That was not fun.
Maryland is a damn good team, and they have a lot of damn fine Big Ten players. All of them had great games it felt like. When you can throw Diamond Stone, Melo Trimble, Rasheed Sulaimon, Robert Carter, Jake Layman, Jared Nickens (takes a deep breath, continues), Damonte Dodd, Michal Cekovsky, and Jaylen Brantley at a team, all of whom would log serious minutes at any Big Ten program, it’s tough.
When Sulaimon and Carter combine to go 9-9 from the field for 21 points in the first half, it’s tougher.
When Melo Trimble is on a double-double, it’s darn near impossible.
And when you shoot just 2-20 from beyond the arc, you can put the lights out.
And when the inexplicably underrated Rasheed Sulaimon is doing literally everything a guard is asked of on a basketball court, you’re kind of up a creek without a paddle.
Northwestern was sans paddle at home against Maryland.
Northwestern’s injuries were felt. Hard.
Against Loyola Maryland and a über-diminutive Nebraska team, not having Alex Olah wasn’t a big deal. Northwestern could pop off triples and watch Bryant McIntosh go berserk against Loyola, and Dererk Pardon was able to bully around the Cornhuskers non-existent front line.
Northwestern needed Alex Olah tonight. Maryland ran Northwestern off the three point arc and swallowed every pick and roll set the Wildcats rolled out. A couple of post ups by the big man would not have gone unnoticed.
But maybe even more importantly, Maryland exposed just how important Vic Law is to this team. Not unlike the Outback Bowl yesterday, Northwestern was at an incredible athletic disadvantage. Northwestern under Chris Collins is still an above-average athletic team, no doubt about that, but Maryland is another class. Having a bouncy, lanky, quick defender and floor-runner extraordinaire like Law would have helped immensely.
Northwestern’s defense needs sharpening
Chris Collins came to Northwestern and in 2014, the Wildcats had the 14th most efficient defense in the country according to KenPom. It looked like this brand of Wildcats would be a defense first bunch.
In 2015, the offense took a massive step forward, but the defense fell back to 165th in the country.
Right now the defense stands at 134th, but we’ll see how that number falls as the quality of Northwestern’s opponents increases. Right now, there are way too many possessions where a defender falls asleep. Rotations in the zone were slow. Three-point shooters are getting good looks without hands in their faces. Maryland can cut up a lot of defenses, but lost in the DERERK PARDON madness of Nebraska was a decidedly ungood defensive performance. If Northwestern can continue to outshoot teams the way they did in the non-conference, they’ll be ok. But some defensive fine tuning would not go unnoticed.
This is why non-con tests matter
Northwestern is still a good team this year. But after playing games against decidedly lesser teams, it isn’t terribly surprising that Northwestern came out a little slow. There’s a huge jump from what Northwestern saw to what they’re seeing now. Northwestern is going to grow a lot as Big Ten play goes on, heck they grew a lot between halves today, but the question is whether they’re going to grow fast enough.
The Wildcats are far from what you would call “battle-tested.” Being exposed to a top tier team was a bit of an ice bath today. They’re going to need to beat one of the Iowas/Michigan States/Marylands/Purdues if they want to be dancing in March. They have a little bit of growing up to do first.
Packed Welsh-Ryan is dope, let’s have more of that