29 February 2012

Ohio State 75 NORTHWESTERN 73 (F)

Leap Day 2012.  Instead of a magical day that several moons ago we had envisioned would somehow be inspired by the quirkiness of man's accounting for the Earth's non-rounded path around the Sun we got this.  And by this we mean the feeling that we want to take a leap.  Off Navy Pier. 

Northwestern (17-12,7-10) once again came up on the short end of the stick in a key home matchup against a ranked foe.  This time it was Jared Sullinger who drove the dagger in Wildcat fans' hearts with the go ahead bucket with three ticks left on the clock. 

Many folks will look at the rebounding statistics and conclude that was the reason for NU's loss.  Yes and no.  Yes it goes without saying that had NU been able to get more rebounds the game would've been different.  However it was far from unexpected to see NU dominated on the boards.  Hello? Davide Curletti vs Jared Sullinger?  In addition to this mismatch the weights were even more tilted in OSU's favor given Coach Carmody's wise decision to drop the switching man defense that allowed about 2 points per possession early in the game in favor of the 1-3-1.

But no.  The biggest reason that NU lost this game is Aaron Craft.  The guy completely shut down his man on defense as expected.  But the real killer was his dead eye shooting.  We've watched too many OSU games than we care to admit, but this was the best shooting night we've seen Craft all year.  It's not like in the other games he was forced to miss shots by strong defense.  From what we have seen he just simply missed the same types of wide open looks that NU decided that it would give to him tonight.  Had Craft made just 2-5 from distance which is two less than he made but still generously above his season average percentage then NU wins this game.

We don't want to hear no stinking whining about Drew Crawford's free throw shooting.  Yes he went 1-5 including missing two front ends of one and one opportunities, but Drew played like a Man tonight and was a key reason NU was even in the game.  In 27 minutes of play Drew scored 23 points on 9-11 shooting including 4-6 from downtown.  He also had 4 boards, 3 assists, 1 steal and no turnovers.  A very good night that should not be discounted due to some troubles at the charity stripe.

Johnny Shurna was hounded all night by OSU, but he still managed to pour in 22 points on Senior Night.  He would've had more if the refs hadn't swallowed their whistles as he was tossed around in the low post on numerous occasions.  They let that shit go but called ticky tack fouls on NU defenders who gently bumped OSU motion on the perimeter?  That's some serious BS!

One additional shout out has to go to Alex Marcotullio who momentarily gave NU fans a reason to jump around by knocking an NBA three pointer to knot the game at 73 with 7.7 seconds to play.  We think that a couple more plays should've gone his way after the streaky shooter found nothing but net on a bomb at the 5:25 mark, but that is a very minor quibble.  

With the win Ohio State (24-6, 12-5) travels to East Lansing to try to win itself a share of the B1G regular season title.  With the loss Northwestern has officially missed the chance of securing an NCAAs berth during the regular season, but the NCAAs dream is far from dead.

NU is back in the familiar season ending position with its back against the wall.  The good news is that the Wildcats still control their destiny and with a reasonably achievable path to glory.  It won't be easy, but a win at Io_a coupled with a first round B1G tourney victory should be enough to get NU onto the bubble.   A three game winning streak starting this Saturday in Io_a City would likely secure an NCAAs berth.

NU is playing well enough to make this happen.  But it is all moot unless NU gets what amounts to a must win game Saturday afternoon against Io_a (16-14, 8-9) at Carver Ha_keye.  The game tips off at 1:30pm central on BTN.  Two words: Road Trip.  It should be a wild environment as the Ha_keye faithful would like nothing better than to put a nail in NU's NCAAs coffin.

Bubble Watch: Leap Day Edition

Bracket Project updated his matrix last night, but we're sticking with the same 16 team Watch List as yesterday since it was such a clean look at the bubble.

Watch List (# of brackets out of 57)
11 + West Virginia (54)
11 Washington (54)
11 BYU (53)
11 - Xavier (53)
12 NU (50)*
12 Cincinnati (49)*
12 Miami FL (49)*
12 Texas (48)*
12 Mississippi St (43)*
12 Arizona (29)
South Florida (19)*
Colorado St (18)*
VCU (16)
St. Josephs (13)*
Dayton (12)*
Oregon (5)

+ denotes win on 28th
- denotes loss on 28th
* denotes game tonight

Yesterday's Games Recap
As expected West Virginia defeated visiting Depaul while Xavier lost at St Louis.

Today's Games (9)
Ohio St at NU (17%)
Marquette at Cincinnati (47%)
Miami FL (41%) at NC State
Oklahoma at Texas (86%)
Miss St (57%) at South Carolina
So Florida (19%) at Louisville
UNLV at Colorado St (41%)
St Joseph's (36%) at St. Bonaventure
Dayton (45%) at Richmond

28 February 2012

Bubble Watch: A Guide to Conference Tourneys

The bubble is shaping up nicely for NU at the moment, but be nervous as conference tourneys are getting underway.   As fans of a bubble team we are strongly against crowning any Cinderellas and other bubble teams making any noise (other than popping).

With 30 non-B1G conference tourneys over the next two weeks rooting interests can be confusing with so much new information to digest from the college basketball periphery.  We're here to help.  Here's a list of tourneys that 1) you can safely ignore and/or cheer for madness, 2) we want the clear favorite to win, and 3) we want bubbles to burst early and no Cinderellas.

Let Madness Ensue
Big South
Big Sky
Atlantic Sun
America East*

* RPI Alert: tourney favorites are NU opponents.

Be a Yankees Fan (Best Case Scenario)
Ohio Valley (Murray St win)
Ivy (Harvard win reg season)
Missouri Valley (Creighton/Wichita St win)
Big West (Long Beach St win/early loss)
Sun Belt (Middle Tenn win/early loss)
Metro Atlantic (Iona win/early loss)
Summit (Oral Roberts win/ early loss)

Needles Wanted (Bubble Teams)
A10 (StL/Xav/Dayton/St Joes)
Pac 12 (Cal/Wash/Ariz/Ore)
Big East (WVa/Cinc/So Fla)
CUSA (So Miss/Ctrl Fla)
Colonial (VCU)
West Coast (BYU)
Mountain West (Col St)
SEC (Miss St)
ACC (Miami Fla)
Big 12 (Texas)

Bubble Watch: Feb 28, 2012 Edition

We have a New Watch List that incorporates predictions from 57 bracketologists that were reported by Bracket Project as published on the 27th (16 teams).  With bubble teams out of action last night this is probably one of the cleanest and most complete looks we will have at the bubble.

Note that we excluded four teams with just one vote (NC State, Illinois, Colorado, and Stanford).  We also dropped one bracket because it's just so darn wacky (The D-World Society excluded Alabama yet no other bracketologist has them lower than an 11 seed).

Watch List (# of brackets out of 57)
11 West Virginia (54)
11 Washington (54)
11 BYU (53)
11 Xavier (53)
12 NU (50)
12 Cincinnati (49)
12 Miami FL (49)
12 Texas (48)
12 Mississippi St (43)
12 Arizona (29)
South Florida (19)
Colorado St (18)
VCU (16)
St. Josephs (13)
Dayton (12)
Oregon (5)

Changes in Watch List
Illinois and Minnesota moved down to NIT.

