Northwestern Off Kilter in Physical Loss to Butler

One way to knock a rhythm team off its offense and off its, well, rhythm is to knock them to the ground and play physical. Bumping cutters, blitzing ball handlers and fouling are these trademarks, and they can wreak havoc on a team that is unable to grind its way through them.

The Wildcats having that perfect duo of finesse, movement-based offense and young players may not have quite been prepared for the physical battle the Bulldogs were prepared to unleash on them Saturday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Butler had the clear goal of frustrating and throwing NU off its game with this physical brand of defense. It did not matter how many fouls some guys got — foul trouble probably kept the game close — an experienced team like Butler knew that a Northwestern team that was struggling to get and make shots could not win.

If this was indeed Butler’s plan Saturday it worked in a 74-65 win against Northwestern on Saturday, playing a much more dominant game than the final score indicated. The Bulldogs withstood foul trouble to Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith, their top two players, and bogged the game down. Contesting shots, fighting for every rebound in the paint and frustrating Northwestern’s Princeton offense.

Score Off. Rtg. eFG% O.Reb.% TO% FTR
Butler 74 117.9 54.0 46.7 18.2 58.0
Northwestern 65 94.7 38.4 37.8 15.7 55.4

To say the least, the Wildcats will not win many game when they shoot 31.1 percent from the floor. They will not win many game when they hit on 7 of 25 3-pointers (three coming late from Tre Demps in a desperate comeback attempt). And it does not appear they will be able to do much with Drew Crawford scoring six points and hitting on just one of his nine shots.

Butler’s physicality had Northwestern on its heels and unable to properly run its Princeton offense. Without the ability to score points, the Bulldogs were able to maintain a 6-8 point lead for much of the second half. But it was a 6-8 point lead that seemed pretty insurmountable. That might be hard to say or believe, but the offense struggled that much.

Dave Sobolewski was the clear star. He was the only player that seemed to thrive under the physicality and pressure Butler put on NU. He scored 21 points on 6-for-11 shooting and 7-for-8 shooting from the foul line (good for a 72.3 percent true shooting percentage). However, he remained the only bright spot. The rest of Northwestern’s starters scored 27 points and shot 6 for 33 from the floor (18.2 percent). That included Jared Swopshire’s 0 for 6 effort and Reggie Hearn’s 3 for 10 effort. It was not like they did not play hard, they scratched out some tough plays throughout the game, they just could not put the ball into the basket.

Even when NU was able to execute or find open shooters, the team seemed like it was rushing its shots or trying to score before Butler’s tough defense could reset. More than anything the stat that exemplifies what happened in this game was NU’s 10 assists to 13 turnovers. The Wildcats very rarely have more turnovers than assists.

Credit to Butler’s defense for knocking NU off its offensive rhythm and making that stat happen, forcing NU into a rushed mindset on offense and that led to a lack of execution. The Wildcats, no matter how improved this team’s defense is, still need the offense to show up.

Defensively, NU did enough to give itself a chance for most of the game. The scoring margin remained close and Butler could not completely pull away. The Wildcats got to the line for 31 free throws, making 22, and that helped supplement the struggling offense. The defense helped hold down Butler particularly with Clarke and Smith in foul trouble in the first half.

Andrew Smith though did not commit a foul in the second half and made his impact felt as he cleaned up the glass for eight offensive rebounds and 24 points. NU was not able to match it on offense even with Sobolewski creating so much for himself and scoring enough to keep the game tight.

The difference between these two teams was in the confidence in what they were doing. Clarke had a run of shots in the first half after he came back on with two fouls that gave Butler the lead and some cushion to work with for the rest of the game. Northwestern found players like Michael Turner or Alex Olah open and instead of taking it in for an easier two or a foul, they rushed through an open shot. Perhaps that was experience or perhaps that was the pressure of more physical play on its way.

Either way, the Cats had a learning experience, did a few good things but ultimately came out with a loss. And ultimately came out with more questions to answer and more things to work on before coming back after Finals Week.

