22 February 2012

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?