Two Key Observations From Northwestern’s Huge Win Over BaylorPosted by Deepak Jayanti on December 5th, 2012
Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.
Northwestern visited Baylor Tuesday night after losing a game to Illinois-Chicago over the weekend, a bad loss on the Wildcats’ resume in their quest to finally receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament. While a 20-point loss to Maryland at home in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge looks bad on paper, a defeat to an opponent who will likely be competing for a bid in March can be written off as an anomaly. Baylor, on the other hand, was coming off a surprising road win at Kentucky over the weekend. The Bears controlled the tempo against the Wildcats and convincingly beat them by forcing numerous tough shots, 64-55. Tuesday night’s match-up between these teams meant more to Northwestern than the Bears and they played like it, utilizing a heightened sense of urgency right from the tip. Their defense was excellent for a majority of the game and even though they struggled to hold on during the last five minutes, a 74-70 road win against a potential top five seed in March potentially neutralizes the bad loss to the Flames when evaluating their non-conference performance. Here are two key observations from the Wildcats’ big road win:
- Alex Olah played a perfect role in the half court: Olah was heavily involved in the offense during the second half. He was active around the high post and helped move the ball from one side of the court to the other as the Wildcats set up the backdoor cuts which are an integral part of their Princeton offense. Olah racked up six assists during the game and he was involved in most of the plays that resulted in scores on those cuts. There were a handful of plays where Olah received the ball from Dave Sobolewski at the top of the key, took a couple of dribbles towards the other side of the court, and handed it to Drew Crawford or Reggie Hearn on the perimeter. The play usually then resulted in either Crawford or Hearn receiving the pass while the other slid towards the basket during the handoff. Hearn had a couple of easy layups using this backdoor as Baylor’s Brady Heslip was thoroughly confused with the cutting movement among the three Wildcats. When Heslip or A.J. Walton tried to play the backdoor cuts conservatively by staying back, the play resulted in Crawford nailing two key three-pointers from the perimeter because his defender gave him space. Olah also held his ground in the low post while defending Isaiah Austin who is taller but lacks the weight to back down for easy baskets in the paint. Because Austin was forced away from the paint, he had to settle for mid-range jumpers and only scored eight points.
- Reggie Hearn and Jared Swopshire were active on the glass: Speaking of rebounding, Austin only ended up with four boards because he was muscled away from the paint. With Austin then out of the lane, both Swopshire (seven rebounds) and Hearn (10) were free to remain active on the glass as the Wildcats dominated Baylor on the boards by 13. Both players have the length necessary to be effective on the glass and last night proved how their intensity inside can also translate to efficiency on the offensive end. Because they were constantly in motion around the hoop during most defensive possessions, they had the same hop in their step during Northwestern’s offensive sets too. Swopshire had a relatively quiet game against Maryland (four points) and UIC (zero) but he proved his worth last night by scoring 12 points. Hearn’s 17 points were flashier than Swopshire’s and were a result of textbook offensive plays from the Princeton offense. Backdoor cuts from the high post or the baseline were executed perfectly and these plays show how effective the Wildcats’ offense can be when the wings such as Swopshire and Hearn don’t settle for flat-footed shots from beyond the arc.
Despite the clutch win on the road, there were a few warning signs during the game’s final minutes. Dave Sobolewski and Swopshire almost coughed the game away because they were trying to force passes against Baylor’s press rather than just holding onto the ball to get to the free throw line. Sobolewski (62.5%) needs to improve his free throw shooting and perhaps one of the reasons why he was uncomfortable holding onto the ball during the final seconds may have been his lack of confidence at the charity line. But overall, a win is a win, and Bill Carmody’s team showed that they can compete with any team on a given night if they stick to the game plan.