How about that, sports fans!? Northwestern strolled into The Barn against a pretty good Minnesota team, and shot them out of their own building. Northwestern's got two in a row now and the positives are flowing. It's not all sunshine and roses, but it's at least 80% sunshine and roses. With no expectations, the team looks to be relishing the role of spoiler, and they've beaten two teams in a row who have eyes on the tournament.
Northwestern is winning games against teams that would’ve smoked them 2 weeks ago…
Because the gameplan has completely changed. When Northwestern was married to the man-to-man defense, they couldn’t matchup with the litany of really good forwards that the Big Ten can throw at you. Northwestern could hang with teams like Michigan State (the first time) and Michigan because those teams didn’t have two really good big men they could throw at the Wildcats. Now that Northwestern is in a 2-3 where they can pack the interior and make teams beat them from the outside, they matchup great with the teams whose bread and butter is the interior post up game because there are no easy post-ups against a zone. Minnesota executed really well against the zone (more on that in a couple of paragraphs), but they just didn’t have enough shooting and had way too many turnovers to seal the deal, especially with Andre Hollins being more or less invisible all game. I expect Northwestern to struggle against teams who can shoot from the outside (Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan if Walton is healthy), but the current gameplan will give Iowa, Penn State, and Nebraska (if that’s who NU gets in the Big Ten tournament) all kinds of fits.
Have the Wildcats been abducted by aliens and replaced with clones who can shoot?
Tonight was a complete aberration. Northwestern set their season high tonight in triples in about 28 minutes of action. If Vic Law is going to hit 3 straight triples in a game, Northwestern is going to be in darn good shape. I have little doubt that there will be a fair number of articles talking about how everyone has apparently turned the corner and have found their three-point stroke. Maybe it’s the cynic in me, but I’m not sure that’s true. Everyone gets hot every once in a while, just like what happened in the Breslin Center. That game wasn’t a harbinger of future red-hot shooting, and this game isn’t either. That’s not to say I’m not super stoked about the way the Wildcats are torching nets. They had a ton of open looks tonight and they didn’t miss a whole lot of them. Maybe the scouting report on Northwestern starts to change a little bit. Maybe teams will try and close out on shooters more and let Alex Olah be matched up one-on-one on the block. I’m not ready to say that Northwestern is now a great three-point shooting team, but it wouldn’t shock me if teams press farther up on shooters the rest of the season.
It’s really hard to play a zone night in night out
This isn’t to say that Northwestern shouldn’t be in their 2-3, because clearly it is the best option, but tonight showed why it’s so difficult to stick with a zone as a primary defensive technique. There are techniques to break down zones and everyone knows them. For the 2-3, you can either flash to the high post, get it beneath the zone, or, if all else fails, you can try to shoot it to death. When you surprise teams with a zone when they’re not expecting it, you see games where teams are content to just pass it around the perimeter, like the Iowa game. But when you run into to well coached teams who know what you’re packing, they can attack it the right ways and rip you apart. Minnesota knew exactly how to get the ball into dangerous areas and had the personnel to exploit it, with big Mo Walker and occasionally Joey King camped out at the high post. They attacked when they could, distributed well, and shredded NU’s zone in the first half. In the second half, Minnesota couldn’t seem to get the same looks and Northwestern stayed hot from deep.
Just about everyone chipped in tonight
Nearly 6 Wildcats hit double digits tonight. When was the last time that happened in Big Ten play? McIntosh was his usual McIntosh self, Taphorn was the microwave off the bench, Demps picked his spots well, Olah was cold from the field but still nearly notched a double-double, and, once more with feeling, VIC LAW HIT 3 THREE POINTERS IN ONE GAME! Skelly did some Gavin Skelly run fast jump high things too in limited minutes. The team is deep in a way that it really hasn’t ever been before. The best news is that none of the guys who made impacts are graduating. There won’t be very many more games this year where Lindsey and Law combine for 20, but next year and in two years? Maybe it’s a little more common. After these last two wins, it’s tempting to start already thinking about how great next year will surely be. While it’s still premature (in my mind), there’s nothing like a couple of wins to get the imagination flowing. Dream on friends. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.