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Four things I’ve noticed about NUMBB: An homage to Iverson and a star’s weakness

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Ah, to have more observations than conference wins last season.

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

As you may have learned from reading his works on this site this past year, Daniel Olinger is a game film nerd who loves nothing more than breaking down what he sees on the field and/or court. To put this habit to good use, he’ll be writing a weekly column, “Five Things I’ve Noticed,” in which he breaks down five things he’s noticed for one of the three flagship teams we cover here at Inside NU — men’s basketball, women’s basketball or football. But for this week, he’s got four things.


1. The offensive goodness of Anthony Gaines

During his three, injury-ridden years in Evanston, Gaines’ main value to the ‘Cats has been on defense. While his combination of strength, length and speed make him a pest on that end, those same attributes can make him a dangerous slasher and finisher on offense, especially when used in tandem with the off-ball pull of Miller Kopp.

(Yes, Gaines didn’t finish that play with the bucket, but his getting open right at the basket directly led to the score for Ryan Young)

That play is commonly known as the “Iverson Cut,” where a player receives the ball on the wing after receiving a cross screen from a big or a shooting guard, with the idea being that it can get them attacking toward the baseline with a step on their defender. My beloved Sixers ran this play to death back in the early 2000s because Allen Iverson was much better at scoring then running a team offense, and this play turned him into an off-guard whose one objective was to get buckets. While Gaines doesn’t exist on the same stratosphere as AI, the parallels of a wing with athletic advantages but lacking passer/ball-handling skills apply.

However, should NU continue to run this play, it needs to be with Gaines in the Iverson-cutter role and Kopp wheeling through as the off-ball shooter. After starting the Providence game with that play, they went back to it a minute later, but reversed roles between the two, and ultimately the play devolved.

Kopp is a shooter, plain and simple. Cutting to the basket when the defense gives him a crease isn’t his best skill, as he passes up an open lane here to fade out of the play. Not to mention, should Kopp dart to the bucket and the pass come his way, Gaines’ defender probably just leaves him open in the corner to cut off the layup. Gaines is a poor shooter, with a career mark of 27.1% from three, and he shot a dreadful 1-for-12 showing on long-range two-pointers in 10 games last year per BartTorvik. Having a play designed for your slow-footed shooter to bound to the rim while your bricklayer draws the defense out is asking for failure.

2. Miller Kopp hates using his left hand

As shocking as it may seem in this time of extreme takes and definitive statements, I am a firm believer that two things — despite being contradictory in nature — can be true.

  • Miller Kopp was the best player on the 2019-20 Northwestern Men’s Basketball team.
  • Miller Kopp is a Division-I player that hardly uses his left land.

Watch him enough and you’ll see that he always puts his left foot higher than his right on offense, angling so that he can run with his head down to the right, lacking both trust and feel in his left hand capabilities.

Just look at how easy this steal is for the Providence defender (though in fairness, Kopp’s falter here was worth it to enable Robbie Beran’s hellacious block on the other end).

He’d never admit it, but I’m pretty sure Kopp knows he has this deficiency. He goes out of his way to avoid making his signature looping motion to the left side of the court when he’s off-ball, and when it’s in his hands he dips his head all the way down to dip level, almost like he’s about to start a deadlift with very poor form.

Just watch this sequence, in which Kopp dribbles nine straight times, yet none of them is performed by his south paw.

Take it from a guy who struggled with some of the same balance/coordination issues as a secondary ball handler in high school, that dude is telegraphing that he wants to go right. If all ten of your toes are pointing to one of the sidelines (as they are in the picture below), any competent defender knows you’re making a beeline for that direction, especially if you lack burst and quickness like Kopp does.

And still, Kopp was one of the few players who was a net positive for the ‘Cats last year. He has a buttery smooth stroke, shooting 39.6% from deep on 5.1 three-point attempts per game, and weaponized his gravity by running off pin downs like a mad man.

Would he be better if he could functionally use both hands on a basketball court? Yes — but it’s more of an annoying quirk then a debilitating flaw for a shooting maestro like himself.

3. No Dunks University

A dunk is still just two points. That’s what any basketball purist or generic high school basketball coach will tell you, and at it’s root, what they say is true. You get no extra points for style. However, you do happen to convert dunks at a higher rate than almost any shot on the court because you are literally at the rim. It should be almost impossible to miss if you’re a freakishly tall D-I basketball player!

Just counting the number of dunk attempts that took place between Big Ten teams in the ‘19-20 season, a dunk attempt averaged 1.78 points per possession, and that’s without even counting dunk attempts where the player was fouled and wasn’t able to finish.

Having high numbers of dunks and layups made per game are hallmarks of great players and teams, as it indicates that you are able to generate easy looks and therefore easy points in your offense. Given that premise, let’s see how NU did in terms of dunks made in the 2019-20 season, once again with some help from the excellent site BartTorvik.com.

Oh...oh no.

Northwestern dunked the ball 26 times in 32 games. That’s 0.8125 dunks per game for a team who had six of their nine roster spots inhabited by guys that stood at 6-foot-7, 6-foot-7, 6-foot-9, 6-foot-10 and three whopping guys at 6-foot-10. The next lowest mark of any Big Ten team was that of lowly Nebraska, who still managed to dunk the ball 41 times last year.

Pete Nance led the team with seven flushes, A.J. Turner shockingly finished second with six, while folk hero Pat Spencer had only five (though they feel like the five most memorable jams of the season). Beran accounted for both of the only two missed dunks the team registered, and the 6-foot-7 Kopp did not even attempt one the entire season.

Oh, Northwestern.

4. Pin down and pop for Pete

Remember the time Northwestern blew their double digit lead in the second half? No, not that time, the other time. No, THAT time. When they lead Indiana 50-40 in Bloomington only to go seven minutes of gameplay without a point and ultimately fall short in a 66-62 loss.

However, what you might not remember is that the ‘Cats had a chance to tie the game with less than a minute remaining, down 63-60 and the ball in their hands.

What play did they run, you might ask?

Yup, a double pin down for Miller Kopp that’s used as a decoy to spring Nance for a three. NU actually ran this play earlier in the game, and it generated an open look for Nance, though he clanked it off the rim.

The whole sequence just seems so predictable as it unfolds. As soon as Kopp, the team’s best shooter by a mile, curls inside the three-point arc, it tips off the Hoosiers that the play isn’t for him and that they need to be running out at someone else. You can see in that play how #3 on IU kicks it into to high gear once he realizes the ball is going to Nance and is actually able to get to him in time for a pretty decent contest, which could only have helped in forcing the miss.

I like Nance more than most, but a sharp shooter he is not. He shot 29.7% from deep on the season and was only 1-of-5 from behind the arc at that point in the game, whereas Kopp was 2-of-3. When you need absolutely need a bucket late in the game, I’m in favor of the actual Hoosiers strategy from way back in the day.

No need for decoys or anything cute. Just give Jimmy Chitwood the ball.