Northwestern, Illinois and expectations

Big Ten Tournamnet: Illinois Fighting Illini v Purdue Boilermakers

Northwestern lost to Illinois, 89-83 in overtime, tonight at Assembly Hall in Champaign, IL.

This wasn't a game I expected the Wildcats to win in the Big Ten. While the Illini are a young team, they are a talented one as well. Coming into the game Ken Pomeroy had the Wildcats ranked 53rd and the Illini 55th. In a game between two so evenly matched teams home court is often the deciding factor.

As I listened on the radio tonight, it certainly seemed like that playing at home was the difference. Illinois, a team that hadn't taken many free throws up to this point, went to the free throw line 27 times, almost twice as many as Northwestern's 15. The Illini doubled the output of the Wildcats from the free throw line 22-11, much more than the difference in the game.

The other difference in the game was Mike Tisdale (left, above). He dominated in the paint against Luka Mirkovic and Kyle Rowley before fouling out in overtime.

The Illini went inside early and often. Junior center Tisdale, who hadn't scored more than 18 points in a game all season, exploded for 31 points and 11 rebounds. This strikes me as a good idea, seeing as a 7'1" center that isn't a stiff is tough to find in the college game. Tisdale is one of the most efficient offensive players in college basketball and he proved it tonight with his 31 points in 17 possessions.

Both freshman played well for the Wildcats as Drew Crawford had 13 points (on 13 shots...) and 8 rebounds and Alex Marcotullio added 13 points (on 4-9 shooting from three) and his usual stat stuffers. It was nice to listen to them both playing confidently in a big conference game.

Since I didn't expect a victory I'm not particularly disappointed. The nine-point halftime lead got my hopes up a bit, but in the second half it was clear - even from the audio - that this was Illinois' game to lose. The fact that Northwestern had a chance to win at the buzzer and managed to force overtime says something about how tough an out the Wildcats will be this season in the Big Ten.

Of course, no matter what you expect, being a tough out isn't enough to break the barrier and get to the NCAA Tournament. Expectations get Northwestern to 9-9 in conference, but is that enough? The Wildcats need the numbers in the left-hand column to rise, not moral victories. Another chance comes on Saturday at Welsh-Ryan Arena against Michigan State. The Wildcats once again will be the underdog. While I'm not expecting them to win, I sure hope they do.

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  • John, really love the blog. One question: do you think the 'cats can win many games shooting this badly? I only heard the game, but it seems to me the fact they shoot better from three than their total shooting percentage suggests they just don't get easy buckets inside - and relying on the three so much seems like a gamble.

  • Bill Carmody has complained all season that the Wildcats aren't getting enough from the center position and that's truly the case. Last night was another good example of it. 6 points on 3-13 isn't going to cut it from Luka Mirkovic in the Big Ten. Kyle Rowley had 7 boards, but he was 0-2 from the field and scored 1 point.

    If Northwestern is going to continue to rely on the three then there are going to be nights like this when even though the Wildcats have 22 more shots they end up losing. Someone besides John Shurna has to go into the post and score for the Wildcats.

    I listened to the game on the radio as well and so I don't know if this game was a symptom of above or something else, but what really worried me was the post defense. Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale both had great games for Illinois and that's not a good sign for the future in the Big Ten. If Mirkovic and Rowley aren't going to give much on the offensive end they have to provide strong interior defense at a minimum.

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