Big Ten Team Previews: Northwestern Wildcats

Posted by KTrahan on October 18th, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Big Ten microsite will be rolling out these featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the Northwestern Wildcats.

Where we left off: The NIT. Again. For yet another year, Northwestern inched closer to the NCAA Tournament — this year closer than ever — and the Wildcats fell short again. NU’s season was defined by close losses to Michigan (twice), Ohio State, Indiana and Illinois. Had the Cats won just one more of those games, they could have potentially made the Tournament. Heck, if they had just beaten Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament — another close loss — maybe they could have gotten there. Now, with a number of new faces, they begin this season firmly on the bubble once again.

Positives: I did an interview with coach Bill Carmody earlier in the offseason and he remarked that, with its new lineup, NU will “have some scoring inside.” That will be a much-needed addition after last year’s centers — Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti — struggled mightily. This year, 7’0″ freshman Alex Olah is expected to start at center and the Wildcats will also have 7’2″ freshman center Chier Ajou, who provides depth, even if he doesn’t play much initially. Additionally, senior Drew Crawford returns and Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire is expected to make a big impact right away. It will be a very big frontcourt for NU, something that has seemingly happened overnight and hasn’t occurred in Evanston for a long time.

Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire (ball) will be a key player to watch for Northwestern fans this season (Chicago Tribune)

Negatives: Can this team play defense? The Wildcats have added a lot of potential inside scoring with Swopshire and Olah, but the jury is out on whether the team can defend and grab rebounds, unlike last year’s squad. The perimeter defense is questionable, as well, as the team’s best perimeter defender — JerShon Cobb — was suspended for the year. And can this team find someone to take the last shot? Last year it was Crawford, and even though that didn’t work very well, this year it seems likely to be either Crawford or Swopshire. The Big Ten will be very strong again this year, meaning NU will be involved in a lot of close games. It must find a way to make big shots and play good defense in crunch time.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten Morning Five: 03.01.12 Edition

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 1st, 2012

  1. This season for Northwestern, heartbreak seems as associated with the team as purple and white.  The school has suffered four losses by two points or less after falling to Ohio State 75-73 last night.  It was a win the Wildcats desperately needed, and down 13 points in the second half, it looked like one they would not get.  But a furious rally, capped by a Alex Marcotullio three-pointer with 7.7 seconds remaining, gave the fans at Welsh-Ryan Arena hope. But then, Jared Sullinger banked in a shot on the other end with 3.3 seconds left, and once again, Northwestern came up a little short.  The Wildcats still have an outside chance at an NCAA tournament berth, but they need to take care of business at Iowa and make some noise in the Big Ten Tournament.  Opponents know that John Shurna and company will be coming into every game from now on with a must-win mentality.
  2. No Buckeye came up bigger in that win against Northwestern than Jared Sullinger, who tallied 22 points, 18 rebounds and two blocks in 37 minutes of play. Most of all, Sullinger has said he won’t worry about the way his play is officiated anymore.  After admitting that Big Ten officials had been on his mind in a loss against Wisconsin, he only picked up three personal fouls against the Wildcats.  He said the lack of mental focus had been affecting his game, and head coach Thad Matta has helped him pull out of that funk.  His re-found aggressiveness couldn’t have come at a better time for Ohio State.
  3. There are more bubble teams than just Northwestern in the Big Ten, and Illinois has a chance to make some noise as they host #13 Michigan tonight.  Bruce Weber’s seat is very hot right now in Champaign, but a late NCAA Tournament push would definitely help his case.  It’s up to Weber to keep hope alive and push the right buttons for his Illini team to keep winning and finish strong enough to merit consideration to the Big Dance.  For motivation, Weber has already played the tape of Illinois overcoming a 15-point defecit in four minutes to beat Arizona in the 2005 NCAA regional that sent his team to the Final Four.
  4. Indiana basketball has experienced a big surge this season under Tom Crean.  The Hoosiers have beaten three top-five teams for the first time since 1975-76, and have beaten the #1 and #2-ranked teams in the same season for the first time in program history.  Among Hoosier fans, the debate can begin: Was beating Kentucky or Michigan State the bigger victory?  Many fans would be quick to say Kentucky, but if you dig deeper into the discussion, the history between IU and MSU makes it a much more interesting argument.
  5. After losing its first game on their home court this season to Purdue last Saturday, Michigan was thought to be on the outside looking in on the Big Ten race.  After Michigan State’s loss to Indiana, though, the Wolverines still have a chance to share the title with their in-state rivals.  While an outright championship is always nice, a chance to share a conference crown is certainly one the Wolverines will embrace. Michigan hasn’t hung a conference championship banner in 26 years, and for a fan base that has bemoaned seeing its banners removed from the rafters, it would be a good feeling to see John Beilein signal the return of Michigan hoops by raising a new one.
Share this story

Checking In On… the Big Ten Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 28th, 2012

Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference. Follow him on Twitter at @Bill_Hupp for his thoughts on hoops, food, box fans and life.

