David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
After a few games where Northwestern got blown out, the Wildcats have won two of three, beating ranked opponents in Illinois and Minnesota while losing close to then-No. 2 Indiana. What's worked for them?
Let me just say this first: I love writing about basketball, man, and although I was gonna watch every Northwestern game I could this year, I just wasn't feeling it But man, the way this team has been playing, I'm absolutely feeling it. Get ready for some stuff.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty - I wanna touch on what this team's hopes are, why the 1-3-1 worked last night and some other stuff before NU plays Nebrasketball. Let's just talk about what's been working in this three-game stretch and what hasn't.
The 1-3-1: Chill! I already said we'd talk about that later. But the point is, the 1-3-1 has been working, and murderously. NU didn't use it vs. Illinois - didn't need to with shots falling and the Illini turning the ball over of their own accord - but it seriously scared the pooper off of Indiana, and even when it broke down, guys scrambled to recover well. And last night, NU pounced on a team that commits turnovers and then scrambled to the boards. Super-impressive stuff.
Jared Swopshire: Swop! Swop! Shut em down open up Swop! The way he's been playing of late has been great. I was ready to write off Jared Swopshire - he's talented, but didn't seem enough to be a lead player on a Big Ten team after being a role player for Louisville, who barely noticed he was gone - but man, he's turned it on. The defense has always been there, but he had a tendency to hoist and hurt Northwestern earlier this year. I didn't find it particularly surprising considering his poor career shooting numbers, and I thought it was sad that we got a talented guy who could've been a huge help towards a tourney boost other years in a season everything was doomed.
His last three games? He's been swopping it like it's hot. Double digit scoring, he's 6-of-12 from three - a guy who had never shot better than 32 percent from downtown, mind you - and the best rebounding on the squad, plus manaical defense on the wings of the 1-3-1. 16-8 last night. When Swop's on offensively, he's a real help. His numbers are better than the ones he had at Louisville, even though he's in a bigger role here at Northwestern. To me, that's crazy, and props to Swop. Swop-props!
Marco: This is me eating my words on Alex Marcotullio. I thought his career was having a tragic last chapter. He was a three point specialist who couldn't shoot. What's the point?
Welp, sorry, Marco. He's absolutely shown up of late, mainly due to his role on the top of the 1-3-1. Carmody seems to have figured a nice role for him out - rest him in the first, sic him in the second - and that would be enough. He didn't even need to take any threes against Indiana for him to make a huge difference, but now, he's starting to hit them at a decent rate - small sample size, but 4-7 in the last three games. If he hits shots at a reasonable rate and plays defense like he has been, he's a very meaningful member of this team.
Reggie Hearn: He's been balling out of late - 17.3 points per game these last three - but what else is new, besides the concept of him being a star on a Big Ten team? But my point is, these three seniors deserve credit for upping the ante on both sides of the floor when all seemed lost.
More Alex Olah: I said some less-than-nice things about Michael Turner last night. Let's not focus on how not-ready-for-Big Ten play Turner is, and instead talk about Olah. He's a better option than Turner on offense, by miles: less prone to turning the ball over and is actually a nifty passer, which helps in the Princeton, has better post moves, and although we don't want either to shoot, it seems Olah has the better jumper. He's a better option than Turner on defense: Olah's slower, Turner's significantly weaker, and I'll take the first one any day of the weak, besides, the main area that would hurt a center is hedging on pick-and-roll, where Olah has done a better job than any Northwestern center I've ever seen. He's significantly better at not fouling - Turner's 7.1 FC/40 is nearing Kyle Rowley's freshman year rate of 7.3, while Olah is down at 2.6. If you'd like that in non-advance terms, Michael Turner committed four fouls in six minutes last night, including one on a three-point shooter. And to top it off, Olah is a better rebounder: his 16.0 defensive rebounding rate is best on the team, while Turner's 11.9 is around what you'd expect from a decent shooting guard.
If Turner improves a lot, he could be a decent power forward. But there's no reason Northwestern should be playing him over Alex Olah right now. Last night, Turner checked out with the team down six, and Northwestern began to win. Coincidence? Maybe. Surprising? Definitely not. Olah should be playing the majority of center minutes, and Turner and Nikola Cerina can play if he needs a blow. But there's no question he's magnitudes better than any other option right now, and it looks like Carmody figured that out last night.
Tre Demps: Kid's a chucker - he's last of the helpful things on here for a reason - but he's got double-digits in four straight games. Northwestern won last night with defense, so inefficient offense isn't the worst thing. Demps might be Northwestern's best option when the offense is broken down.
Yeah, I guess that's it. There are a lot - a lot - of problems and flaws with this team, but this has been some really encouraging play these past three games, and if it continues, things could be interesting.