The Big Ten had one team in Northwestern in action Thursday night where they defeated Valparaiso by 34 points
The Wildcats raced out to an early 30-13 lead off of a hot shooting start while also forcing ten first half turnovers. The Wildcats also used runs of 17-1 and 20-2 to route the Crusaders out of Rosemont, Ill.
Northwestern held at least a 20 point lead throughout the final 20 minutes on their way to an 84-50 victory. Let’s see what we learned from the Wildcats’s second straight win in dominating fashion.
Vic Law is Northwestern’s best shooter
Coming into the season, I stated that if Northwestern had plans to make their second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, it would rest on the shoulders of their senior point guard Bryant McIntosh. That still could be true. However this season he has a partner in crime that may be more important to the Wildcats and that is junior forward Vic Law.
Let’s face it, McIntosh has not improved his numbers a significant amount from last season. He is making 40 percent from the field, the same as last season, and is making five percent more of his three-point attempts at 35 percent for the year. That last three contests have been a struggle for him as he is just 8 for 21 from the field and 2 for 11 from behind the arc while not scoring in double figures since his 14 points against Purdue on Dec 3.
Law on the other hand has made a momentous improvement shooting the ball from last year. He is making 48 percent of his shots from the field compared to just 40 percent last season and has shot 41 percent from behind the arc compared to 39 percent in 2016-17. Even more importantly, Law has scored in double figures six straight games and has missed only one three-pointer during that span.
Law may not continue his scorching stretch shooting the ball, but if he can continue to score in double figures, that bodes well for Northwestern’s NCAA Tournament chances.
Wildcats defense continues its upward trend
Northwestern has not played stellar competition the last two games in Chicago State and Valpo. Regardless of the fact they have given up a total of 81 points combined in those games. For some teams, that is what they give up on a consistent basis.
Thursday against the Crusaders, the Wildcats once again had a suffocating defense that forced Valpo into shooting just 39 percent from the field. More impressively, Northwestern forced over 20 turnovers for the second straight game (25 vs. Chicago State, 21 vs. Valpo).
The Wildcats have four non-conference games remaining before re-entering conference play. They likely wont force over 20 turnovers in each of those games, but continuing their high-level of intensity of the defensive end of the court will certainly help going into the Big Ten portion of their schedule.
Did Northwestern fix their shooting woes?
Northwestern have been a mediocre shooting team through their first 11 games, especially behind the arc. Heading into Thursday’s game against Valpo, the Wildcats were ranked 172nd out of the 352 division one teams in three-point shooting percentage, making just 35 percent of their attempts.
Thursday night, Northwestern shot the ball as if they were a completely different team. Their 55 percent three-point shooting percentage (12 of 22) far exceeded their season average and played a huge role in the helping the Wildcats jump out to an early lead.
Northwestern hit seven of their first eight shots behind the arc with Law being an offensive catalyst by hitting his first four attempts. With games at DePaul and Oklahoma coming up in the next nine days, Northwestern could use more consistent shooting like they had against the Crusaders on Thursday.
Its not saying much but Northwestern’s victory against Valpo is their most noteworthy win of their season thus far. They have failed on numerous early season chances to notch a resume worthy win but have another opportunity in the near future when they play Oklahoma on Dec 22.
In a tough road environment, the Wildcats will need to continue to get high production out of Law, continue to shooting at a more consistent level from behind the arc, and continue to their high-level of defense, especially against one of the best freshman in college basketball in Trae Young.