Back to Some Reality as Michigan Mauls Northwestern

Pat Fitzgerald was back in Evanston at Welsh-Ryan Arena with a shiny new trophy to show off to an adoring fan base. Several students in the stands had on their Gator Bowl championship shirts and various bowl merchandise. Even with a large deficit, the smiles and the bowl talk could not stop.

Yes, Northwestern still won 34-20 and broke that well-publicized bowl streak. Let that comfort you when reading the rest of this post. Because the basketball season could be a long one and could be a hard one to watch for Northwestern fans.

Then again, Michigan is the No. 2 team in the country and showed Northwestern exactly why that is in a 94-66 win at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Thursday.

Score Off. Rtg. eFG% O.Reb.% TO% FTR
Michigan 94 135.5 71.1 38.1 15.5 33.3
Northwestern 66 93.6 49.2 21.6 15.3 28.8

The slow pace of previous John Beilein teams appears to be a thing of the past with likely lottery pick Trey Burke leading a fast break attack that took advantage of every Northwestern turnover, missed shot and missed rotation. Burke started the attack with 23 points on 9-for-16 shooting and 4-for-6 shooting from beyond the arc, making 13 it seemed in the first 10 minutes of the game. Then he got to work with five assists, setting up the offense in transition.

Michigan really played very little of the game in its half-court offense. And when it did Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. picked the Wildcats defense apart.

The Wolverines as a team shot 59.6 percent from the floor and 13 for 22 from beyond the arc. It was just a complete destruction and even some of Northwestern’s best defense was not good enough on many possessions. Hardaway Jr. had 21 points on eight field goal attempts and added five assists and four 3-pointers.

Northwestern’s offense had a decent amount of flow offensively. But the early deficit proved to be too much. Northwestern gave up 10 points in the first four minutes and did not score. It was a double digit deficit early and only proved to get worse as the game went on. Northwestern made mini runs, but were never in the game. That was the kind of game Michigan had.

The Wildcats, it seemed, were running through their offense quickly trying to get all the points back at once. So the early deficit proved to matter for this young NU team.

Northwestern shot 40.7 percent from the field and 10 for 28 from beyond the arc. The large amount of 3-point attempts is a sign of how much Northwestern felt it had to come back.

Four players scored in double figures with Jared Swopshire and Kale Abrahamson scoring 11 points. Alex Olah and Tre Demps scored 10 points. Dave Sobolewski had only seven points to go with five assists. Nobody seemed able to get into a rhythm. Demps was 4 for 11 and Abrahamson was 3 for 8, showing flashes of their potential but also plenty of their youth. Alex Olah was 4 for 8 and looked good in the first half but largely disappeared in the second.

Not having Reggie Hearn hurt. Hearn does a lot of the dirty work and is a second ball handler to help Sobolewski out. With 12 turnovers and Michigan running on every mistake, that could have been a big boost.

This may not be a fair representation of what Northwestern will be like in the Big Ten season. But there will be a lot of growing pains for this team. There may be some ugly results against the better teams — like Michigan.

And so, Thursday was a back to reality moment for the long winter basketball season that could be ahead.

  • skepticat

    Not much of a basketball fan, but ended up turning this one on. It seemed all Michigan had to do tonight was toss the ball towards the hoop and it would somehow find its way in. Seriously, some of those shots would’ve had no business falling during warm-ups. Most depressing though? At one point, Dave Eanet (or was it Tim Doyle?) said it was 4 freshman and a sophomore on the floor for Michigan. O_o

    So, not sure the basketball program is moving in the same direction as the football program, but at this point, with all the starters that are out, it’s basically turned into a “build experience for next year” season.

    • Northwestern was without Drew Crawford and Reggie Hearn, two of the team’s best three players. This squad is really young and the Wildcats don’t exactly recruit big-time freshman.

      Michigan’s team is virtually all freshman and Beilein has changed his coaching style to fit the talent on the roster. the Wolverines are a very very very good team.

      I do not want to take a whole lot out of this game, but the transition defense and the fact the team got buried early and did not know how to respond was a bit concerning.

      Good to see a good game from Jared Swopshire and a few others. But there is a lot of work to do to be competitive in the Big Ten this year.