Reader’s Take


The Week That Was:

  • Spartan Success: Despite losing guys like Korie Lucious, Kalin Lucas and Delvon Roe, the Michigan State express rolled on. Perhaps no other coach in the country teaches a system and its principles quite like Tom Izzo. Surprise losses on Sunday by both Ohio State and Michigan, however, meant that MSU’s weekend destruction of Nebraska clinched them of the at least a share of the Big Ten title. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
  • Chicago (Evanston) Hope: That wind you felt coming from Chicago might have been a collective sigh of relief from Northwestern fans after senior leader John Shurna sank two free throws with mere seconds to play to help the Wildcats escape Happy Valley with a 67-66 win. Two straight gut-wrenching losses in one week might have been more than Northwestern could have overcome as they sweat out life on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
  • Lousy in Lincoln: It’s no secret that Nebraska has struggled on offense this year. But not since 1961 has Nebraska been so putrid on offense as they were when they were embarrassed by Michigan State, 61-34, at home over the weekend. The Huskers shot under 30% for the game and the loss of leading scorer Bo Spencer to an injured ankle near halftime only hampered their scoring efforts.

The Perennial Lesson In College Basketball 101 Is To Never Count Out The Michigan State Spartans.

Power Rankings

  1. Michigan State (24-5, 13-3) – As good as Michigan State has been this season, how would the Spartans be if Delvon Roe hadn’t been forced to drop basketball due to chronic knee problems? Roe’s presence would have given them more depth and would have taken the load off of Draymond Green at certain points. But it also forced youngsters like Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne to grow up quickly. While they’ve struggled with consistency, those guys are a big part of why the Spartans are Big Ten champs.
  2. Ohio State (23-6, 11-5) – Strange times in Columbus. After riding a 39-game winning streak and destroying most visitors who dared enter Value City Arena, the Buckeyes have now lost two of their last three games at home. Jared Sullinger has seemingly disappeared in big games and crucial moments this season. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Set Your TiVo: 12.02.11 – 12.04.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 2nd, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

As we move into December, the first big Saturday of the year (highlighted by the battle in Lexington) is now upon us. Not to mention we get a nice preview of things to come on Friday evening.

#6 Florida @ #3 Syracuse – 7 PM EST Friday on ESPN (*****)

  • Syracuse has three distinct advantages in this game despite playing a top ten opponent. One is home court, two is height, and three is depth. The Orange have taller players at every position, one through five, and Jim Boeheim can go a legitimate ten deep into his bench. Against a Florida team that will be without forward Erik Murphy, Syracuse may be able to overwhelm the guard-heavy Gators. The key for the Orange will be defense. The 2-3 zone creates a fantastic match-up given Florida’s preferred style of offense, shooting lots of threes. If the Orange can be active and extend the perimeter of the zone, Florida will have a tough time.
  • The key for Florida is simple: make threes. To do that however, the Gators must establish Patric Young early and often. Playing without Murphy, Young is Florida’s only reliable post player. If he can’t get going, Syracuse won’t have to worry about extending the zone and leaving holes in the middle. If Young gets off to a fast start, the Orange will have to respect his presence by packing its defense in a bit more inside the arc. That will give Florida’s dynamic guards the opportunity to make shots. With Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario both shooting almost 50% from deep and two other Gators lurking as potential snipers, Syracuse doesn’t want to be forced to do that.

Can UF Establish Patric Young Inside To Give Its Shooters Room?

  • It’s always fun when a team that relies heavily on guards and the three point shot gets together with a team that plays almost exclusively zone. The Syracuse defense will tempt Florida to shoot the deep ball all night but Florida must work for open shots by establishing Young and some sort of an inside-out game. Keeping the zone off balance and moving the ball effectively are always keys to finding open shots. Defensively, Florida has to do better. Syracuse is much more efficient on that end of the floor while the Gators rank a pedestrian 52nd in the nation. Although three point shooting is the big key in this game, Florida’s defense could cost them in a tight game.
Share this story

RTC Conference Primers: #2 – Big Ten Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2011

John Templon of Big Apple Buckets is an RTC contributor. You can find him on Twitter at @nybuckets.

