by Jonah Rosenblum (@jonahlrosenblum)
A quick note about this section. I'm hoping that this will be something I do after every basketball game this season. There's a darn thing called professionalism that keeps me from being as fun and expressive as I want to be in my game stories, so here's my chance to let loose a little bit more and share my thoughts about the game. Tonight, I thought Northwestern looked fairly impressive on offense. Six turnovers will always speak well of a team. Athletes like Alex Olah, Jared Swopshire and Reggie Hearn impressed with their versatility, a quality that was wanting for many years in Evanston. Now, without further ado, following Northwestern's 81-68 victory over Mississippi Valley State, I jack up a three — three points about tonight's game, that is.
1. Northwestern seemed a little slow in its perimeter defense, and as a result, the Wildcats picked up a lot of fouls early. Mississippi Valley State was shooting free throws just 11:03 into the game. For that matter, the Delta Devils shot 50 percent in the first half, on mostly pedestrian shots. Only Davon Usher really swished contested shots, and far too many of his shots were wide open as well. Northwestern defenders were stumbling all night heading into the paint.
2. Tonight was actually worthwhile in that we got to see Alex Olah go against a legitimate center in Julius Francis. At 6-foot-11, Francis actually seemed mildly capable of posting up, forcing Olah to play tough and gritty defense in the post. Olah did a fairly nice job on one play with an aggressive front out behind the three-point line before recovering to find Francis in the post. He's a lot more nimble on his feet than past Northwestern centers. He also has a nice spot-up jumper, presenting a marked contrast to Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti. Whereas defenders never really had to play up on Mirkovic or Curletti, knowing that they would just halt on the elbow and wait for someone to open up, Olah was eager to shoot, and nailed two jumpers from the elbow.
3. Jared Swopshire had a really impressive first half. Most noticeable was his success from long range, as he hit three three-pointers leading into the intermission. His ability to quickly spot up makes him a threat. He also found Alex Olah inside early and often, on one play pump-faking two defenders into the air before curling a pass to Olah on the other side of the paint. Later on, he drove into the hoop, before stretching his right arm and stealthily sneaking a pass over his left shoulder to Alex Marcotullio, setting up a wide-open three. Marcotullio missed, but that didn't take away from the beautiful setup.
Ah, the heck with it, one more thought. He fouled me on my three-point shot. Here goes:
4. Any Northwestern fan who has been around for a while can recall the dreaded feeling of watching the Wildcats fail to penetrate the paint for a full 25 seconds, before finally mustering a wild, hasty drive to the paint as the shot clock went off. On Thursday night, the fans never had to count down the final ticking seconds of the shot clock until there was a minute and a half remaining in the first half. That's a tribute to having a guy who can set up shop in the paint, Olah, and a couple of guys who are comfortable driving to the hoop in Drew Crawford and Swopshire. The only other time the Wildcats ran into trouble with the clock all night long was when Reggie Hearn let up an air ball that caused their sole shot-clock violation of the game.