Yesterday's Games Recap

Today's Games
Xavier (13%) at St Louis - Punch 'em in the mouth Majerus
Depaul at West Virginia (89%) - Will WVU's funk continue?

27 February 2012

Northwestern 67 PENN STATE 66 (F)

The emotional roller coaster is getting into full swing.  On Saturday night Northwestern (17-11,7-9) mustered up all its ESPNU karma to sneak out of Penn State (12-17,4-12) with a one point win.  

NU spotted its hosts an 8 point lead in the first half by the 12 minute mark of the first half.  Then over the next 5 1/2 minutes NU got hot from the field and went on a 18-4 run.  There was an opportunity to extend the run over the final 5+ minutes of the half, but a combination of missed layups, missed free throws, and turnovers limited NU to just a 34-28 lead at halftime.

Penn State came out of the half and shoved the ball down NU's throat on its first two possessions to close the gap to just a bucket.  The Wildcats responded with some hot shooting and quickly extended its lead all the way up to 9 points on a nifty and unWildcatlike fastbreak layup (Shurna) that started with a defensive board.  Unfazed by NU's quick burst Penn State stuck to the game plan and got the ball down low against NU's 1-3-1 and easily converted layups and dunks to close the gap all the way back to even by the 9 minute mark. 

The teams would trade blows in the form of NU three pointers and PSU layups/dunks until the final three minutes when things really got interesting.  With NU clinging to a 2 point lead Tim Frazier drove into the lane and barreled into a stationary Dave Sobolewski.  Instead of a momentum swinging charge the All-B1G performer got the call and converted the "and one" free throw to give Penn State a one point lead. 

NU would get a couple of good looks to retake the lead but nothing would drop for the Wildcats.  Penn State also had no luck extending their lead.  With under a minute to go Reggie Hearn was called for a charge when it looked like he was reached in on and tripped but no call.  The situation grew increasingly dire when Drew Crawford was forced to foul Jon Graham after a nice Tim Frazier drive and dish under the basket with just 14 ticks left on clock.  Would this be another example of close but not cigar for NU?

Graham looked the part of a 40% FT shooter on the season and clanged both attempts.  NU rushed the ball up the court.  Passed the ball to Shurna at the elbow even though double covered.  Penn State hacked the entry pass.   No call.  NU turned toward the hoop.  Penn State hacked again.  No call.  Shurna shuffled his feet from being pushed around.  No call.  Shurna rose for a shot.  Penn State defenders hacked Shurna on the arm.  Ball was wide left and three feet short.  Official called the foul.  Finally.

With ice in his veins Shurna would calmly knock down the free throws with just 2.6 ticks left on the clock.  Penn State did get the ball past half court, but Frazier's desperation heave feel short.  Hallelujah!  There is Joy in Wildcatville!

Alot has been made of Shurna's individual performance, and it was impressive.  23 points.  6 assists.  5 blocks.  2 steals.  Zero turnovers.  Still this was no one man show as his teammates went 15-33 from the field and 12-20 from distance.  In particular Alex Marcotullio played a major part in the victory scoring 12 points on 4-6 shooting from distance.  Drew Crawford scored 13 points on impressive 4-5 shooting from distance yet somehow went 0-4 from inside the arc.  Dave Sobolewski had a couple of very impressive takes to the hole  Reggie Hearn knocked down some key shots, and JerShon Cobb knocked some rust off and went 2-4 from the floor for 5 points in 23 minutes of action.

With the win NU kept alive its NCAAs at large berth hopes.  Next up come big bad Ohio State (23-,11-5) to the Welsh for a 730pm tip at the Welsh on Wednesday.  It was once a foregone conclusion that the Buckeyes would run away with the B1G race.  Not so much.  If Michigan State wins in Bloomington on Tuesday night then the best Ohio State could finish would be one game back of the Spartans.  NU fans would give a kidney for such fate, but Ohio State has to be extremely disappointed with how the end of the conference season has gone. 

In our view there is little pressure on NU in this game.  A win is not vital to NU's NCAAs dreams, but a win would make it a near certainty.  The Welsh should be rocking once again for Senior Night in what could be a historic night.  So be sure to make it out to the game and be loud!

Bubble Watch: Feb 27, 2012 Edition

We have a New Watch List that incorporates predictions from 16 bracketologists that were published on the 26th (18 teams).

Watch List (# of brackets out of 16)
11 West Virginia (15)
11 - Cincinnati (15)
11 Texas (14)
11 NU (14)
12 BYU (13)
12 Washington (13)
12 Xavier (12)
12 VCU (11)
12 Mississippi St (10)
12 Arizona (10)
Colorado St (9)
+ Miami FL (9)
+ South Florida (5)
Dayton (5)
St. Josephs (5)
+ Oregon (2)
+ Illinois (1)
- Minnesota (1)

- denotes loss on the 26th
+ denotes win on 26th

Changes in Watch List
Cincinnati dropped back down onto bubble after its loss to South Florida.
St Joseph's moved back up onto bubble after good win against Temple.
LSU and NC State moved down to NIT with losses.

Yesterday's Games Recap
Miami FL turned heads with a home win over Florida St despite having a key player deemed ineligle at tipoff.  Oregon got a nice win at Oregon St so should be moving up ranks; Craig Robinson you disappoint us!  Illinois kept its faint NCAA dreams alive by beating Iowa.  Minnesota is still on watch list but are done with a loss to Indiana.

Today's Games

26 February 2012

Bubble Watch: Feb 26, 2012 Edition

NU gained a little ground yesterday with the win at PSU.  Maybe out of Dayton for now but not important with two huge opportunities to make noise coming up.  More bubble action in store for today.  Same Watch List as yesterday which includes predictions from 25 bracketologists who have updated their crystal balls as of the 24th (18 teams).

Watch List (# of brackets out of 25)
11 - West Virgnia (24)
11 + BYU (24)
11 - Mississippi St (23)
12 - Colorado St (20)
12 + Washington (19)
12 + Xavier (18)
12 + Arizona (18)
12 + NU (18)
12 + Texas (17)
Miami FL (13)*
+ VCU (9)
Oregon (5)*
+ Dayton (5)
- LSU (3)
- NC State (3)
South Florida (3)*
Illinois (2)*
Minnesota (1)*

- denotes loss on the 24th/25th
+ denotes win on 24th/25th
* denotes teams with game today

Yesterday's Games Recap
NU won most importantly.  Colorado St and Mississippi St fell as expected so will fall back a bit.  Washington helped its case with a nice with at Wazzu.  Dayton won in a blow out and likely to gain ground.  Arizona and Texas narrowly avoided bubble bursting losses.  LSU and NC State likely off the bubble.  VCU won which means we will want them to lose early in the Colonial tourney. 

* Today's Games (5)
Florida St at Miami FL (49%) - Please FSU no wide right!
Cincinnati (47%) at South Florida (53%) - Bubble death match! (go So Fla)
Iowa at Illinois (71%) - Show some pride Illini!
Indiana at Minnesota (41%) - Hoosiers can drive final nail in coffin
Oregon (40%) at Oregon St - C'mon Craig Robinson!

