Give a Cat a chance, and the Gophers will pay

Minnesota did what it did against Northwestern in the first game of this series. Almost to a tee. The second chance the Golden Gophers were giving the Wildcats was eerily bizarre.

Here was Minnesota with a large rebounding advantage — at what point grabbing seven offensive rebounds off 11 missed shots — having the athleticism advantage and the advantage on the scoreboard. Northwestern could hang around but it felt like a matter of time. Tre Demps, making his first career start, hit a 3-pointer to bring Northwestern within three at the half. Perhaps that was the sign Northwestern would not go away.

Or perhaps Minnesota simply could not put NU away. And with the confidence growing from a big win at Illinois and a strong showing against Indiana, Minnesota could not afford to keep NU in the game. It turned out it was a matter of time before the Wildcats turned the tables and took control of the game. Minnesota seemed surprised that this had finally happened since the team could not put away the unranked homestanding Northwestern team.

There was no despair. There was no woe is me. Everything for Northwestern worked and Minnesota played right into its hands.

The Wildcats defeated the Golden Gophers 55-48, putting together an incredible run to overtake the Gophers and capture the comfortable win at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Wednesday.

Score Off. Rtg. eFG% O.Reb.% TO% FTR
Minnesota 48 80.7 38.0 48.6 19.6 31.5
Northwestern 55 91.5 47.5 16.7 16.9 80.0

The wildcats got a big performance Jared Swopshire and Alex Marcotullio. Swopshire scored eight of his 16 points early in the game to pace Northwestern and then came up big late in NU’s run to seal this game. Marcotullio had just six points but both of his 3-pointers came at key moments for the Wildcats when it looked like they might let this lead familiarly slip away.

And it was, after all, these two anchoring NU’s defense ┬áin the 1-3-1 that gave Minnesota so much trouble in the second half.

The Gophers committed 15 turnovers and had just 11 assists, struggling to solve NU’s defense all night. The 1-3-1 was extremely effective in forcing several of those turnovers.

All credit should go to Northwestern for executing, getting out in transition in spots and making baskets. It can be that simple. This game though went against NU’s normal script. The Wildcats were the aggressors in transition and struggled from beyond the arc, hitting only 4 of 12. The Wildcats also had only 11 assists in the game going up against their 11 turnovers. But the early confidence Swopshire gave the team and the growing urgency as Minnesota allowed NU to remain in the game, continued to grow under the surface.

The Gophers, by all rights, should have and could have put this game away much earlier and not given the Wildcats the chance. They missed 10 of their 17 free throws, had those 15 turnovers as previously mentioned and grabbed 17 offensive rebounds (posting a 48.6 percent offensive rebound rate, meaning they grabbed nearly half of their misses). The Gophers failed to convert on second chance opportunities.

More than that, Minnesota could not get out of its own way as NU took the game to Minnesota. The Cats got to the line for 32 free throws, and while they made only 17 of those attempts, the subsequent foul trouble affected this game. Austin Hollins fouled out with nearly 10 minutes to go in the game, leaving the Gophers without one of their top guards.

At that point, Northwestern went to its 1-3-1 and the turnover count for Minnesota seemed to grow and the Northwestern momentum train was heading downhill.

This was a huge confidence-boosting win for the Wildcats. Northwestern has found its identity and is doing what it has to do to win games now. That is a lot farther than where we were a few weeks ago when things looked pretty bleak.

Even on a night Northwestern did not shoot well — 42.5 percent from the floor — the team found a way to get stops and grind out a win. That is confidence-boosting. Northwestern can and will play better games offensively. Defensively, the team made up for the bad offense. And those are great signs.

One thing teams in the Big Ten better have learned by now: if you do not put these Wildcats away, they have a very good chance of coming out and biting you.

  • Stephen Zgrabik

    2 wins over ranked teams in 3 games – not too bad! Go Cats!

  • PDXCat

    I’m not necessarily a pro- or anti-BC guy, but thought I’d throw an opinion in there. Forgive my wordiness; I’ve been drinking in the Cats victory.

    Maybe the team is a reflection of the coach: resilient, resolute (facing the constant criticism that he does and carrying on in a manner he sees as a way to success), determined, patient, disciplined. He reminds me of a friend of mine: New York, sarcastic, self-deprecating, funny. That ad he did on BTN where he walked into the locker room with big headphones on. I think the players like him. And that’s good enough for me.

    He gets reamed for not developing big men (he failed with Lowery, Luka, etc.), yet apparently Reggie just developed on his own, without any encouragement or confidence from his coach. And guys with NBA pedigree (Demps, Crawford) chose to cast their lot with BC. He can’t recruit yet there’s Jershon, Crawford, Shurna, Sina, Taphorn (Hill and Tavaris probably get credit there). Bill Foster (the miracle worker) couldn’t recruit here (OK, Walker’s one year of greatness before everyone found out he had no right hand), KO (the recruiting wunderkind) couldn’t do it here. Maybe the program is in such a state that it took this long to start climbing (exponential growth for us mathematicians). We keep wanting to compare to football. OK, here goes. Look what happened with Barnett (football’s “next Brad Stevens”). We were a flash, then went back in the toilet. Only under Walk, and really, Fitz have we gotten to a higher ground. I don’t think “programs” grow overnight. Takes time to develop a culture. Yes, BC has been here for years, but maybe he’s getting some traction now. And does the next Brad Stevens really want to stay here or use us as a stepping stone (GB?)?

