Northwestern blew out--wait, let's pause and consider that statement--BLEW OUT Penn State on Saturday, 60-39. Here are three takeaways from the win, which was Northwestern's third straight:
1. The zone has completely changed Northwestern
Just a few weeks ago, we were talking about how much Northwestern's defense had regressed. Chris Collins called his team's defensive effort against Nebraska "soft," and the Wildcats weren't nearly as stout as they were in 2014. But that has changed.
Penn State scored 0.67 PPP against a Northwestern team that had held just one opponent below 1 PPP in the year 2015.— Jeff (BPredict) (@BPredict) February 21, 2015
We were also lamenting NU's horrendous steal percentage, which was second worst in Division I by a decent margin. But today, playing almost primarily the 2-3 zone that Collins introduced against Wisconsin, NU finally played with really active hands and disrupted passing lanes. And in doing so, they disrupted Penn State's rhythm. Northwestern forced 14 PSU turnovers, the most by any Big Ten opponent so far this year.
The Wildcats have done a 180 defensively since that Nebraska game. The zone has transformed them into a totally different team on that end of the floor, and it was the reason they won Saturday.
2. Penn State's shooting was also abysmal
It wasn't just Northwestern's zone. After a flurry of four three-pointers to start the game, Penn State couldn't throw the ball in the ocean. The Nittany Lions didn't record their first 2-point field goal until the 3:37 mark of the first half, and overall shot just 27 percent from the field. And furthermore, much of the scoring came in two bunches, one at the beginning of the game, the other early in the second half. Aside from that, Penn State was ice cold.
Also, this tweet applied until there was 1:24 remaining in the game...
The last time Penn State’s D.J. Newbill scored less than 10 points in a game was Feb. 12, 2014 against Indiana… He has ZERO right now.— Inside NU (@insidenu) February 21, 2015
Newbill finished with just 3 points.
3. Vic Law was a totally different player
After struggling to find a groove, especially on the offensive end, for the first two-thirds of the season, Vic Law finally looked like the player he had been hyped up to be. He looked amazingly comfortable and confident on the offensive end, and perhaps most importantly, he was moving within the offense better than he had before.
And of course, it also helped that he was hitting his shots. Law poured in 17 points, but more surprisingly, shot 3-5 from beyond the arc (the second game in a row in which he has made three 3-pointers) and 7-12 overall. He also added 11 rebounds, his first double-double, and was active defensively. It was easily his best game as a Northwestern player.
When Collins removed Law from the game with 20 seconds remaining, with the win sealed, he stopped the freshman to say something in his ear, presumably to congratulate him on the performance. Law had a huge smile on his face.
4. Suddenly, Northwestern is a half-game out of 11th place in the Big Ten
With Minnesota's loss to Wisconsin earlier Saturday afternoon, the Wildcats move within a half-game of the Golden Gophers. And because NU beat Minnesota on Wednesday, it holds the tiebreaker. Here's why that 11th seed in the Big Ten Tournament would mean so much.