Note: bubble teams shown with kenpom.com expected win percentages.

25 February 2012


NU is 6-0 on ESPNU this year.  Tonight's game against PSU is on ESPNU.

Put this W in the bank!!!

24 February 2012

Bubble Watch: Feb 25, 2012 Edition

Lots of action this weekend particularly on Saturday.  Watch List updated to include predictions from 25 bracketologists who have updated their crystal balls as of the 24th (18 teams).

Watch List (# of brackets out of 25)
11 - West Virgnia (24)
11 BYU (24)*
11 Mississippi St (23)*
12 Colorado St (20)*
12 Washington (19)*
12 Xavier (18)*
12 Arizona (18)*
12 NU (18)*
12 Texas (17)*
Miami FL (13)
VCU (9)*
Oregon (5)
Dayton (5)*
LSU (3)*
NC State (3)*
South Florida (3)
Illinois (2)
Minnesota (1)

- denotes loss on the 24th
* denotes teams with game today

Changes in Watch List
Cincinnati moved up off bubble
West Virginia moved down to bubble
St Joseph's and Central Florida moved down into NIT

Yesterday's Games Recap
West Virginia nearly benefited from the 1st half benching of four Marquette starters "violating team rules."  But the 'eers frittered away a big half time lead at home and lost by a point.  We'd say we feel bad for WVU, but that would be a lie.  Their loss could be our gain.  Besides misery loves company.

* Today's Games (12)
NU (54%) at Penn St  - Reverse the curse!
Portland at BYU (97%) - Bad loss = bubble burst
Miss St (19%) at Bama - Bama is in = Roll Tide
Colorado St (29%) at San Diego St - Bad road team
Wash (46%) at Wash St - Wazzous owe us!
Richmond at Xavier (76%) - A bad loss = burst bubble
UCLA at Arizona (69%) - Loss here = Need P12 Tourney Run
Texas (89%) at Texas Tech - A bad loss = burst bubble
George Mason at VCU (78%) - Last VCU game = Go GMU!
UMass at Dayton (63%) - Hanging by thread = Must W
LSU (49%) at Ole Miss - Must W opportunity knocks
NC State (37%) at Clemson - Need 2 Ws in 3 coinflips

Note: bubble teams shown with kenpom.com expected win percentages.

Bubble Watch: Feb 24, 2012 Edition

No Bracket Project update so same deal as yesterday.  16 bracketologists have updated their crystal balls as of the 22nd and 15 more have the 21st as their most recent update.  We use those brackets for determining our watch list.  Pluses denote wins on 22nd or 23rd.  Minuses denote losses.  Good wins/bad losses are double your pleasure.

Watch List (# of brackets out of 16/31)
11 - BYU (15/30)
11 Mississippi St (13/28)
11 + Cincinnati (13/25)
12 NU (12/26)
12 Washington (12/22)
12 Colorado St (12/14)
12 + Arizona (10/19)
12 Xavier (9/21)
12 Miami FL (8/20)
Texas (8/18)
+ VCU (5/9)
- Central FL (5/8)
-- St Joseph's (5/7)
- South Florida (5/7)
Illinois (3/5)
- Minnesota (3/5)
Oregon (3/4)
NC State (1/7)
+ Dayton (1/5)
+ LSU (1/2)

Yesterday's Games Recap
Cincinnati helped their resume with a home win over ranked Louisville.  Arizona avoided a bad loss by defeating USC at home.  BYU missed a golden opportunity to bolster their resume with their loss at Gonzaga. 

Tonight's Games
None officially on the watch list.  West Virginia is getting close to the bubble if not already on it.  They battle Marquette in Morgantown with both teams playing on just two days rest.  Nice scheduling there Big East.  The 'eers are expected to lose with 55% probability in a one point nail biter.  Sound familiar?  Marquette could help out NU by doing to WVU what Michigan did to us on Tuesday night.

23 February 2012

Time has slowed down to a crawl

Ever since the Minnesota game.  Has it really been less than 2 days since the Michigan game?  Can it still really be more than 2 days until the Penn State game?  Holy crap!

We feel like Cartman waiting for the Wii to come out.  Science Dammit!  Would someone please please please put us out of our misery and load us into a time warp machine set for this Saturday 7:45PM Central?  It's not like we can get anything productive done between now and then.  Totally.  Useless.

Bubble Watch: Feb 23, 2012 Edition

Bracket Project updated its matrix last night.  16 bracketologists have updated their crystal balls as of the 22nd and 15 more have the 21st as their most recent update.  We'll use those sets as basis for updating our watch list which remarkably is still 20 teams strong. Pluses denote wins on 22nd or thereafter.  Minuses denote losses.  Good wins/bad losses are double your pleasure.

Bubble Team Watch List (# of brackets out of 16/31)

11 BYU (15/30)
11 Mississippi St (13/28)
11 Cincinnati (13/25) 
12 NU (12/26)
12 Washington (12/22)
12 Colorado St (12/14)
12 Arizona (10/19)
12 Xavier (9/21)
12 Miami FL (8/20)
Texas (8/18)
+ VCU (5/9)
- Central FL (5/8)
-- St Joseph's (5/7)
- South Florida (5/7)
Illinois (3/5)
- Minnesota (3/5)
Oregon (3/4)
NC State (1/7)
+ Dayton (1/5)
+ LSU (1/2)

Note: George Mason also popped up on some lists but only as an AQ from the Colonial. 

Changes in Watch List
Connecticut, WVU*, Alabama, Seton Hall moved up off bubble
Central FL, Oregon, Dayton, LSU moved up onto bubble

* WVU lost to ND last night so they are probably still on bubble once bracketologists update their predictions.

Tonight's Games (Win Probability %)
Louisville at Cincinnati (54%) -- A rare time we will root for Rick Pitino
USC at Arizona (94%)  -- Ah Kevin O'Neill - the gift that keeps on giving! 
BYU at Gonzaga (64%) -- Only upside for BYU; a win puts them in the field

22 February 2012

Is it just us?

Or is kenpom.com giving us the finger?  This bar chart and its 7 win mode better not be a harbinger of our NCAAs fate.  Or else!

Bubble Watch: Feb 22, 2012 Edition

There were eight bubble games last night.  These games have of course affected the bubble, but we are keeping the same 20 teams on the bubble since we have no updates from Bracket Project. Minuses in front of team names indicate losses since the last Bracket Project update while pluses denote wins.

Team (included in field by bracketologists)
West Virginia (54/55)
- Mississippi St (53)
+ Connecticut (53)
Alabama (52)
+ Seton Hall (52)
BYU (51)
- Texas (50)
- Xavier (49)
- Miami (49)
- NU (48)
Cincinnati (42)
Washington (41)
- NC State (28)
Arizona (27)
St Joseph's (14)
South Florida (10)
- Illinois (9)
+ Colorado St (8)
VCU (8)
Minnesota (5)

Aside from the disappointing loss to Michigan last night was ok from a bubble watch perspective.  Of note Seton Hall played its way off the bubble while Colorado St put itself very much in the mix with an upset at home over a ranked New Mexico team (thanks for nothing Steve Alford).

