NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski offers
up a look at this week's Big Ten tournament at the United Center. Northwestern faces
Iowa in opening-round contest at approximately 8 p.m. Thursday.
* Iowa began the
eight-game losing streak the 'Cats carry into the United Center, where Thursday
they face the Hawkeyes in the opening-round of the Big Ten tourney. Still, says
point Dave Sobolewski, "We're playing better than we had previously, so I think
we're ready. The morale should be OK. We've got nothing to lose and we should
be ready to go."
"I think the guys
are in a pretty good spot, actually, considering that we've lost all these
games in a row," echoes his coach, Bill Carmody. "They seem pretty good to me."
* In that
14-point defeat, which came back on Feb. 9 in Iowa City, his guys were down
just a pair when forward Jared Swophsire suffered the knee injury that ended
his season. This was a brutal blow to the 'Cats, who were already without Drew
Crawford (shoulder) and JerShon Cobb (suspension), and now again they had to
adjust both their mindset and their style of play. Emotion carried them through
their next affair, an estimable effort in a 10-point loss at Ohio State, but
then reality took over and now came a 21-point loss to Illinois at home, a
28-point loss to Wisconsin at home and a 31-point loss at Purdue. "Those first
couple of games after we lost Swop were tough," Sobolewski recalls when asked
about the learning curve the 'Cats faced after he went down. "Having lost our
third major contributor for the year was definitely a challenge for us."
where we mostly had to learn," picks up Alex Marcotullio, the senior guard. "He
was basically the anchor of our defense. He was a big-time communicator and he
made plays for others. He helped out in different situations. He brought a
toughness and mentality to the game. He brought a lot of leadership and character
and experience after playing in the Big East for four years and under a great
coach (Rick Pitino) at Louisville. That was another thing we missed. His
toughness and energy and the little plays that he made."
"I think a lot of
it after Swop was learning how to fight, how to fight harder," concludes senior
guard Reggie Hearn. "Obviously we're undermanned and a lot of times we have a
size disadvantage, so we've got to make up for what we lack in the physical
area with our heart, with our toughness. I think we're starting to do that. I
really liked what I saw from the freshmen in the game against Michigan State
(last Sunday). I really thought they played hard, showed a lot of fight, showed
a lot of toughness, a lot of heart, a lot of grit. That really helped us out as
a team and hopefully that'll carry us forward well into the tournament."
* The Spartan
game, a 10-point loss on the road that was closer than that, followed similarly
narrow losses to Ohio State and Penn State at home. "I think guys are starting
to understand what we need to do now to still be competitive," says Sobolewski,
which is one reason he can realistically say the 'Cats morale should be OK.
Another is the recent improvement of redshirt freshman Tre Demps and true
freshmen Alex Olah and Kale Abrahamson. None, to be clear, is yet a finished
product. But Demps did have 11 points in East Lansing despite hitting just one
of his six three-point attempts. And the 7-foot Olah did have a dunk among the
10 points he scored that same afternoon. And Abrahamson not only had a
team-high 16 that day. He also grabbed four rebounds to run his total to 17
over the last three games. "I've been trying to hit the boards a lot more in
the last few games especially because I know we need rebounds," he will say when
asked about that last stat. "We're pretty small and there's a lot of big teams
in the Big Ten. So I'm trying to make up for those rebounds Swop got."
"I liked the way
we played Michigan State at their place, especially the freshmen," even Carmody
will say. "They all played pretty nicely, which was good to see."
*Here are two
more reasons the 'Cats can feel OK about themselves. They collected one-more
rebound than the Spartans, whose rebounding margin on the season is +6.8. (The
'Cats is -6.5.) And they stood up to the Spartans, who are always tougher than
a cheap cut of beef. "It gives us a lot more confidence," Hearn will say of
that performance against the No. 10 Spartans. "Back during that stretch when we
had 20-plus point losses in three straight games, that's tough. That can wear
on you mentally. The way we've fought back, even though we've lost games, we've
been in some close games now, and to play against a team like Michigan State
and play that well shows us that we still have something left in us, that we
can still play with a lot of teams in the country. That gives us some
confidence going forward in the tournament."
* To go forward,
of course, the 'Cats must first beat Iowa, which not only toppled them in Iowa
City. The Hawkeyes also left Welsh-Ryan with a 20-point win back on Jan. 13.
"They try to beat us up inside, which is a big focus of ours," Sobolewski says
when asked why they have been so nettlesome an opponent. "We've got to match
their physicality in there. We feel if we do that and rebound, we'll be OK."
"Iowa's just a
physical team, especially in their rebounding and their defense," adds Hearn.
"They kind of chuck the cutters, they hit the boards really hard, and those are
things we struggle with as a team from time to time. So we've got to expect
that and push through it."
"They do a lot of
different stuff," concludes Carmody. "They'll play man, they'll play 2-3 zone,
they press full court, three-quarter court, which caused us problems against
Penn State. They throw a lot of stuff at you and you have to be ready for it
and not have any possessions when you're a little screwed up and don't get the
shots you want."
finally, Hearn: "We feel we don't have that much to lose. That's dangerous,
when you have a team like that."
NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski takes
a look back at the Northwestern men's basketball team's Senior Night matchup
against Penn State on Thursday.
will serve as the symbol for the 'Cats Thursday loss to Penn State. This was
Senior Night, his final appearance at Welsh-Ryan Arena, and through so much of
the evening he shone brilliantly. He put in 34 minutes, the most he has played
in any game over the last two seasons. He dropped six of his nine field goal
attempts, all of them threes, went four-of-four from the line, and ended his
display with a game-high and a career-high 22 points. He, most memorably
catalyzed his team in the belly of this affair's second half, hitting five-of-his-six
shots in this span and carrying it from 12 down to one up in just over eight
But there were
also his five turnovers, one of them late and fatal to the 'Cats chances. "It's
about time something started going in," he said later when asked about his 66.6
percent shooting. "I've struggled all year and it was nice seeing some go
through the basket. But too many turnovers. I think that was the deciding
factor in the game. Those are possessions lost and points lost. I blame myself.
What did I have? Five? That's crazy."
That was just the
kind of night it was for the 'Cats, who were an inconsistent mix of good and
bad. Once again they started poorly, falling behind by a dozen after committing
five turnovers and missing all four of their shots in the game's first five
minutes. "We knew they were going to press, a little three-quarter court press,
and I just thought we were careless," Bill Carmody would say of the Nittany
Lion tactic that bedeviled his team through this stretch. "We were throwing the
ball to trapping spots right over half-court, which you don't want to do
without moving the ball from side-to-side first. Give them credit. But I
thought there was a little combination of that (Senior Night) emotion and a
"We just didn't
handle it well," echoed the senior guard Reggie Hearn. "We knew they were going
to play that 1-2-2 trap and we didn't execute as we had in practice. We were
careless with the ball."
with a three from the freshman Kale Abrahamson, they willfully began to scale
this hole they had dug for themselves, and just three minutes later they were
back to within one after Marcotullio hit the first of his half-dozen threes.
But now, on consecutive possessions, came a turnover by Hearn, a turnover by
center Mike Turner, a turnover by point Dave Sobolewski, and like that were
were back down by seven. Now again they stirred themselves, forging a tie at 26
less than four minutes later, yet here they floundered once more and found
themselves down four as this first half finally ended.
"First half I
could see. There was emotion to senior night. The second half, it wasn't good,"
Carmody would later say, and this is why. His team started that half as poorly
as it had the game and, with just over five minutes of it gone, the 'Cats
were again down a dozen.
The first one
came from just this side of his team's bench and pulled the 'Cats to within
nine at 14:32. The next, after a miss, was straight on and came less then two
minutes later. Suddenly they were within five and Alex Marcotullio was afire,
and here one came from the right wing and another from the right corner and the
final one from the left corner that put his team up a point at 6:15. Now
Nittany Lion guard D.J. Newbill was called for an offensive foul and here, with
the ball, the 'Cats turned to Hearn. "We ran a nice, little cut. Reggie had a
nice cut," Carmody would later recall. "The ball was delivered a little late by
our center, he bobbled it, didn't get (the layup), they came down and scored.
From then, we were never again able to quite get over the hump."
From then, in
fact, from that moment of Marcotullio's final three, the 'Cats were never able
to find the basket, missing their next 10 field goal attempts before getting a
meaningless layup from Tre Demps with four seconds remaining. Their defense
buckled through this stretch as well, the Nittany Lions successfully attacking
their zone down low, but still, still, their deficit was only six as
Marcotullio handled the ball in front of his team's bench. Another three from
him would halve that margin, but here he offered a pass to Sobolewski in the
right corner that was picked by Newbill with 1:18 remaining. "We were trying to
get a quick look for me, I guess," Marcotullio later explained. "I up faked and
I thought the guy was going to run at me. He made a nice play and stuck in the
Earlier, after he
had fouled out with his team down four and 3:07 remaining, Reggie Hearn was
accompanied by a standing ovation as he walked slowly to the bench for the last
time at Welsh-Ryan. "I was a little (teed) off, so I didn't give it a whole lot
of credence to it," he would later say when asked about that moment. "I heard
it in the back of my head and it felt good. But at that point. . .I was
thinking of how we could pull it out. I'm sure I would have appreciated it more
if I'd been going out on a good note and I'm sure it'll sink in after the game
now and I'll appreciate what the fans did for me. But at the time, I was (teed)
Now, after his
turnover, the 'Cats began fouling and the Nittany Lions made their free throws
and the game was lost, and so here Omar Jimenez replaced him and Alex
Marcotullio also received a standing ovation as he made his own last walk to
the Welsh-Ryan bench with 10 seconds remaining. "It hurts. I wanted to go out
on top here and sadly that's not the case," he would soon say. "But I left
everything out there, and so did Reg and everyone else. I'm just happy to be
part of this great program and university."
