by Jonah Rosenblum (@jonahlrosenblum)
Northwestern lost to Iowa for the second time this season on Saturday. Amazingly, half of the Hawkeyes' Big Ten wins now come against the Wildcats. I'm not sure that's a coincidence. It seems like Fran McCaffery has Northwestern figured out, beautifully pressuring the ball up top. I remain convinced that the Wildcats are capable of beating the Hawkeyes, but still, given that Iowa could be a potential first-round opponent in the Big Ten Tournament, this does come as a concern. So it's that time of the week, to play Monday morning quarterback and figure out just how bad Northwestern's loss was:
1. Looking back, I think the loss of Alex Olah was a devastating blow to Northwestern's hopes in Iowa City. I think people underestimate how much Olah does on the court. He's not a superstar player by any means, but he's competent, and I just sense that Mike Turner isn't there yet, particularly as a defender. We saw Olah hit a gorgeous fadeaway early in the Iowa game; that's something Turner cannot do yet. But also just note how Northwestern was banging the boards as well as they have all season in the first half. In the second half, every missed Iowa shot turned into a mess of bobbing heads all tipping the ball up into the air. Control was lost. Northwestern led the battle of the boards 19-13 at the half, but Iowa dominated 21-12 after the intermission. Olah giving way to Turner has to be a part of that.
2. I really liked Kale Abrahamson's performance on Saturday afternoon. You know there's got to be a lot of pressure on a Hawkeye State native coming home to play the Hawkeyes. He handled it beautifully. Most impressive, after an early air ball, with the home fans still taunting him about it, Abrahamson bravely took a three-pointer from the corner and nailed it. That takes a certain amount of guts, to risk humiliation and failure all over again. He's got a really quick release and a nice repetitive motion. We'll see if he can drive like John Shurna did. It's worth noting that Shurna was mostly a spot-up three-point shooter early in his career as well, but regardless, Abrahamson looks very useful early on.
3. The turnovers were the most distressing part of Saturday's game. Iowa brought a lot of pressure against Northwestern, not allowing the Wildcats to get comfortable passing the ball around the arc. In some ways, it seems like the Hawkeyes have solved the Wildcats' Princeton offense. Certainly, on Saturday, the sloppy passes led to far too many easy fast-break points, and worst of all, dunks, which brought Carver-Hawkeye Arena into a frenzy. Indeed, with Northwestern controlling the boards early and struggling in the turnover-assist category, I had to wonder if I was watching a different basketball team. Sure, the Wildcats finished with just 12 turnovers, but eight of those came in the second half.
4. I still cannot figure out why Northwestern has so much trouble locating key three-point threats. Obviously, Iowa had a handful inside, with Adam Woodbury and Melsahn Basabe, which forced the defense to double-team and compress inward, but Josh Oglesby should never be wide-open. He's burned Northwestern far too many times before for someone not to remain within a few feet of him. He finished two for five from the three-point line, not overwhelming numbers, but those threes helped bury the WIldcats under the sand.
5. I definitely am concerned about Dave Sobolewski's inconsistency. His misses from behind the three-point line don't bother me that much. That will happen from time to time, but I want to see him drive to the hoop on a more consistent basis. That is a vital key to the Wildcats' offense, as his drives can help open up the court when the cuts aren't working. What made Michael "Juice" Thompson so good was that even when he wasn't having a very good game, he could explode to the basket and change his personal outlook and his team's outlook in a hurry. Hopefully, Sobolewski develops that in a hurry.
6. I do think Northwestern fans can be encouraged by how the Wildcats stayed in it for an entire half despite hitting just one of ten from behind the arc. Injuries obviously took their toll, taking away one of Northwestern's key cutters and the Wildcats' only true inside presence, but at least through the first half, they played enough defense, made enough nice passes and got enough production from Olah to make up for a lousy day on the perimeter. In the past, Northwestern teams could not overcome that, so that was nice to see.