Can Northwestern copy Thursday’s successes?

Thursday was one of the most exciting and surprising performances from Northwestern in recent memory. The Wildcats were undermanned, playing without six scholarship players, took the Buckeyes to the brink on the road and nearly pulled off a surprising upset.

Unfortunately, the Wildcats could not close and an incredible effort from the Cats fell short. There certainly was some surprise that caught Ohio State off guard in the initial moments. The Buckeyes seemed like they thought they could walk through the game and win. But Northwestern is too good and committed to executing its offense for any defense to fall asleep against, even with the team somewhat depleted.

If there is one thing Northwestern must duplicate to compete the rest of this season with all these injuries hampering the team it is the way the team executed in the early part of that game Thursday. The Wildcats must continue to work hard to take advantage of any back-door cut opportunities and hit 3-pointers are an efficient rate.

Against Ohio State on Thursday, Northwestern was 11 for 26 from beyond the arc. That helped build confidence and set the tone for the team. Particularly early on in the game, it was important for this to happen. Building confidence is so important for this team now.

The key for the Wildcats will be finding early success yet again and building confidence. Particularly, Northwestern cannot play from behind. It was clear from early on that the Cats were trying to slow the game down and limit possessions. Without all the offensive options, this seems like a sound strategy. One that is familiar in the Bill Carmody-era when his teams often did not have the same talent level as its opponents.

In Thursday’s game, the teams each had 54 possessions. Northwestern’s season average is 62. That is a pretty significant slowdown for the Wildcats, but it was integral to the strategy. With limited possessions that means shot selection and making shots also become important. The Wildcats had that high shooting percentage and score 109.3 points per 100 possessions. ┬áIt was the Wildcats’ fourth highest offensive efficiency rating in Big Ten play.

Perhaps ironically, it is not all about offense as Northwestern is 2-2 in those games.

Yes, defense is and will continue to be a problem for this team. Particularly without the players the Cats are missing.

Ohio State posted 127.8 points per 100 possessions and shot 45.5 percent from the floor. The Buckeyes run at the end of the game — a 12-0 run that gave them their 10-point margin — may have accounted for much of this. Both teams were scoring at an efficient clip until that point when Northwestern’s offense slowed down considerably.

Defense has always been a question for the Northwestern team. And it seems unlikely that the Wildcats will be able to copy the offensive efficiency they displayed at Columbus earlier this week. That means the Wildcats have to find a way to get stops when the team struggles offensively.

There was a lot of good that came from Thursday’s game. There is no denying that. Whether the Wildcats can copy that success starting Sunday against the Illini.

  • cepd

    can we please stop talking about NU “slowing the game down”? The offense ran efficiently to get a good shot off. they didn’t want to just chuck up shots, they wanted to get high percentage shots. NU’s offense has been like this for a while, just because this team isn’t as good as years past does not mean that we are now deciding to “slow the game down”

    • There is no denying though that Northwestern plays at a slower pace, even for the Big Ten. Thursday’s game was well below their average for possessions per game. There is definitely more of an emphasis on staying patient and waiting for the defense to break down as opposed to trying to force action through dribble penetration or post ups with this group.

    • Barbara Baller

      Of course they play slow ball. Very little attempt to start the offense until 15 seconds left on the shot clock. Against superior opponent, keep the scores as low as possible by burning as much time off game clock as you can.

  • 3 words: run. the. offense.

  • Mark

    Or you could say the Buckeyes played a mediocre game because they knew they could get away with it, stepped it up when they needed to, went on a 12 – 0 run, and won by 10. And by the way, 10 points is a comfortable winning margin. This is fairly common when the game is perceived as a mismatch by the team that perceives themselves as much better.

    • wcgrad

      The facts do not support this view. The last 10 or so points of that 12-0 run occurred after the refs eliminated Turner and KaleAbe from the game on questionable (at best) calls. If Reggie’s shot goes in, dOSU would be sitting with a black eye, because they wouldn’t have gotten the garbage time layups which resulted from some desperation 3s, which dOSU did instead of running out the clock so that observers like you wouldn’t question their win as weak sauce.

