a last ditch heave as the clock expired).   The two also collected 8 and 7 rebounds, respectively.

In the turnover department Reggie Hearn, Davide Curletti and Crawford had 5, 4 and 4, respectively.  Purdue is one of the better B1G teams in turning their opponents over, but those figures are outrageous especially considering that Curletti and Hearn logged just 26 and 29 minutes respectively.

If the Michigan State game was Curletti's high water mark then this game may have been his low point.  His +/- was -15 and his Roland Rating was -28.  Zoinks!  Here are the gory second half details behind those figures.  Northwestern struggled to produce offense in this game until the 16:30 mark when Alex Marcotullio subbed in for Davide Curletti.  Sparked by Marcotullio's insertion into the lineup NU went on a 15-2 run over the next 4:30 NU to erase a 9 point deficit and build a 40-36 lead.  With Curletti back in the lineup Purdue regained control by outscoring 18-9.  With Curletti back on the bench NU then outscored Purdue 7-2 to knot the game at 56.  Curletti subbed back into the game for Crawford on Purdue's final possession, and we know what happened there.

We didn't plan this to be a rant against Curletti, and it is a bit unfair to lay this loss on him because this is a team game.  But the stats are pretty damning.  Luka Mirkovic is a favorite punching bag for NU fans, but we have to wonder if the outcome of this game wouldn't have been different if he had been able to play (he was in a boot with a twisted ankle).  We have to believe he would've provide a little more than 1-5 shooting, 0-2 from the charity stripe and 4 turnovers.  In the ultimate making lemonade scenario, Luka's slow foot speed also probably would've prevented him from being in position to muck up a Reggie Hearn steal out of the 1-3-1 like Curletti did. 

So NU has finished January on a low note.  Let's make this a February to, ummmm, Them Drew Bury. Next up NU plays host to Nebraska for the first time on Thursday.  Thanks to the loss to Purdue this is a must win game.  NU will be a sizable favorite in the game so a loss to the Cornhuskers would be inexcusable especially since NU has been backed into a corner.

27 January 2012

MINNESOTA 75 Northwestern 52 (F)

Northwestern (12-7, 2-5) got housed at The Barn.  When the gates opened NU was not ready to run, digging itself a hole so deep with an 0-fer 15 shooting slump that the game essentially over by halftime.  Aside from Alex Marcotullio, who had one of his best games of the year, this was a collective team stinker of a game.

The team shot a forgettable 33% from the field, 31% from beyond the arc and 40% from the charity stripe.  NU once again got crushed on the boards 35-20, but we can't get too bent out of shape about it since this kind of imbalance is a natural outcome when your team lays up a ton of bricks and the opponent shoots lights out (the Gophers shot 58% from the field).  Drew Crawford shot 2-10, had 3 rebounds, no assists and 2 turnovers in 30 minutes of play.  Shurna chucked his way to 21 points but took 21 shots to do so.  Sobolewski went 0-5, and worse yet had just one assist to three turnovers.  Yuck.

This was NU's worst loss of the season with potentially crippling effects on its bid to make the NCAAs.  NU hadn't looked this bad in a game since a fangless Central Connecticut squad came to Evanston in mid-December and nearly won a game against a listless NU squad. 

There has been some talk that tired legs were the reason for NU's poor results at Minnyhaha.  There is probably some truth to that given NU's inexplicably miserable free throw shooting efforts (8-20 as a team including Shurna 2-8 and Crawford 1-4).  The fact of the matter is that Johnny S and Drew C have logged way too many minutes this season, and we may be seeing the fallout from this substitution pattern or lack thereof.  If we were in Coach Carmody's shoes we'd probably do the same thing since Shurna and Crawford are indispensable and injuries have decimated the team's depth.  It is what it is.

We find the tired legs explanation to be overblown.  Teams can and do have bad shooting nights regadless of any fatigue effects.  We are confident that the Minnesota game was just one of those nights and expect NU to show no hangover effects in tomorrow's game against Purdue (14-7, 4-4).   A week off to rest up and get angry about their effort in M-polis doesn't hurt the cause.

Despite a 2-5 record the NCAAs watch is still on.  As we wrote before conference play began NU needs to finish 3-3 during this second trimester of the conference season.  Home games against Purdue, Nebraska, and Iowa look to be the most likely games to collect those three wins, but the two away games at Illinois or Purdue also provide a good opportunity to make up for lost ground if NU slips up in any of these games at the Welsh.

19 January 2012

WISCONSIN 77 Northwestern 57 (F)

It was a one man Mike Bruesewitz show for Wisconsin (15-5, 4-3) in the first half.  Ryan Evans and Jason Taylor showed up after halftime and the Badgers coasted to another easy victory over Northwestern (12-6, 2-4) at the Kohl Center.

