Everyone needs to take a deep breath. It was a beat down, smack down, one that was ugly as can be. Whatever you want to call it, the Northwestern Wildcats loss to the Maryland Terrapins on Tuesday in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge was a major step back for the program. However, not all hope is lost and there is plenty left to play for. Don’t throw out that purple kool-aid just yet.
I did some yeoman’s work and re-watched the game from the other night. It wasn’t easy but heck it’s my job. Anyways, there were some major problems which we’ll get to in a minute but that doesn’t mean there weren’t positives I saw.
Reggie Hearn seems to be stepping up as a senior leader who wants the ball. He was decisive in the half court, got to the rim and wanted to take the big shots when they were warranted.
Dave Sobolewski was poised despite his obvious athletic disadvantage. He didn’t really force anything and is one of the few guys Bill Carmody could trust on this night.
How about big man Mike Turner? Just 18 months ago, he’s playing in a Chicago lab school against low level competition. In this game he battled a future top 10 NBA pick in Alex Len and actually did quite well.
Of course when you lose as decisively as the Wildcats did there are plenty of things you’ll need to improve.
For one, I can’t understand why Carmody didn’t go to his 1-3-1 pressure zone more quickly. He waited till nearly the midpoint in the second half to go it. I understand he wants to play more man-to-man this year but this was not the night to be stubborn. When it was implemented it paid immediate dividends, although Northwestern’s rotations weren’t great and those corner threes started to fall for Maryland.
I’m still looking for Drew Crawford. If anyone knows his location, please call authorities. Outside the first half of the first game, he seems like he’s been MIA all season. I really am starting to wonder whether or not that right shoulder of his is bothering him. He didn’t want to attack the basket and even his jumpers had him fading away constantly. He’s got to figure it out quickly. This Northwestern team isn’t good enough offensively to survive without him.
A nice surprise through the early season has been Louisville Cardinals transfer Jared Swopshire but he was virtually unnoticeable in this game. He had a few put backs but he wasn’t aggressive enough on offense. Sure, the Princeton look that the Wildcats use stresses getting everyone involved However, when you’ve played in as many big games as he has, sometimes you need to be selfish.
My final real issue from this one was the lack of bench production from Northwestern. Alex Marcotullio and Tre Demps did nothing. That can’t happen on a team that supposedly has more quality depth this year.
The upcoming non-conference tests will tell us a lot. On December 4th, the Wildcats hit the road to face a Baylor Bears team that ran them out of the gym last year. I don’t see that one being close due to the Bears athleticism and depth. However, they are prone to fall asleep at times and an early start could give Northwestern an edge.
After that one though there are two games the Wildcats SHOULD, and frankly have to, win. The Butler Bulldogs come calling to Evanston on December 8th. While they are expected to finish near the top of the competitive Atlantic 10, they don’t overwhelm you with athleticism or pressure. Northwestern will need to be physical and I look for Alex Olah to take on more of the load against their center Andrew Smith who isn’t the most stout post defender.
Finally, the Stanford Cardinal visit on December 21st. They have an outstanding back court led by Chasson Randle and Aaron Bright, but they don’t have much scoring upfront and are limited depth wise. The Cardinal are still learning how everyone fits on this year’s squad and that should give Northwestern a good chance to win.
Overall, I think the Wildcats need to get two of the final three big non-conference tilts. That would give them three wins over potential NCAA tournament teams when you throw in the Illinois State Redbirds win. Then you enter Big Ten play with one goal. Get to .500 in your league and you’ll almost certainly be dancing come March.
Like my article? Hate it? Let me know on Twitter (@tmichaelcronin). I look forward to your thoughts!