Reader’s Take I


Top Storylines

  • Mid-Majors Newcomers Will Make Major Impact – Two graduate student transfers from mid-major schools are going to make an instant impact in the Big Ten. Brandon Wood could start in Michigan State’s backcourt after scoring 16.7 points per game last season for Valparaiso. Sam Maniscalco averaged 9.7 points per game for Bradley last season and might end up scoring even more for Illinois. Both players give their teams veteran pieces at positions that would’ve otherwise been dominated by youth.
  • Healthy Living – Robbie Hummel returns for Purdue and has the opportunity to make a big impact for the Boilermakers now that his former classmates have graduated. While Matt Painter couldn’t get Hummel on the court with JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore, he does get the added bonus of having an All-America caliber forward to help shepherd this team into the postseason. Injuries also delivered a blow to Indiana, as Maurice Creek is going to miss the entire 2011-12 season. That’s after missing all but 18 games last season, and it’s a big blow to the Hoosiers’ NCAA hopes.
  • A New Head Coach In University Park – After leading Penn State to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2001, and falling to in-state rival Temple, Ed DeChellis saw the writing on the wall and left PSU for a more stable job at Navy. His replacement is former Boston University head coach Pat Chambers, who has a big rebuilding job on his hands after graduation of star guard Talor Battle.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Ohio State (16-2) 
  2. Wisconsin (12-6)
  3. Michigan (12-6)
  4. Michigan State (10-8)
  5. Purdue (10-8)
  6. Illinois (9-9)
  7. Minnesota (9-9)
  8. Northwestern (8-10)
  9. Indiana (8-10)
  10. Iowa (6-12)
  11. Nebraska (4-14)
  12. Penn State (3-15)

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

The Loss of Kevin Coble Doesn’t Kill Northwestern’s NCAA Hopes

Posted by rtmsf on July 28th, 2010

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.  He is also very familiar with the Chicago area basketball scene.

By now you’ve heard that Kevin Coble will not play for the Northwestern Wildcats during the 2010-11 season, or ever again. The recovery from his broken foot is taking longer than expected, and instead of continuing through grueling rehab with the chance of injuring it again during the season which would come with possible life-altering implications, Coble has decided to hang up his basketball shoes. Of course, this story is getting a lot of national attention because of Northwestern’s NCAA Tournament drought and the fact that “everyone” thought that Coble returning was the magic elixir that was going to solve all of the Wildcats’ problems.

Coble Will Be Missed, But He's Not the Tipping Point

I’m here to tell you that “they” were wrong. Coble’s return wasn’t going to fix the thing that Northwestern has to work on more than anything to make the NCAA Tournament — defense. The Wildcats had one of the most efficient offenses in the country last season. They scored 1.12 points per possession, which ranked 33d in the country according to Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency statistics. Being the 33d best offense in the country is more than enough to make the NCAA Tournament. The problem was Northwestern’s 169th ranked defense.  If Coble had been able to return at full strength this coming season he still wouldn’t have provided the defensive presence that the Wildcats need. A foot injury is exactly the type of problem that hinders your lateral movement, and it is the key to staying in front of people cutting with the basketball. Even when the doctors say you’re fully recovered, these types of injuries aren’t over. So even if Coble had completed his rehab he’d probably be wondering, “What happens if I try this?” on the basketball court. If you’re taking time to wonder, you’re taking too long.

When Coble was healthy he led the Wildcats in scoring and rebounding, and while his rebounding would be nice to have next season, his scoring wouldn’t have been necessary. Coble was essentially the same player his first three seasons at Northwestern with an offensive rating around 110 in approximately a quarter of the team’s possessions while he was on the court. He also had a rebounding rate of 2.7% on the offensive boards and 15.5% on the defensive boards.  But you know whose numbers were better than that last season? John Shurna. Shurna replaced Coble in the lineup last year and became an even better offensive threat. He’s still improving too. His national team experiences appear to have helped him elevate his game. It’s also worth noting that Drew Crawford as a freshman put up an offensive rating of 107.5 and Michael Thompson put up a ridiculous 115.9 last season. With JerShon Cobb coming in and Alex Marcotullio improving, the Wildcats are surely going to be just as good, if not better, on offense next season.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story