Northwestern is not going to blow teams out with its offense right now. Without its top two scorers in Drew Crawford and Jershon Cobb (both gone for the year), a lot of the offensive punch is gone and a lot of the aggression and ability to improvise out of the offense is also gone.
Bill Carmody said he wanted to slow the game down and rely on Northwestern’s efficiency on offense and its ability to work for a full 35 seconds on the shot clock to keep them in games and give them a chance. This strategy relies on a whole bunch of things — getting back in transition, making 3-pointers and avoiding turnovers.
None of those three things happened against Iowa and the results were disastrous because of that.
The Hawkeyes held the Wildcats to 15 points in the first half. That would have been OK for Northwestern if the team could keep Iowa from scoring. But the Hawkeyes closed the half on a 14-4 run (insurmountable considering the Wildcats’ offensive struggles) and then found their offense while the Wildcats continued to be stuck in the mud. It was an ugly performance and Iowa’s 70-50 margin probably does not reveal how much Iowa dominated the game at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Sunday.
The stats Northwestern will have to watch are 3-point shooting, turnovers and assists-to-field goals.
The Wildcats hit on only 5 of their 26 3-point attempts (19.2 percent), turned the ball over nine times and had just nine assists on 15 field goal makes. NU shot 29.4 percent and so the high assist ratio probably hides the fact that Northwestern could not get the Princeton offense moving. Iowa did a good job pressuring ball handlers and cutters and it seemed like NU’s young guards got a little tentative playing against it.
That is not the place the Wildcats want to be. Particularly if NU wants to limit possessions and shorten the game.
Iowa was able to get out in transition and pick apart an over-aggressive Northwestern defense in the second half, scoring 45 points in the final 20 minutes. There it seemed it was a parade of precise passes through the zone and missed defensive rotations and assignments for Northwestern. Again, with the game shortened, every possession becomes more valuable and mistakes become magnified.
Northwestern made a lot of those and could not find the offense to make up for it.
Dave Sobolewski scored 14 points, but shot 4 for 12 from the floor and committed four of NU’s nine turnovers. Tre Demps had 10 points, but made only 3 of his 11 attempts. Reggie Hearn and Mike Turner were the only other Northwestern players to make more than two field goals in the game and only Turner shot 50 percent or better, making two of his four shots.
The Princeton offense is built on efficiency. Northwestern was not efficient in the least tonight.
It will be back to the drawing board a bit for Northwestern as the team has to find a way to manufacture scoring opportunities when 3-pointers are not falling. Perhaps that means being more patient and confident with the offense — there are a lot of young players new to the system being called on for major minutes. Perhaps that means adding new wrinkles to the offense or changing the way NU plays a bit. Perhaps it means switching up the rotation — Nikola Cerina came in for spot-up duty and Alex Marcotullio is still coming off the bench.
These are decisions Bill Carmody will have to make.
One thing is for sure. What Northwestern looked like in Sunday’s loss is not how we are accustomed to Northwestern’s offense looking, even when the team was bad. It never struggled so much to get shots or looked so discouraged that it abandoned things a bit to try and play catch up. Even after the win at Penn State it is hard to find much positive to say about Northwestern right now.