  • RealCoaching

    It sure would be nice to see Brad Stevens on the ‘Cats sideline. He’s used to playing in a high school gym setting, so the facilities wouldn’t scare him away.

    • Mark

      Hinkle Fieldhouse is much bigger than Welsh-Ryan and has a great history. At one time it seated 15,000 and was the home to the finals of the Indiana state high school basketball championship for many years. It is one of the great basketball venues in the Midwest. Welsh-Ryan is in no way comparable to Hinkle Fieldhouse. But yes, Stevens is a coach that would be an upgrade for most college basketball programs.

      • Tony Hinkle Fieldhouse is on my bucket list of places to see a sporting event. I’ve been awed ever since I first saw Hoosiers.

        • Mark

          I guess you know that Oscar Robertson’s high school coach, Ray Crowe, was the coach in “Hoosiers” of the opposing team in the final. In fact, the Crispus Attucks Tigers won the ’55 and ’56 state titles with Crowe and Robertson the year after the miracle win of Milan in the ’54 final. “Hoosiers” is based around that Milan team; its star, Bobby Plump, played for Hinkle at Butler. Attucks was the first Indianapolis team to win the state title and also the first all African-American team to do so.

          There are some other well known Indiana high school basketball figures that appeared in the movie, but native Hoosiers, including myself, easily picked them out when “Hoosiers” came out.

  • Country Boy

    Agree. There was one good coach in the building tonight and he was not on the Northwestern bench. Olah was stationed at the arc the entire second half despite Butler have foul trouble with their centers. Does Carmody have any plays designed for getting the ball on the low block to a big? I can’t ever see Carmody developing a center. Also it was apparent at the end of the game that Tre Demps is an excellent driver and slasher. How about running some clear outs for him?
    I guess it would be too hard for Carmody because he has done the same stuff for 20 years. Carmody has to go at the end of the year. Brad Stevens would be a perfect fit. Let’s hope NU can find the money and more importantly the courage to make the right move.

    • I feel sorry especially for our big men. One purpose of a university is to develop each student in his/her chosen specialty, and Carmody does that only for students who fit his approach. If you fit you’ll develop, if you don’t you’re out of luck.

    • bandcat

      What was the Brain Trust thinking about when they refused to give Sobo any type of a breather in the second half ? He was in foul trouble and the only guy who was having an offensive impact… I was screaming from my seat for Demps .. Nice to see that Bill finally decided to use a guy who was recruited to be the point guard ahead of Sobo after Sobo Fouled OUT. Granted our bench is short with injuries…Demps not giving Sobo a breather is ALL on the Coach…Crawford has got to be suffering physically. He is just not moving. Olah is a project that i have my doubts about Carmody developing. Could not see Brad Stevens body language from where i was sitting… Bet it was a lot more positive looking than Bills.

  • CatInTheHat

    I was at the game. All I have to say is that it’s about time to file a missing persons report on Crawford. Also, shot selection was nauseating across the board for the Cats. Butler brought 5,000 fans. Good for them. We were looking at a “how to” clinic on the opposing bench when it comes to maximizing average talent and getting the most out of a program with built-in challenges.. Hats off to the opposition on this one.

    • I am hoping to do a post on Crawford disappearing very soon (after finals end for me Monday). What was interesting though in talking to a few reporters who follow this stuff is that Drew Crawford’s usage rate is up this year. I guess the eyes and the numbers are not jiving right now.

      • CatInTheHat

        Looking forward to reading your piece on Crawford! Interesting but not surprising to hear about his usage rate. I just think it’s one of those unfortunate instances of a good player regressing. I might revise my assessment if his play gives any indication to the contrary.

    • CM

      5,000? Ummm no. Not even close.

      • CatInTheHat

        Maybe not 5,000 but there were tons of em there. They had some sort of alumni field trip.

        • CM

          I would guess 1,500 to 2,000 tops. It never got very loud on Butler’s behalf. I was surprised.

