Pregame Glance: Northwestern Part II

Written February 28th, 2012 by Eric

Bill Carmody's default look on Selection Sunday.

The Northwestern Wildcats are playing host to the Ohio State Buckeyes on Wednesday evening for the second to last game of the regular season. Bill Carmody’s team is standing at 17-11 for the season, and 7-9 in the Big Ten – good for 7th overall in conference. Over their last six meetings the Buckeyes lead 5-1, including an overtime battle in the Big Ten tournament last year. The last Northwestern victory occurred in Evanston on February 18th, 2009 by a score of 72-69.

Northwestern has never made the NCAA tournament in the history of their program. During the 2009-2010 campaign, the Wildcats put together a 20 win season that should have been enough to earn them their first bid. Surprisingly, they were denied entry and relegated to the NIT for the second year running. They again missed the tournament last season with a slightly less impressive 18 win season, but they were at least in the conversation.

The Wildcats find themselves in the conversation again this year. Sitting at 17 wins with two games left on the schedule, there is an outside chance that the ‘Cats could play their way into the tournament. Not surprisingly, many in the Big Ten find themselves rooting for Northwestern to make it into the field of 68 – though, of course, not at the expense of their own teams.

A lot of their recent success, and the reason that they’re consistently making post-season play, has to do with how Bill Carmody has them playing in Evanston. The Wildcats have been an incredibly difficult team to beat at home during the last few seasons, making Welsh-Ryan Arena a surprising intimidating building. You may recall last season when the Buckeyes, in their only meeting with Northwestern, escaped with a 58-57 victory after Northwestern missed a desperation half-court heave at the buzzer. That trend has continued into this season as a number of teams will attest.

Drew Crawford is an important part of Northwestern's plans.

In their 8 Big Ten home games so far this season the Pretty Kitties are 5-3 overall. Their wins include victories against: Penn State (68-56), Nebraska (84-74), Iowa (83-64), Minnesota (64-53), and most impressively Michigan State (81-74). But it’s their home losses that really tell the story. The Wildcats put up valiant fights against: Illinois (57-56), Purdue (58-56), and Michigan (67-55) in overtime. Some of these losses are not truly indicative of what this team can do, as they also took Michigan to overtime in Ann Arbor but fell by only two, and managed to defeat Illinois in Urbana-Champaign by four.

It’s hard to ignore senior forward John Shurna’s (6-9, 220) contribution to this program. His game has improved to the point that he now averages just over 20 points per game. There aren’t too many players that break that mark in College Basketball. In fact, Shurna is #15 in points per game overall, is one of only 18 players this season to average at least 20, and is one of only 6 forwards to reach the mark. He is a rare talent, and has to be treated as such.

Shurna’s partner in crime on this team is junior guard/forward Drew Crawford (6-5, 205), a significant second option for Northwestern. Over his career, Crawford has demonstrated a solid scorer’s touch. That’s especially true this season with him hitting 48.4% from the floor, and 41.4% from three. Drew has slowly learned to play within himself and in control, and he makes life difficult for opponents on both ends of the court.

MPG PPG FG% FT% 3P% RPG APG SPG BPG FPG
Northwestern #24 J. Shurna 37.107 20.071 47.7 76.6 42.9 5.393 2.714 1.286 1.679 1.679
Northwestern #3 D. Sobolewski 35.571 9.214 42.6 74.7 38.1 2.714 3.607 0.929 0.286 2.536
Northwestern #1 D. Crawford 34.643 16.107 48.4 70.2 41.5 4.5 2.036 0.964 0.643 2.036
Northwestern #11 R. Hearn 25.821 7.571 52.6 79.1 41.5 3.75 1.143 0.571 0.214 2.857
Northwestern #23 J. Cobb 17.562 4.938 32.5 68.0 24.2 1.188 0.938 1.312 0.125 1.375
MPG PPG FG% FT% 3P% RPG APG SPG BPG FPG
Ohio-state #44 W. Buford 33.31 15.069 43.2 87.7 37.9 4.897 2.931 0.793 0.138 1.517
Ohio-state #4 A. Craft 30.31 8.414 49.7 70.1 35.0 2.897 4.552 2.31 0.069 2.414
Ohio-state #1 D. Thomas 29.621 15.069 53.0 74.2 34.0 4.759 0.862 0.345 0.103 1.552
Ohio-state #0 J. Sullinger 29.667 16.815 54.9 74.2 39.3 8.926 1.037 1.333 0.815 2.926
Ohio-state #32 L. Smith Jr. 23.966 5.793 46.8 55.2 39.2 4.655 2.0 1.034 0.103 1.897

Not surprisingly, when the Buckeyes faced the Wildcats in Columbus to start the Big Ten season, Ohio State’s defense focused on Shurna and Crawford. OSU frustrated their ability to find good open looks, and ultimately forced Northwestern to try to find other options. Outside of their top two, who combined for only 24 points on 9-30 shooting, only sophomore guard JerShon Cobb (6-5, 200) managed to take more than 4 shots, hitting only 2-9 for six points.

The Buckeyes will have to play that kind of defense again this weekend, but it’s not the defense that is a concern. Ohio State has demonstrated consistently that their defense is one of the best in the nation – despite the occasional boneheaded mental lapse. It is obviously the offense that is having a big problem. The Bucks will need some big scoring from both the outside, and off the dribble drive, from all of the guards. More importantly, however, is for Sullinger to finally get going and truly play his style of game for the first time since near the start of Big Ten play.

If we see changes come to the mentality of this team tomorrow in Evanston, there’s a chance that good things will happen for this team. If, though, the team comes out as flat as they have during the last five games, things may not go so smoothly to end the season.

The Buckeyes play Northwestern on Wednesday, February 29th at 8:30 PM EST. You’ll be able to see that game on the Big Ten Network.

4 Comments

  1. KenNo Gravatar
    February 29th, 2012 at 1:01 am

    Eric, nice job with the preview. For a second, I didn’t recognize the photo of Carmody with him wearing a necktie.

    With Indiana beating Michigan State, these next two games take on a bit of urgency to them.

    [Reply]

  2. QMNo Gravatar
    February 29th, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    Northwestern took us to overtime last year when we had leaders and shooters who made good decisions? Tonight’s game should be interesting with a sure NCAA invite is on the line for Northwestern.

    [Reply]

    EricNo Gravatar
    February 29th, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    That’s what I keep telling people. This game could be much, much more challenging than our first meeting with them. That’s probably made worse since Jordan Sibert turned it on against Northwestern in December – the only time he’s done it all season.

    If this team has gotten its head on straight, we’ll be ok. If they haven’t, look out.

    [Reply]

    KenNo Gravatar
    February 29th, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    The spread for this game is OSU -7.5 Compared to previous game OSU -16.5. Evidently people who do that sort of thing for a living are looking at it the same way you are.

    [Reply]

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