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!