17 December 2012

NORTHWESTERN 74 Texas State 68 (F)

NU fans got their first glimpse of what a Drew Crawford-less team looks like.  Be afraid.  Be very afraid!

NU was down by five points with about three minutes to go.  At home.  Against Texas State.  A team ranked #252 by kenpom. A team NU was expected to cruise against 80-64.

If it wasn't for the 1-3-1 defense unleashed at the three minute mark NU would've lost this game.  Why NU didn't go to it sooner?  Who the hell knows.  Bad call Coach.

Kale Abrahamson can fill the hoop rapidly at times, but that is only half of the basketball equation.  On defense he is a huge liability that most any team will try to exploit.  And most will do so successfully.  We hate to say it but when Kale is out there you gotta go mostly 1-3-1.

Here's the way we see it.  If this team wants to continue the progress its made on man defense -- and NU should hope to do that given the current state of the offense --  there are three options:

(1) Play Ricola Cerina.  He has the body to bang but has been hurt and will only be effective against certain rugged B1G teams such as Michigan State and Minnesota.

(2) Play Sanjay Lumpkin.  He's a freshman who was reputed to be playing the best of all the frosh prior to getting sidelined by mono.  He has played less than a less than a half of basketball in his collegiate career.  Talk about a gigantic leap of faith if one wants to extrapolate to him being the answer this conference season.

(3) Switch Reggie Hearn over to the three spot and slide Tre Demps into the lineup.  This is our preferred option based on what we've seen on the court so far.  Reggie can play pretty much any position.  He can man it up as well as pretty much anyone on the team save Jared Swopshire.  And he is a very good rebounder for someone his size.  A natural for the three spot really.  We like what we see from Demps.  More so on offense but he's quick enough and long enough on defense to handle guarding a two guard.

Here's our proposal.  Start out the game as such:

1.  Sobolewski
2.  Demps
3.  Hearn
4.  Swopshire
5.  Olah

Man it up until the second media time out then bring in Abrahamson and Turner and Marcotullio for the 1-3-1.  Marcotullio and Abrahamson are better suited for that defense, and Turner is quick enough and has the active hands to disrupt in the middle.

If the other team shreds the 1-3-1 then give Lumpkin and Cerina a shot out there to help give the starters a blow.  Sobo?  Sorry dude you're playing 40 minutes unless you get more cheapy fouls.  And on that note..... DON'T DO THAT AGAIN. 

Rinse and repeat.

We don't like backtracking to the 1-3-1 but at this point it has to become more prevalent to fit the personnel. The sooner Coach Carmody figures this out the better.  Stanford is coming to town next and the B1G conference season is but a couple of weeks away. 

13 December 2012

Peering into the kenpom crystal ball

We're now ten games into NU basketball's transitory 2012-13 season.  NU's results have been a mixed bag.  Three losses are not very good, but those losses were to Maryland, Butler, and UIC.  Each of these teams will make some noise this season and be in strong contention for the NCAAs.

On the flip side NU has two nice wins on the road at Baylor and against Illinois State on a neutral court. The other five?  A bunch of tomato cans.  No offense Campbells Soup!

Leaving for this post the trees for the forest what do we make of these mixed signals?  Fire up the kenpom data Johnny!!!

Looking at efficiency this year's squad is most similar the 2003-04 squad that went 8-8 in a watered down B1G. This year's squad is a smidge weaker on offense but is an equal smidge better on defense. Overall this team looks to be just about the best Carmody Era defense but nearly the worst offense.  We're down as compared to the NIT years but above any other Carmody team.  Does that put NU on the NIT bubble this year?

Delving deeper into the four factors has proven endlessly fascinating.  Effective FG% is down on offense compared to each season back to 2002-03...first year of kenpom data.  On defense the effective FG% is much better than any season.  In fact for each season what NU has given up on offense effective FG% has been made up for in spades on the defensive end.

Next factor is Turnover Percentage.  NU's turnovers are up over recent history but slightly improved compare to the 2002-03 through 2005-06 seasons.  On defense NU is worse than in any season except 2010-11.  These defensive stats are an artifact to the concerted effort to go with man defense and not the 1-3-1 trapping and turnover-inducing defense.

Which segues nicely to the third factor is Offensive Rebound Percentage.  These data are ASTOUNDING and shine a BAT SIGNAL STRENGTH LIGHT on the fact that this year's team is a different animal.  Offensive rebounding has never been better and is well ahead of the rates for three of the four NIT years.  On the defensive glass it's a similar story but more so.  When you see that NU is giving up 28.7% of defensive boards to an average opponent you think... I need context.  The context is that the next best season was in 2010-11 and a 30.9% figure.  After that try 2005-06 and a 33.4% figure on for size.  The biggest discrepancy is to the 2007-08 season when NU allowed the average opponent to grab a whopping 39.1% of rebounds off NU's defensive glass. When you combine both ends together NU is most improved compared to the 2008-09 season (20%) but even the slimmest difference (2009-10, 2010-11) is a hair over 6% improved.  Zoinks!

 The last factor is FTA/FGA.  NU has been more aggressive this season on offense in taking it to the tin than in any season back to 2002-03 or earlier.  On defense it's more of a mixed bag.  NU is doing a worse job of fouling compared to last year but better than the prior four seasons.