Below are the bubble games on tap for tonight:

Bubble Games (Win Probability %)
West Virginia at Notre Dame (62%); Predicted Score 66-63
Michigan St (79%) at Minnesota; 69-60
Richmond at St Joe's (77%); 72-64
South Florida at Syracuse (92%); 67-53
VCU (83%) at NC Wilmington; 73-62

Michigan 67 NORTHWESTERN 55 (F-OT)

If Northwestern (16-11,6-9) falls short of the NCAAs this year it will take years of therapy to end the nightly pattern of waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat from the perpetual nightmares of being eviscerated by a pack of menacing 10 foot wolverines.  For the second time this year Northwestern played Michigan (21-7,11-4) to a stalemate during regulation and fell during the overtime period.  Cruel.

Close games can drive fans of the losing team crazy with what-if scenarios.

  • What if Crawford hadn't been injured?  He was limited to 10 ineffective second half minutes (no shots, 1 rebound, 2 turnovers)  and didn't get off the bench for OT.  Had NU's second best player been healthy would NU have been able to squeeze out one more point in regulation?
  • What if NU took better care of the ball?  NU had 14 turnovers during a 48 possession regulation.  Eliminate a couple of these turnovers and the game could've been quite different.
  • What if NU did a better job of cleaning its defensive glass?  Michigan knocked down two wide open bombs after corralling offensive boards in the second half.  1) 17:00 mark Hardaway misses both FTs only to have the ball tipped back to a wide open Trey Burke who swishes it; 2) 10:00 mark Douglass misses a bomb, Novak misses a bomb, NU nearly gets the rebound, Michigan gets it to Stu Douglass who swishes the bomb.
  • What if the refs didn't swallow their whistle on NU's possessions early in the second half?  First was Shurna missing a layup due to contact with a defender inside the semicircle but no blocking call.  Second was Hearn getting bumped out of bounds on a baseline drive but no blocking foul called.  We stopped paying attention to the refs at that point for health reasons.  So much for home court advantage!
  • What if NU had tried for 2 shots at the end of regulation instead of 1?  Hindsight is 20/20 but letting the clock bleed for just one possession that resulted in a bailout three from JerShon Cobb was just about as much as Michigan could've hoped for there.
Taking a step back we see that this game was a defensive battle.  The teams scored 49 points in regulation on 48 possessions.  Michigan employed a switching man defense that gave NU limited room to work around the perimeter.  NU employed mostly the 1-3-1 defense after Michigan demonstrated they could defeat NU's switching man defense with regularity.  Ultimately Michigan's superior defense won out.

Individually Johnny Shurna was well contained by the Wolverines.  Shurna was relatively inefficient scoring 14 points on 16 shots from the field.  Reggie Hearn was NU's star of the game scoring 11 points on 4-4 shooting and grabbing a game high 8 boards, but even his performance was blemished by four costly turnovers.  Davide Curletti had his second best game of the year which was much needed given Drew Crawford's injury suffered early in the game.  Alex Marcotullio and JerShon Cobb combined to shoot a woeful 2-13 from the field and 0-7 from distance. 

The loss hurts NU's NCAA chances but the dream is still very much alive.  Our 9-9 target is looking unlikely with two roadies and a home game against OSU, but 8-10 coupled with a B1G Tournament win would have NU fans on the edge of their seats watching CBS's Selection Show.  This scenario is very doable.  Northwestern has played quite well over the past eight games.  That NU has only managed to go 4-4 during this stretch speaks to the B1G's quality this year. 

Next up is a trip to Penn State (12-16,4-11) on Saturday for an 8PM tip.  This game is a must win if NU wants to lock in its NCAAs berth during the regular season.  State College has played a large part in killing NU's NCAAs aspirations the past few years.  So what?  New year.  New PSU coach.  Different NU team.  Different PSU team.   A loss would put NU's back against the wall so let's not go there shall we?

21 February 2012

Bubble Watch: Feb 21, 2012 Edition

The bubble is mercurial if nothing else.  Bracket Project updated his matrix last night. 55 bracketologists have updated their projections as of the 19th.  Below is a list of the 20 teams that are not consensus picks for the NCAAs among these 55 forecasts:

Team (included in field by bracketologists)
West Virginia (54/55)
Mississippi St (53)
Connecticut (53)*
Alabama (52)
Seton Hall (52)
BYU (51)
Texas (50)**
Xavier (49)
Miami (49)
NU (48)
Cincinnati (42)
Washington (41)
NC State (28)
Arizona (27)
St Joseph's (14)
South Florida (10)
Illinois (9)
Colorado St (8)
VCU (8)
Minnesota (5)

* UConn won in OT at Villanova last night so they are comfortably in the field for now. 
** Texas lost to Baylor last night which likely puts NU ahead of them and off the "last four in" list.

Below we list those games from kenpom.com's view of the world with games ordered from most compelling to least compelling (i.e., kenpom's "Thrill Score").

Bubble Games (Win Probability %)
Michigan (52%) at Northwestern; Predicted Score 66-65
Georgetown (62%) at Seton Hall; 61-59
North Carolina (72%) at NC State; 81-74
Xavier at U Mass (58%); 76-74
New Mexico (78%) at Colorado St; 71-63
Miami FL (66%) at Maryland; 70-65
Kentucky (87%) at Mississippi St; 77-64
Illinois at Ohio St (95%); 72-54

On paper only Miami FL is expected to win tonight.  Of the other seven bubble teams in action NU stands the best chance for an upset.  Here's to hoping that the games go to chalk tonight (except that we hope Northwestern wins of course!).

Other games of note (for NU's RPI):
Evansville at Creighton (84%)
Stony Brook (81%) at Hartford
Clemson (56%) at Georgia Tech

20 February 2012

Op Ed: Does Dayton count?!?!?!

For those who may not know "Dayton" is the site for the "first four" of the NCAAs -- the "play-in" round if you will.  Lake the Posts has a podcast that opens with this very deep and existential question.   Say what?

No offense to LTP but REALLY???? WTF!!!!  This has to be one of the dumbest questions ever posed by a Northwestern sports fan (and that is really saying something).  If NU plays in Dayton would "the streak" live on?  No.   Would Northwestern's name still come up on the longest inactive NCAA tourneys lists but with an asterisk?  No!  Would it be mentioned in every friggin TV broadcast in future years when NU is in the hunt?  Hell No!  Would the hex hanging over this program finally be lifted?  Yes!

Look it. No ifs ands or buts about it.  The clear and unambiguous immediate goal of this program is to make the NCAAs.  Beggars can't be choosers, and Northwestern is the ultimate NCAAs beggar.  Dayton is part of the NCAA tournament.  For ef's sake YES Dayton counts!!!

Know thy competition: NCAAs Bubble Edition

It goes without saying that no single bracketologist has a crystal ball to the future.  Not Joe Lunardi.  Not Jerry Palm.  Not Mike Huguenin.  Not nobody.