      Usually the scenario you describe occurs in the first half or at the beginning of the second: a team wakes up because they realize they’re going to lose if they don’t. But dOSU couldn’t pull away when they tried to “turn it on” earlier in the game.

      One has to wonder if dOSU is wearing down and if they will be a candidate to be eliminated early in the postseason.

      • Mark

        Just from this Big Ten Men’s basketball season re second rung teams: Wisco 74, Ill 68; MSU 80, Ill 75; Mich 74, Ill 60; OSU 72, Iowa 63; MSU 62, Iowa 59; IU 69, Iowa 65; Wisco 70, Iowa 66; Minn 62, Iowa 59; Wisco 74, Iowa 70; MSU 73, UNL 64; Wisco 47, UNL 41; MSU 66, UNL 56; OSU 63, UNL 56; Wisco 60, PSU 51; MSU 81, PSU 72; OSU 74, PU 64; and MSU 78, PU 65.

        Again there are six coaches of the twelve who’ve led teams to the Final Four. But even UNL, PSU, Iowa and PU all play some very good teams close. As fans we all want to believe our team is just a mini step – or one great player – away. But in conference play we see many, many games like this where the clearly inferior team plays the game close and sometimes the favored team pulls it out in the last minutes. And we do see the “upsets.” And I’m sure if you went through the ACC, PAC10 and other major conference schedules you’d see the same team – clearly inferior teams with no tradition of winning in basketball “coming close.”

        But in a reality-based world the Cats have a tough decision to make. Does it move on from someone who has built the program in very tough conditions (facility, small student body not necessarily rabid about sports, high academic standards) and has made it competitive, but in 13 years hasn’t broken through. And knowing that there’s no guarantee that a new coach would even equal, much less exceed, the current situation.

        But let’s not overblow the “close games” against better teams. It happens in every conference every week.

        • Will

          Not buying it. Your taking the final scores out of context. Also using Illinois is bogus. They’ve beaten IU, Butler, Gonzaga, ect. When they are focused, the Illini can beat anyone.

          How many of those games were tied at the 3 minute mark? Or a 2 point difference with 2 minutes left to go? Having watched many of the example you’ve provided (taking out Illinois), few of those finals pass the test.

          • Mark

            OK. If you don’t believe some of the fans of those losing teams didn’t say the same things you’re saying “If only . . ” there’s nothing I can say to the contrary. I agree to disagree.

          • Will

            I not saying that. I am saying it’s one thing to make a couple of threes in garbage time to get the deficit down to 10 points or under. It’s another thing to lead most of the way and lose by 10 in the last minute after playing the foul game. Now add in the loss of 3-4 starters and several reserves. There is a clear difference.

      • Mark

        I beg to differ about what the facts show. Second division, according to current standings, Big Ten teams “coming close” this season: Wisco, 74, Ill 68; MSU 80, Ill 75; UofM 74, Ill 60; OSU 72, Iowa 63; MSU 72, Iowa 63; MSU 62, Iowa 59; IU 69, Iowa 65; Wisco 70, Iowa 66; Minn 62, Iowa 59; Wisco 74, Iowa 70; MSU 73, UNL 64; Wisco 47, UNL 41; MSU 66, UNL 56; OSU 63, UNL 56; Wisco 60, PSU 51; MSU 81, PSU 72; OSU 74, PU 64; and MSU 78, PU 65.

        You could look at all the basketball conferences and see the same results – clearly inferior teams “coming close” to better teams.

        The Cats face a very difficult decision about what to do with their coaching staff. Carmody has built a solid program in a very tough situation – facility, no BB tradition, small student body and not rabid sports fans, tough conference, high academic standards – but hasn’t been able to get “over the hump” in his 13 years. No guarantee that a new coach will equal, much less exceed, his accomplishments.

        But these “close games” are weekly events and the loser can always point to a few things – injuries, bad calls, bad no calls, bad luck – to reason why their team lost. But, as someone else stated here about the OSU game, there are no moral victories, in large part because these close games are common.

  • byebyefitz95

    We suck at hoops….Jesus just accept it and move on.