Defense is the Key For the Unpredictable Northwestern Wildcats

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on February 5th, 2014

Going into conference play, the Big Ten was once again touted as the premiere league in the country. With pundits citing its exceptional depth as proof of elite status, we often heard the clichéd phrase “in any given game…,” which has turned out to ring true halfway through league play. But Northwestern was never in those conversations, as the Wildcats (along with Nebraska) were projected as the league’s doormat based upon their weak performance in the non-conference schedule. Things looked to be heading that way when Chris Collins’ team lost its first four conference games by an average of 19.3 points. Now, after having won five of their last seven and four of their last five contests, the Wildcats find themselves in a very strange position — tied for fourth place at 5-5 in the Big Ten.

Drew Crawford, Kelsey Barlow

Drew Crawford

The one constant with Northwestern is that the Wildcats have been terribly inconsistent throughout the season, even during their current winning ways. For example, while they have a defense ranked in the top 10 nationally in efficiency (giving up 0.92 points per possession), they also have experienced games where their defense completely collapses (as evidenced by four games where the Wildcats gave up more than 1.20 points per possession). Also perplexing is the fact that Northwestern appears to have turned its season around as soon as Collins lost the services of the injured David Sobolewski, a player who averaged more than 85 percent of available minutes the last two seasons. So what’s changed over the last couple of weeks to cause the turnaround? The answer seems to lie in the team’s elite defense, despite some of those marked inconsistencies.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Northwestern’s Lack of Rebounding Becoming a Huge Factor

Posted by rtmsf on March 1st, 2012

Bill Hupp is an RTC correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp). He filed this report following Northwestern’s last-second loss to Ohio State on Wednesday night.

Purple Pain

It was hard to tell if the cheers erupting from Northwestern students after consecutive rebounds by the Wildcats on Wednesday night were sarcastic or an ironic roar acknowledging the event’s rarity. As has been the case in most games this season, Northwestern was dominated on the backboards in their 75-73 last-second loss to Ohio State. At the half, the Buckeyes were outrebounding the ‘Cats 22-5, as interior beasts DeShaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger had 25 of the Buckeyes’ 39 points (and OSU had poured in 20 points in the paint). “They killed us on a second-chance shots in the first half,” Northwestern coach Bill Carmody admitted. “They destroyed us on the backboards.” With Northwestern employing their trademark 1-3-1 zone, OSU used their superior size and athleticism to outrebound the Wildcats 44-18, grab 20 offensive boards (11 by Sullinger) and score 20 second chance points.

Drew Crawford And Northwestern Are Sitting Right On The Bubble (AP)

Still, Ohio State Coach Thad Matta dismissed the gaudy rebounding differential as largely irrelevant. “That’s misleading because a lot of teams do that and don’t beat them,” Matta said. “[But] we felt we could do a heck of a job rebounding if they played their 1-3-1 zone.” If the NCAA Tournament bubble upon which Northwestern firmly sits does burst, the Wildcats will look back and point to poor post play this season as a major reason. It’s not a question of work ethic as Davide Curletti, Luka Mirkovic, John Shurna, and Drew Crawford all battle and scrap down low. But the foursome are finer, more finesse players, athletes not equipped to sustain success against the rigors of conference post play.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Checking In On… the Big Ten Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 14th, 2012

Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference. Follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp) for his thoughts on hoops, food, PR, interesting fridge magnets and life.

Reader’s Take 

 

The Week That Was:

  • House of Payne: Michigan State sophomore center Adreian Payne picked an excellent time to have the game of his career. The 6’11’’ sophomore has shown flashes of potential this year, but was particularly efficient against Ohio State. Payne finished 6-6 from the field for 15 points, grabbed four boards and blocked two shots – and more importantly, he frustrated Ohio State star Jared Sullinger with his wiry athleticism on the defensive end. Sure, Sullinger finished with 17 points and 16 rebounds, but he also turned it over 10 times and seemed to let the refs affect his play.
  • Woes of Weber: That smoke you see emanating from Champaign might be coming from Bruce Weber’s increasingly hot seat. New AD Mike Thomas has already shown one under-performing head coach (Ron Zook) the door, and now the Illini have gone from leading the Big Ten at 4-1 to dropping six of their last seven and in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament. As many Illinois fans will attest, this team just makes too many of the same frustrating mistakes on a continuous basis.
  • Hummel A Handful: The Robbie Hummel that Boilermaker fans have been waiting for all season long finally emerged on Saturday against Northwestern. The senior tallied a season-high 27 points, nine rebounds and a couple blocks while logging 39 minutes of playing time. As badly as Northwestern needed to win that game, it was equally as valuable to Purdue, which couldn’t afford drop back-to-back games at Mackey Arena (especially with Michigan State coming to town in a week).