Despite shooting 54.5% from the floor as a team and 60% from beyond the arc as a team NU still trailed 34-32 at the half.  Bruesewitz helped Wisconsin keep pace with Northwestern behind 5-6 shooting including 2-2 from beyond the arc for a total of 12 points.  No other Badger had more than 5 points.

Northwestern fans dreamed of an upset at halftime, but it was not meant to be after Jason Taylor heated up from behind the arc and helped Wisconsin go on a 14-0 run to bury NU in a 55-38 hole.  With Wisconsin's slow play and stellar defense it was effectively game over from that point on.

Such is life on the road in the B1G especially for NU at Madtown.  We said in our pregame snipet that the Badgers were due to come around on offense, and that came true in the second half of yesterday's game.  Next up is a roadie to Minneapolis to take on the Gophers (14-5, 2-4).  This game presents a real opportunity for not only padding the NCAAs resume with a nice road win but also for position jockeying with another team in the NCAA bubble discussion and sits at 2-4 in the standings.  Unlike some fans we will not go so far as to say this is a must win since kenpom.com projects NU to meet its 9-9 target even with a projected loss at Minnesota.  Never the less a victory would be important to help NU build some cushion for the stretch run.  This game is winnable especially if we can get Marco or Cobb healthy and back into the lineup after not even making the trip up to Madtown.

14 January 2012

NORTHWESTERN 81 Michigan State 74 (F)

We are grateful for this great team victory for a number of reasons.  First it puts NU (12-5, 2-3) at 2 wins for the very difficult opening trimester of the B1G slate.  With a difficult trip coming up to Madtown that will round out the first trimester a win tonight was important to keep NU on track to sneak into the NCAAs.  Second with another three difficult games on deck the win keeps NU from enduring a potentially long losing streak which helps immensely with this team's mental attitude.  And last but not least is that it staves off the circling anti-Carmody vultures for the time being which means no immediate need for another rant from our associate editor who wears his heart on his sleeve especially after a night of indulgent imbibation. 

Anywho things did not look promising during the first 10 minutes of the game when #6/7 Sparty (15-3, 4-1) rode hot shooting and nice low post feeds to a 25-16 margin.  Sparty could've stretched the lead to double digits and really had the Spartan faithful roaring from the rafters, but instead an Alex Marcotullio steal that was converted into a Drew Crawford bomb brought some air back into the building and narrowed the deficit to 6 points.  The deficit was then cut to 4 when Davide Curletti stole a rebound from Sparty and converted the offensive board. 

NU stuck with MSU the rest of the first half with the game shifting gears after two Alex Marcotullio bombs the first of which knotted the game at 33 to give NU its first tie since 4 all and the second one giving NU a 36-34 lead.  Sparty responded with a trey of its own, but a desperation 25' foot Shurna prayer was answered with a few seconds to go, and NU took a 39-37 lead into halftime.

NU opened the second stanza with a backdoor layup from Sobo to Hearn, and it was at that point that it appeared that the second half may very well look like the latter part of the first half.  Good news!  NU held its lead and even stretched it to double digits around the midway point of the second half.  Sparty managed to slice the gap to 5 points with a quick 7-0 run aided by a turnover and hoop when two Spartans converged on Reggie Hearn near midcourt to pick pocket him and get a break away layup.

The tension at that point was palpable since NU fans have been conditioned to expect the worst.  Except this time NU responded to the challenge by taking the ball to the hoop, getting fouled, and then converting free throws.  With crisis averted NU went on to rebuild its double digit lead with less than 5 minutes to play, and NU played loose and coasted to victory the rest of the way.

Davide Curletti was a surprise starter in the game, and boy did he deliver!  As we said prior to the season Davide is good for a handful of good games, and this may have very well been the best performance of his career.  Davided had three very important offensive rebounds that he converted into points, and on the evening he netted 17 points on 5-7 shooting including 1-1 from beyond the arc.  Better yet is that Davide departed from his propensity to hack opponents as he ended with 4 fouls over 36 minutes of run and didn't pick up his last foul until the game was effectively over.   Davide also had 4 assists, 2 steal, and a block to round out his sparkling afternoon.

NU's "big two" also showed up with Crawford banking 20 points on 8-14 shooting including 3-5 from downtown.  Despite only shooting 5-14 from the floor Shurna had a game high 22 points thanks to 10-11 shooting from the charity stripe.  Johnny also had 5 assists, no turnovers, 2 blocks, and 1 steal in 40 minutes of play.

Reggie Hearn had an extremely efficient 29 minutes scoring 10 points on 5-6 shooting and also grabbed two important offensive rebounds.  Dave Sobolewski didn't have a good day shooting the rock (1-6, 0-3) but he filled his role as floor general quite well and wound up with 7 assists to just 1 turnover.  It makes us smile to think we can look forward to seeing Sobo in purple (or should we say black?) for another 3+ years.