06 December 2012

northwestern 74 BAYLOR 70 (F)

What's good for the goose is good for the gander.  We think that expression applies here, but we'd need to ask our Nanas to say with certainty.  Anywho what we are trying to say is that a visiting Northwestern punked a strongly favored (11 points) Baylor on Tuesday night much like a visiting UIC punked a strongly favored (11 points) Northwestern last Saturday.  It goes without saying that the whos whats wheres and whys differ.  But it's no matter.  The point is that NU quickly erased and even made up for the UIC loss in the very next game.

It was a sluggish start to the game.  At the five minute mark the Bears had eked out a 5-2 lead.  At the 8 minute mark the Bears were clinging to a 10-8 lead.  Riveting stuff. And it's not like the defenses could stake a legitimate claim to the low scoring affair.  Northwestern got whatever open look it wanted but clanked 9 of its first 10 shots.  The Bears weren't much better particularly not from beyond 5 feet. 

It was at that point that both teams started to shoot much better.  By halftime both teams were shooting 50% or better with NU holding a 35-32 lead after a buzzer beating Dave Sobolewski trifecta.

Our mood was upbeat at the half.  Baylor's zone that had perplexed NU up in Evanston last year was like swiss cheese this year.  Simply put the difference was Alex Olah making shots from the soft middle of their zone and making nice passes to cutters for easy layups.   Baylor seemingly had no answer.  The pundits suggested that Baylor abandon their primary zone defense in favor of man-to-man.  We could only hope that would play out since the Princeton Offense carves up weak man defenses, and as a secondary defense we had to believe Baylor would fall into the category.

Lo and behold the Bears DID come out in man, and NU carved it up like a Thanksgiving turkey.  The plethora of backdoor hoops and open threes dispirited the Bears and carried over to their incredibly anemic offense.  The Bears were so flummoxed they couldn't even make free throws.  It wasn't until nearly 8 minutes in that Baylor made their first field goal of the second half.  That cut NU's lead to 12 but did nothing to stop the bleeding while NU extended its lead to 18 points just before the 10 minute mark.  NU was having so much fun that Sobolewski got warned for talking trash and Drew Crawford got T'd up for hanging on the rim on a monster dunk along the baseline.

It was inevitable that Baylor would awaken from their hibernation.  A steady diet of taking the ball hard to the hoop snapped Pierre Jackson out of his awful funk, and along came the Bears.  Their comeback wasn't exactly fast and furious and was aided by some awful turnovers and awful NU free throw shooting over the final quarter of the game.  In the end NU won, and that is really all that matters. 

Next up: Butler comes to the Welsh on Saturday December 8 7PM Central.   Which NU team will show up?  Stay tuned to find out!

05 December 2012

uic 50 NORTHWESTERN 44 (F)

Over the past four seasons the lowest rated non-conference opponent to defeat NU was Stanford (#49 per kenpom.com) in the 2008-09 season.  This past Saturday UIC (#144 per kenpom.com) waltzed into the Welsh and reminded Northwestern fans that this is men's college basketball and upsets happen.  Big time upsets.

NU fans predictably have been in a tizzy over a home loss to the Flames.  Fans will be fans.  The game was one-or two possession throughout with the final score equaling UIC's largest lead in the game.  The part that bugged us most about the loss was the shooting 10-20 on the freebies.  That includes missing five front-ends so it was more like 10-25 in terms of opportunity cost.  This is not acceptable.  NU also turned the ball over way too many times given the lack of on-ball defensive pressure exerted by the Flames.  In our view the Flames outpatienced (is that a word?) NU's Princeton Offense which is a rare sight indeed.

We salute the Flames for a solid defensive effort and lament the many missed opportunities NU had to salvage a victory by making just a few more freebies. 

maryland 77 NORTHWESTERN 57 (F)

A week ago Tuesday NU's win streak in the ACC-B1G challenge was snapped at four thanks to an NBA-esque Maryland front court and fleet footed back court.  NU hung for about 22 minutes until Maryland figured they could just lob it down low for easy hoops and speed past the slower footed NU defenders for fast break layups.

NU sorely missed Ricola Cerina whose wide body could have helped neutralize at least one of Maryland's behemoths down low.  Still it's hard to imagine NU winning this game even if Cerina were available.

In the bigger picture the ACC clawed out an improbable 6-6 tie in the Challenge.  We read somewhere that the Challenge adheres to the Ryder Cup tiebreaker rules meaning in the event of a tie the Cup is retained by the most recent winner.  That would be the B1G.  So close yet so far ACC.  Better luck next time.   

On Kevin O'Neill

Most fans who lived through the Kevin O'Neill era at Northwestern will get a kick out of today's Ken Pomeroy blog entry:

"The NCAA keeps tabs on scoreless streaks, but their records are only for one team. These kinds of records are the humiliating kind, often the result of one team being “on” or “good” and the other not. I prefer the victimless record – in this case, how long can two teams go without scoring? Long scoreless stretches by both participants in a game require the intersection of outstanding defense and pathetic offense by both teams. And since it’s only possible for one team to be coached by Kevin O’Neill, it’s rare for two opponents to have these traits."