Tom Izzo Has The Spartans Vying For The Top Spot In The Conference.

Power Rankings

  1. Michigan State (20-5, 9-3) – An even more impressive factor in Michigan State’s recent success is that they’re winning despite the shaky play of Keith Appling. The sophomore point guard seemed to be turning the corner in his new position early in the conference season, but he’s taken a few steps back since then. His accuracy from distance has slipped from 41% to 27% this season, and he had seven turnovers with no assists in their win over Ohio State.
  2. Ohio State (21-4, 9-3) – Where has the Bucks’ offense gone? In two of their last three games, OSU has been held under 53 points. Granted, their opponents were defensive stalwarts Wisconsin and Michigan State, but still, this a team that is second in the Big Ten in scoring offense at nearly 73 points per game. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Checking In On… the Big Ten Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 3rd, 2012

Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference. Follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp) for his thoughts on hoops, food, Russian nesting dolls and life.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was:

  • B1G is the Country’s Deepest Conference: With nine teams ranked 52nd or higher in the RPI, the Big Ten is the deepest and best conference – top-to-bottom – in the nation this season. The depth of the conference was never more evident than on Saturday, when Iowa hung 75 in a win at Wisconsin and Nebraska hung close with Michigan State deep into the second half. If you don’t come to play on nightly basis in this conference, even the league’s bottom-feeders can pop you with a loss. Expect the conference’s lofty records (and rankings) to diminish some over the next couple of months as the league beats each other up in Big Ten play.
  • Michigan State – So Hot Right Now: Few teams in the country are rolling like Michigan State. The Big Ten leaders sit atop the standings and are currently riding a 13-game winning streak after opening up conference play with an emphatic win over Indiana and a resilient effort at Nebraska. They have their normal interior size and strength with Draymond Green, Derrick Nix, and Adreian Payne, but Keith Appling – a player that Tom Izzo has called “the fastest point guard he’s ever coached” – is really starting to assert himself. The 6’1’’ sophomore had 25 points and seven assists against Indiana then contributed 14 point and six dimes against the Huskers.
  • Giant Killers: For the first time in its illustrious program’s history, Indiana has defeated the No. 1- and 2-ranked teams in the country in the same season. Assembly Hall has always been an intimidating place to play for opponents, with its combination of raucous fans and rich tradition. The key for the Hoosiers to make this a special season will be to duplicate that success on the road.

Tom Crean Tells Us How Many Wins His Hoosiers Have Over Top Five Teams This Season.

Power Rankings

  1. Ohio State (13-2, 1-1) – It might not have seemed like much at the time, but the dubious call that wiped out Jared Sullinger’s lay-up and sent him to the bench in the first half with his second foul against Indiana proved to be enormous. That early foul trouble limited the OSU center’s playing time (nine minutes) and production (five points, two rebounds) in the first half. William Buford was as absent against the Hoosiers (eight points and four rebounds) as he was dominant against Northwestern (28/9) in the conference opener.
  2. Michigan State (13-2, 2-0) – How do you respond when you’ve built a 19-point lead at home, only to watch it disappear after a 25-2 run by your opponent? You go on a 20-0 spurt of your own to regain control of the game. Coming off an emotional victory against Indiana in East Lansing on Wednesday, it’s no surprise that Michigan State came out flat against Nebraska and trailed at halftime. They righted the ship in the second half though, and ended up beating the Cornhuskers by 13. When Michigan State is on their game and playing the kind of hard-nosed, physical brand of basketball that Tom Izzo loves, they are as good as anyone in the Big Ten. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

RTC Summer Updates: Big Ten Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on August 8th, 2011

With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our latest update comes courtesy of our Big Ten correspondent, Will Green.

