NUmbers Guy: An up-and-down week for the ‘Cats
It was another inconsistent week for the Wildcats on the hardwood. Northwestern Men’s Basketball beat Wisconsin, but then fell to Penn State later in the week. And while Northwestern Women’s Basketball upset No. 5 Ohio State at Welsh-Ryan Arena, finally adding a huge win to their tournament resume, the ‘Cats then fell on the road to No. 8 Maryland. So let’s take a look at the numbers behind the week in Northwestern Men’s and Women’s Basketball.
Northwestern has been struggling to replace Alex Cohen this year, moving through Christen Johnson and Maya Jonas at center, unable to find a fifth offensive weapon. But against Ohio State on Thursday, Pallas Kunaiya-Akpanah, in her second career start, put up a double-double, with 14 points and 14 rebounds. Kunaiya-Akpanah has been great on the glass this season averaging 5.3 RPG, but up until this point, she hasn’t found her scoring touch. Against Ohio State she did, scoring 14 on 6-8 shooting, but now she’ll have to show she can do it consistently, as she didn’t have a point versus Maryland.
When Maggie Lyon hits at least a third of her threes, Northwestern is 10-0. Against Ohio State, Maggie Lyon hit 5-10 threes, catching fire in the first quarter, and Northwestern was able to pull out a victory. Against Maryland, Lyon was 0-5 from beyond the arc and the ‘Cats lost. On any given night, Nia Coffey’s going get a double-double and Christen Inman is going to get her share, but the one X-Factor for Northwestern is Maggie Lyon. If she’s hitting from beyond the arc Northwestern can play with just about anyone, but if not, they’re in trouble.
Northwestern has lots of trouble on the glass, especially when Kunaiya-Akpanah doesn’t play much, and against Maryland, the ‘Cats were out-rebounded by 21, including 17 offensive rebounds. The ‘Cats gave a very good Maryland team extra possession and the Terrapins took advantage, scoring 13 second chance points. If Northwestern can’t win or keep close the rebounding battle the ‘Cats will have a lot of trouble going forward in the Big Ten.
Northwestern’s win over Wisconsin was willed more by their sophomore point guard than anyone else. Bryant McIntosh exploded for 28 points, four rebounds and five assists against the Badgers, while no other Wildcat hit double figures in points. Even in a disappointing effort against Penn State for the whole team, McIntosh quietly had 10 points and 10 rebounds for his first career double-double. The team certainly has its issues on offense and defense, but McIntosh is proving that he is undoubtedly the team’s best player and one of the best guards in the B1G.
Any momentum coming off the win over Wisconsin was lost Saturday night, however, as the ‘Cats turned in a poor performance on their home court against a mediocre Penn State team. That loss was mostly due to the team’s ineffective three-point shooting; the Wildcats converted only three of their 26 shots from beyond the arc against Penn State, good for 11.5 percent. Northwestern missed its first 17 shots from deep, including all 12 of their attempts in the first half. This team is bound to shoot a lot of three pointers, but their underwhelming three-point shooting clip in conference play (27.5 percent) may force Chris Collins and company to attack the basket more often.
A myriad of problems led to Northwestern’s loss on Saturday night, including the three-point woes mentioned above and a struggle from the free-throw line (47 percent on the night). Another alarming number from the Penn State game, however, was Northwestern’s minus-8 rebounding margin. The Nittany Lions outrebounded the ‘Cats 42-34, holding NU’s biggest players (Joey van Zegeren, Dererk Pardon and a back-from-injury Alex Olah) to only eight rebounds. Olah looked rusty in limited action, while van Zegeren and Pardon struggled on defense and allowed too many offensive boards to Penn State as the ‘Cats tried to mount a comeback. With the high volume of three-point shots not paying dividends for Northwestern so far, the interior play becomes critical, and that area was lacking on Saturday night.