15 March 2012

NORTHWESTERN 76 Akron 74 (F)

That was bloody unnecessarily close!  This game was on the cusp of becoming a blowout with a couple of minutes to go in the first half and NU up 15 points.  It was at that point that Coach Carmody decided to finally take the wraps off the 1-3-1 defense.

Predictably Akron immediately turned the ball over, but Davide Curletti immediately passed the ball right back to an Akron player who spotted a teammate down low for an easy layup.  Instead of further deflating an already demoralized Akron squad with a turnover and easy NU hoop there was new life for the Zips.

NU continued with the 1-3-1 defense for the remainder of the half and caused more Zip confusion.  The Zips narrowly and luckily avoided turning the ball over several times and even converted their possessions into points.  By halftime the lead was just 8 points, but we felt good about NU's chances since the 1-3-1 looked like it would pay dividends.

Yeah.  Not so much.  Akron continued to walk the tightrope against the 1-3-1 early in the second half and in so doing built some confidence.  The Zips actually looked down right competent on a couple of possessions with their new found confidence.  Self doubt crept into the NU psyche.  NU began to fall in love with the three ball and began to miss often.  We are convinced the 1-3-1 would've paid more dividends if only NU believed in it, but due to the missed opportunities and lucky bounces for Akron it was shelved prematurely.

NU clung to a three point lead with under 15 seconds to play when NU elected to foul a Zip with just under 4 seconds to play rather than risk a Zip 3 pointer to send the game into OT.  The Zips knocked down the first free throw and then brilliantly quick shot the intentionally missed second free throw to catch NU off guard and gain better position for the rebound.  The ball was swatted out of bounds by Drew Crawford, and we could feel our stomach knotting up.   The Zips would get an open look at a three for the win at the buzzer but the shot was just off to the right.

Whew!  A feeling of relief washed over us, but it was intermingled with frustration over letting an overmatched Zip squad nearly win.  Somehow the old adage of "a win is a win" rings hollow even two days after the game ended.

Drew Crawford, JerShon Cobb, and Johnny Shurna scored all but seven of NU's 76 points.  Crawford and Cobb were especially efficient scoring 27 and 19 points on 15 and 10 attempts respectively.  Shurna had 23 points on 22 shots.

For the second straight game Dave Sobolewski had zero points.  He even missed a critical front end with 12 seconds to play to set up the game ending theatrics.  Reggie Hearn was able to get 4 points on some backdoor layups but he also continued his disappearing act of late.  Davide Curletti played some ok defense but was given a very short leash after his costly first half turnover. Alex Marcotullio's shot was off, but at least he created some havoc out there and got three steals.

Next up is a trip to Seattle for a game against Washington (22-10) on Friday night at 9pm Central.  The Huskies won the Pac-12 regular season title and are the most deserving team from that conference to make the NCAAs.  Instead the Pac12 is down to pinning their hopes on tourney champ Colorado after its other representative Cal was obliterated last night by South Florida over in Dayton.  But we digress.

The Huskies are an athletic and underachieving team.  They started out the season ranked #39 by kenpom but currently take up the #65 position.  They are not a particularly good shooting team but make up for that by crashing the offensive boards very hard and effectively.  We can already hear the whining from NU fans about the number of second chance points that Washington scored against NU.

The game will be a clash of tempos.  The Huskies like to play games with possessions close to 70 while NU is closer to the lower 60s.  NU will be well served to methodically go through the offense and drive the ball to the hoop where the Huskies have demonstrated a propensity to foul.  On defense NU can afford to sag in a bit until the Huskies shooters heat up.  Kenpom has Washington as a 3 point favorite with a 62% chance of winning.  NU has a chance of pulling the upset, but we're not feeling so optimistic about it.  Maybe it's Washington's long and athletic players.  Maybe it's a hangover from the Akron game.  Whatever the case we hope that we are wrong.