While individual bracketologists are not very useful in isolation we do believe in the collective wisdom of the 67 brackets that are published and collected by the The Bracket Project (link on right).  17 of these forecasts have been completed since NU's victory over Minnesota, and these "NU-current" forecasts collectively show the following teams on the bubble (read: no consensus that the team is in the tourney), in order of most likely in to most likely out.

Mississippi St
Seton Hall
Miami FL
NC State
St Joes

Illinois would be the last one in which speaks to how soft the bubble is at the moment.  There really aren't any other teams on the radar except for perhaps Cleveland State but we think the Horizon is a one bid conference this year so have left them out.

That is to say that as things stand over the next two weeks NU only needs to make sure it outperforms four of its fellow bubble teams to secure an NCAAs berth.  Makes you feel a bit more confident about NU's chances for the NCAAs right?  WRONG! 

The line drawn at the Illini is the best case scenario for potential at large teams since it assumes that no berths are taken by otherwise NCAAs-unworthy teams who play their way into the Big Dance by winning their conference tourneys and thereby displace NCAAs-worthy team from an assumed automatic berth to an at-large berth.  Of course the likelihood of that happening is nil.  In any given year there are a handful of upsets that produce woeful 16 seeds upon which the Kentuckys and Syracuses of the world feast in their first game of the NCAA tournament.

Bubble games of interest tonight:

Baylor at Texas.  Baylor is in, Texas is in bubbleland.  Texas could solidify its position above NU with a win and at the same time hurt our SOS.  Texas is favored by 2 to 2.5 points.

NORTHWESTERN 64 Minnesota 53 (F)

Johnny Shurna scored 18 points to break Billy McKinney's career scoring record and help position Northwestern (16-10,6-8) for an NCAAs at large berth with a critical win over fellow bubblemate Minnesota (17-10,5-9).  Surprisingly there was more suspense over whether Shurna would score the 17+ points needed to break the record than if NU would win this pivotal toss-up game. Johnny was held scoreless until 4 minutes remained in the first half while Minnesota held the lead for just one possession early in the first half.

For his first points John anticipated a cross court pass out of the 1-3-1 and converted the steal into a momentum building throwdown dunk.  Once the seal was broken Shurna poured in the points fast and furiously.  Johnny was the trigger man for each of the five remaining NU first half possessions with the following results: made 3FG, made layup, made 3FG, missed jumper, made layup.  This one man scoring tear extended NU's lead from 24-21 to 36-25.  So dominating was the performance that not even a potential momentum stealing Julian Welch bomb at the horn could temper the buzzing about the Welsh.

Minnesota would get no closer than 7 points in the second half.  The second and last time that Minnesota closed the gap to a touchdown it was Shurna with the answer -- a 3 point bomb that rattled home and visibly rattled Minnesota as the crowd roared out in celebration of what it had been eagerly awaiting -- points 1900, 1901, and 1902 of Shurna's career and the record.  Rodney Williams, bless his heart, was thoughtful enough to throw the ball away on Minnesota's next possession for the under 12 media timeout so that the Welsh announcer could officially commemorate the festive occasion and give the fans the unambiguous opportunity to shower Johnny with the love he so richly deserves.

From the 10,000 foot view we see that this was just the second B1G game (at Michigan) in which NU's offense AND defense played above an average B1G level.  On a combined basis NU performed 0.11 points per possession better than an average B1G team; only the victories over Michigan State and Iowa were better overall performances.  The game also marked the sixth consecutive game that NU's offense performed at an above average level.

Individually Shurna's points have already been glorified, but it was his all-around effort that impressed us the most.  He had a stat sheet stuffing 6 rebounds, 5 blocks, 5 assists, 3 steals and no turnovers -- an A+++ game on a historic night.  This game recap would be incomplete if we did not mention that Dave Sobolewski had a very good game.  The freshman point guard scored a game high 22 points including 4-5 shooting from distance and did not have a turnover.  Drew Crawford scored 11 points and did most of his damage early on before the Shurna train got moving.  JerShon Cobb got the start and provided defensive mojo that has been missing most of the season to the tune of 5 steals in just 24 minutes of play.

Next up is a Michigan (20-7,10-4) team that rolls into Evanston for a 7pm tip on Tuesday with a ton of momentum.  Just hours after NU completed its big victory over Minnesota the Wolverines took down the mighty Ohio State Buckeyes up in Ann Arbor.  Michigan is riding a 3 game winning streak and is just one game down in the loss column to Michigan State in the B1G standings.  The Wolverines can practically taste a B1G championship, and there is no chance that they will overlook NU since this will be their toughest remaining game on paper.

Most observers agree that a 9-9 B1G record would make NU a lock for the NCAAs while 8-10 would put NU on the bubble and likely needing a win at the B1G Tourney.  Hence NU can afford one or two losses over the final four games of the regular season.  Per kenpom.com the remaining games ranked in descending order from hardest to easiest are: OSU, Michigan, at Iowa, at PSU.  As the "easiest" of the two home games but with Michigan coming in ranked the stakes are high for this game.  However it is not "do or die" time so let's keep it in perspective and enjoy being in the thick of the NCAAs discussion.

16 February 2012

INDIANA 71 Northwestern 66 (F)

Northwestern (15-10,5-8) was once again prime position to nab a resume building road victory but ultimately faltered down the stretch.  The score was tied at 63 with just over four minutes to play, but Verdell Jones' 6 points helped Indiana (20-6,8-6) hold off NU's upset bid and secure their reclaimed position among the first tier B1G teams.

Indiana scored 1.15 points per possession and held NU to 1.06 PPP.  Over the course of the B1G slate IU's PPP figures are 1.12 and 1.09, respectively.  After adjusting for home court advantage, the data show that Northwestern played at an average B1G team level from both an offense and defense efficiency perspective. That NU lost the game is a reflection of the facts that 1) Indiana is now an above average B1G team and 2) that the game was played at Assembly Hall.  Had the teams squared off at the Welsh and put forth similar efforts then the outcome of the game may have swung in the Wildcats' favor.

Individually speaking Johnny Shurna had yet another stellar performance.  Shurna racked up 29 points on 11-21 shooting from the field and 2-6 from distance.  He also had 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, 2 steals and 2 turnovers to show for his 39+ minutes of effort.  His production faded down the stretch run due to some combination of intense Indiana defense and fatigue.  Drew Crawford had a good game scoring 18 points, nabbing 5 boards.  However it was Drew's 4 costly turnovers and multiple missed layups that some NU fans have focused upon as reasons for the loss.

Reggie Hearn had a solid effort with 8 points on 3-6 shooting and 3 boards.  Foul trouble limited Reggie to just 23 minutes of play which hurt NU's chances in the game since his replacements (a combo of Fruendt, Curletti, and Cobb) were statistical no-shows.  Alex Marcotullio had a fine game scoring 7 points thanks to a couple of improbable converted layups from behind the backboard and he also had 2 steals. 

