Last night was a difficult one for the Northwestern Wildcats. Butler obviously has the talent of a Top 10 team and will be making some statements throughout the game. When the segment of highlights on Sportscenter is referred to as "Butler Beatdown" something went terribly wrong.
Diving into the statistics a little bit more, here are some of my observations.
On a team level there aren't many bright spots to speak about for the Wildcats. Even though Northwestern had a size advantage inside, the Wildcats weren't regularly able to take advantage of it. Luka Mirkovic, Kyle Rowley and John Shurna all had their moments, but none of them were able to consistently finish around the rim. (And Shurna in particular seemed very willing to head off to the perimeter where he shot just 2-8.)
It wasn't just scoring though. What was immensely frustrating, especially early in the game when it was still close, was how many offensive rebounds and extra opportunities Butler got while on offense. The Bulldogs had five offensive rebounds in both halves and it helped keep their offense moving efficiently.
Bill Carmody mentioned how frustrated he was with Northwestern's turnovers during the game. The 16 turnovers are far too many for a Princeton offense. 16 turnovers in 62 possessions is asking to get blown out. Those are empty possessions where the offense isn't accomplishing anything really and probably setting the opponent up for easy points. Butler scored 24 points off turnovers in the game.
Then on an individual level. Ask the question, who wants it now? Last night the answer was Michael Thompson, Shurna and... then no one else really stepped up. Alex Marcotullio provided a bit of a spark when he entered the game. At least he was willing to shoot the ball. The 6'3" freshman from Warren, MI has good touch on his shots from long range and could provide another scoring option for the Wildcats. Marcotullio had missed some time with a groin pull early in the season, but he came back last night to play 15 minutes, score 8 points on 2-5 shooting from beyond the arc and 3-6 shooting overall.
Butler had five players play very well in Shelvin Mack, Gordon Hayward, Matt Howard, Zach Hahn and Avery Jukes. The Wildcats can't counter that with two players playing hard, one freshman getting his first real action and a bunch of shirking violets. Northwestern has to be more aggressive. Jeremy Nash didn't ask for the role of third scorer, but he's got it now. And two points - and two turnovers - isn't going to cut it from your number three guy. I can recall one time all game Nash drove hard to the basket. Why wasn't he attacking more?
This loss is a learning experience for the Wildcats. It's a game tape against a Big Ten quality opponent that they can review and analyze in order to better understand how to attack teams of this caliber in the future. The only other team on the non-conference schedule of that caliber is Notre Dame. While Northwestern needs to focus on winning the easier games the remains on their schedule, it's that game against the Fighting Irish that will give us our next true benchmark about where the Wildcats are in what could quickly become a difficult transition season.
Note: My live commentary on the game is available at Rush the Court.