Bill Carmody became a mad scientist out of necessity as Northwestern traveled to Ann Arbor. His team was not getting any production from its post players to a huge detriment for the rest of the offense. The Wildcats needed something to kick start them and, perhaps, save their season. The answer to this problem was risky but probably the most effective and efficient. It seemed so simple.
Start John Shurna at center.
Moving Shurna to center and adding Alex Marcotullio to the lineup would spread the floor and give Northwestern the 3-point shooters everywhere on the floor the team would need to run the Princeton offense smoothly. The results were immediate against Michigan as Northwestern opened the game up with a 10-2 lead at the first television timeout.
Michigan coach John Beilein admitted after the game that the Wolverines had not prepared for such a strange lineup from the Wildcats.
However the Wolverines got wise and adjusted, attacking the paint much more. When Northwestern brought Davide Curletti in with 12:29 left, NU’s lead was down to one. Curletti and the Wildcats went +6 over the next eight minutes, however Curletti and the Wildcats went -6 in the three minutes he played in the second half.
Luka Mirkovic did not fare any better. The Wildcats broke even in the final 4:17 of the first half and were +2 with Mirkovic at center in the final 10 minutes of the game. This was just a sign that he was on the floor, not necessarily his impact on the floor.
Something was born in those minutes in the first half though. Something Carmody could stow away as he planned for the Spartans. With Drew Crawford battling a nasty flu bug that required him to take IVs before the game, Carmody opted to save some of his bench and start Davide Curletti for just the second time in his career. It proved to be an absolutely critical move in Northwestern’s upset victory over Michigan State.
The start was a bit inauspicious, but the second half proved how much value Curletti could add to the lineup. Northwestern went -3 in the first 10 minutes with Curletti on the floor. From that point on, the Wildcats were +12 with Curletti on the floor, including +8 over the final 8:13 of the first half. In this game, at least, Curletti’s presence on the floor had the most positive impact. His +9 for the game was tops on the team.
Again, this is both a very small sample size and more of a symbol that he was on the floor when things were going well. Still, if you watched Northwestern play, it was clear he was making a positive impact.
Curletti was the difference in the game if you ask me. He’s the one who snagged those [rebounds] when we had them, and he took them and scored on them. Curletti was a big difference in the game and deserved the play and credit he got. I thought it was a brilliant move by Bill to start him.
Brilliant indeed. Few things are overt signals of a coaching adjustment like a lineup change. Especially a change to the starting lineup. In the last two games, Carmody has made two key changes to his starting lineup and rotation with generally positive results, despite a 1-1 record.
The key with going to Curletti, much like the key was with the Shurna-as-center lineup, is consistency and getting the same kind of positive production the next time out. LTP addressed that this weekend as the encore has been more difficult than the original feat for Northwestern. Consistency is what separates the good teams from the great teams or, better, the NIT teams from the NCAA Tournament teams.
It is yet to be seen how teams will adjust to Carmody’s new lineups with some game tape on the new wrinkles. And we do not yet know whether Curletti can string two games like this together. He has posted back-to-back 10-point games only once before in his career (that included his previous strong game of 18 points on 6-for-7 shooting against Wisconsin February 2011).
Curletti just has not strung together solid back-to-back games in his four-year career. Now is his chance to make a lasting impact his senior year.
Even at 1-1, it is clear the changes to the lineup have made an impact to the team. The question now becomes, what impact will it make moving forward?
Some recruiting news that has the message boards heating up. Some of it is disappointing, some of it is sizzle. Plus, a shout-out to the women’s team for hanging on (barely) for a one point win over Illinois at Welsh-Ryan last night in a game that felt eerily similar to the pre-MSU men’s team. The ‘Cats had the Illini on the ropes, but due in part to foul trouble, the ‘Cats needed a free throw with :02.6 left to seal the win to move to an almost identical 12-6,2-3 mark of their fellow hoops squad.