Next up is a home game this Saturday at 6PM against Minnesota (17-9,5-8).  The Gophers embarrassed NU on Jan 22 up at the Barn to the tune of a 75-52 romping.  Northwestern will undoubtedly put forth a better effort this Saturday, but the question remains whether it will be enough.  Kenpom.com forecasts that NU will win 71-68 with the chances of an NU victory at 61%.  That's more or less a coin flip -- a coin flip that needs to come up "Northwestern" if NU is to keep alive realistic hopes of playing its way into the NCAAs during the regular season.

The game shapes up as strength vs strength and weakness vs weakness.  NU has the fourth best B1G offense while Minnesota has the 6th stingiest defense.  Minnesota's 3rd weakest offense doesn't scare anyone but neither does NU's league worst defense.  Which team wins the turnover battle and whether NU can hold its own on the glass will go a long way in determining of this game.  NU students can do their part by showing up in full throat and turning the Welsh into a snake pit for the Gophers.  Let's make it so!

14 February 2012

NU's Midseason Report Card

Back in December we previewed and analyzed NU's 2012 B1G schedule to give our readers a road map to the NCAAs if you will.  We did so by dividing the schedule into trimesters and then categorizing the games therein.  With the first two trimesters now in the books this is a good time to step back and take stock of where NU stands on its NCAAs quest.

The first trimester grades have been in the books for a few weeks now, but we channeled our inner Ben Bernanke and withheld our board notes so as to not unduly influence the course of events.  Per Carmody Court Bylaw 2.03A(i)4.a.ii. (aka, the "CC No Tampering Rule") we are now free to share our findings. So without further ado drum roll please...

First trimester (wins in parens)
Expected result: 2-4 (PSU, Illinois)
Targeted result: 2-4 (PSU, Illinois)
Actual result: 2-4 (PSU, MSU)
Analysis: NU lost one Low Hanging Fruit game (Illinois) but replaced it with one Bling game.  In the eyes of the Selection Committee the Bling win outweighs the LHF loss.  Also of note is that NU nearly picked up additional Bling at Michigan but fell in OT. 

Grade: C+

We'll be back in a few more weeks to share our second trimester analysis.  Oh what the hell.  We hereby enact Bylaw 4.12D(iii)2.a. which allows us to forego the CC NO Tampering Rule and (subpart i.) not take any responsibility whatsoever for any undue negative influence our words may or may not have on the season and (ii) simultaneously take full credit for NU's run to the NCAAs.

Second trimester
Expected result: 2-4 (Io_a, Nebraska)
Targeted result: 3-3 (Io_a, Nebraska, Purdue)
Actual result: 3-3 (Io_a, Nebraska, at Illinois)
Analysis: NU exceeded expectations and met our 3-3 target.  In place of a home victory against Purdue was a glorious victory at Illinois.  In the eyes of the Selection Committee the road victory will impress more than the home loss to Purdue will hurt.

Grade: B

Looking ahead
At 5-7 NU has achieved our minimum target for scraping into the NCAAs this year.  The third trimester is upon us so let's do this thang!  What once appeared to be 4 low hanging fruit games has morphed into 2 LHFs and 2 Bling games (at Io_a, Michigan have become tougher), and the two Wheaties games (at Indiana, Ohio State) still look like very tall orders.  It won't easy but so what?  As an NU fan would you really expect it to be any other way?!?!?  Buckle up because this roller coaster of a season is about to get nerve wracking.

13 February 2012

PURDUE 87 Northwestern 77 (F)

Northwestern's (15-9,5-7) NCAAs aspirations were dealt a blow last night in a hard fought 87-77 loss to Purdue (16-9,6-6). With the loss NU fell into a seventh place tie with Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa.  Purdue is now alone in sixth place and has an edge up on NU with the NCAA Selection Committee with the season series sweep.

Neither offense could get untracked in a rugged first half as a tough nosed Purdue defense knocked NU off its spots while switching NU defenses kept Purdue off balance.  Purdue managed to squeeze out a 34-29 lead as the teams headed to the locker rooms -- the largest margin for either team in the half.  The Wildcats played well out of halftime and managed to nose out to a 48-47 by the ten minute mark.  It was at that point that the game changed complexion.

The light went on for the Purdue offense, and it was full steam ahead for Boilermakers over the next 8 minutes.  During this stretch Purdue scored on 12/13 possessions that included 9-11 shoooting from the field and 4-4 from the charity stripe.  Northwestern's offense also excelled, but 18 points were not enough to keep pace with Purdue's incredible 27 points and other worldly 201.7 offensive efficiency.  Over the final couple of minutes NU went into foul mode to extend the game, but Purdue converted enough of the freebies to keep the Wildcats at bay.

There were two Purdue possessions during this pivotal stretch that were true spirit breakers.  The first possession came at the 7 minute mark when Purdue got the ball after a Shurna jumper had tied the score at 57.  The NU defense stayed solid and ultimately forced Purdue's Terone Johnson to hoist a bailout three as the shotclock expired.  Naturally the 29% shooter from distance swished it.  The second possession was around the 3 minute mark when NU's defense forced Ryne Smith to miss a difficult jumper.  Perhaps having grown accustomed to seeing Purdue shots go through the net NU neglected to box out a crashing DJ Byrd, and Byrd made NU pay with an uncontested layup on the rebound.

Individually Johnny Shurna had a standout game.  Shurna was at his best in the second half when he scored 23 points and was instrumental in keeping NU in the game despite Purdue's uberefficient offense.  For the game John had 30 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks and no turnovers.  Dave Sobolewski also had himself a nice game tallying 12 points on 2-3 shooting from distance and 3 assists to zero turnovers.  This frosh guard continues to impress.

Drew Crawford had an up and down game.  Drew had several good plays including an invigorating dunk that had NU faithful fans thinking late in the second half that if only NU could get a defensive stop or two then a resume building road win might be in the offing.  Two missed layups and a second technical foul that ejected him from the game ultimately torpedoed NU's comeback effort.  Alex Marcotullio frustrated us with another poor game.  Marcotullio did knock down his only shot of the night which was a pretty looking bomb, but one shot in 30 minutes of play is not nearly enough production.  Worse yet was his three costly turnovers and a silly fifth foul 75 feet from the basket with 2:30 to play and NU trailing by 6 points.

Next up is a trip to Bloomington on Wednesday to take on a rejuvenated Indiana (19-6,7-6) squad.  This is a scary matchup for Northwestern.  The Hoosiers have lost only once this year at Assembly Hall (Minnesota) and have taken down Kentucky and Ohio State in the friendly confines.   Indiana has the #1 ranked B1G offense in conference that relies upon superb outside shooting (also #1 in conference) coupled with a post game solidified by the addition of superfrosh Cody Zeller.

The Hoosiers must be licking their chops as they watch film of the league's worst defense.  NU's short bench has forced Carmody's hand to play more 1-3-1 than he might otherwise prefer.  The vulernabilities of the 1-3-1 are open spaces in the corners which just so happen to be the preferred Hoosier shooting location.  Unless the 1-3-1 can force copious amounts of turnovers this game could get ugly right quick.

