by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)
Saturday’s 64-49 loss to Nebraska puts an end to any of the (exceedingly premature) NCAA hopes that Northwestern may have had. NU simply couldn’t lose to Nebraska, especially with such a small margin for error. The Wildcats shot just 32 percent from the field and 21 percent from three, finished with 11 turnovers and were out-rebounded 39-to-31. Here are our quick thoughts on this game.
Here comes the 1-3-1 hatred
Northwestern used the 1-3-1 to beat Minnesota, so naturally, everyone was looking for a reason why it was a fluke. It didn’t work all that well against Nebraska, so I’m sure someone out there thinks it’s been proven as a fraud. First off, NU will never play in the 1-3-1 all game, and second, this just wasn’t a time when it could be effective.
In truth, the 1-3-1 was a great way to match up with the Gophers because they turn it over a lot and struggled with their outside shooting. The Huskers, however, are more careful with the ball and suddenly caught fire from three. Not only that, but Nebraska also moved the ball quickly and efficiently against the zone, which is the best way to beat it.
So no, the 1-3-1 is not a fraud. This was just a bad time for NU to use it, and I’m surprised Bill Carmody used it as much as he did. I figured we would see a lot of man-to-man against a team that isn’t very athletic — one that NU could match up with. However, Carmody wanted to spark his team offensively, and that makes sense. How could Carmody have foreseen such a terrible shooting team suddenly getting hot from outside? Nebraska shot very well. NU didn’t. It happens, and it came at a very bad time, but it’s not the “fault” of the 1-3-1. This just wasn’t the best matchup for that defense.
Where are the centers?
Bill Carmody has been calling on both of his centers — Alex Olah and Mike Turner — to step up in Big Ten play and neither has answered the phone yet. The stat lines from the last few games have been horrendous, as both were non-factors: Olah had 3 points and 3 rebounds, while Turner had 1 points and no rebounds.
NU can’t afford for its centers to play that bad, especially when the outside shots aren’t falling. The Wildcats were able to win despite the centers against Minnesota because the outside shots were falling and they were getting points in transition. In games like the one against Nebraska, the centers have to hit inside shots ad open things up elsewhere. That didn’t happen.
Both of these guys will improve — they’re both freshmen — but they need to make drastic changes, specifically Olah. He has more potential as a Big Ten center because of his size, but he has to start using that size to his advantage, grab rebounds and be more assertive. Unless his play improves, NU is going to need its outside shooters to step up even more.
I could have spent this last section addressing all of the players who didn’t play well — Tre Demps and Reggie Hearn, particularly. But considering how well those guys have doing lately, this was probably just a fluke. A bunch of guys just ended up having bad shooting days at the same time; there weren’t any new problems.
So I’m going to look at something else that I thought was interesting: NU lost this game similar to how Minnesota lost to NU. Both went on the road to play a lesser team that had hung around with other top teams and both had the same issues.
NU turned it over way more than it normally does, especially in the first half, which allowed Nebraska to stay in the game. Minnesota, meanwhile, had a lot of chances in the first half, but shot poorly. In the second half of NU-Nebraska, the Wildcats couldn’t hit a shot. In their second half against the Wildcats, the Gophers turned the ball over way too much and continued to struggle with shooting.
In short, there were obviously some differences, but both teams made too many mistakes and shot the ball uncharacteristically poorly. That’s the recipe for a road upset, and that’s what happened in both cases.