  • Alumdad

    This is going to be a looooong season for the Mildcats. They can’t shoot from the field or the charity stripe. I am tired of the same thing year in and year out. I don’t see this team even getting an NIT bid this year. They have no leadership. Drew Crawford has regressed ever since his freshman year. Limited talent plus uninspired coaching equals a poor product on the court. The administration needs to follow their football approach with a younger head coach that can relate to the players and offer some inspiration. Bill Carmody has served his time and purpose. The Cats are never going to progress with him at the helm. It might be time to talk to Chris Collins…again.

    • zeek


      Brad Stevens knew how to effectively dismantle our offense. Let’s give credit to Butler for that. They beat us to our setup spots for shots and contested almost everything.

      We were flustered during a lot of the game with an inability to find clean looks, and the clean looks that we did get were too often clanked as a result of how physical that game was.

      Butler just wore us down.

  • hudhaifa3

    For the first time ever I agree with the majority of LTP readers. I was all for Carmody moving forward. I just don’t get it. The cats are deeper than ever but he still plays a short bench. Don’t blame Crawford being MIA on him though. I think it’s going to be a long long season.

    • CM

      The “short bench” observation is deceiving. It’s not on Carmody at all. Marcotullio, Cerina, and Lumpkin are all hurt. (Marcotullio fighting back problems, Cerina out with the ankle injury, and Lumpkin having conditioning issues trying to come back from mono). The 8 man rotation is not a voluntary decision at the moment.

      • Add to the injury list, Ajou who is just not physically ready and Liberman with shin splints. And I don’t think Crawford is 100%. He’s got that shoulder harness and is just not moving smoothly. There’s a twitter picture somewhere of the guys in the locker room after a game last week, with Crawford sporting huge ice packs on both knees and his shoulder. And I’ll suggest #retireEdHightower as the hashtag for his next appearance in Evanston.

  • lol joifry8vl.;

  • Mark

    I wouldn’t be too discouraged by a loss to Butler. They have shown over the last few years that they are a team that can play with anyone. The losses to UIC and Maryland are much more indicative of a problem in my opinion.

    Once the Big Ten season starts we’ll see how a team constructed on shooting will compete with a number of highly ranked physical teams that can also shoot, albeit with a different system for getting their shots.

  • Pittsburgh Wildcat

    Finals week is definitely going to be a look-in-the-mirror time for this team.

    In the Big Ten offensive stats, we’re sitting 9th in team FT% and 10th in team FG%. And we haven’t exactly played murderer’s row of defenses.

    RIght now, I have no idea how we’d win any of the 10 games against the 6 ranked teams in the B1G. That leaves the other 8 games as 2 vs Iowa, 2 vs PSU, 2 vs Purdue, 1 vs Wisc and 1 at Neb.

    I’m absolutely rooting for a turnaround, don’t get me wrong. But something better turnaround quick for this team or we’ll be lucky to finish above .500. And coming off 4 NITs and multiple “last team in/out” seasons, that would be a horrible backslide.

  • CM

    Surprised nobody has mentioned Ed Hightower. Amazing how he consistently inserts himself into the biggest moments late in games. He gave Butler timeout once when we had the ball, and once when it was a tie up. He also allowed Reggie to be bumped and tackled to the floor with no call. I heard that TV caught Carmody giving Hightower some choice words after that one. Let’s not forget the terrible call on Sobo’s “fifth foul”…even though that wasn’t Hightower. Not saying the refs cost us the game…but they sure sent a whole bunch of crucial breaks Butler’s way late in the game.

    • Officiating doesn’t matter if you can’t make shots. It was not a well-officiated game and fouls played a factor for both sides negatively.

      • CM

        Officiating ALWAYS matters. Despite the poor shooting, the Cats were able to hang around. Agreed that both sides had reasons to complain, but late in the game the Cats were the sole recipients of very poor calls. Not saying it decided the game, but the officiating definitely impacted things late. (And all night, as Carmody pointed out. He was quick to say he would be communicating with the B1G office about the lack of calls on bumping/holding/tackling the cutters all game).

  • JM

    If Crawford is not seriously hurt, his play to this point qualifies as among the costliest disappointments in the history of the program. We needed him to be an all-conference player, and he’s closer to not starting than he is to that level right now. Aside from Baylor, and the first few minutes of the first game, he’s been awful.

