Bud Light, everybody!
Let me start this preview off with two statements: first off, despite NU's two-game winning streak, record-based predicaments continue to ensure that NU will not make the NCAA Tournament, this game is important. You should watch it if you like Northwestern sports, because it does mean something.
Second, despite NU getting its ass quite literally handed to it in dramatic fashion at State College, NU has a shot against the Nittany Lions. This has been proven by NU's highly disparate performances against Illinois (disturbing loss on the road, tight win at home) and Michigan (blowout win at home that ended up being only 14 points, blowout loss on the road that ended up only being a one-point game with only a few minutes to go). Penn State isn't significantly better than the Cats, and if home-road performances thus far are any indicator, well, NU's got a shot. (Kenpom sure says so.)
Regardless of how you look at it, NU's brutal 64-41 loss was an outlier. The Cats mustered 41 points on 59 possessions, even though they are normally one of the more efficient offensive teams in the conference and the nation. 41 points on 59 possessions is .69 points per possession. The worst offensive team in the country - Southern, from, you guessed it, the SWAC - averages .79 points per possession. Which is to say, a performance like the one NU had would be an outlier for them.
NU shot 2-21 from 3-point range. That's a pitcher's batting average. That's your lotto odds. That's my success ratio with moderately attractive girls.
The other day, the NU IM department held a 3-on-3 tournament. They were giving away all types of free swag, so me and my friends signed up even though we didn't have a chance of winning. Now, I'm normally somewhat of a gunner: I'm 6-foot-3, but I don't really have any post moves, so on offense I generally just pick-and-pop, because I'd say the only positive assets to my offensive game is that I have a slightly above-average jumper for pickup ball. But that's not that great in the grand scheme of things: every time I test it out, I hit a little bit under half the time unguarded from 14 feet, and roughly 25-30 percent from downtown. In all honesty, I wouldn't be surprised if my shooting capabilities are on par with that of Penn State guard Tim Frazier. (I also tend to shoot a lot because it greatly improves my celebrating ability for when I do hit one.)
But Saturday, I was genuinely feeling my stroke.
I noticed it just shooting around, I was hitting 3-5 in a row without missing pretty much every time I got a rebound. Sure enough, the second game we played, I nailed the first five threes I took, before one of the players on the other team was assigned to face-guard me and yell "SHOOTER SHOOTER" every time I touched the ball, meaning my sixth shot clanged off the backboard. (We lost, 21-15, because my teammates, including commenter WestsideBrandon, hate me and combined for a grand total of ZERO points.) I've been hot before, but that level of heat is one I can't say I've ever reached.
My point is that though we often cast off basketball adages like "you live by the three, you die by the three", or the concept of getting "hot" or "cold", they're true. Sometimes, your muscles know what's up, all finely in-tuned to throw a ball into a hoop twice its size 20 feet away, sometimes, they're a little less finely calibrated. You live by the three, you die by it. Against Penn State, Northwestern had 21 attempts from downtown. A lot of them were open looks. If they hit a reasonable amount - let's say, seven, which would have been below average for NU - they would've scored 15 more points and been in the game.
Instead, they only hit two. That's 21 possessions with six points.
I will guarantee Northwestern will shoot better than 9.5 percent from three against Penn State this time. Guarantee. We shouldn't view that game as an indicator of Penn State's ownage of Northwestern - certainly, they do own Northwestern. But that was a whole other issue altogether: a team-wide cold streak nobody could do anything about. There's literally nothing else that caused NU to lose so drastically. Defense was alright - Penn State scored 1.1 points per possession on offense, actually slightly worse than they normally perform. Penn State had only one more turnover than NU. NU did allow the Nittany Lions to bring down 11 more rebounds, which might be because they missed 10 more threes than Penn State. (Just a guess.)
NU has a chance to make up for their anomaly at home tonight. And in doing so, they'll tie Penn State in the conference standings (7-9) and do wonders for their postseason placement, likely nixing the concept of missing the NIT.
Well, then. Here we go. Win this, and the crowd can chant "JUST LIKE THE FIRST HALF OF FOOTBALL".
AND DON'T LET TALOR BATTLE DO THAT.
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