That was certainly not what I expected. Thanks to strong three point shooting and pretty solid man-to-man defense, the Northwestern Wildcats were able to go on the road and take down the struggling Illinois Fighting Illini. Let’s break it down…
– Reggie Hearn looks like he’s close to 100 percent following that nasty ankle injury he suffered against the Stanford Cardinal. He made big shots all game, including one midway through the second half during an Illini “mini run”. His leadership is obvious on the floor and the Wildcats will need him night in and night out.
– Jared Swopshire showed why Northwestern wanted him when it was announced he was transferring from the Louisville Cardinals. Sure, he made a couple threes that were big, but that’s not obviously his strength. What he did do was put the ball on the floor and attack the rim. That helped the ‘Cats get in the bonus early and his “and-1” late was the dagger.
– Alex Marcotullio is clutch. He’s never the most talented player on the floor, but he just gets it. His threes were huge, especially when you consider they mostly came late in the shot clock. The back injury will still probably be an issue, but all he’s got to do is make shots. The rest is a bonus.
– Bill Carmody thoroughly outcoached John Groce. His willingness to go with the small lineup down the stretch won Northwestern the game. Also, the “burn offense” clearly is keeping Northwestern in games with the difference here being that they made their open shots to win.
– Alex Olah looked like an alien out there. He was tentative and got pushed around by the smaller Illini bigs. I will never understand how that happens to a 7 footer who’s 250 pounds. Man up!
– “The freshmen,” both Kale Abrahamson and Mike Turner specifically. Kale almost refused to shoot and gave up a stupid “and 1” while Turner’s play was herky jerky at best. I still don’t understand why Nikola Cerina can’t get a few minutes over Turner at the “5”.
This win doesn’t exactly change my opinion of the Wildcats season, which to me is still looking like a major rebuilding year. Now Northwestern gets to go back home to Welsh-Ryan Arena, where they have struggled for some reason. The Indiana Hoosiers are a whole different animal with weapons all over the court and this year they are also defending well. Add in the fact they’ll be mad following a loss to the Wisconsin Badgers and this one could get really ugly. When athletes say “no one believes in us,” that’s mostly false. In this case, it makes a lot of sense. Prove us wrong.
Like my article? Hate it? Let me know on Twitter (@tmichaelcronin). I look forward to your thoughts.