NIT Preview: Northwestern


by: John Chase

The Huskies face 4th seeded Northwestern tomorrow evening in the second round of the NIT. The Wildcats avoided a potential upset when the last second Akron 3-pointer fell short of the mark. The Wildcats are 19-13 on the season and went 8-10 in the Big 10 conference.

Last time out against Akron, the Wildcats got major production from a trio of players; all of whom scored at least 19 points. Drew Crawford, a 6-5 205lb G-F, led all scorers with 27 points on 10 of 15 shooting. He was a respectable 3 of 7 from deep and made 4 of his 5 foul shots. Crawford also logged 7 boards, 4 assists, just 2 turnovers. Josh Shurna is a 6-9 220lb forward with some great quickness and a great 3-point shot. He finished with 23 points and 11 boards. Shurna was 8 of 22 from the field and 5 of 11 from deep. JerShon Cobb finished with 19 points on 8 of 10 shooting and at 6-5 provides a potentially interesting match-up tomorrow night.

Josh Shurna is the deadliest weapon on the Northwestern team without a question. At 6-9 he has the size to battle down low for rebounds and easy lay-ins, but it is his 43% 3-point shooting that really scares me. Shurna is quite mobile at only 220lb and has 90 makes on 209 attempts, both are team highs. Shurna is the leading scorer with 19.9 points and is also the leading rebounder with 5.4 per game. Shurna scares me. I’m not sure Darnell Gant will be able to stay with him the whole game as he struggled late against UT-A, allowing back-to-back 3-pointers, and Aziz N’Diaye certainly can’t be expecting to defend the block and the perimeter. N’Diaye just doesn’t have that type of quickness.

Drew Crawford is the second leading scorer and rebounder on the Northwestern squad. Crawford is averaging 16.5 points and 4.7 boards a night. Crawford is another dangerous 3-point threat with 60 makes on 146 attempts this season. Crawford could be the perfect match-up for Tony Wroten, which should hopefully lead to some nice transition plays from the Huskies. The only downside is that Northwestern handles the ball extremely well, averaging only 10 turnovers per game. Not only player on the Wildcat team averages more than 1.6 turnovers a night. I could also see Terrence Ross getting called upon for this assignment as both show star potential. Great players battling 1-on-1 is always exciting.

After Shurna and Crawford, the scoring drops off greatly. Dave Sobolewski is the third leading scorer for the Wildcats picking up 8.6 a night. He also averages a team high 3.7 assists per game. Sobolewski is a decent shooter from anywhere on the court. He averages a little over 40% from the field, 75% at the line, and a very nice 36% from outside the arc. Sobolewski comes in at 6-1 185lb and will likely be guarded by Abdul Gaddy.

Predicted Starting Line-Ups:


Dave Sobolewski 6-1 185lb
Reggie Hearn 6-4 210lb
JerShon Cobb 6-5 200lb
Drew Crawford 6-5 205lb
John Shurna 6-9 220lb


Abdul Gaddy 6-3 185lb
Tony Wroten 6-5 205lb
Terrence Ross 6-6 195lb
Darnell Gant 6-8 230lb
Aziz N’Diaye 7-0 260lb

Keys to the Game:

  • Pressure Defense – The Wildcats can shoot the long ball and shoot it well. They average nearly 40% as a team and have 5 players with at least 35 makes on the year. The Huskies need to defend the perimeter well and rotate well off of screens to prevent wide open, dangerous looks. This means good communication by both players and the coaching staff. If we can get in their faces early and keep their shooters from getting in a rhythm, the Huskies can take over this game.
  • Rebounding – UT-A stayed in the game for one big reason, they dominated the glass. All of those second chance opportunities killed the Huskies. At the end of the first half, the Mavericks held a 25-12 advantage on rebounds (13 offensive boards). The Huskies will have a decent size advantage over the Wildcats and are certainly a much better rebounding team. The Wildcats average 64 possessions per game (UW averages 71), but only average 29 rebounds per game (UW averages about 40). The Huskies need to grab every board in sight. As I have said before, offensive rebounds often lead to open 3-pointers due to a majority of the defensive team crashing the glass, leaving the opposing guards wide open at the top of the key.
  • Play with Attitude – I realize this team thinks they should have been in the NCAA. I’m upset they aren’t as well (look at Cal getting stomped around by USF and tell me why they should have been in ahead of us), but the team did this to themselves and need to suck it up and play with some enthusiasm. They get, potentially, another 4 games together, which is essential with such a large number of freshmen gracing the roster. This team does not have the swagger and poise of last year’s squad, but that doesn’t mean they can’t come out with some ambition and emotion. I am tired of slow starts and effortless play that leads to large first half deficits. I’d like to see the Dawgs take a 10 point lead early in the first half. They haven’t done that in god knows how long…

Final Thoughts:

This will be a tough match-up. With Shurna likely being guarded by Gant, N’Diaye could be forced to guard a player standing at a mere 6-5 or smaller. What this tells me is we could see a 4 guard line-up for extended periods of time to adjust. I would not be surprised to see C.J. Wilcox in the starting 5 instead of N’Diaye.

N’Diaye has struggled with fouls in the past 5 or 6 games and tends to foul smaller players much more often. The big question is how will our team respond without our enforcer in the middle?

Throughout this season, the Dawgs have struggled to prevents drives without N’Diaye scaring off opponents so my confidence is not high in regards to this technique.

This is a winnable game. The Dawgs play well at home and may be somewhat motivated for a potential “Elite” 8 match-up against Oregon, who thoroughly embarrassed the Dawgs down in Eugene.
Final Score Prediction: UW-76 NW-69

Go Dawgs