10 February 2012


For the third game in a row Northwestern (15-8,5-6) relied upon a robust offense to bury a B1G opponent and to improve the outlook for its NCAAs dreams.  The victim last night was Io_a (13-12,5-7) who had no answer for Northwestern's small lineup offense and looked equally as perplexed by the Wildcat defense.

The first half comprised a series of runs.  After a slow start to the game NU went on a 16-2 spurt to take a 19-9 lead just 8 minutes into the game.  Iowa fought back over the following 5 1/2 minutes by outscoring NU 14-5 and cutting the NU lead to just one point on a Matt Gatens 3 pointer, but NU closed out the half on a 14-6 run to take a 38-29 halftime lead.

The second half was played evenly over the first 9 minutes as NU extended its lead by a modest four points to 57-44.  NU then landed a heavy blow with a 8-0 run over the next couple of minutes that included two Reggie Hearn trifectas and a Dave Sobolewski coast-to-coast layup.  Io_a managed to cut the lead back down to 15 points, but Alex Marcotullio broke out of a shooting slump and delivered the knock out blow by draining three quick bombs and extending the Northwestern lead to 24 with just 5 minutes to play.

The key to the game was Northwestern's offensive balance.  All five NU starters finished in double digits, and as a team the Wildcats shot 56% from the floor including 52% from distance.  NU scored an eye popping 1.41 points per possession.  This translates into an offense that performed about 0.26 points per possession better than an average B1G would've as host to Io_a.  This performance was slightly off from the MSU game (0.33 PPP) and was a smidge worse than the game at Illinois (0.26 PPP), and it marks the third straight game that NU outperformed an average B1G offense by at least 0.2 PPP.

There is a fair amount of excitement over the defensive performance against Io_a.  To the eye, Io_a looked completely lost against NU's 1-3-1 defense and turned the ball over a terrible 18 times in the game.  But looks can be deceiving.  Even with those turnovers Io_a managed an offensive efficiency of 108.5 for the game which is above their in-conference average.  By our estimation NU's defense still underperformed an average B1G defense hosting the Ha_keyes by 0.07 points per possession.  That's an improvement over NU's defensive typical performance this year, but it is still nothing to crow about.

Overall this was NU's second best game in conference from an adjusted efficiency standpoint.  More importantly this marks the fourth straight game in which NU's efficiency has improved from its B1G low point at Minnesota.  So not only is NU on a three game win streak but NU is improving game by game.  This trend bodes well for the future.

Next up NU travels to Purdue (15-9,5-6) on Sunday for a 5pm tip.  The Boilermakers are riding a two game losing streak after losing to Indiana at home and making Ohio State sweat in Columbus.  NU and Purdue are tied for sixth in conference so both teams will be focused and ready for this game.  Purdue has the home court advantage and perhaps some additional motivation to reverse a losing streak.  Northwestern has the revenge factor and a great deal of confidence riding a three game win streak.  Purdue will be favored in the game, but Northwestern has a puncher's chance to win.  A Northwestern win is not necessary for NU's NCAAs aspirations, but it would provide some margin for error down the stretch run.  Now wouldn't that be a welcomed change of pace from the past few years!

06 February 2012

On Stephen Bardo

One of our favorite parts of a Northwestern upset victory is watch the other team's fan base combust.  We aren't surprised that the warped Germans have come up with a word for this specific type enjoyment: schadenfreude.  It's a guilty pleasure of ours, but it isn't one the seven sins as far as we know so we can still look ourselves in the mirror.

Anywho there is some great reading over at Illini HQ from the past day or so.  The place was already hell bent on firing Bruce Weber, and yesterday's loss just added fuel to the fire. During our gratuitous lurking we noticed a post that nearly made us gag.  Bardo is a good announcer?  WTF!?!?!?!?  We still are haunted by his broadcasts last year in which literally EVERY NORTHWESTERN GAME he used the same old "Juice Thompson is 5'10" only if he's standing on a NY phone book" bit.  It wasn't funny the first time Stephen, and it was torture by the end of the season.

05 February 2012

Northwestern 74 ILLINOIS 70 (F)

Northwestern (14-8, 4-6) traveled down to Illinois (16-7,5-5) for a Super Sunday rematch with avenging a narrow one point loss in Evanston on their mind.  Despite some chatter that Luka Mirkovic and JerShon Cobb were set to return from the scratch list, Northwestern once again went with a "small" lineup and just a six man "rotation" throughout.  It worked against Nebraska, and it worked again at Illinois.

In the first half it was the Reggie Hearn show.  Reggie was perfect from the field and tallied 16 points on 6-6 shooting and 4-4 from distance.  As a team Northwestern shot 56% from the field and 46% from distance.  Aside from sloppy care for the ball by Crawford and Marcotullio (2 and 3 turnovers, respectively) it really was an impressive offensive display against a very solid Illini defense.

Northwestern employed the 1-3-1 defense to help an undersized Johnny Shurna defend Meyers Leonard in the post.  It wasn't a bad strategy, but Leonard still was able to get the ball down low and scored 12 points on 6-6 shooting.  The Illini offense was similarly efficient to Northwestern's shooting 59% from the field and 46% from distance.  NU's slight rebounding edge and one fewer turnovers helped NU edge out to a 36-33 lead at half.

Out of halftime the Illini cranked up the defensive pressure.  Over the first 10 minutes NU managed to score just 7 points while bricking all five of its free throw attempts and were held scoreless for a 7 1/2 minute stretch.  However the Illini were unable to fully capitalize on their defensive efforts and led just 46-43 at the 10 minute mark.

It was at that point that Johnny Shurna decided to take over.  Shurna scored 4 quick points to bring NU's offense back to life.  And for the remainder of the game every big Illini bucket was answered by Johnny either taking his man off the dribble, posting up, or cutting hard for a backdoor layup.  By the time he was through Shurna had 12 points on 6-7 of shooting over the final 10 minutes of the game.  The Illini, down by 5 points with a minute to play, decided they had seen enough of Shurna's heroics and fouled his teammates to extend the game.  But it was futile exercise as Northwestern answered the bell and went 8-10 from the charity stripe to ice the game.

And with that beauticious road victory Northwestern's NCAAs quest is back on track!   Next up are the Iowa Hawkeyes (13-11,5-6) who visit The Welsh on Sunday evening for an 8pm tip.  The Hawkeyes were left dead to rights after slinking to a 5-5 non-conference start that included an awful home loss to Campbell and blowout losses to Clemson at home and Northern Iowa on the road.  Somehow Iowa righted the ship by the time B1G play began and spoiled Wisconsin's New Year's Eve with a stunning 72-65 upset at the Kohl.  The Hawkeyes followed that up with another road victory at the barn to sit at a surprising 2-1 in conference play. They have since come back to reality somewhat, but they Hawkeyes are riding a two game winning streak coming into this game and feeling pretty good about themselves.  No B1G game is a gimme, but if NU wants to keep breathing life into its NCAAs dreams then they will need to win what is the most winnable game on paper that remains on its schedule.

Northwestern 36 ILLINOIS 33 (H)

A good first half thanks to Reggie Hearn's 16 points.  He's been abusing Leonard on offense, but Leonard has returned the favor on the other end to the tune of 12 points.