The biggest reason for NU's victory was that NU held its own on the boards against the mean green rebounding machine (NU had 19 boards to MSU's 24).  Another key was that NU had just 7 turnovers to Sparty's 14.  Had NU turned the ball over more Sparty very well could've won this game as Appling did a very good job of pushing the ball up the court and converting easy hoops before NU could set its defense.  Lastly NU did a good job of getting to the charity stripe and had 29 attempts in the game.  This aggressiveness has been an emerging trend so far in conference and is a nice departure from past Carmody teams.

Next up is a roadie to Madison to take on the Badgers on Wednesday Jan 18 at 8PM Central.  Bucky has had some surprising difficulty early in the B1G slate and is sitting at just 2-3 despite winning its last game 67-62 at Purdue.  The knock on Bucky is that their offense is just bad enough to give them fits despite a very good defense.  We don't really buy that and expect Wisconsin to right the ship just as they did in the 2008-09 season when they started out 3-6 in conference but finished the regular season on a 7-2 tear.  The Kohl Center has been a house of horrors for NU, and we expect more of the same this year.  Kenpom.com gives NU just a 7% shot at victory which sounds about right to us.  Still Iowa was able to come out of Madison with a 72-65 victory so you just never know.

12 January 2012

Op Ed: Grow some SACK Wildcat fans!

Apologies in advance to our even handed blog meister and the yin to my yang, but I really don't give a damn about decorum right now.  Censor me if you want, but I've had enough of all these spineless "NU fans" who are wetting their pants and crying home to their mommies about last night's loss. Why should they be the only ones allowed to vent their frustrations and whine like little babies to their hearts content?

No.  Listen up, fools.  I don't know what the hell you were expecting to happen in Ann Arbor, but let me remind you that NU was a 9 point underdog.  So now that we were just a bobbled rebound out of bounds, an awful Sobo turnover under our hoop that turned into 2 points, a Reggie Hearn taking his eye of the ball and losing it out of bounds, a botched Marco breakaway layup, or an awful charging call on Shurna that erased a bucket away from winning on the road against the #13 team in the nation, it is now clear that this team has no chance of the NCAAs, that Carmody should be fired, that this team doesn't know how to win, that you're not going to watch/attend anymore games, blah ef'ing blah????

Do you morons even realize that Michigan is UNDEFEATED in Ann Arbor?  How about the fact that Wisconsin just got obliterated there?  And, oh yeah, they're ranked #13 (it's worth reiterating).  Or, that NU's power rankings have actually IMPROVED after last night's loss?

Look it.  I get that you are sick and tired of waiting for the NCAAs.  I am, too.  I get that people are especially frustrated because this season is supposed to be the last good chance of making it happen with Shurna graduating.  I even get the fans will be fans, and this sky is falling crap is all too common.

What pisses me off is that this outcry is even greater than normal when it came after an arguably decent performance by NU.  It also pisses me off that we are just 4 games into an 18+ game big ten season, and you're writing this team off already.  Yah.  I get it that you're all so smart and know that just because NU has lost to 5 ranked teams that NU doesn't belong and has no chance at the NCAAs.  It is all so EF'ING CLEAR now isn't it?

Let's see what some of the most common complaints are.  One of my personal favorites is that NU doesn't know how to win.  Are you all DERANGED?  Or, is it AMNESIA?   NU was one of the luckiest team in the nation before these last two losses.  For the totally clueless, that means that NU had pulled out more close games than nearly every other team in the nation.   Did you even watch the tournament in Charleston?  NU won three straight close games down there.  But who am I to say that facts should get in the way of a good rant?

Another fav is the conclusion that Carmody was an idiot for not sticking with the small lineup.  Yah, Carmody is such an idiot that he couldn't see for himself that the small lineup was working, and just decided to ditch it for no particularly good reason.   WTF is going through your heads?   Has it ever even occurred to you that Carmody had NO CHOICE but to go back to the big lineup because Marco's toe wouldn't allow him to play and because Cobb was forced to sit the entire game with injury?  No, that would be just to damn logical for this kangaroo court. Or, if accepted, I'm sure these nit wits will just use it as an indictment against Carmody's recruiting (and once again conveniently ignore all of the other, bigger reasons for why NU can't exactly take its pick of the litter).

Carmody was an idiot for blowing all his timeouts in the second half, right?  I bet the whiners complaining about this are the very same people who complained in the past the Carmody doesn't use timeouts to stop runs.  Sorry, Carmody, it's once again damned if you and damned if you don't!

I won't even get into the fact that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, has concluded that NU needs to play better defense to have a shot at the NCAAs.  Oh wait I just did.  Ef it.  What have we seen over the last two losses?  Why, it's BETTER EF'ING DEFENSE!!!  Yet there is hardly any mention of this positive as it really doesn't fit with the fire Carmody agenda.