Readers’ Take

Summer Storylines 

  • Sully’s Back, But With Demands – In the year 2011, in the age of ‘now,’ in a profit-first educate-yourself-later society, amidst a flittering of teenage NBA draft picks, ferocious freshman phenomenon Jared Sullinger decided to stay in school. How quaint. Of course, there’s absolutely nothing quaint about Sullinger, his (rightly) assumed sense of on-court leadership, his brutally physical style of play, or that Ja Rule-esque snarl that makes him look like a squirrel who just ate a questionable nut. But seriously, it’s highly unlikely that anyone other than Jordan Taylor will stand in the way of Sullinger winning the Big Ten Player of the Year Award, and rightfully so. He has spent the better part of the off-season slimming down and getting faster. The best player on the best team in the conference simply can’t suffer a slump; he’s worked too hard and has clearly made a commitment to improving his game before leaving for the pros. The question is less about what Sullinger’s level of performance will be than it is about the effect his performance will have on other members of his team. Last year, his 17 /10 were a reflection of consistent contribution that was also part of a greater team-wide cohesion. Jon Diebler, David Lighty and even Dallas Lauderdale each had pronounced and vital roles on last year’s team. They’re all gone now. While some of the supporting cast and several new stars-in-the-making will join Sullinger, will increased reliance upon him make OSU more of a one-man show? Or will the Buckeyes continue to roll out a team-focused squad with four scorers in double figures and a core group of five guys who notch 30 minutes a game? Whatever happens, Sullinger will be back and he will be better than last year. Consider yourself warned.
  • Welcome, Nebraska – On July 1, Nebraska officially joined the B1G, an acronym whose ludicrousness we continue to subconsciously validate by pronouncing it ‘Bih-one-ggg’. If you’re scoring at home, UNL’s entry makes for 12 teams in the Big Ten, a conference that shouldn’t be confused with the Big 12, which only has ten teams now since Nebraska left it. Now that we’ve all scratched our heads for second, we should pause to consider how massive the amount of potential football revenue must have been to persuade the intransigent Big Ten to alter its ranks. The Cornhuskers’ inclusion marks only the second change in league makeup since the 1950s. So how will the other 11 schools adjust to the adjustment? Football-wise, they should all watch their backs. On the basketball court, though, it probably won’t have a big (or should we say, a ‘B1G’) impact. Sadly for Husker fans, their roundball team loses two of their top three scorers and has some major offensive issues to solve in a league whose tempo of play limits even the country’s very best offenses. Head coach Doc Sadler continues to recruit a healthy mix of transfers and high school players, but over his five-year tenure nine of them have left due to reasons other than matriculation or the NBA. Nebraska has had some encouraging moments in recent years, including a five game improvement in Big 12 play from 2009 to 2010 (from 2-14 to 7-9). The team’s defensive efficiency would’ve finished fourth and it’s adjusted tempo would’ve finished fourth slowest in last year’s Big Ten. In some respects, Nebraska feels like a perfect match for the conference. And yet, for many of those same reasons, it might be a little out-matched in its first few years.
  • Ed DeChellis Leaves For Navy – Nowadays, stories like these are rarer than that bloody slice of carpaccio you once had at a fancy restaurant: a coach leaving a higher paying, higher-infrastructure, higher strength-of-schedule situation for a middle of the pack team in a unambiguously low-major conference. Make no mistake: Ed DeChellis didn’t become the new head coach at Navy. He stopped being the head coach at Penn State. Unless they’re ousted via scandal or especially egregious results you simply don’t hear about power six coaches voluntarily leaving for a “lesser” job. And yet, that’s exactly what happened. Or is it? The answer to that question centers around just how much “less” of a job the Navy coaching position really is, and if anything DeChellis might have done warranted the move. The wink-wink nudge-nudge consensus is that while DeChellis didn’t necessarily knock anyone’s socks off, the school refuses to take basketball seriously. Some have lambasted the athletic department’s commitment to DeChellis and the program overall at a school that’s known best for intense linebackers and an 84 year-old Italian-American man. It will be interesting to observe new head coach Patrick Chambersin his first few seasons and see whether or not he runs into a similar set of struggles as DeChellis did during his tenure. If the holistic drawbacks of coaching in University Park really outweigh the benefits to the extent that someone would walk away from the position, then PSU has bigger problems to fix than figuring out how to win in the Big Ten this season. But if anyone can overcome whatever said “drawbacks” may or may not be, it’s Chambers.