    Two wins and a near miss (not advocating for a moral victory here) against three ranked opponents in 6 days. And it wasn’t fluky. Tonight: no boards (a couple 4-try possessions for Minny), 50% FT but a win over ranked opponent? Is this a turning point? How many of those games have we lost (twice Michigan last year, MSU in OT, OSU in OT, OSU in the B1G tourney)? Finally found a way to win a game we had no right to.

    And for the first time I can recall, comments from BC on “our identity”. Maybe he’s settling in.

    All I can say is, I’m enjoying this. Bring on the Huskers (on the road, no less)!

    GO CATS!

    • cece

      all of this comment! just think if the team were at full strength.

    • Buffcat

      Who is Lowery?

  • Alan Casey

    Great win! Note – Tre’s last fg in the first half was two points – not three.

    • Nirvana91

      I was just going to post that – it was a sweet step back move, but definitely a two.

    • Thanks for the correction guys. I will admit my Internet was spotty last night and my radio was cutting in and out at points. No excuses though, should have checked the play-by-play.

  • Bandcat

    Bill said after the game that he took too long to come around to what this crew could do…by that i assume he meant taking it to the hole. The Gophers got Prinatrated. Stellar D..I just kept dancing around singing my favorite SNL skit song.. OOOOE WHATS UP WITH THAT,WHATS UP WITH THAT when we were scoring or being fouled going to the hole. Maybe Bill should have a practice FT rim fabricated that is an inch wider in diamater. We need something to get us on track at the line right now! That was much more enjoyable that beating Illinois. GO Cats!

    • Bjm989

      Practice on the small rim and then during the game the rim seems easy to drop the ball into. I used to practice with an oversized ball called, appropriately, the “Big Ball”. If you could make shots with that thing, a normal sized ball felt like a breeze to drop in. I never really knew if the thing helped, as it was kind of odd to practice and think it would mess up the muscle memory.

      I do think its more about confidence under pressure for most players. Recreating that pressure can be hard in practice. We also used to require all teammates to run sprints when a player missed in practice. Put some pressure on us – think that helped. But it is about confidence through practice.

      Anyway, I appreciated reading your whats up with that line – may favorite snl song too!

      GO Cats!

  • Alum Dad

    Nice win for the Cats. Maybe a strong second half can get them an NIT bid, which I wouldn’t have thought a month ago.

  • Jimgocats93

    Ok – everybody pitch in: I got off a Southwest flight last Thursday and turn on the car and Dave says on WGN, “Wildcats lead Illinois by 10 with six minutes remaining.” I’m like what???
    Last night I get off a Southwest flight in Phoenix and the Cats are doing it again – this time the Gophers.
    So pick the game and I’ll pick the flight. LTP will you handle the money?


  • JBonez

    Funny the difference two weeks make. Two weeks ago many of us, myself included, were very down on Carmody after how poorly we played against Iowa. Very similar to some of our feelings about Fitz earlier in the season when we lost to Nebraska and Penn State. I think the collective opinion of Fitz is pretty good right now.

    But Carmody? We had a road win against #23 Illlinois and a home win against #15 Minnesota. Without Crawford and Cobb. And with a lot of young players. I am trying to remember our quality wins last year (since I have the Michigan State win on my DVR and watch it every time I need a boost, I remember that one!). Did we have only one win against a ranked team (MSU)? And that was with Shurna.

    Carmody doesn’t seem to be doing too poorly with the roster he has right now. Sure he isn’t a recruiter like Fitz, but I just can’t find too much fault right now… Thoughts? Go Cats!

    • bandcat

      Was the MSU game the first game Bill benched Luka? Maybe Bill is becoming more flexible with age and some talented gutsy players.

      • PDXCat

        That was Curletti’s coming-out party. He had a monster game. And, yes, Luka sat.

  • Go Cats!

    call me old – but I don’t know what any of the stats in that chart mean except “score” – can someone help me out? Nice win for the boys – though I’m not anywhere close to convinced Carmody is the right guy to take us where we belong – competing for more than 65th place in the country.

    • I think I did a primer when I first started writing for the Web site. I am a basketball nerd, so I will explain it some here.

      Those stats are the Four Factors. The sabremetricians of basketball believe these four numbers are key to winning basketball games. They are all possession-based stats, so they eliminate the potential biases in a larger sample size.

      –Offensive Rating (Off. Rtg.) is points per 100 possessions.
      –Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) is a calculation of field goal percentage with the added value that comes from 3-point shots (the formula is: [(FGM+0.5*3FGM)/FGA]).
      –Offensive Rebound Rate (O.Reb.%) is the percentage of offensive rebounds a team gets over rebounding opportunities.
      –Turnover Rate (TO%) is a measure of the number of possessions that resulted in a turnover.
      –Free Throw Rate (FTR) is a measure of the rate a team gets to the foul line compared to the number of field goals a team takes.

      I hope that helps. These stats are not necessarily useful in a single game, but are very very useful when comparing teams over a larger sample size.

  • PDXCat

    RPI (for what it’s worth). Kenpom has Baylor/Illinois/Minny at 31/55/9 (us 79) and CBS Sports RPI has Baylor/Illinois/Minny at 37/31/7 (us 93). Another with Baylor/Illinois/Minny at 38/28/10 (us 81). Anyone know why the discrepancy?

    • NUcappy

      Well, for one thing Kenpom isn’t RPI, it’s Kenpom. Unless you list the other site there’s no way to know what their metrics are.

      • PDXCat

        Other site was NCAA RPI (though not official NCAA site, I don’t believe).