Nearly four weeks into 2016, and it’s safe to say that the New Year hasn’t been very kind to Northwestern hoops. It was another rough week for the ‘Cats, as Northwestern men’s and women’s basketball faltered, combining to go 0-4. The men’s team was unable to pull an upset against No. 7 Maryland before being roasted by Indiana at Assembly Hall. Meanwhile, the women’s team lost winnable games to Minnesota and Indiana. Here’s a closer look at the numbers behind the past week for Northwestern men’s and women’s basketball:
Indiana is among the best shooting teams in the Big Ten while Northwestern is among the worst; Saturday at Assembly Hall, it showed. The Hoosiers shot 46.4 percent from beyond the arc and 52.6 percent from the floor for the entire game. Indiana averaged 1.35 points per possession, compared to just 0.86 for the ‘Cats. Northwestern’s zone couldn’t handle the Indiana shooters and Tom Crean’s squad was able to take advantage. Every single offensive player for Indiana that played more than 10 minutes posted a 100+ offensive rating. Northwestern just couldn’t hang with a great shooting team that caught fire early.
One bright spot for Northwestern from Saturday’s beatdown was Alex Olah and Tre Demps’ performances. After being written off by many, the two combined for 36 points on 16 of 25 shooting. Demps (rocking a new look with a shaved head and no facial hair) and Olah also combined for 24 of the ‘Cats 26 first-half points. The two seniors led the way for the ‘Cats offensively and will be counted on to do so for much of the rest of the season. If they both can return to form, Northwestern could have a good shot to get 20+ wins.
While Northwestern has shot poorly the past couple of games, the one area in which the Wildcats continue to excel is on the offensive glass (21 offensive boards in the past two games). The ‘Cats rank fourth in the Big Ten in offensive rebound percentage; Joey van Zegeren and Dererk Pardon have crashed the offensive glass giving Northwestern the extra possessions it so desperately needs with cold shooters. With Olah back, the ‘Cats should continue to feast on the offensive glass, giving themselves extra possessions needed against Big Ten foes.
A seven-point lead heading into the final quarter wasn’t enough for the Wildcats against Indiana on Sunday, as the Hoosiers dropped 33 points in the final frame to take the victory at Welsh-Ryan. Indiana’s best player, Tyra Buss, had a nice game (21 points, 10 rebounds), but it was elsewhere that really did Northwestern in. Indiana out-rebounded the Wildcats 43-36 and shot 50.7 percent from the floor. Defensively, Northwestern didn’t do a good job of closing out on shooters or rebounding Indiana misses, especially when it counted most.
One reason why Northwestern seemed to lack energy late in the games against Minnesota and Indiana may be the team’s lack of depth. The Wildcats’ bench combined for nine points in the two games this week, all of them coming against Minnesota. During that stretch, the bench only made three field goals. Maggie Lyon played 40 minutes in both games, while Ashley Deary and Nia Coffey averaged 38.5 and 33 minutes played per game, respectively. Northwestern’s starters are undoubtedly talented, but they are also bound to be tired at the end of games after playing so many minutes. Without a more reliable bench, Northwestern’s postseason hopes take a big hit.
Want something to cheer you up about this women’s team? Nia Coffey still plays on it. The junior had 27 points in the game against Minnesota and then dropped 29 points and 11 boards against the Hoosiers on Sunday. And according to the team’s Twitter account, Coffey has now scored in double-figures in 35 consecutive games, dating back to Jan. 17 of last year. That’s wild. Coffey is proving that she is one of the Big Ten’s best scorers and rebounders, and the way she brings it every night always gives the ‘Cats a chance to win. The next week or two will be very telling where (or if) this team falls in the postseason picture.