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!