      • skepticat

        “This squad is really young and the Wildcats don’t exactly recruit big-time freshman.”

        “Michigan’s team is virtually all freshman and … are a
        very very very good team.”

        That’s what I was saying was the most depressing thing about the evening. I realize our roster’s decimated and we’re playing a lot of freshman, but then to point out that Michigan is playing all freshman too … just a bit eye-opening.

        Think I need to watch more video of Fitz getting the Gatorade dumped on him….

        • Chasmo

          The fact that Michigan is as “young” a team as NU is why some Cat fans would like to see Carmody fired — he can’t recruit Top 100 players to come to NU and at the end of the day that’s all that really matters.
          With the amount of basketball kids play on AAU teams, the “we’re a young team” excuse doesn’t really hold water anymore as very young teams win 20 games nowadays.
          As Carmody himself once said years ago, “We need a pro,” meaning NU needs a player on its roster who is good enough to have an NBA career.
          Well, after 13 years of recruiting, he’s yet to have one.
          Coaching legend Frank McGuire once said of college basketball, “You just coach and I’ll just recruit and my kids will beat your kids every time.”
          Coaching is one of the most overrated skills in college basketball. Recruiting is the name of the game.
          And Carmody can’t recruit.

          • skepticat

            Fair enough. Not really a Carmody lover myself, but don’t hate him either. But those wanting a change shouldn’t expect one after the most successful few years in the basketball program, or even after a year where half the roster is unavailable. Also keep in mind that winning comes after academics and compliance on the list of priorities for our athletic programs. So, hope for some miserable years with Carmody playing his stars and/or for his contract to expire.

          • Consider also that Northwestern has had some incredibly successful freshman — Craig Moore, Kevin Coble, Michael Thompson, John Shurna, Drew Crawford all had great freshman years. The talent level is better, but NU is not quite at the point of getting top-100 talent quite yet.

            There is also a lot more competition at the Division-I level for big-time recruits. There are more teams in Division I and more chances obviously for teams to get to the Tournament. Very different landscape for success in football as to basketball.

          • To be successful a team like Northwestern will need much improved talent but probably excellent coaching too. The combination isn’t a mystery, as the excellent mid-major coaches are doing it every year. So, let’s give an outstanding mid-major coach/recruiter a try. Creighton’s McDermott (for example) would be very nice. Like the other best mid-major coaches, he successfully recruits guys that are very good college players, very coachable, but aren’t at the level of the gifted players using the big-time majors as a one or two year way station to the pros.

      • kinsella316

        PRR, I don’t think anyone had a good game when it mattered. Swop got 11 but the game was about 35 minutes of garbage time…

        • I think after the initial blitz, Northwestern played a little bit better. I’m a silver linings guy. Having said that, yeah, Michigan still won the final 35 minutes too.

      • Mark

        The current state of the program is bad and given the length of the situation won’t get better. The very good Big 10 programs – IU, Michigan, OSU, MSU, Minnesota – are going to keep getting good to great players. And the other good programs – Purdue, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois are going to continue to be good and possibly be great (Purdue and Wisconsin’s recent seasons). Only Nebraska and Penn State are going to remain at the bottom along with the Cats. Once Rutgers and Maryland come aboard the situation will get worse for the Cats.

    • zeek

      Yeah, there’s no way to compare the point at which the two programs are.

      The basketball program has sort of flat-lined the past two years although the talent levels have improved a bit (this has sort of been masked by just how strong the Big Ten has become over the past 2-3 years with programs like Indiana and Michigan starting to perform at the very highest level).

      The football program’s fortunes on the other hand are as high as they’ve been since ’95-96 on the backs of a 10 win season and the continued improvements in recruiting.

      This is virtually the first time that we can say that the football program is stocked full of Big Ten comparable talent.

  • Alan Casey

    No one beats UMich when they are shooting like that. I did like some things that our youngsters showed us. This tough game will pay dividends later this year and for years to come.

    Keep the faith, and GO ‘CATS!

  • NYNYC2005

    Did Cerina play? Box score says he got in there…..

    When can we expect Reggie and Cerina back full time?

    Has anyone seen Kale Abrahamson smile?