I also like the people who say the Seton Hall win was not that good because they weren't playing that well back in November.  Seriously?  Yeah, I can play that game and make all kinds of dumb ef'ing statements to say that NU is a lock for the NCAAs.  Sure, NU has lost to Illinois and Michigan, but the Illini and Wolverines played GREAT.  Michigan just blew out Wisconsin, and Illinois just beat Ohio State!  Not to mention the fact that NU played poorly in both games and still managed to nearly win.  If and when NU puts it all together in the very near future, you better watch the ef out big ten teams!!

OK.  I feel better now.  I see that Roger took the high road to catharsis by recounting the close losses over the years.  Pusses take the high road.  Just kidding, Rog.  I love your blog and style.  I'll fade back into the wood work for now.

MICHIGAN 66 Northwestern 64 (F-OT)

Northwestern (11-5, 1-3) managed to one-up the torture factor from last week's game squeaker of a loss to  the Illini.  This go around NU shot out to a 7 point halftime lead, but Michigan went on a 12-0 run in the second half to even the scales and force the game into overtime.  Northwestern had a chance to send the game into a second OT with a three point deficit and Alex Marcotullio shooting three free throws with 0.3 seconds left.  Marcotullio clanged the first attempt, and that was that.

This game was a golden opportunity to atone for the loss to Illinois, but NU simply didn't get it done. Northwestern is back in action at the Welsh at 2PM Saturday when it takes on a Michigan State (15-2, 0-4) team that sits alone atop a stacked B1G.  With the first trimester ending in Madison next Wed Jan 18 this game against Spartica is a near "must win" if NU hopes to get back on track to a 2-4 record and leave some wiggle room for the NCAAs.  The dream ain't dead yet, but it is in critical condition.

09 January 2012

Illinois 57 NORTHWESTERN 56 (F)

It was not a surprise that Northwestern (12-4, 1-2) lost to Illinois (14-3, 3-1).  That NU lost in a closely contested DEFENSIVE struggle was.

The Welsh was packed, and the game looked promising for the Wildcats in the first half as NU extended to a 10 point lead with about 2 minutes to play.  The Illini scored two buckets to close out the half with some momentum despite trailing 36-31.  No big deal right?  Wrong.  NU came out and scored the first bucket of the second half, but the Illini went on a 11-0 run over the next few minutes to take a 4 point lead.  Over the next 5 minutes Illinois "outscored" NU 2-1 to extend to a 44-39 lead with 11 minutes to play.

The two teams exchange body blows with occasional baskets until the Illini built a 55-47 lead with less than 2 minutes to play.  NU made a furious comeback to knot the game at 56, but the Illini got to the line to make 1-2 free throws after a no-call on what could've been a game changing Drew Crawford attempt to draw a charge. Drew Crawford corralled the missed free throw attempt with 6 seconds left, dribbled the ball deep the length of the court and into the lane where his attempt to shoot over 7'1" Myers Leonard was swatted away as the clock expired.

This loss hurts.  To keep on track for the NCAAs NU must now steal one of the next three games (@Michigan, Michigan State, @Wisconsin), and NU will be a considerable underdog in each of these games.  It is always tough to win on the road so Michigan State may be NU's best shot at a win.  However next up is a trip to Ann Arbor on Wednesday where Drew Crawford did have a special game at Crisler two years ago so we got that going for us.  For their part Michigan (13-3, 3-1) is riding a wave of momentum after crushing Wisconsin 59-41 at Crisler.

02 January 2012

NORTHWESTERN 68 Penn St 56 (F)

A surprisingly well attended Welsh Ryan Arena could not coax NU's offense to wake up during a forgettable first half against a graduation-depleted, Ed Dechellis-less Penn State squad.  Coach Carmody tore the team a collective new one during halftime, and NU responded with a well-oiled offensive output in the second half.  A twelve point home win against the Nittany Lions is hardly something to get overly excited about, but the second half in which NU outscored Penn St 45-30 is a sign of what this team is capable of doing when they come to play.

The hope now is that NU can build upon confidence from this victory and grab another home victory when Illinois invades the Welsh on Wednesday evening.  The game is projected to be tight which should make for a good atmosphere as the Illini fans descend upon Evanston in large numbers.  It is important that NU gets off the blocks fast in this game.  A Northwestern victory would help carry the team through the next dozen games which is the real meat grinder portion of the B1G schedule. 

Aside from DJ Richardson the Illini are not a very good outside shooting team.  Illinois is much improved down low this year with a rapidly developing Myers Leonard manning the center spot.  On paper this game screams for liberal deployment of zone defenses to help our centers defend the paint and encourage the Illini to become a perimeter-oriented team.  Just make sure not to wander too far from Richardson!