Special Contributor Skip Myslenski offers up his look back at Thursday night's
contest between Northwestern and No. 16/15 Ohio State at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
They had never led through a languid first half and now,
just over a minute into the second, the 'Cats were down 11 to No. 16 Ohio
State. They looked here like a contender whose knees had been buckled by a
champ's quick flurry, yet they kept their feet and regained their balance and
not only refused to go down. They also responded with a flurry of their own.
The first punch came from point Dave Sobolewski, who dropped
a three from the left wing, and the second came from freshman forward Kale
Abrahamson, who shot faked, got his defender in the air and drove the lane for
a layup. Now came a Tre Demps three from the right wing, a Demps backdoor layup
off a pass from center Alex Olah and a pair of Demps free throws that pulled
the 'Cats to within two at 15:30.
They had been battered in their last three outings, losing
each by at least 21, but they had fight in them yet on this Thursday night at
Welsh-Ryan, where now it was suddenly game on. The Buckeyes would go up four,
would go up six, but back came the 'Cats, taking their first lead of the night
after a layup by Demps and a layup by Reggie Hearn and an off-balance,
falling-away three by Abrahamson just before the shot clock expired.
"I liked the way we battled back, went ahead," Bill Carmody
would later say, but now it was Ohio State's turn to do that and 88 seconds
later they were up four. Yet again the 'Cats kept their feet, yet again the
'Cats regained their balance, yet again the 'Cats not only refused to go down.
They also responded with another flurry of their own. First came an Abrahamson
tip of an Olah miss. Next came a conventional three-point play from Olah. Then
finally came a Hearn three from the left wing that pushed his team up one at
When this one opened, everyone knew what the 'Cats must do
if they hoped to succeed. They would have to start better than they had in
their last three defeats. They would have to shoot better than they had in
those defeats. They would have to run their offense better than they had in
those defeats, and rebound better than they had all season.
This was asking a bunch from a group so battered by
adversity for so long. But on this night they ignored the long odds against
them and, from the start, offered a far different vision than they had over the
previous 11 days. They did fall behind the Bucks by as much as 11 in the first
half. "But," Sobolewski later said, "the good thing was we didn't let it spiral
out of hand. We kept it under 10 and, whenever a game's under 10, you never
know what might happen. We hit some big shots, we rebounded, we defended and
just went from there. As long as we can keep it close, that's what we need to
do at the start. We can't let it get out of hand like we have been."
They did trail the Bucks by seven at first half's end. But
in their locker room, Carmody would recall, "We said we think if we stay with
our stuff, we can get shots we want. It might be with eight seconds left, or 12
seconds (on the shot clock), but you're going to get some pretty good looks. We
went with a couple pet plays (at the start of the second half), got some open
looks, knocked them down."
They did get out-rebounded by the Bucks in the first half.
But the margin was small, just 18-14. They did not shoot particularly well in
the first half. But they dropped four of their 10 three-point attempts and that
was enough to keep them close. They did not get much from the bottom part of
their lineup in the first half. But--and this was not unimportant--that would
change in the final 20 minutes.
Abrahamson was certainly transformed in those minutes, which
he infused with energy, grit, all of his nine points and six of his game-high
nine rebounds (three of them offensive, which was more than any Buckeye
collected). Olah, too, was more active in the second half, and ended his night
with nine points and five rebounds and a team-high four assists. Then always
there were Demps (14 points) and Sobolewski (13), a pair with motors that
roared through the night and never tired even as they played huge minutes (36
for Demps, 38 for Sobolewski). "A lot of different guys contributed, which was
good to see," Carmody would later say.
It was a lot of guys, in fact, who helped push the 'Cats to
their late one-point lead, but again
Ohio State came back, this time with a three from Lenzelle Smith, Jr. Now the
ball was in the hands of the 6-foot-4 Hearn, who was doubled by a pair of
6-foot-7 Buckeyes, and one of them, Sam Thompson, kicked it loose, and suddenly
they were up four after a foul line jumper by Aaron Craft. One more time the
'Cats set up their offense and one more time they committed a turnover, Smith
picking off a Demps' pass to Olah.
This one was not damaging, Thompson missing a pair of free
throws in its wake. But then, for the third straight possession, the 'Cats
turned it over, Scott Shannon stripping Olah from behind and feeding Thomas for
the layup that pushed the Bucks' lead to six at 1:58. "Shannon Scott (who
finished with four steals) was tremendous tonight," his coach, Thad Matta,
would later say. "He was reading things, timing it up. We felt like we knew
where they were going and that was probably the difference. We were able to
turn them over 15 times (on the night)."
"Their defense," echoed Carmody, "anticipated some stuff,
got steals and run outs. The steals weren't just steals and possessions, but
steals and fast breaks or run outs at the other end. We just turned it over a
few times at the wrong time."
Time, now, would finally run out on the 'Cats, who only now
could not find a response. They were instead forced to foul and the Buckeyes
made their free throws and eventually escaped with a misleading 10-point win.
