Nov. 18, 2009
NUsports.com special contributor Skip Myslenski gives his take on Northwestern's 67-54 loss to No. 11/10 Butler Wednesday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
* The 'Cats scored 77 in their opening-game win over Northern Illinois and, for that one night at least, appeared capable of overcoming the loss of Kevin Coble. But Wednesday evening against Butler, in Round Two of their campaign, they looked anything but that. Here, quite simply, they struggled on the offensive end.
* Don't go immediately to the box score, which we'll get to soon enough. To better understand the depths of their struggles, it is best to instead study the fifteen-and-a-half minutes that began with 8:30 left in the first half and ended with 7:00 gone in the second. When that stretch began, the game was tied at 17. When that stretch ended, the Bulldogs were up 44-26. To interpret: the 'Cats scored a mere nine points in that time.
* "We had a hard time putting the ball in the basket," Cat coach Bill Carmody later said, which brings us to the box score. It isn't a running eyesore at first glance: 41.3 percent shooting overall, 30.4 percent shooting on threes. But a closer exam shows this: Take away the trio of consecutive threes point guard Michael Thompson made in one stretch of 3:45 in the first half and the 'Cats were a mere 4-of-19 from beyond the arc (21.1 percent); and take way his 4-of-7 shooting on the night and the rest of the Cat starters were 8 of 26 overall (30.6 percent).
* Freshman Drew Crawford, one starting forward, chipped in just two points. The 6-foot-11 Luka Mirkovic, the starting center, also chipped in only two points. The 7-foot Kyle Rowley did chip in six off the bench, but he played just 11 minutes. The result of all that was this: Butler had to worry little about the 'Cats' post game and could concentrate on shutting down their perimeter shooters.
* That, inevitably, brought them to Thompson, who catalyzed the 'Cats to that tie at 17 with his trio of threes. "We had to change what we were doing. It was a simple change in the way we defended the ball screen," Bulldog coach Brad Stevens later said and the result was this. After hitting the last of those threes at 11:44 of the first half, Thompson did not get another shot until there was 15:53 remaining in the game and did not score another point until just 3:36 was left. To once more interpret: That means he went 15:51 without a shot and 28:08 without a point.
"I got a couple of clean looks early and after that they keyed in on me," Thompson later explained. "A couple of their guards would pull out and deny me a little bit and they pressured the ball very well. That just made it a lot more open for my teammates to create and make some plays."
Added Carmody: "He can't do everything. Other guys have got to help out."
* The guy expected to most help out is forward John Shurna and he did end with 14 points and nine boards, which is a nice line. However, he missed his first four shots; went nearly 16 minutes before getting his first basket; did not bury his first outside shot until just 1:55 remained in the opening half; and ended 5-of-12 overall. "I thought Shurna had a pretty decent second half, but the game was over," Carmody later said. "He has to do it from the start."
* Remember those career-and-game high 20 points guard Jeremy Nash dropped on Northern? Against Butler he took just four shots, made only one and ended with a mere two points. "The other night I said I hope it isn't an aberration," said Carmody. "He didn't have it. But give credit. Butler's a very good team."
* Butler is a very good team and proved it not only with its defense, which was predicated more on position than heavy pressure and forced the 'Cats into an uncharacteristic 16 turnovers (last season they averaged 11.2 per game). It proved it too by the way it patiently probed the 'Cats' 1-3-1 defense and worked its way to a bevy of open looks.
* The final analysis, according to Thompson: "We just didn't make a lot of shots we usually make. Our offense ran pretty smooth and we got some looks. On the defensive end, that's what killed us tonight. Our rotations were bad. . . Butler just did a great job of moving the ball around. They had us running around all over the place and we just didn't get to the right spot at the right time."
* Said Carmody about his team's offensive struggles: "We're just trying to figure it out. That's no excuse. But we're doing it on the fly right now."
"I thought we played hard defensively," offered Butler's Stevens. "But in reality, when you're working guys into new roles, it's tough. But those guys are bright. They'll figure it out."