by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)
After last Thursday’s blowout loss to Michigan, Bill Carmody said Northwestern had to slow things down on offense. Before the season, Carmody had looked forward to pushing the tempo more than most years in his time at Northwestern, but due to unexpected injuries and the need to play a lot of freshman, the idea of an up-tempo offense may need to be shelved this year.
For the first half of Sunday night’s game at Minnesota, it looked like the slow tempo could work. NU was down just 17-14 at the break, due in part to solid defense, but also to the fact that the Wildcats drained the clock on every possession. However, the Gophers dictated the tempo in the second half and ran away with the game.
First off, a lot of teams are going to lose to Minnesota by double-digits at The Barn. The Gophers are ranked No. 13 in the country and have one of the deepest teams in the Big Ten, so the fact that NU was able to control the tempo for as long as it did was surprising. Against other teams, NU will be able to control the pace.
The whole point of slowing the offense down is essentially to limit the number of possessions in the game. The fewer opportunities a team has to score, the less of a chance there is that they can run away with the game. With this strategy, NU probably won’t be blown out all that much, but can the Wildcats win with it?
Last year’s Northwestern team actually played this style of offense a lot last year. The Wildcats couldn’t get the ball inside effectively, so they would pass it around the perimeter and shoot a three as the shot clock wound down. That worked with a team that had outstanding shooters in John Shurna and Drew Crawford, but this team doesn’t shoot nearly as well. Reggie Hearn, Kale Abrahamson and Tre Demps have three-point shooting abilities, but they aren’t as good from downtown as Shurna or Crawford. On paper, this team looks like it would be better off trying to run through a conventional offense, pound the ball down low and run. However, the Wildcats don’t have the experience from their big men to do that. So even though the outside shooting isn’t there, Carmody might have to keep up this strategy against top competition to at least keep the games close.
What’s curious about the game against Minnesota is how little Demps played, especially considering the strategy. Demps is the most dynamic scorer that the Wildcats have, and while he shoots a lot — probably too much sometimes — his scoring will be valuable in games where points will be hard to come by. He needs to work on being more patient with the shot clock, but it makes a lot more sense to have him out there, especially among so many average shooters.
Next year, with the freshmen a year older and JerShon Cobb and Crawford back, NU should be able to run its offense how it wanted to before the season began. The Wildcats will be able to push the ball at times and they’ll get production inside. This year, however, the slow-down offense looks like it’s here to stay, especially against strong competition. Even though NU may not have the shooters capable of winning with that style of play, it will at least keep the Wildcats in a lot of games.
And in a year with so many injuries and so much inexperience, that’s about all you can hope for.