"We hadn't been playing competitive basketball, so it was certainly time,"
Carmody would later say when asked about his team's performance. "I think the
effort's there and the guys are trying and I think they'll get better. It was
good to see."
"It was a lot of fun to play in a competitive
game, but that's not what we play for," Sobolewski soon concluded. "We come
into every game trying to win and we didn't do that tonight. I think we played
all right. We played a lot better tonight than we have been, which is nice. But
we didn't win."
Snow is spitting from the sky and, down below, slush pockmarks the landscape. But this inconvenient reality does not matter. On the Kirby-Flanagan Indoor Practice Field inside the Nicolet Football Center, the 'Cats are about to wrap up their second spring practice of the winter. "It's awesome. It's great stuff. It's great to be in football in February," Pat Fitzgerald will say when it is finally over...
NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski
previews the Northwestern men's basketball team's home game against Ohio State
* The intellect
of Holmes is not needed to analyze the 'Cats Thursday night meeting with Ohio
State at Welsh-Ryan. To succeed, they must trust their offense. To succeed,
they must make shots. To succeed, they must defend with vigor. To succeed, they
must do the dirty work on the boards.
Oh. And a decent
start would help as well.
* Sunday night at
Purdue, for the third straight game, the 'Cats missed shots early and quickly
fell into a hole. (In this case, 11 points.) Then, to the Scribbler's eye, they
appeared to stray from their offense and looked to make that proverbial
eight-point play that would quickly get them back into the fray. "Yeah. I felt
the same way," point Dave Sobolewski said Wednesday when we mentioned this to
him. "Whenever we get down, the only way we're going to get back in the game is
with defense and running through our offense. We're not a one-on-one type team.
We never will be with the guys we've got. So the only way we're going to score
a lot of points is by running through our stuff, staying sharp, moving from one
thing to the next, and making hard cuts. When we break out of our offense,
things don't go well. So that's a focus here. I think that's been one of our
problems the last few games."
forward Kale Abrahamson added when the same thought was presented to him. "It's
hard when you're down. Everyone wants to make a play right away, and the way
the offense is structured, it's not structured score in the first five, 10
seconds (of the shot clock). It's almost like you have to calm yourself down.
You're down that much, but you have to calm yourself down and play with the
principles we've been playing with all year."
"I agree with
that. We talked about that after the game," Bill Carmody concluded when he
heard that impression. "You had some nice looks early, you missed them, all of
a sudden you're down early and you want to get back, so you take a quick shot.
Now they get it again. So, yeah, I think that's exactly right on. You have to
let the offense work for you. The game's not over in the first five minutes, so
don't try to get it all back at one time."
* The 'Cat
defense, one of their calling cards early, has also been less that stellar during
their five-game losing streak. This is why we wondered if it is effected when
the offense is struggling so. "Yeah. I think definitely it effects your
defense," said Carmody. "For one thing, their offense becomes better. They
know, 'Oh, man, these guys can't score.' So there's less pressure on a shot
being made or missed. They're combined. They're like pistons. If one's going
good, then the other one goes good. Or bad, bad."
Then your bad
defense puts even more pressure on your offense.
"Yeah. Yeah. It's
one game. It's still one game. . . When you're missing shots, at all levels,
you see it in the NBA, it's harder and harder to defend."
* The 'Cats were
last around at the end of a game during their Valentine Day visit to Columbus,
where the Buckeyes didn't put them away until they closed with a late run. "I
think we showed great toughness in that game. That's probably what's been
missing the past whatever games since then," Abrahamson would say when asked
what they could take from that performance. "Toughness and a will-to-win. There
were only nine of us that game and 14, 15,000 people against us. So it was kind
of us against the world. If we bring that same mentality, even though were
playing at home, that'll help a lot."
need to get tougher," Sobolewski later agreed. "I think a lot of it is up to
the individual as opposed to the, the coaches can't just make a guy tougher.
It's up to the individual and his mindset and how he's going to attack the
game. It's more mental the physical. We're not going to be able to go lift
weights for a week and get tougher. It's a mental game right now. We know we've
got to go get every rebound and not get pushed around."
But is it
possible the 'Cats are mentally worn out after combatting adversity for so
"I wouldn't say
we're mentally worn out," Sobolewski demurred. "It's definitely been a long
season with a lot of ups-and-downs. But we've only got a couple weeks left here
and hopefully we can push through that and come out with a couple wins and
finally, Sobolewski, on the 'Cats situation: "We've got nothing to lose, so we
should really be having a lot of fun. There's no pressure on us for anything.
So hopefully we can just go out there, give it our all and have some fun."
I was going through the post-game high-fives with Tennessee this weekend in
Palm Springs, I noticed a familiar face perched on the grass hill down the
right field line. She was all decked out in her USSSA Pride gear, but I'd know
her silhouette anywhere. It wasn't too long ago that I stepped on campus as a
freshman 3,000 miles away from home, and Lauren Lappin was our volunteer
NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski takes
a look ahead at the Northwestern men's basketball team's game at Purdue on
* There is no
secret to the 'Cats task Sunday when they visit Purdue and look to snap their
four-game losing streak. "We're going to need to score. That's going to be a
big key for us," says point Dave Sobolewski, defining it in simplest terms. "We
gotta make more baskets to win. We haven't been scoring enough."
