Northwestern has lost two conference games this season: Michigan State and Minnesota. The Wildcats lost both games by slim margins. In these games, there were two different scenarios. Against Michigan State, they were four points away from the lead in the second half, but never took it. Against Minnesota, they had the lead and blew it out of a timeout in the second half.
Why is this happening? How can it be solved?
Let’s take a look.
First, let’s see what happened in the games to explain what went wrong.
Northwestern at Michigan State
Northwestern was down 36-29 at the half, but the lead was cut to four to open the second half on a Sanjay Lumpkin three. Michigan followed with a run and then Northwestern came back. With 11:29 to go in the second half, they had the lead cut to four again. It was 48-44 on a Sanjay Lumpkin layup in the paint.
There was a timeout, after the timeout, sloppy play came from both teams. Northwestern went on a scoring drought that lasted over 7 minutes. During that time, Michigan State scored to create a nine-point lead. Northwestern played poor defense in those 6 minutes. They fouled, they missed shots, and took contested ones early in the shot clock in an effort to score.
It seemed as though they played with urgency and lost their defensive effort because they were afraid they were going to lose.
With Gavin Skelly and Barret Benson in foul trouble, Northwestern played small ball, putting Sanjay at the five and Nate Taphorn at the four. It looked as though there were miss communications on on rebounding and floor spacing, because the Wildcats missed rebounds and didn’t have as much of a presence in the paint.
Northwestern vs. Minnesota
This game was close all through the first half. Northwestern took a 39-35 lead heading in to the half. To open up the second half, the Wildcats went on a seven-point run. With 15:49 to go, Northwestern had 43-36 lead.
Rick Pitino called a timeout and the Gophers came back to score 10 straight points to take back the lead. Northwestern never recovered and lost 70-66 after Nate Mason made crucial free throws down the stretch
What Northwestern Struggles With
Turning the Ball Over
- When other teams go on runs, it’s partially attributed to turning the ball over
- The players try to make crafty passes instead of smart ones
- When opposing teams take Northwestern out of their offense or drive them off the three-point line, they struggle finding ways to drive and attack the basket
- This is especially true if something worked offensively in the game and the opposing team makes a change to try and stop it from working
Committing Bad Fouls
- Northwestern struggles with committing unnecessary fouls during close games
- They struggle to play good defense and send opposing teams to the line in times when they can’t afford to
What Northwestern Can Do To Improve
Handle the Ball Better in the Final Minutes
Northwestern only has two primary ball handlers: Bryant McIntosh and Isiah Brown. They need to find more guys who can be reliable with taking care of the ball in the final minutes when it gets taken out of the hands of their point guard on the floor. Whether this means communicating better, moving around the floor, or playing two point guards at one time, the ball needs to be taken care of better
Prepare the Offense
Last year, usually Northwestern could rely on Tre Demps or Alex Olah coming up with a clutch play in the final seconds. This year, Scottie Lindsey has started to become that guy, but Northwestern needs to work on getting their offense out of panic mode and in to working mode in the final minutes to secure a win.
Improve Their Mental Toughness
Coach Collins and the team harp on this a lot, but the team needs to improve their mental toughness to finish out games. They need to believe they can win and make offensive plays to do so. They need to not think about evening the score with a three, that’s losing confidence. Instead, driving in to the lane and attempting to get fouled is more often than not the smarter way to go.
Northwestern has to stop the runs. Against Iowa, they did a great job preventing the Hawkeyes from causing too much damage. These next upcoming games against Ohio State, Indiana, Purdue, Maryland and Wisconsin will be crucial if Northwestern wants to stay in the NCAA conversation. In these games, preventing their opponents from going on runs will be imperative to their success.