You know why Northwestern is a team worth watching? Because the Wildcats do it differently. No, this isn't a post about the academics at Northwestern and how the players on the basketball team really are student-athletes that will go on to possibly do things other than playing basketball. This is a post about how head coach Bill Carmody continues to live and die by the principals and offense he believes in - the Princeton Offense and the 1-3-1 and other zone defenses - and how they've shaped this Northwestern team.
Now, it should be noted before going further that while Carmody was coaching Princeton from 1996-2000 I was an impressionable young teenager. I grew up going to those Tigers games and watching this offense my entire life. I distinctly remember watching the Princeton vs. Michigan State game in 1998 in the basement of a friends house and wondering how a team so good had gotten so screwed by the NCAA Tournament Seeding committee. (Princeton had one loss that season before the NCAA Tournament, a 50-42 home loss to #1 seed North Carolina.)
Through his years at Princeton and then at Northwestern I've followed Carmody's career. While other coaches that preach Princeton Offense principles have adapted their games to fit higher level prospects or be more free flowing, Carmody's rigidity to the system has been impressive.
Since 2003-2004 Northwestern has ranked outside of the Top 50 in the percentage of field goals attempted from three-point range once. The Wildcats have been in the Top 10 on two separate occasions. This season Northwestern ranks first. In terms of three-point shots as a percentage of total attempts the Wildcats are shooting more threes than noted bombers at Butler, VMI, William & Mary and Mississippi State.
That's not all though, Northwestern can flat out shoot the three. From center Luka Mirkovic's 3-4 performance on Wednesday to Drew Crawford's 8-13 game against North Carolina A&T, nobody is afraid to launch from distance. Anyone can hurt you.
And therein lies the beauty of this offense. Nobody has to be the man. When Craig Moore graduated and Kevin Coble went down it forced Northwestern not to rely on a go-to scorer, but spread the wealth and reap the benefits of the system.
You know what else Northwestern leads the nation in? Assists per field goal made. The Wildcats have an assist on 75% of their made baskets this season. Nobody passes better than Northwestern.
Of course, Northwestern wouldn't be the Wildcats without some odd statistics the other way. And here's two that really caught my eye. While Northwestern is great in both of those categories on offense, they're terrible at them on defense.
The Wildcats opponent's assist per field goal made is 346th in the country. (That's second to last.) Also, the Wildcats rank 333rd in percentage of field goals attempted from three-point range by opponents. But these make complete sense, they are the fundamental results of playing a zone defense consistently well. You know what other major conference team ranks that high in these factors? Syracuse.
Team are being forced to work for their baskets and stay along the perimeter. If there's one thing Northwestern could improve is its FTA/FGA. Currently at 37.1% (179th) when that number drops it will be the hallmark of a zone defense that is being run to perfection. (The Orange are at 24.9%.)
Sure these statistics might look odd, but in fact their the perfect example of Northwestern playing the game exactly as Bill Carmody envisioned. This is what major conference Princeton basketball should look like. Enjoy the show.