Confession: I was ready to wake up this morning and write a modestly scathing (Scath-o-meter: 4.3 out of ten) story about how disappointed I was in Northwestern basketball today. They looked listless against Maryland, and the shots were flat and ugly in an uninspiring loss to UIC. And then, Baylor, a team that seemed perfectly fit to do some butt-whooping. Luckily, storylines don't pan out.
Before the UIC game, I thought to myself - hey, it's not likely, but this is a loseable game. I thought NU had about as much a chance of winning this game against Baylor as I thought UIC had of winning that one. Well, here we are. I think you can definitely make the argument that NU is in better tourney shape now with a loss to a good Horizon League team and a win on the road against a Baylor team that has a pretty high chance of going dancing than they would've been by beating UIC and losing to Baylor. That's a friggin good non-conference win Northwestern had last night. Some said its the best of the Carmody era, and they're probably right.
Northwestern's now Kenpom favored to win their four remaining non-con games. 11-2 heading into conference would be, uh, very, very nice.
- Very impressed with Northwestern's schemes offensively last night. Baylor came out in a 2-3, and Northwestern killed it. The team was getting the ball to Alex Olah in the middle, and he played great, knocking down the open 12-footers when the defense slacked off and making pretty passes, as he has all year - six assists from him. And there were open threes. Oh, were there open threes. If the shots had been falling instead of starting 1-for-10 from the floor, this would've been a blowout early. But NU also did a nice job of crashing the boards - Baylor's bigs struggled with finding bodies to box out inthe zone, something we're all more than familiar with here at Northwestern - and jumped out to a 17-6 advantage on the glass with shots not falling. Not bad, guys - that's the same zone that just killed Kentucky.
- They switched to man after the break, and NU's first play was a backdoor cut. Shots fell in the second half, and would've fallen more if Baylor hadn't begun fouling indiscriminately for the last eight-ish minutes of play.
- On the defensive side, Northwestern' man-to-man looks really nice. NU made a habit of fronting Baylor's bigs on mismatches, and the help defense on the lobs over the front led to several random loose balls, which is the best defense Northwestern has ever played against bigs. They only played one possession I remember of zone, Baylor drilled a three, and Carmody put it away the rest of the night. Good stuff from him. There's still some stuff that needs to be worked out - for example, screens by the center should not be met with Dave Sobolewski switching onto 7-foot-1 Isaiah Austin - but Austin was more than willing to help out by shooting threes instead of backing down Sobo when he had the chance.
- An offseason trope for NU fans, including myself was how improved the team's depth was this year. I think it's pretty clear that that's not the case. Bill Carmody has no intentions of going more than nine deep, and when those backups do play, it won't be for long. NU rode its starters through foul trouble. The team can't run the offense without Dave Sobolewski, so he's a 40 minute guy, meaning Tre Demps won't see much action. Alex Marcotullio helps in spurts and still has his jumper, but he's been overtaken by Kale Abrahamson in the pure shooter role and isn't really effective spelling Sobo. Michael Turner is a clear second choice to Alex Olah, but will only play because Olah can't play 40. All in all, nobody on the bench has made even an argument that they deserve to play over anybody in the starting lineup. So tired legs and foul trouble to be as big a problem as they have been in the past.
- So Northwestern can't break a press. I counted four straight turnovers at one point, two backcourt timeouts to avoid ten-counts, and Marco's GAH I'M FALLING OUT OF BOUNDS throw directly to a cutting Baylor player for a layup. This is not news. Northwestern's most effective play was the go route into an empty front court, which worked twice for free throws. Obviously, some of this is a physical disadvantage, but I've long been befuddled by seemingly basic flaws in Bill Carmody's press break. For starters, having your point guard take the ball out of bounds is just bad strategy. Yes, point guards are your best passers, but they're also your shortest players - therefore the easiest to deny passing looks by the player guarding the out-of-bounds - and typically good free throw shooters and ballhandlers - meaning you want them to be the guy GETTING the ball, not getting rid of it. Then, Northwestern's first option on the press break is often - no joke - having the point guard run along the baseline to pass to the team's top scorer in the corner of the floor, which is literally the last possible place you want a basketball player with the ball. Drew Crawford turned the ball over in this position last night. If NU doesn't spend a large chunk of practice time learning how to beat a press - Chier Ajou on the ball, bench players pressing - they're doomed to let other athletic teams come back. Maybe they have in the past, but, well, it needs more work.
- And, uh, free throw shooting. One bad night costing you a game against UIC is a bad night. Almost losing a second game because of it is a trend, and a scary one. There's no reason opponents shouldn't employ the Hack-an-Olah, because it's bound to work. It's weird - his jumper isn't broken, but his free throw very much is. Sobo's gotta hit too.
- If you know where to be in the offense, can make layups and hit threes, you will be an effective offensive player for Northwestern. Reggie Hearn knows where to be in the offense and made a lot of layups last night, and he entered the game shooting 50 percent from three despite missing his three attempts. 17 points and ten boards before fouling out on some pretty finishes around the hoop.
- What's that stuff I said about Baylor's offense when Pierre Jackson can't hit shots? He went 1-for-8 from three.
- Offensive things I hated for a second, but worked out: Jared Swopshire stepbacks, Alex Olah's jump hook.
Only 1100 words? Not bad.