Jan. 26, 2014
NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski offers up a look back at Northwestern's loss to 10th-ranked Iowa Saturday at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
The cauldron of a competitor burns in the belly of `Cat coach Chris Collins, who has never met a challenge he has feared taking on. But he is also a basketball lifer, an educated gym rat informed by his father Doug and by the Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and by Kobe Bryant and LeBron James and the other brilliant stars who led the U.S. to gold in the last two Summer Olympics. So he is also a hard-eyed realist, an analyst able to honestly assess the facts, which he proved conclusively on Saturday after his team fell to Iowa by 26. "Top to bottom, depth wise, everything, they're right now at a different level than we are," he said here.
"It doesn't make our guys bad. It's what we're striving to become. So when you're playing a team like that...sometimes you just have to tip your hat and tell a team, `Good job.' I think that was the case today. It wasn't about all the things we did wrong. It was more about Iowa. Give them credit. I thought they played a really good game. That's why they're in the Top Ten."
This is not to say that he and his `Cats surrendered before the fact. That was hardly the case. They trailed by just six at halftime, by just four after Tre Demps dropped a three from the left elbow at 17:08 of the second. "I took a time out (there) just to kind of regroup and get us organized," Collins would recall, but out of it the Hawkeyes erupted.
Their leading scorer, Roy Devyn Marble, kissed home a layup and then Drew Crawford
missed a three. Their forward, Melsahn Basabe, hit a pair of free throws and then Demps aired a three. Their guard, Mike Gesell, hit his own three and suddenly the `Cats were down 11 at 15:46. "We were right there," Collins would go on. "Then I thought they just turned it up an extra notch that we just can't get to right now...It's just hard, when we get down double-figures, we don't have, it's hard for us to press. We have to be a team that kind of hangs around the whole game and wins at the end."
The `Cats were still lingering, trailing by just seven after a Nikola Cerina layup at 12:42. But Crawford was on his way to playing 37 minutes; and Alex Olah was on his way to playing 35; and both Sanjay Lumpkin and JerShon Cobb were on their way to playing 32; and Demps was on his way to playing 28 while no Hawkeye would log more than 26. (Nine, in fact, would play between 16 and 26 minutes.) So now, with the fresher legs, Iowa rushed off on a 19-4 run that finally put the `Cats away. "I think that's why they won. I really do," Collins would say of the Hawkeyes' depth.
"Our guys were playing hard. This wasn't like they played harder than us. Both teams played really hard. They're just better than us. They have 10, 11 guys they play. They're long, they're athletic, they're bigger than us at every position and as the game went on, they're just rotating bodies. We don't have that luxury. Our guys have to play heavy minutes."
"They fought us hard. Chris really has them playing with a mindset that has really been impressive," echoed Iowa coach Fran McCaffery. "What Northwestern forces you to do now, if you don't match their intensity level you're going to get beat. I thought one of the advantages we had was our depth. Chris doesn't have as much depth as we do. So we felt if we could keep running fresh bodies at Crawford, Demps and Cobb in particular, and really make it difficult for Olah with our size, that they would have a hard time scoring over a 40-minute period."
They did make it very difficult for Olah, who missed countless close looks and ended with just two field goals and eight points. Crawford did put up 20 on eight-of-17 shooting and Demps added 11 while going five-of-10. But the rest of the `Cats (Olah included) went just 7-of-28 (25 percent) against the Hawkeyes, who lead the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense.
They also lead the league in rebounding and so it was no surprise they won the board battle by 24 (44-20). But it was a surprise that they were able to score 76 and shoot 51.9 percent against a `Cat defense that had been so penurious over the last four games. "They're physical. They're going to body you. They're not going to back down," McCaffery would say, explaining how his team attacked that defense. "So you've got to finish with contact. You've got to drive the ball with contact. You've got to cut with contact.
"Sometimes that does soften you up, or it gets you to stop. Our thing was, if they're going to do it, we've got to keep moving, got to keep screening, got to keep moving the ball. Move the ball, move the ball, move the ball. Make them guard. Make them work defensively because we're going to make them work offensively. And over the course of the game, with the depth they have--I should say, the lack of depth--they're going to wear down."
Here is one last fact that fully explains the breadth (and the impact) of that Hawkeye depth. Marble and Aaron White, their leading scorers who together average 30.4 points per game, combined for just two in Saturday's first half, and still they had that six-point lead. "For them, it's OK. They've got other guys," Collins would finally say after noting that fact. "If Drew and JerShon don't score in a half, we may not score in double figures.
"So"--and here again he will be the hard-eye realist--"it's a different ball game right now. They don't have many flaws. When you play against a team, you try to figure what you kind of want to give up. But they're making shots. They're big inside. They're long, they're athletic, they're well-coached, they're old, they got a lot of veterans. I don't see many weaknesses. They're as good as anyone we've played."
Be the first to know what's going on with the 'Cats -- Follow @NU_Sports on Twitter, become a fan of Northwestern Athletics on Facebook, subscribe to the NU Sports Express e-newsletter and sign up to receive promotional text alerts for the latest news, schedule updates and video and to interact with NU. For more information on following specific Northwestern teams online, visit our Social Media page!