* Last Wednesday,
at home against Wisconsin, the 'Cats finished with 41 points. "Our offense was
stagnant," guard Reggie Hearn would say later. Three days earlier, at home
against Illinois, they would also finish with just 41 points. "Our offense was
bad the entire night," their coach Bill Carmody commented after that one. But
the game before that, in the hostile environs of Ohio State's Value City Arena,
they finished with 59 points. Let's investigate.
* In Columbus, in
their first game after forward Jared Swopshire went down for the season, the
'Cats hit four of their first five shots, built themselves a little lead and
ended the evening shooting 46 percent overall and 42.3 percent on their threes.
But against both the Illini and the Badgers, they missed their first six shots,
fell into holes they never escaped and ended these games with horrific shooting
percentages (25 percent against Illinois, 29.4 percent against Wisconsin).
These results are not coincidental.
* Here is why.
The 'Cats lack an inside scoring presence, which leaves the opponent's big man
free to patrol the paint as a final defense against their back door layups.
That, notes Carmody, is just what Badger center Jared Berggren did, and he was
free to remain rooted there, he was free to ignore helping on screens since the
'Cats were shooting so poorly. But, he then goes on, "The Purdue center, that's
what they did the last time (in a 15-point 'Cat win) and that got them in
trouble. He didn't hedge on any screen and we made 'em all. They work together.
You get some drives, you get some back door cuts, then they lay off you and you
have (an open) shot. They start of playing you loosely, you've got to make some
shots. It's very simple."
* It is just that
simple, only when it isn't so simple. Guard Alex Marcotullio, thinking back to
when Drew Crawford was shut down for the season, explains. "It took us a couple
weeks for us to get over the shock that we weren't going to have our leading
scorer and one of the best players in the conference," he says here. "But we
got over that, won a few games after that, and our confidence level was high
again. So we have to do the same thing now with Jared (sidelined). He was a big
contributor on both ends of the court, so it's been a big learning curve with
him dropping out of the lineup. Both offensively and defensively we've had to
make adjustments and put guys in situations they hadn't been in prior to him
"Since Swop went
down, we haven't won without Swop," says Sobolewski. "So we need to figure it
out. . .and do whatever it takes to win. Be it everybody hits another shot,
everybody gets another rebound, defends better. Whatever it is, we need to
figure it out and get a win. It's just time to pull one out. It's been awhile."
* In their last
win, which came against the Boilermakers back on Feb. 2, the 'Cats finished
with 75 points. "Hopefully, that'll give us confidence, knowing that if we go
out and play well and run through our stuff, then we'll be OK," Sobolewski says
when asked about that afternoon. "We got a lot of back door layups that game.
We ran through our stuff hard. We had a lot of back door cuts. We just flowed
from one thing to the next and played hard. Regardless of the guys we have, if
we do the same thing, we should be OK."
* True. But here
is the issue. In their last two games, in those 41-point productions against
Illinois and Wisconsin, the 'Cats did not do the same thing, did not run
through their stuff with the alacrity needed for it to produce baskets. Yes.
They missed shots and maybe a few of them were open. But, more significantly,
after each of those performances both 'Carmody and his players bemoaned the
lack of rhythm in their offense, noted the lack of consistency in their
offensive approach, which is a point we finally raised
with Sobolewski. "I wouldn't say it was as bad (against the Badgers) in terms
of getting out of our offense," he said here. "We did take some quick shots.
They were within the flow of the offense, but we could have gotten better shots
if we had held the ball for longer in the clock.
We now wondered
if, knowing the urgent need of points, they had to guard against rushing,
pressing, trying to score too quick?
"I'd say so," he
said. "We've got to focus on making sure that we get a great shot on every
possession. We're not getting as many possessions because of the tempo we're
trying to play at, so now more than ever we have to make sure we get a good
shot every time down the court. Against Wisconsin, we didn't do a good job of
that. We took some quick shots, some tough shots. We need to clean that up and
make sure we get a great shot every time."
Had human nature
taken over, we wondered here, and were the 'Cats trying too hard and so working
"I agree that can
happen," he said. "We just have to run through our stuff. It's one thing to
take a tough shot in the last five, six, seven seconds of the shot clock. But
anything earlier that that, we have to make sure it's a perfect one."
So finally, we
wondered, have the 'Cats been settling for shots they've been given rather than
taking the shots they prefer?
"I'd say so,"
Dave Sobolewski said.
finally, Marcotullio, on the Purdue game: "They always come after you. So you
have to really hold onto your guts, and play hard, play tough, and execute your
game plan to the fullest."
NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski takes a look back at the Northwestern men's basketball team's game against No. 19/17 Wisconsin on Wednesday.* The 'Cats knew
exactly what was coming Wednesday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena. They knew
Wisconsin would look to run their shooters off the three-point line. They knew
Wisconsin would flat-hedge their screens and string out their offense. They
knew Wisconsin would look to limit their lethal back-door layups. They knew, as
a result of all this, they would have a bevy of 15-to-17 foot pull-ups
available to them. They knew that full well, but here is what happened in the
first half of their game with the Badgers.
They made just a
single two-point field goal, a jumper by point Dave Sobolewski from just beyond
the free throw line with over 11 minutes gone. They would manage to convert
three threes in those 20 minutes. Yet, when they ended, they were a mere
four-of-20 overall (20 percent) and three-of-11 on their threes (27.3 percent);
they had not a single player with more than one field goal to his name; they
had only a dozen points; and they were down 16. "It comes down to our offense
was stagnant, but a lot of it was just not making shots," guard Reggie Hearn
would later say.
"We knew we would
have some fairly open mid-range jumpers, but aside from Dave hitting a few, I
don't think anybody really hit those. Those are shots we practice, and those
are shots we can make, and those are shots that would have keep us in the game.
But we didn't hit those."
* The 'Cats
didn't hit their first half-dozen shots and trailed, 9-0, when Hearn dropped a
three at 14:31. They didn't hit another (a three by Alex Marcotullio) for
nearly three minutes, and then over three more minutes would pass before
Sobolewski's two. Just over two minutes later center Mike Turner would hit a
three at 6:04, and now they would get just a free throw from Hearn before they
headed to their locker room. "It didn't seem much different to me than the
other night against Illinois," 'Cat coach Bill Carmody would later say.
"Got off to a
slow start. Got down nine-nothing. Got to 17-11 (actually 18-11 after Turner's
three). And then it just took off. We're just having a hard time putting the
ball in the basket. And (our) rebounding, it's been anemic. . . They just
dominated us inside. They were very productive down there."
"What killed us
was the backboards. You guys saw that. . .," echoed Sobolewski. "We've got to
find a way to keep them off the glass. Fifteen offensive rebounds. It seemed
like they scored every time."
* The backboards
were indeed the other major factor in what would be their 28-point defeat. The
Badgers had 47 rebounds; the Cats, 22. The Badgers had 15 offensive rebounds;
the Cats, five. The Badgers had 16 second-chance points; the 'Cats, two. The
Badgers had 28 points-in-the-paint; the 'Cats, six. Jared Berggren, the
Badgers' starting center, had eight rebounds; Mike Turner, who started at
center for the 'Cats, had none. The Badgers had another player with eight, a
third with seven and a fourth with five; five was the number grabbed by the
leading 'Cat rebounder and that was Sobolewski, the diminutive point. "Like
Dave said, they just killed us on the backboards in the first half," said
"Then, in the
second half, they started throwing it down to the post. . .and pounding us,
taking advantage of their size. I don't think they did anything real special
with their swing offense. They just took advantage of their size and we didn't
fight hard enough."
* The Badgers'
size, and their defense's denial of the backdoor layup, also forced the 'Cats
to regularly settle for jump shots, which resulted in this last revelatory
stat. Wisconsin went to the line 26 times, making 18. The 'Cats went to the
line just five times, making three. "We've got to find a way to not only get to
the line, but get to the hole," Sobolewski would say of this anomaly. "I don't
remember many layups at all that we made. Everything was a jumper. We do shoot
a lot of jump shots. But we've got to find a way to get back door cuts, get in
the lane with our dribble, something. We've got to find a way to get inside as
well as knock down open shots outside."
* Those facts
well-enough tell the story of Wednesday night. But now what? What now after a
pair of 20-point-plus defeats at home and a Sunday game at Purdue on the
horizon? "For me the motivation is to have guys like Reggie (a senior) leave on
a good note," said Sobolewski, a sophomore. "They've been great to me since I
got here and I want them to go out on a good note. That's my motivation and I
hope the other guys on the team do that as well."
"To go off of
that, me and Al (Marcotullio) have four games left and the Big Ten tourney, and
we're not going to go down without a fight," added Hearn. "It's obviously tough
what we're going through right now. But there's not much time left in the
season, and this is no time to be tired, no time to give up, no time to be down
about anything. We just have to keep pushing through."
"We've got to
figure out not so much (what to do) about Purdue or the other teams down the
road. Just what we're going to do to improve ourselves offensively. . .,"
concluded Carmody. "I don't know how many different options we have at this
point. I just think the guys who are playing, it's their chance to play and
just improve and that's what we're trying to do with our guys. You're showing
the young guys the film, you're breaking it down for them individually and
trying to see if they can get better. You just try to improve them all so as a
team we can progress."
* And finally,
Carmody, when asked if he felt his 'Cats were frustrated: "I hope so. I hope
they're a little frustrated. It's not necessarily a bad thing. I would say our
guys are mad, and I'm glad of that."
NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski
chatted with the 'Cats prior to Tuesday's practice and offers up his preview of
Wednesday night's game against Wisconsin.
