I will never ever again say anything bad about the University of Texas-Pan American.
For the game against Northwestern, they packed their stadium. They provided a functioning, free web stream of the game.They made NU fans feel good by having announcers that kept referring to NU as "a Big Ten powerhouse."
But most importantly - and scarily - they gave NU a run for their money. No, the Broncs never led, not once, for the entire 40 minutes. But their five starters played their hearts out, and almost gave a more talented NU team a big, big, big L - one that you can be sure would have put a severe dent in NU's postseason hopes, as will pretty much any non-conference loss with a schedule like this.
So, am I worried about the Cats? No. Nah. These things happen. What's important is that you get the result that you need. Last year, NU trailed UTPA at the half. And was down eight with five minutes to go against Tennessee State. No, NU wouldn't reach their stated goal of tourney play, but the reasons why that's true have little to do with the poor indicators we saw in those two matchups. NU's ability to have a poor outing in a weird road environment - and still come away with the W - is kind of cool, actually. Props to the Broncs for staying in it all game, and never letting anybody feel comfortable despite some solid performances by NU.
Also, this other major conference school did lose to a team called the Broncs last night. By 20. So, hey!
Jump for some Broncs cheers:
- Someone's going to criticize NU's defense for keeping the Broncs in the game. No. No no no no no. The reason Pan-Am was able to stay in it was because they got disturbingly hot from downtown. For a team coming into the game shooting 28 percent from three to go 9-17 - Jared Maree, who hadn't hit a 3 all season, went 3-3 last night, Perry Petty, who came into the game 2-12 from beyond the arc, was nailing 25-foot stepbacks - is something you can't really get mad about. Yeah, there were times hands weren't in faces. (Looking at you, Juice.) There were other times they were, and the shots fell anyway. This is what it probably feels like for other teams to play NU.
- I want NU to rest Michael Thompson, I really do. But last night, he was the only guy getting buckets - 4-for-8 from downtown - and I can't get mad at Bill Carmody for playing a guy who is bound to get tired by March 40 minutes against a team called Texas-Pan American.
- I have no faith in NU's big men. Last night, Luka Mirkovic was faced up against a 6-foot-6 small forward named Matt Mierzycki. And he got killed. Mierzycki finished with eight boards to Mirk's five. Mierzycki - and a host of other Broncs - were able to keep him from posting up on the block, because they were stronger than him. Both Mirk's baskets were assisted hoops that came off of bounce passes where the opponent gambled, leaving him to turn to the hoop and hit an uncontested layup. If you're a Big Ten center, that's not the way it should be. A defining moment of the game last night came when Mirkovic was posted up against UTPA's Aaron Urbanus, who is listed at 6 feet, but even the home announcers were scoffing about that because he's shorter than Juice. And NU didn't look to get him the ball. They just continued to run the offense. I like Mirk, but he has no place in the post unless he bulks up. I won't get mad that Mierzycki drove past him a few times - he's five inches taller than the guy - but the strength thing concerns me. I'd like to see Davide Curletti get some more tick in these non-con games just to see if he can be useful.
- Mike Capocci does not need more tick for me to be able to tell you he will not be useful.
- But back to the big men point: at the beginning of the game, I thought to myself: if NU wants to win, they should just keep chucking threes - no way they can't outrebound a team whose tallest player is the same height as NU's shooting guard. I was wrong. NU got outrebounded 26-22. Bad news. It turned out NU's most effective way of scoring was running the PO and driving off of ball movement.
- Thing to feel guilty about: needing to bust out the 1-3-1 to beat this team. Yes, it worked, forcing a few turnovers. But at the same time, NU needs these games to work on the matchup and man defenses, but needed the turnovers so needed to bust out the 1-3-1. Sucky.
- When Drew Crawford drives, good things nearly always happen, it seems. Game-high 22 for the sophomore - going 7-for-7 from the line helped.
- Props to the two most Hispanic guys I've ever heard announce a basketball game. I know somebody who lives in the Rio Grande Valley, and I'm pretty sure he was the play-by-play guy last night. More props to UTPA's hilarious Texas-y ads during the game. UTPA Radio: Yeah, we got it.
- JerShon Cobb didn't look great in his NU debut - although scoring in his first three seconds on the court was impressive - I'll chalk it up to jitters. He wildly airballed a three, but a silky pull-up jumper later proved to me that he isn't as bad as me at shooting.
- Juice and Drew aren't great on-the-ball defenders. We knew this, but it bears repeating if we're sticking with straight man at any time.
- If you think NU is too starter-heavy, UTPA's starting five scored 69 of 71 points.
That's it for now. Rinse, repeat, see you at Arkansas-Pine Bluff tomorrow.