    The Buckeyes, led by big man Jared Sullinger, are easy favorites in the Big Ten.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Conference Report Card: Big Ten

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 13th, 2011


John Templon is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten conference. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that got multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap

  • Coming into the season, the Big Ten was considered the best conference in America. Michigan State was expected to be in the Final Four again and Purdue, Ohio State, and Illinois were expected to be among the nation’s elite. Then the season started and the conference slipped a bit. The Big Ten didn’t live up to its lofty billing, with the exception of Ohio State, which sat at #1 in the polls for a large part of the season. Of course, Robbie Hummel’s knee injury didn’t help Purdue. Illinois wilted under the weight of too much talent and not enough leadership, whereas Michigan State just never seemed to find its footing against a difficult schedule.
  • As conference play went on, all the teams beat up on each other, creating a mess in the middle and leading to four teams (Michigan, Illinois, Michigan State and Penn State) receiving seeds between 8-10 in the NCAA Tournament. The conference went 2-2 in those games. But the disappointment in the NCAA Tournament came from the top seeds that failed to live up to expectations. Ohio State, the #1 overall seed, was dispatched by Kentucky in the Sweet 16 in Newark. Then again, that was better than Purdue managed to do, as the Boilermakers fell to VCU in Chicago. Wisconsin made it to New Orleans, but Brad Stevens outcoached Bo Ryan and the Badgers lost to a lower-seeded team once again.
  • Those losses meant the Big Ten finished a season of much promise with zero teams in the Elite Eight. Much like the conference’s well-publicized bowl game problems, the postseason left a sour taste after many teams played good basketball during the regular season.

The postseason was a struggle for everyone in the Big Ten, even Final Four regular Tom Izzo and his Spartans, which had to make a late run to even crack the field.

Team-by-Team Grades

A’s:

  • Michigan (A): Before the season the Wolverines were expected to compete with Iowa and Indiana to avoid the basement in the Big Ten standings. By the end of it, they were scaring #1 seed Duke in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. It was a remarkable job by JohnBeilein to get a young team ready to play. Darius Morris was the engine of the turnaround. The sophomore point guard scored 15.0 points per game and dished out 6.7 assists per game while leading a team composed of mostly freshman and sophomores. Tim HardawayJr., a freshman, was the team’s only other double-digit scorer at 13.9 points per game. Michigan didn’t have a single senior on its roster this season and, with two more talented backcourt recruits in CarltonBrundidge and TreyBurke coming in, it appears to be ready to be a big player in the conference moving forward although they are still waiting on Morris to officially decide on whether he will enter the NBA Draft.
  • Ohio State (A-): The Buckeyes didn’t get it done in the NCAA Tournament, but they were the #1 team in the polls for most of the season and had the best freshman in the country in Jared Sullinger. The loss to Kentucky certainly put a damper on the season. Still, Ohio State went 34-3 with its only two regular season losses being at Purdue and Wisconsin in conference play. David Lighty, DallasLauderdale, and JonDiebler all graduate, but if Sullinger is serious about sticking around the Buckeyes will be a national title favorite again next season. Especially considering they have two McDonald’s All-Americans in point guard ShannonScott and center AmirWilliams coming in along with small forwards SamThompson and LaQuintonRoss. It’s Thad Matta’s typical reload instead of rebuild plan.
  • Penn State (A-): Qualifying for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade makes the Nittany Lions’ season a success. Even though they lost to in-state rival Temple in the second round, 66-64, it was a thrilling game to end a satisfying season that included victories over Wisconsin (twice), Illinois, and Michigan State (twice). Oh, and a loss to Maine. Talor Battle finally got his chance to go to the NCAA Tournament and finished his career with 2,213 points, 624 rebounds, and 517 assists. He’ll certainly be missed next season along with frontcourt veterans David Jackson and JeffBrooks. Thus, Penn State has some size coming in with two 6’11 centers in PatAckerman and PeterAlexis, but the program is probably due for a bit of a backslide.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story