  • MarkMedill88

    The phantom fifth on Sobo was a killer, but the Cats had plenty of missed opportunities before that. How many possible and-1s did we miss? How many offensive boards did we let slip out of our hands? How many open looks did we clank? Can someone please tell Kale Abrahamson not to play hot potato with the ball at the free-throw line? Can someone please give Drew Crawford a wakeup call? Can someone give Alex Olah a shooting touch?

    Okay enough slams. Sobo was awesome. Gotta love that kid’s spark and desire. Reggie Hearn didn’t let his off night from the field affect his free throws. Swopshire couldn’t hit a shot, but played inspired defense. And Demps’ hot hand off the bench during garbage time makes me wonder if he can hit those threes with the game on the line.

    In terms of execution, I still can’t believe we keep Bill Carmody on as coach. He seems to have no answers other than pouting, crossing his arms and looking up at the clock as if to say, “How long until this is over?” His game-day tactics are terrible, he always gets outcoached at the half, and his players seem to have little belief in him. When you run the Princeton offense, and you get out-assisted 13-10, that’s inexcusable. When you have dominant size like Olah in the middle, and you get outrebounded 37-30, that’s pathetic.

    I hereby revisit my suggestion last season for NU’s hoops slogan: “Wildcat Basketball: A Carmody of Errors!”

  • fullfathomfive

    If NU is out-physicaled by Butler I can’t wait to see what Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State will do. Knowing NU basketball history, it’s about the time of year when there;s a killer injury or a good player decides to transfer somewhere else.

    What baffles me so much about Carmody’s NU teams in their inconsistency. At Princeton his teams were the opposite — consistent in effort and commitment and play and results every night,.At NU, it’s a rollercoaster — lose to UIC, but beat Baylor. In the league, Carmody’s teams so often upset a power and then stumble against Penn State or the like.
    Fire Carmody? OK, sure. Who else in their right mind is going to take the job? Why would a promising young coach such as Stevens want to come to NU where coaches’ careers come to die? Give the job to Hardy when Carnody’s done and see what happens. I don’t think it matters. Same old basketball.

    • I agree, but Stevens’ assistant, Matthew Graves, might be interested. I hope Northwestern is not too proud to at least consider the top assistant coach on the program that is a model of ‘how to do it’ without great talent.

      • Mark

        Well, if by talent you mean the ability to play one on one, jump out of the gym, etc., I think you’re right. But if talent is knowing where the ball and everyone on the court is and where they will be in the next few seconds I would submit that Butler is talented. To wit, the kind, if not the level, of talent Larry Bird had – “taking pictures” out on the court, knowing where the ball would come off the rim, having great ball handling skills, playing together as a team to get guys the shots within their ideal range, etc. 7 of their guys are from Indiana and four more from Illinois, Kentucky and Ohio. I agree that they don’t necessarily get the level of players out of Indiana that IU and Purdue get – but they play together and are probably all the types of guys that grow up watching high level high school and college basketball – gym rats for want of a better word. I don’t know enough about NU’s guys to know if they are that type of player but Stevens and his assistants seem to find them.

      • fullfathomfive

        Seems worth taking a chance on! *I agree. Not a bad idea. Unless he is waiting for Stevens to go to Duke when Coach K quits and take over at Butler.

  • Watching and (Mostly) Waiting)

    I cited Crawford’s lack of leadership as a real concern before the season, and took some heat from fellow LTP followers. Anyone still doubting that statement should be forced to watch the replay of this game. I said I was delighted to be proven wrong, and still am, but the early evidence suggests Crawford to be a part-time leader. The more physical you get with Drew, the more likely his disappearance. Every B10 coach must know that by now. Hearn had an off shooting night but his rebounding, FT shooting, and overall scrappiness still stood out. If Drew Crawford had the heart of Reggie Hearn, he’d be first-team All-B10. (Likewise if Reggie had Drew’s talent.) Instead, we’re in for a long year. And one more thing: did I miss an injury report, or why was Alex Marcotullio DNP?