* The question
had to be asked and here is why. Through the last two months, ever since that
day Drew Crawford was shut down for the season, the 'Cats have confronted and
combatted adversity. They did that willfully through much of that stretch. But
then, last Sunday against Illinois, they were a half-step slow on defense and
they were often taken out of their offense and they were eventually beaten by
21. So we had to wonder if, just maybe, their well-of-responses was running
dry, if they were at last beginning to suffer from (for the lack of a better
term) adversity fatigue.
"I don't know. I
don't know," said their coach, Bill Carmody, who at least entertained that
idea. "We played decently against Ohio State and lost. Then we didn't play very
well against Illinois. So I think it's really too early to tell. I don't think
their physically worn out. Maybe mentally a little bit, a little tired, but
probably just because we're talking about it a lot. Maybe Sobo (point Dave
Sobolewski) is a little tired. Maybe
Reggie (guard Reggie Hearn) is a little tired. But those guys can
overcome that. It's the young guys that I'm worried about."
"I don't think
we're ever done," demurred Hearn, dismissing that notion as inconceivable.
"Sobo tweeted after the Ohio State game, 'We'll fight with whoever's left.'
That's a very simple statement, but it's a very true statement. We have a lot
of fighters on our team. There's only, what, five conference games left on the
schedule and the Big Ten tourney. So this is the home stretch and we're going
to give it all that we've got."
"Us seniors, we
have a lot left to give," echoed guard Alex Marcotullio. "We're not ready to go
down yet. Same with the young guys. We're all ready and willing to fight. It's
just a test of our will, like it has been all year."
* This is not an
idle concern for next up on the 'Cat schedule is No. 19 Wisconsin, which visits
Welsh-Ryan Wednesday night. "It's a normal Wisconsin team. They're tough and
physical," is how Sobolewski describes this challenge.
hard-nosed, physical team," says Marcotullio, who is then asked how one combats
have to be tough," he says here. "They're a very mentally-tough team and you
have to come back at them with the same mental toughness at both ends of the
floor. They're going to play their game, play the way they want to play. So
we're going to have to do the same thing and make them play our game as well."
"Most of his
(Badger coach Bo Ryan's) games are sort of grind-it-out games, not just against
ours," concludes Carmody. "That's probably pretty good for us now at this
stage. . . But they're playing very, very well. It's a veteran team. That's the
thing that's scariest. They have three seniors and a junior starter. That
* Clearly, then,
the 'Cats well-of-responses must be replete to take on a foe that is tough and
experienced, physical and mentally-strong and playing their best ball of the
season. That is also a necessity if they are to crack the Badgers's gnarly
defense, which is holding opponents to a Big Ten best 56.2 points-per-game.
"Their strength," Sobolewski says when asked the key to that defense. "They're
a strong team, they're physical, they'll be bumping all our cuts. We've got to
make sure we don't get out of what we do. We need to keep cutting hard and make
sure their bumps don't effect our back door cuts. . . We just have to stay
within our stuff and run through our stuff much better than we did this past
Sunday (against the Illini). If we cut hard enough and cut in the rights spots,
we'll be OK."
"I think they're
just very disciplined," Hearn will say of that defense. "I've watched them and
noticed a few different things that they do. But overall they're just very
disciplined. They don't seem to make a lot of mistakes. So to beat them we're
going to have to stay disciplined ourselves on offense, limit our turnovers and
hit our open shots."
And what about
the bumping Sobolewski mentioned?
"It's something a
lot of teams try to do because a lot of them are scared of our back cuts,
things like that," says Hearn. "We just have to be able to push through the
cuts and stay in the offense. We can't them get us out of we want to do."
Is that a
physical challenge or a mental challenge?
combination of both," Hearn concludes. "Obviously, there's the physical factor.
This is the Big Ten. You've got a lot of strong guys in the league. But from
the mental aspect, if they bump you a couple times, you can't let that get to
you. You can't retaliate, things like that."
To recap, then:
The 'Cats must ignore the bumps and cut through them, the 'Cats must retain
their discipline and stay in their offense. The 'Cats, in sum, must overcome
any adversity fatigue they might be feeling and drink deeply from their
* Then there is
this, which is not unimportant in the wake of their shooting struggles against
the Illini: the Badgers like to run snipers off the three-point line and are
holding opponents to just 29.9 percent shooting from that distance, which is
second best in the Big Ten.
* Here is one
last reason the 'Cats need a replete well-of-responses, a toughness in their
mentality, against the Badgers. "I think they're a good defensive team also
because of their offense," Carmody says. "They take their time with their
offense, take their time, and that puts a little more pressure on each opponent
shot. If they go up 8-2, 12-5, or something like that, and you run down the
court with them and shoot a fast shot and miss, then they come down and take 30
seconds, it becomes wearisome and a little more stressful for shooters."
NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski takes
a look back at Sunday night's loss by the Northwestern men's basketball team to
Illinois at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
forward Kale Abrahamson took the first 'Cat shot on Sunday night. It was a
three from the right wing and it caught nothing but air. This was appropriate
since it would come symbolize the type of evening they were about to endure at
* A month
earlier, in Champaign, the 'Cats buried five of their first six three-point
attempts, built a 15-point halftime lead and cruised to a win while going
eight-of-15 from distance (53.3 pecent). "They're really hard to guard now,"
Illini coach John Groce would say Sunday after his team had cruised to a
21-point win of its own. "They do such a great job. They're so unselfish. They
move. They cut as hard as anybody in the country. They screen. They've got
great spacing. Obviously, they're really-well coached. We felt like they carved
us up in Champaign. They did. So guys took a little bit of pride in wanting to
defend a little bit better, and I thought we defended a little bit better
* In the final
6:32 of Sunday's game, the 'Cats went three-of-five (60 percent) on their
threes. Before that, they went two-of-22 (9.1 percent). That is how much better
the Illini defended here. "You've got to make shots. We weren't able to do
that," 'Cat coach Bill Carmody would say both simply and accurately. "Their
defense gets the credit."
adjustments did that defense make to so stymie the 'Cats?
"I don't want to
give away anything. You never know. You can see these teams multiple times and
I don't want to get too much into game planning," said Groce. "But obviously
one of the things I will share with you is everyone knows their three-point
production is 12th in the country coming into the game. If you let them get
clean looks from the three, a lot of them, and they make them, it's on now.
They missed some (open looks) tonight. I'm sure he (Carmody) feels that way.
But I also thought we challenged them a little bit more, made them a little
more difficult to get. That was one of the things."
* A month
earlier, in Champaign, the Illini were a step slow as they moved to cover those
handoffs that are so much a part of the 'Cat offense. That left the 'Cat
shooter unmolested. But on Sunday that was not the case and so, almost always,
their was a defender in the face of that shooter. As a result, said Carmody,
"Our offense was bad the entire night. It didn't seem to have any flow to it.
They guarded us in a similar fashion that they did down in Champaign. Switching
everything, which a lot of teams do. But they did it very effectively and
seemed to have a little more pep in their step. We couldn't get too much
people, when they think unselfishness, they immediately think almost
exclusively of offense," picked up Groce. "But defensively right now we're in
the right position more, we trust one another more, we cover for one another
better. We understand we want five guys guarding the basketball, that it's not
just about my man. We get that better."
* Here is how effective
the Illini team defense was Sunday. One second less than four minutes would
pass before the 'Cats got their first field goal, and that would be just their
first drought of the night. They managed only one field goal in the last 8:52
of the first half and did not get their first in the second half until 6:34 had
elapsed. They were outscored 29-6 in this stretch of 15:26, and that was not
all. "It was more than shooting," explained Carmody. "It was just the whole
flow I didn't think was great either. We weren't sure whether to shoot or not
to shoot or how the offense was running. As well as we did against Ohio State,
in a loss, following the scouting report, knowing what to do, I don't think we
handled it well tonight."
"We were a little
lackadaisical," guard Alex Marcotullio would admit minutes later. "It's not
like we weren't playing hard. It was just, we didn't take care of the ball, we
didn't follow our game plan, we didn't do things that we need to do to win
What was that
game plan and why wasn't it followed?
"We really needed
to control the game with the way we play," he said. "I think at times we got
into a little bit of an up-and-down game. They had double-digit transition
baskets and that was one of our keys, to limit them in transition. They
definitely get going and get more confidence when they start making shots and
they're out in transition and getting easy looks and layups."
* The stats show,
in fact, that the Illini got only 10 fast break points, which isn't many. But
this is misleading and here is why. They also pushed the ball against the 'Cat
defense, pushed it hard enough that the 'Cat defense often never got itself
entirely set, and this created one-on-one situations that led to driving layups
or fouls. "Coaches do a good job of letting us know in general what the other
team is trying to do," guard Reggie Hearn would say when asked about that. "But
they can't get down and guard a guy one-on-one. We got beat on a lot of plays
like that tonight and that can't happen if we want to win."
* The bottom
line, in the end, was this: Hearn went three-of-11 overall and 0-of-four on his
threes; Tre Demps went three-of-11 overall and one-of-five on his threes; point
Dave Sobolewski went 0-of-six overall, 0-of-five on his threes and had two
turnovers with no assists; and the 'Cats, as a team, went 12-of-48 overall (25
percent) and five-of-27 on their threes (18.5 percent) while committing 14
turnovers with only nine assists. "I don't think he's worn out or anything," Carmody
would say when asked of Sobolewski's struggles. "He has some real good games
and some other games. It's like a lot of guys. If you start out well, you play
well the rest of the game. If you're not starting out well, that'll get to you.
You've just got to overcome it, and he will."
* But the final
words here will go to Marcotullio, who said this: "We were a little out of
rhythm sometimes. But the shots we got, we need to make. That's the bottom
line. If we get open shots, we need to knock them down. That's how we're going
to hang in games, that's how we're going to win games."