(Editor’s Note: Audio and video of Tom Crean meeting with the media today is available after the jump. Audio of Jordan Hulls, Jeremiah Rivers and Will Sheehey is also available.)
BLOOMINGTON — After 11 years under Bill Carmody, the Northwestern Wildcats are considered some of the foremost practitioners of the Princeton offense in the country. That offense is renown for its disciplined use of back-door cutting and off-ball movement trying to take advantage of slow-reacting defenders.
On the other, Northwestern has attempted fewer 3-pointers only than Wisconsin and Michigan among Big Ten schools, boasts several talented shooters and in its last game against Illinois attempted thirty-eight 3-point field goals.
So as they chase a program-first NCAA Tournament bid, the Wildcats are certainly going to present problems for Indiana, as both teams look for their first Big Ten win of the young conference.
“I don’t know if you can ever just guard those guys one way, because no matter what you think you know, they know it so much more,” IU coach Tom Crean said Saturday, referring to Northwestern’s offensive approach. “They’ve got an answer for everything, and it’s not only the system, it’s the personnel that’s inside of the system. So we’ve got to be really, really locked in to what their strengths are.”
A few thoughts on Northwestern:
+ One of the obvious talking points with Crean and the three players (Jeremiah Rivers, Jordan Hulls, Will Sheehey) was the discipline required to defend the Princeton offense. Rivers’ thoughts were particularly insightful, given that he played in a similar offense at Georgetown. Some pulled quotes:
On the similarity to what he ran at Georgetown: “It’s the same thing. I mean, the play calls are almost the same thing. It’s kind of funny, just eerily similar, principles. Northwestern might have a little more flexibility.”
On his role in helping prepare to defend the Princeton offense: “I’ve been teaching guys tricks of the trade of this thing, kind of what they’re going to do offensively against us. They’re gonna, especially, the first five, 10 minutes of the game, it’s going to be easy to defend the backdoor cuts, because we’re gonna know. But the last five minutes of the first half, you know, beginning of the second half, are we going to be alert and aware to where we can still be able to guard that? That’s what I’m trying to teach them is like, it’s easy to guard in the first five minutes when you’ve got energy, but when we’re tired, when we’ve got our hands on our knees, when we’re standing up, that’s when they’re gonna try to take advantage of us.”
Rivers also had one other comment worth repeating, at least in part. He was referring to Northwestern’s three-game losing streak, and the presumption that Northwestern might be favored: “I know they’ve lost a few in a row, and Indiana is supposed to be their one on Sunday. And it’s good for them to think that, but it’s obviously not anywhere remotely where we’re going to go in there and lay down and be like, ‘Go ahead.’ We’re definitely going in to get this. We’re ready. We’re definitely ready.”
+ The aforementioned 3-point shooting was also discussed prominently. Northwestern likes threes, it shoots them, and in the hands of the right players, they make them at an impressive clip. Of particular note are starters Michael Thompson (39.5 percent) and John Shurna (56.3 percent). Shurna averages better than 20 points per game.
“Yes and he’s not alone,” Crean said when asked about Shurna. “You’ve got a freshman in (JerShon) Cobb that took 19 shots (against Illinois). You’ve got Drew Crawford who leads them in shot attempts. You’ve got Michael Thompson who’s one of the better guards not only in the league, but in the country for doing exactly what needs to be done. He is playing at a high level and making shots.”
+ But while Northwestern possesses an impressive and rather diverse offense, the Wildcats’ defense does leave something to be desired. Carmody’s squad is 10th in the league in scoring defense and last in field goal percentage defense. They are also the only team in the Big Ten with a negative rebound margin (they average less rebounds per game than they allow).
In their last game against Illinois, the Wildcats gave up 88 points, and the Illini shot 70.5 percent from the field. That said, Crean didn’t put much stock in that game.
“Illinois played outstanding. Didn’t miss shots,” he said. “Northwestern missed shots they usually make. We’re not gonna spend a lot of time on that game. We know we’re going to get a great game from them. They’re going to be hungry at home and they’re going to want to come out and redeem themselves, as do we. I think that’s what’s most important.”
+ One last thought from Tom Crean regarding on-court communication and adjustment: “You’ve got to make adjustments on the fly and it can’t just be when the coach calls time-out and it can’t just be from a coach, it’s got to be from the players inside of the game. That’s why having conversations, those hundreds of conversations that you need to have in the course of a game, that’s what communication is. It’s not just watch the pick or ball-screen left, it’s the conversations you need to have and we need to do a better job of that.”