NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski looks ahead to the Northwestern men's basketball team's home game against second-ranked Indiana at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Sunday.
What is past is prologue.
* SHAKESPEARE claimed that in The Tempest, and now the 'Cats must prove him correct if they are to take down No. 2 Indiana in their Sunday matinee at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
* TO EXPLICATE, let us look at the week just past. A Sunday ago, in a late afternoon game at Welsh-Ryan, the 'Cats appeared generally disconcerted, shot 29.4 percent overall and 19.2 percent on their threes, and fell to lowly Iowa by 20. But four days later, in the hostile environment of Illinois' Assembly Hall, they appeared profoundly proficient, shot 47.2 percent overall and 53.3 percent on their threes, and ran away to a 14-point win over the No. 23 Illini.
Obviously, then, their effort and execution and efficiency were hugely different in those two affairs, which we wondered about when we sat down with point Dave Sobolewski on Friday afternoon. "We just came out ready to play and knew we were going to win the game on the defensive end," he said, referring to the Illini triumph. "if Illinois was going to score 70 or 80 points, we had no chance of winning. So we made that a big focus of ours, to try and take them out of what they do and and to make sure we kept them out of their tendencies. We did a great job of that early on. We took them out of their game plan."
How can you guarantee that same effort is there every game, we now asked.
"It's just a focus issue, I think," he said. "Against Iowa, I don't think everybody prepared mentally the way we need to. But leading up to the Illinois game, we had some great practices, a lot better than the practices entering Iowa. So we need another two good practices here and then everybody needs to understand what we need to do to win, like we did last night."
As a team leader, we now asked, is it his job to make sure everybody does understand?
"A little bit. But I think it falls on everybody. Everybody's got to find their own ways to mentally prepare to play a game. It's not the same for every person. It's different for me than everybody else. So i think that falls on everybody individually to find whatever way it is to get ready to play a game. They just have to care of their business."
"I think every single guy, something has to come from within himself," senior guard Reggie Hearn echoed when we later asked him that final question. "But as far as me being a leader, I have to provide that example. That's something I did not do well in the Iowa game, and who knows? It might have had an effect on some of the younger guys. Me not coming to play may have adversely effected them also. So I have to make sure I'm bringing 100 percent to each and every game. Hopefully that will filter down to some of the younger guys."
* MENTAL PREPAREDNESS is certainly part of any formula for success. For a team that is not ready to play has no chance for a victory. But there was also a very concrete, pragmatic difference between the 'Cats performances against the Hawkeyes and the Illini, and it can be simply described this way. In the former game, they bled the shot clock, effectively paniced, got out of their offense, and ended up taking either rushed shots or bad shots. In the latter game, they bled the shot clock, retained their composure, kept running their offense, and ended up getting either open threes or backdoor layups. (The numbers reflect their efficiency in Champaign. For of their 68 points, 24 came on threes, 26 came at the line and 16 came in the paint. That accounts for all of them but two.)
"We started every possession (against Illinois) with a little five-to-eight second delay to make them play some extra defense," Sobolewski would explain. "After that, we were just playing our normal game. That was part of our game plan and we executed it perfectly."
So might we see the same plan against the Hoosiers?
"I think so," said 'Cat coach Bill Carmody. "I just have to get across to our guys, we scored 68 points away from home last night. That's OK. You win games getting 68 points. So even if you're taking a little time, we were taking time against Iowa, but with 15 seconds left we broke down and didn't continue to run our offense. Then we sort of went one-on-one or ball screens, and it wasn't effective. So we're just trying to get across to them, you can score late in the clock with the stuff you're running. Stick with it."
Is that why they got more layups than usual against Illinois?
"I think we just, you know, it's hard to say," Carmody said. "But I think we had a plan going into the game, let's stick to it, let's not alter things midway through the shot clock. Let's stick with it and see where it goes. We had some early success, then we said, 'Oh, this stuff might work.'"
* JARED SWOPSHIRE, the grad student transfer from Louisville, must be mentioned here, and this is why. In the 'Cats 11 wins this season, he has shot 48.8 percent overall, 44.1 percent on his threes and averaged 11.9 points. (Against Illinois, those numbers were 57.1, 66.2 and 12.) But in their seven losses, he has shot 30 percent overall, 15.8 percent on his threes and averaged just 4.6 points. (Against Iowa, those numbers were 16.6, 00.0 and two.) Obviously, then, he is an integral part of their offense, which is different from his days down South, where he was nothing more than the ultimate role player. "No doubt," Carmody said when we asked if that was a big adjustment for the forward.
"I've talked to him a lot about that, and that was one of the reasons he came here even. He identified us as a place where he could do some more stuff instead of just stand in the corner and dribble, dribble, dribble. If he got the ball, someone passed it to him reluctantly. Here, I want you to score, I want you to rebound, I want you to handle the ball. So it has been a big adjustment for him. But I think he's got it now."
* OBVIOUSLY, THEN, the 'Cats hope their Illinois past is the prologue to the performance they put on Sunday against Indiana. For that is the way they can pull off their upset, by controlling the tempo and caring for the ball and playing gnarly defense and operating with a cool efficiency. "We know they're a very dangerous team, offensively and defensively," Hearn will say. "So we're going to have to be disciplined, limit our turnovers and maintain the tempo of the game that we want to have. We're going to have to keep trying to impose our will with the tempo. . .and maintaining the pace of the game is about limiting their possessions. If we limit their possessions, we have a pretty good chance."
"I think it's going to be very similar to the Illinois game in that we're going to win the game ultimately on the defensive end," Sobolewski will finally say. "We can't let them go crazy. We've got to hold their guys under their averages. They can score a ton of points and so, like Illinois, we've got to keep the game low, and hope it's close down the stretch, and be able to pull out a win."