Northwestern and easy points

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Jeff Ryan on a breakaway during the first half.

While Wednesday's blowout of Robert Morris was a good start for the Wildcats, there was one part of Northwestern's game that irked me about the game plan. No matter how hard the Wildcats try, easy buckets are just not their style. Fast-break points and foul shots are the key to weathering offensive droughts, and once again against the Eagles there wasn't much to suggest that Northwestern is going to be any better at generating those easy points this season. Northwestern forced 12 turnovers turnover last night and converted them into 10 fast-break points. Only one basket in the first half came on the fast break - it was a dunk by Ivan Peljusic. Even on the play pictured above by Ryan there was still a Robert Morris defender back to try and take a charge.

The Wildcats had no problem forcing turnovers last season. Their opponent turnover percentage of 24.4 percent ranked 12th in NCAA Division I. What Northwestern did have a problem with was converting all those opportunities into quick points.

At times during the exhibition it seemed like Michael Thompson was trying to push the pace a bit, but even on those possessions the Wildcats would eventually slink back into the Princeton offense and run their set. Northwestern now has the athletes on the wings in John Shurna, Drew Crawford and Ryan to push the ball more in transition. In the future the Wildcats need to think about using the fast-break more effectively on offense.

The other part of easy points are free throws. Unfortunately shooting a bunch of threes doesn't lend itself to many free throws. That was painfully evident last season when Northwestern finished 325th in NCAA Division I last season in FTA/FGA at 29.4 percent. On Wednesday night that number was even worse. Northwestern attempted 73 shots and just seven free throws, for a stunningly low FTA/FGA of 9.6 percent. Free throws are a great way to end scoring droughts and break up an opponent's momentum, but there's no one on the Wildcats who can be counted on to consistently draw a foul.

Last season Ken Pomeroy unveiled his "fouls drawn per 40 minutes
statistic." To give you an idea, Blake Griffin led the nation with 8.0
fouls drawn per 40 minutes. No one on Northwestern finished with more
than 4.0 per 40 minutes. That player was Kevin Coble. Coble didn't shoot any free throws on Wednesday, but his added strength might help him get a few more calls down low.

The answer to this problem may be Shurna's new found enthusiasm and skill going into the post. He looked more confident on the block on Wednesday. He earned, and more importantly made, two free throws. The sophomore forward is going to need to do more of that in order to help Northwestern pick up some easy points. Another player who should be able to draw some fouls is Kyle Rowley. While Luka Mirkovic is more of a finesse player in the post, Rowley - with his big frame and post skills - could draw some more fouls, of course he'll need to shoot better than 54.3 percent from the line this season to make it worthwhile.

In the end, Northwestern could help themselves on its way to the NCAA Tournament by making things just a little bit easier.

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  • One thing regarding the fouls: there just weren't too many fouls called, period (not counting Crawford). In fact, in the second half there was I noticed that the under 16 minute timeout didn't occur until there was about 11:30 left in the half! That's only the second time in my life I can remember a TV timeout falling under the next TV timeout threshold.

  • I noticed that TV timeout threshold and was fascinated by it too. It made for this really weird moment during the game where it stopped twice almost in successive possessions. As a comparison though, Robert Morris shot 22 free throws (though they only made 12) on 50 attempts or 44%, a much more reasonable number.

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