NU has played 6 guys in the first half.  Shurna, Crawford and Sobolewski played all 20 minutes.  Hearn had a +6, Marcotullio +2, and Curletti -2.

Let's finish this thing!

04 February 2012

B1G Power Rankings: Halfway Point Edition

1.  Ohio State  Still see no reason to expect they will relinquish top dog position (change from preconference ranking: none)
2.  Wisconsin  Dominating defense, improving offense (no change)
3.  Michigan State  Day Day is underrated (no change)
4.  Michigan  Media were right, we were wrong (+2)
5.  Indiana  They're sliding but expected to right the ship (-1)
6.  Illinois  Brandon Paul to the rescue (+2)
7.  Purdue Hummel still needs another threat to emerge (-2)
8.  Minnesota Tubby doing a good job with this team without Mbakwe (+1)
9.  Northwestern  Home losses to Illinois and Purdue weigh heavily (-2)
10.  Iowa How did they win at Wisconsin? (+1)
11.  Nebraska Showing signs of life as they return to health and schedule eases (-1)
12.  Penn State It's been a tough year in State College for a number of reasons (no change)

2011-12 Northwestern Efficiency at B1G Halfway Point

Northwestern is now at the halfway point of conference play.  Its 3-6 record is disappointing and behind where we'd like to see it for NU's NCAAs resume.  But the schedule has been front loaded so the record alone doesn't tell the complete story.  To shed some light on how NU has performed this year by taking into account the schedule we have updated our popular NU efficiency analysis that we discussed last October when we revisited the 2010-11 season.

Before we get into the data it is important to say up front that a sample size of nine B1G games do not a solid statistical analysis make.  To improve the sample size we considered including NU's games against non-conference opponents (excluding cream puffs), but as it turned out the benefits of increased sample size did not outweigh the cost of mixing apples with oranges.  The other caveat we wish to mention is that this analysis is midstream and thus there is more noise in the data from imbalanced schedules across the B1G than there is in an analysis that considers the results from an entire conference season.  In other words it is a little early for this type of analysis but we were curious and figured to share our very preliminary findings.

The statistics on NU's relative defensive efficiency are more significant than those for offensive efficiency although defensive efficiency stats are still only reliable with up to 80% confidence.  When adjusting for differences in game location (home/away/neutral) we found that NU has only performed better than an average defense in the game at Michigan.  NU did have a three game stretch (Penn St, Illinois, at Michigan) in which the defense resembled a typical B1G team, but otherwise it has not been pretty.

The two worst games for the defense have been at Wisconsin (0.25 PPP worse than average -- Carmody still hasn't figured out how to defend Bo Ryan's flex offense) and Thursday's game against Nebraska (0.29 PPP worse than average).  Since Nebraska was the most recent game NU's defensive trend line is substantially negative.  But even if we take out the Nebraska game the stats show that NU's defense is slowly regressing from a pretty poor start at Ohio State (OSU scored 0.14 PPP more against NU than against a typical B1G team).  Or to put all of the above more bluntly NU's defense has been below average on the whole and shows no signs that it will improve as the season wears on.  Bummers.

On offense the statistics are less significant but at least they tell a more optimistic story.   NU's offense has been remarkably consistent within conference so far.  In 6 of the 9 games NU has performed within 0.1 PPP of that of a typical B1G offense.  Otherwise in 2 games NU's offense really clicked (MSU +0.32 PPP, Nebraska +0.22 PPP) and it really bombed at Minnesota (-0.2 PPP).  What we see is that on the whole NU has had a solid B1G offense.  What we can expect to see the rest of the way is unclear.  Not only are the statistics not very significant but the trend line varies between slightly positive and slightly negative depending on whether the Nebraska game is included in the sample.

When one considers NU's offense and defense together you find that NU has had two real stinker games (at Minnesota and at Wisconsin) and one very good game (Michigan State).  Of the nine games, NU has played above an average B1G level in just two games (add in the Michigan game -- which in retrospect helps to explain our editor's rant) and played below average in seven games.

One last point: on average across the nine games NU is 0.07 PPP below an average B1G team.  Since the average B1G team is going to be NCAAs bound this says to us that NU has a good amount of work to do but really is not that far off from where they need to be in order to get that elusive NCAAs invite.  Very preliminarily.  So there.

NORTHWESTERN 84 Nebraska 74 (F)

Northwestern (13-8, 3-6) used a 17-3 run over the final 8 minutes of the first half to build a 15 point lead at halftime.  This cushion allowed the Wildcats to withstand several Nebraska (11-10, 3-7) second half runs and pull away at the very end of the game for a 10 point victory. 

The key to Northwestern's impressive first half was stellar shooting from beyond the arc.  As a team NU shot an astonishing 10-21 from distance with each of the starters knocking down at least one trey (Curletti was the sixth man and did not attempt a 3 point shot).  The 10 converted bombs put NU on pace to match its B1G record of 20 made threes in a game.  It also helped that Northwestern only turned the ball over twice to Nebraska's 8 turnovers. 

Nebraska heated up in the second half as they shot a torrid 18-29 from the field including 7-13 from distance.  Northwestern was able withstand the Cornhuskers' hot hands by getting to the line an incredible 24 times and making 19 of those freebies.

Northwestern's MASH unit had 7 scholarship players available for the game of which 6 played.  John Shurna had a game high 28 points on 9-13 shooting including 3-6 from distance.  He also stuffed the stat sheet by making 7-8 from the charity stripe, grabbed 5 boards, blocked 2 shots and had 2 steals.

Drew Crawford also had himself a good night with 21 points on 7-15 shooting including 4-7 from three point land.  Drew also helped NU's effort by nabbing 4 steals.  Dave Sobolweski chipped in 15 points thanks to 3-7 shooting from distance and making 6-7 FTs.  Davide Curletti had only 4 points, but he got those points on perfect shooting from the charity stripe.  Davide also had 8 assists, grabbed 4 boards and had 3 steals in 28 minutes.

Northwestern's 84 point effort is the Carmody-era high water mark for offense in a non-OT B1G game.  Maybe it isn't pure coincidence that NU set a new record against a new foe, but regardless NU's 1.33 points per possession was quite impressive and matched NU's best efforts of the season (against Seton Hall and Mississippi Valley St).  On the flip side NU allowed 1.17 PPP to Nebraska which was their second best effort in their inaugural B1G season (1.3 PPP in their victory at Iowa). 

Next up is a Super Sunday trip to Illinois (16-6,5-4) where Northwestern looks to avenge a bitter 57-56 loss on Jan 4 in E-town.  A Northwestern win would revitalize the NCAAs chatter while a loss would make the following two games (Iowa, at Purdue) must win games.  The Illini have been a Jekyll and Hyde team this year with impressive home victories over Ohio St and Michigan St but have also struggled at times against inferior opponents (Illinois St, St Bonaventure, Cornell, Nebraska, and Penn St).  Brandon Paul led the Illini in both of their marquee wins.  We're hardly experts on coaching strategy, but we would recommend that NU do its best to keep Mr Paul in check on Sunday.