The Northwestern Wildcats might have saved their season Tuesday night with a big victory over the Baylor Bears on the road. I know it’s early in the season and plenty of things can still happen but the situation was really that desperate. This year’s squad hasn’t shot the ball well and it looks like they’ll have to win with defense and rebounding. For one of the first times, in the tenure of Bill Carmody, they did.
The Wildcats out rebounded a tall and athletic Baylor front by 13 rebounds. They also held their talented front court to single digit points. Oh and they showed some swagger as well. Dave Sobolewski got a warning for taunting. The other 4 players came to Jared Swopshire‘s aide when he was fouled hard late in the game. These Wildcats showed the inability to back down we’ve seen in year’s past. Now will it stay as they go forward? We’ll get a good idea Saturday against the Butler Bulldogs.
Butler had a down year last season but they have reloaded. Rotnei Clarke came over from the Arkansas Razorbacks as a transfer. He’s given them a constant shooter from deep. The front court of Kylie Marshall and Andrew Smith has been productive although Smith hasn’t had the start he envisioned. However, they are still searching for a point guard. Ever since Sheldon Mack went to the NBA, this team hasn’t had a true floor general. If they have to keep Clarke handling the ball, instead of working off screens, they won’t be able to reach their peak on offense this season. Right now, Butler is an NCAA bubble team. The tough Atlantic 10 Conference will certainly be an asset but this team is far from a lock.
Both teams need this game for their collective resumes but Northwestern has to have it. After this one, the Wildcats only have one more opportunity before conference season for a marquee victory. That comes December 21st against the Stanford Cardinal. When you lose a real clunker like they did to the UIC Flames, you’ve got to offset the damage and then some. Although the committee has seemed to de-emphasize bad losses over the last couple of years, in favor of good wins, a sub 200 RPI loss still can drag your whole resume down with it.
I expect Northwestern to try and be physical once again inside. As I mentioned before, Butler’s interior defense isn’t what it once was. Smith tends to be a foul machine and without him on the floor Butler gets super small. Alex Olah should get quite a few touches from the start. If he has success that will allow the Wildcats to work the ball around the perimeter and perhaps blitz the Bulldogs. In their two losses, to the Xavier Musketeers and the Illinois Fighting Illini, Butler has been lit up from 3 early. Perhaps this is the day Northwestern breaks out of their season shooting slump.
Defensively, I want to see Carmody utilize the 1-3-1 zone from the start. We’ve discussed Butler’s lack of a true ball handler. It will also allow you to contain the always crafty Marshall inside. He’s a master at drawing fouls and hopefully the zone allows you to deny him the ball. Of course, if Clarke and freshman Kellen Dunham light it up from outside you can switch to your man-to-man look. So far this year Northwestern has tried to stick with the man almost exclusively to start ballgames. Play your hand, Coach Carmody.
This is the last Northwestern game for over a week. You can afford to neglect your bench if need be and so far this year we haven’t seen that balanced scoring everyone expected. I think Carmody leans on 7 or so guys and the Wildcats get another resume builder. Northwestern 62-58.
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