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Northwestern Wildcats

by Chris Mackinder | March 7th, 2009

Good Wins: Florida State, Minnesota, @Michigan State, Wisconsin, @Purdue.
Bad Losses: @ Iowa.

Strengths:

1. Patience. Fans of up-tempo North Carolina-style offense would be appalled if forced to watch Northwestern’s Princeton-style offense. But that is exactly what helps Northwestern stay in and even win games it shouldn’t based on talent alone. On average, Northwestern gets 61.5 possessions per game, which is 323rd in the nation. When opposing fans chant 5-4-3-2-1 to try and intimidate the adversary’s offense, Northwestern isn’t fazed. The Wildcats actually seem to wait for the chant before attacking the basket.

2. Long-Range Shooting: When your team is filled with a plethora of guards and little post presence, the 3-point shot becomes a critical part of your team’s arsenal. Part of Northwestern’s recruiting strategy over the years has been to recruit big men who also can shot the trey. Therefore, all the back cuts and picks can eventually leave any player open beyond the arc and in range. The Wildcats shoot 39.1 percent from behind the arc as a team this season, good for 26th in the country. 6-foot-3 senior Craig Moore leads the long-range barrage at 42 percent while 6-8 forwards Kevin Coble and John Shurna shoot 38.9 and 36.9 percent, respectively.

Weaknesses:

1. Rebounding: A lack of size typically leads to a lack of rebounding. That’s exactly the case with Northwestern. The Wildcats don’t rebound the ball well at all, grabbing boards on just 26.5 percent of its offensive misses (324th in the country). That number is more worrisome because long-range misses – the main part of Northwestern’s offense – mean long rebounds; The shooting team is usually in better position to snag a long board. Adding insult to injury, Northwestern is equally as bad at rebounding defensive misses. The Wildcats allow opponents to grab nearly 36 percent of their misses (288th in the nation).

2. Free Throws: This isn’t a negative for the obvious reason (a low percentage of makes); it’s a problem because Northwestern doesn’t get to the foul line. Only 16.5 percent of the Wildcats’ points come from the charity stripe, meaning the foul line isn’t very giving toward Northwestern in 2009. The Wildcats are 299-for-434 from the stripe this season, a won’t-kill-you-but-isn’t-pretty 68.9 percent. But, taking just 15.5 shots from the line each game is a big red flag.

Other Factors:

Turnovers: This is actually a big positive for Northwestern on both sides of the ball. The Wildcats turn the ball over on just 17.5 percent of its possessions, 22nd in the country. Defensively, Northwestern forces nearly one turnover on every four opponent possessions, good for 12th in the nation. When Northwestern is turning the defensive miscues into points, it’s tough to beat.

The Drought: Here’s a trivia question: When was the last time Northwestern reached the NCAA Tournament? Stumped? Well, the question doesn’t have an answer because the Wildcats have never reached the NCAA Tournament. This academic powerhouse has been close, but usually reaching the NIT is a successful season. In a ridiculously deep Big Ten this season, the Wildcats are one of many teams trying to stay on the right side of the bubble. That statement in itself is pretty amazing.

Tournament Prediction:

NIT. I don’t care what college affiliation you have; you should be rooting for the Wildcats. This is a school that does everything by the rules and in every sport competes against superior talent night in and night out. Just to be able to say “2009″ as the trivia question answer rather than “never” would be so sweet for every Northwestern alum in the country. The sad fact is Northwestern has solid wins, but also will likely finish with a sub-.500 record in the Big Ten (8-10 if it loses at Ohio State on Sunday). If Northwestern makes the NCAA Tournament, the purple-clad fans should celebrate like a mid-major winning the automatic bid. A one-and-done is the best-case scenario but the NIT is more likely.

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