Rushed Reactions: Iowa 73, Northwestern 59

Posted by Chris Johnson on March 15th, 2013


Chris Johnson is a Big Ten correspondent and RTC columnist. He filed this report from the United Center Thursday night. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

A scorching hot start from Iowa teetered on the verge of a huge blowout. Northwestern fought back to make the final score, 73-59, a respectable season-ending finish. The Hawkeyes will advance to Friday’s quarterfinals to face Michigan State. Here are three quick takes from Iowa’s opening-round win.

Strong defense helped Iowa get past Northwestern in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament Thursday night (Getty Images).

Strong defense helped Iowa get past Northwestern in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament Thursday night (Getty Images).

  1. Iowa Is On A Bubble Mission, But Don’t Tell Devyn Marble That. Other than top-level seeding implications, and maybe Indiana’s locational preferences, the most intriguing outfit heading into the Big Ten Tournament this weekend was Iowa. Why? The Hawkeyes exist on the crest of the bubble tipping point. Their postseason fate, more than any other team in Chicago, will be decided based on what they do in the Big Ten Tournament. Beating Northwestern won’t put the Hawkeyes over the top – Iowa still owns that prohibitive 319th-ranked non-conference schedule, a few ugly losses and a short supply of good wins to make up the difference. One more big chip – hello, Michigan State quarterfinal opportunity – might just get Fran McCaffery’s team safely into the field. For his part, McCaffery is satisfied with where his team stands in the at-large picture. “To me, I am very comfortable with our resume right now. I think we deserve to be in,” he said in the postgame press conference. McCaffery even name-checked his team’s impressive “KenPom” rankings (The Hawkeyes own a top-25 efficiency defense and rank 30th overall in Pomeroy’s system) to back up Iowa’s credentials. His case is a valid one; Iowa has been weighed down, perception-wise, by a confluence of poor non-conference scheduling and the national spotlight of the upper reaches of the Big Ten. But the nitty gritty RPI-dominated  facts are the facts that matter – not the reality-based efficiency facts McCaffery referred to – and those facts say this: Iowa probably needs to beat Michigan State tomorrow to make the field of 68.
  2. The Hawkeyes Can Really Guard. For the first seven minutes of Thursday night’s game, Northwestern approached its halfcourt offense pretty much the same way it has since enduring a host of crippling injuries and embarking on a brutal eight-game losing streak to close the regular season. The Wildcats ran their Princeton sets to exhaustion, settled for threes and middle-range jump shots, and watched the Hawkeyes jump out to an 11-0 lead. Northwestern would crawl back into striking distance, but after Iowa’s punishing opening stretch, the game was effectively won. Iowa did it through defense; they smothered Northwestern’s unconventional offense by keeping every pass, screen and back cut in front of them, getting into passing lanes, harassing freshman center Alex Olah on the catch and obstructing point guard Dave Sobolewski’s play-making ability. The Hawkeyes destabilized Northwestern’s attack from the tip, and the rest was purely clinical (the Wildcats finished 18-of-49 from the field, and just 7-of-22 from three). With zero individual offensive talent to speak of, Iowa’s disciplined team defense forced Northwestern into bad shot after bad shot – during certain stretches, it almost felt like the Wildcats were throwing the ball around the perimeter because there was nothing else to do, akin to a harmless game of hot potato, with no creative direction or immediate solution to be found. Credit Iowa’s defense. Fran McCaffery’s team reduced the Wildcats’ already hampered offense into a rudderless half court enterprise. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Andrew Smith Shows His Importance to Butler’s Long-Term Fortune

Posted by Chris Johnson on December 9th, 2012

Chris Johnson is an RTC correspondent. He was in Evanston for Butler’s 74-65 victory over Northwestern at Welsh-Ryan Arena Saturday night. You can follow him @ChrisDJohnsonn

The biggest weak spot in Butler’s season body of work entering tonight’s game at Northwestern was a road defeat at Xavier. It was the Bulldogs’ second game of the season, and their only true road test. It was hard to know what to make of that result, mostly because Xavier itself remained something of a mystery. But over the next four weeks, as Butler notched impressive victories over Marquette and North Carolina at the Maui Invitational, and handled three consecutive home tune-ups against Hanover, Ball State and IUPUI, the perception lingered – however faint – that Butler needed to prove itself in a hostile road environment before drawing a long-term prospectus about the Bulldogs’ chances of competing in the new and improved Atlantic 10.

The Bulldogs dominated the paint against Northwestern, with Smith leading the charge en route to his best performance of the season (Photo credit: AP Photo).

Those doubts all but evaporated at Welsh-Ryan Arena Saturday night. Butler showed the poise, savvy and steadfast discipline that’s come to define Brad Stevens’ recent wave of national success. More importantly, it flashed newfound strength on the low block, a physical disadvantage that’s limited Butler in recent seasons against athletically superior teams. Senior center Andrew Smith had scored the ball at an efficient rate through the early part of the season, posting a 114.0 offensive rating and a 55.1% effective field goal percentage, but his usage rate (19.6 percent of available possessions) ranked behind two teammates and his main priorities typically hinged on defense and rebounding. Smith proved Saturday night he’s more than capable of carrying the load offensively. “I thought he played his best game of the year,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said following the Bulldogs’ 74-65 victory in at Welsh-Ryan Arena. “We needed every bit of it.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten Non-Conference Schedule Analysis: Northwestern Wildcats

Posted by KTrahan on October 19th, 2012

The Big Ten microsite will be analyzing the non-conference schedules for all of the Big Ten teams in the coming weeks. Today, we continue with the Northwestern Wildcats. Check out their full schedule here.

Where we left off: Last year, Northwestern coach Bill Carmody thought he had put together a solid non-conference schedule. There weren’t any marquee wins, but there were good wins against Seton Hall, Tulsa and LSU, respectable losses to Baylor and Creighton, and no bad losses. That didn’t turn out to be a winning formula, as the NCAA selection committee favored teams that had some marquee wins and forgave their bad losses. This year, there is a chance for several marquee wins — some even in Evanston — and NU must take advantage of those opportunities in order to finally make the NCAA Tournament.

Northwestern Wants to See More of These

Major tournaments: Last year, Northwestern won the Charleston Classic, which isn’t a huge tournament but a respected one nonetheless. This year, NU heads to the South Padre Island Invitational to face TCU, and then either UAB or Illinois State. That’s…um, well… a terrible schedule. Luckily for the Wildcats, they’ll have other chances pick up big wins, but that set of games certainly won’t be the most entertaining group we’ll see this season.

Toughest opponent: Last year, Northwestern was utterly embarrassed at home by Baylor, and this year, the Wildcats have to go to Waco for what will undoubtedly be their toughest non-conference game. Last year’s game was probably the biggest mismatch NU faced all year, as Baylor was dominant on the boards and has athleticism down low, while the Cats couldn’t do anything in the paint offensively or defensively. This NU team will be better inside and Baylor isn’t quite as talented as it was last season, so it shouldn’t be as much of a blowout but it will still be NU’s toughest non-league game by far, especially coming on the road.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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