BT Powerhouse is reviewing the 2010-11 season for each team, one team each week. This week is Northwestern week.
Go up to a big fan of college basketball, any fan at all, and ask them what they think of the Northwestern Wildcats, and the chances are good that the first thing to come up will be that no Northwestern team has ever been to the NCAA Tournament.
Yes, the other purple Wildcats have never, ever, ever, ever... ever (OK, I'll stop) been to the Big Dance, and even though a 9-1 start to the season got the Wildcats some praise from people around the college basketball world, they once again were exposed in Big Ten play, and finished the regular season at 7-11 in the conference.
An overtime loss to eventual Big Ten Champion Ohio State would effectively end the Wildcats' bid for a spot in the field of 68, but they would, however, get two wins in the NIT before losing a close game to Washington St. in the quarterfinals.
Now it's time to look at the Wildcats season by the numbers. All stats are obtained from Statsheet and Ken Pomeroy. Check them out after the jump!
Northwestern University Wildcats
Overall Record: 20-14
Conference Record: 7-11
Final Conference Standing: 8th
Home Record: 13-4
Away Record: 5-9
Neutral Court Record: 2-1
Record Against Top 25 at end of year: 0-5
Overtime Record: 0-3
Largest Winning Margin: 43 points vs SIU-Edwardsville
Largest Losing Margin: 32 points vs Wisconsin
Best Win: vs Illinois #46 end of year RPI
Worst Loss: Minnesota #81 end of year RPI
Northwestern started their year off 9-1 in the non-conference part of the season, but their only notable wins were against Georgia Tech (#161 in RPI) and Creighton (#118 in RPI), and their one loss was a 16 point loss to St. John's, their only "real" opponent of note. Their non-con SOS was #286 in the KenPom rankings, which is, well, not very strong at all.
Their weak early schedule led to their downfall in Big Ten play. Despite the 7-11 record, however, the Wildcats were mostly competitive during the conference season against the middle-to-lower tier Big Ten teams.
While seven of the eleven losses were by double digits, the teams giving the beat-downs were all NCAA tournament teams outside of Minnesota, a team that was still ranked when they beat Northwestern by eleven. The other four losses were also to NCAA Tournament teams; two losses to Michigan State by three points at home and four on the road in overtime, a nine point loss to Michigan, and a one point loss to #1 Ohio State at home. Northwestern's seven wins came against two tournament teams (Michigan and Illinois) and then the Big Ten cellar, with two wins against Iowa, Indiana, and Minnesota.
In the end, Northwestern was very much a team that could have got an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament at the end of the year. Hypothetically, if they had beaten Michigan State once and upset Ohio State along the way, they would be sitting at a 9-9 conference record before getting their win in the Big Ten Tournament win against Minnesota and losing a close one to OSU. It certainly would be enough to put them on the bubble, and if they somehow managed to sweep Michigan State, they could have been in the Big Dance for the first time while the Spartans watched at home. Now that would have been crazy.
Maybe the Wildcats can pull it together and make it to the promised land in the near future, but this season may very well be looked back upon as one of what-ifs and missed opportunities.
Team Statistics in Conference Play (Rank in parenthesis)
Possessions per 40 minutes: 64.2 (7th)
Points per possession: 1.06 (6th)
Rebound %: 46.2 (10th)
Assist %: 66.2 (1st)
Turnover %: 15.3 (9th)
True Shooting %: 53.9 (2nd)
Points Scored Per Game: 66.4 (5th)
Points Scored Against Per Game: 71.1 (9th)
Fouls On NW Per Game: 17.8 (3rd)
Ball Control Index: 2.38
Northwestern played fairly sound on offense with their Princeton style and good 3-point shooting (they ranked 4th nationally in 3-point FG% at 39.2), which led to some fairly big scoring outputs against lesser opponents. Northwestern's biggest downfall was rebounding the basketball, which was one of their single biggest weaknesses. The Wildcats simply couldn't hold their own on the boards against the more athletic teams in the Big Ten.
Taking note of Northwestern's wins against better rebounding teams such as Illinois and Minnesota (who NW beat twice to end the season) is the fact that the Wildcats were out-rebounded in all three wins, but won the battles of 3-point shooting, free throws, and ball control. In short, Northwestern had to out-shoot opponents to win, and that did not happen enough.
Individual Statistical Leaders in Conference Games
Minutes played per game: Michael Thompson, 37.3
Points per game: John Shurna, 16.6
Rebounds per game: Luke Mirkovic, 5.2
Assists per game (at least ten games played): Michael Thompson, 4.3
Steals per game (at least ten games played): Michael Thompson, 1.4
Blocks per game: John Shurna, 0.9
Northwestern may be losing the two players that mattered most during the 2010/2011 season in Michael Thompson and John Shurna. Thompson is 100% gone since he was a senior, but Shurna has recently declared for the NBA Draft without an agent, meaning that if he changes his mind he can come back to school for his senior season, if he does so by a deadline in May.
Shurna's decision may very well factor into Northwestern's chances at making it to the Big Dance next season, which will likely look slim even if Shurna decides to play in a Wildcats uniform for one more season. If he does, he will likely be expected to shoulder the majority of the scoring load with Drew Crawford, who averaged 12 points per game during his sophomore season.
It would take a lot for Northwestern to get to a third straight 20 win season, and even more to make the NCAA Tournament instead of the NIT (better rebounding and big man play some to mind first), and they'll have to replace a great player in Michael Thompson, possibly two if John Shurna does not come back for his senior season, but anything is possible. If Northwestern can find ways to win tight games against the big boys down the stretch, they just might dance for the very first time in 2012.