NUmbers Guy: ‘Cats seasons closing with a whimper
As Northwestern Men’s and Women’s Basketball’s season come to a close, both do so with a whimper, rather than a bang. Northwestern Men’s Basketball picked up the only win of the week, beating a Rutgers squad that hasn’t won since December, but earlier in the week lost to Michigan after jumping out to an early 10-0 lead. On the other side of the ball Northwestern Women’s Basketball dropped two winnable games against Michigan and Nebraska to close out their season at .500. So let’s take a look at the numbers behind another rough week in Northwestern Men’s and Women’s Basketball.
Northwestern had little trouble with Rutgers’ overmatched defense on Saturday afternoon, moving the ball and finding open shooters from start to finish. The team finished with a program-record 33 assists on 37 field goals, picking apart the Scarlet Knights’ defense inside and out. Thirteen of those assists came from Bryant McIntosh, which set a career high for the sophomore star and was the most ever by any Wildcat in a Big Ten game. It was beautiful basketball to watch, but the game most likely told us more about the depleted state of Rutgers basketball than where Northwestern is as a program right now.
After the Michigan game, coach Chris Collins said that the Wolverines seemed to be the “tougher” team late in the second half with the game on the line. With under 15 minutes to play, Northwestern led by nine points and appeared to be in control; from that point on, the ‘Cats were outscored 42-24. Whether it was Aubrey Dawkins’ clutch threes in the second half or the Wildcats’ late cold shooting, Northwestern simply didn’t make enough plays down the stretch to secure the lead in a winnable game. Northwestern fans have sadly seen this movie many times before.
Michigan is one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country, coming in at 13th nationally and third in the Big Ten in three-point percentage. Northwestern largely shut down that part of Michigan’s game, limiting the Wolverines to only four threes on 15 attempts. Michigan was able to decisively win the battle in the paint, however, as it outscored Northwestern 32-18 inside. The Wolverines shot 58.8 percent on two-pointers, with much of the damage from guards Derrick Walton Jr. and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (who combined for 35 points and an 11-11 mark at the free throw line). In likely its final chance to produce a “quality” victory in the regular season, Northwestern was let down by its defense in Ann Arbor.
It was not a good week for Northwestern on the boards. Against Nebraska and Michigan, Northwestern was -37 on the glass, giving up 54 rebounds to Nebraska and 42 against Michigan. Further Michigan had 17 offensive boards against the ‘Cats, and Nebraska had 13. The ‘Cats got destroyed on the boards, an area which they really picked it up late in the season, especially with the emergence of Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah. But against the Wolverines and Huskers, the ‘Cats couldn’t stop either team on the glass, and it led to 70 points in the paint.
Northwestern’s a team that relies a lot on the three, averaging over six made threes a game, good for sixth in the Big Ten. But this week, Northwestern shot just 18.75 percent from beyond the arc, hitting just six of their 42 three point attempts. Maggie Lyon went cold from beyond the arc as she missed all four threes against Nebraska and went 2 of 8 against Michigan, as did Coffey and Lyon.Playing upwards of 35 MPG in Big Ten play, Northwestern’s core four has developed tired legs and really struggled, especially for beyond the arc as conference play has wound down.
One bright spot for the ‘Cats these past few weeks and on Wednesday was Christen Inman’s defense. Northwestern’s begun putting Inman on their opponent’s’ best player and it’s worked pretty well. Last week against Wisconsin, Inman shut Nicole Bauman down, limiting her to just 13 points on 4 of 12 shooting. All day, Bauman, who averages 15.5 PPG, shooting 40.5 percent, had trouble against Inman’s stifling defense and against Michigan on Wednesday, Katelynn Flaherty had more of the same. Flaherty averages 22.3 PPG, but Inman limited her to 17 tough points, as she shot 4 of 15 from the field.