    • kinsella316

      Cerina got in at the end with Ajou. Played the last 4 or 5 minutes. This season has quickly become “fun bad” with all the freshmen and injuries.

  • ctya

    Carmody just needs time to implement his system. Year 15 is going to be great.

  • Nate

    It’s gonna be a long, long, long year without Drew and JerShon out there…didn’t expect them to compete last night without Reggie. Next year though, with a veteran roster, should be a berth into the round of 32 in the NCAA’s…and if it’s not, Carmody’s gotta go. Recruiting for NU bball isn’t exactly as easy as recruiting for NU fball.

    • Mark

      I just don’t see this program advancing in next year’s NCAA tournament and probably not even making the tournament. Just a rather uninformed opinion but I think history suggests it’s easier to recruit to academic schools in basketball – Stanford, Georgetown, Duke, others? – than to recruit in football. I think after 15 years the program is where it is and it isn’t going to get better. Has any other school gotten better with the same coach after 15 years? I’m open to evidence.

      • Nate

        I disagree about next year’s roster…call me optimistic, but with JerShon and Drew out there, along with Sobo running the point and a full year of play from this year’s freshmen, next year could be fun. Now for recruiting, I agree that bball is easier to recruit than fball, but I think the opposite is true for NU…football had some success in the ’90s for coaches to use on the recruiting trail…the bball squad has no prior success to speak of other than 4 straight NIT appearances. Now, factor in the idea that athletes considering the “smart” schools. For football, NU has closed the gap on Stanford, and remains ahead of Vandy and Duke. NU falls behind all of them in the bball recruiting wars. It’s an odd situation, but the growth of the bball program has been substantially slower than the growth of the fball program. I say give BC next year to spin his magic with arguably the most talented roster in NU history…if they flop, he’s gone…if they make it in, it’s open to debate whether he stays. I’m not an overwhelming supporter of Carmody, but he deserves one last chance with the talented pool of players he and his staff have recruited.

        • Mark

          Hope you’re right. From your mouth to a higher power’s ears. Wooden coached at UCLA 15 years before his first title. (But he went to the tournament twice in his first four years and five times in those first 15 years.)

    • Chasmo

      If one looks at recent results, it would appear that “Recruiting for NU basketball isn’t exactly as easy as recruiting for NU football” but there is more to it than that.
      Let’s look at three factors that make that statement debatable,
      1. NU basketball program has posted four straight winning season, including two seasons where it won 20 games. NU football, meanwhile, has not fared so much better in the past four years that it would make recruiting that much easier. In fact, last year NU football was 6-7. Unlike NU basketball, which won several NIT games, NU football did not win a postseason game in its previous four seasons. The low level bowl games NU lost were very much the equal to the NIT.
      2. A good college football team usually needs about five or six really good players to become a top rated team. [Let’s define a really good player as one who eventually will play professionally.] Basketball usually needs just one, especially if that guy is a first round draft pick. That factor alone makes it easier to build a successful basketball program.

      3. NU basketball’s facilities are no worse than NU football’s at the moment as both have nice locker rooms but play in sub standard arenas.
      So recruiting footballers to come to NU isn’t easier.
      In Pat Fitzgerald, NU has an energetic coach who enjoys recruiting kids to come to Evanston and connects well with some highly recruited kids. Fitzgerald then motives and inspires his kids to overachieve.
      In Bill Carmody, NU has a laid back coach who dislikes recruiting kids to come to Evanston and doesn’t seem to be able to connect well with any highly recruited kids. Carmody then fails to motivate or inspire his kids to play hard and with poise.
      Carmody is a better coach than Fitzgerald but in college sports, recruiting is far more important.

      • Mark

        Your second point is why I’ve always believed that NU has excellent football coaches. (And I disagree with your third point as to Carmody being a better coach than Fitz.)
        Just compare the guys who played for Fitz and are in the NFL to, say, the guys who’ve played at Illinois and are now playing in the NFL. No comparison, right? And many of those Illini players were drafted in the first several rounds. I think this says a lot about the guys who the Cats recruit – their work ethic, intelligence, and maturity – and also a lot about the basic competence of the Cats’ football staff.