Michael Thompson set a Big Ten Tournament record with 35 points as Northwestern defeated Minnesota 75-65 to advance to the Big Ten Quarterfinals for a matchup with top ranked and tournament number one seed Ohio State.
Cats Pull Away in the Second Half
Northwestern used a 13-1 run to turn a 44-42 deficit into a 55-45 lead. Thompson’s well rounded day also included four rebounds and four assists. The senior point guard didn’t have to do it all for NU to pull out a win. Drew Crawford and Alex Marcotulio combined for 28 points and 12 rebounds and Nick Fruendt unexpectedly contributed seven off the bench. Fruendt had only scored 26 points all season before Thursday.
To defeat the Buckeyes, NU is going to need John Shurna going. John Shurna seemed to be back on track entering the Big Ten Tournament. He averaged 14.6 PPG in his last five regular season games. Shurna managed only two points, but did contribute seven rebounds in the victory over Minnesota. The junior forward shot over 50 percent only once in his last 11 games. He missed the Wildcats one point loss to the Buckeyes in January. If Bill Carmody can get his star going in the Big Ten Quarters than NU might pull the upset in Indy. Shurna missed the first meeting after suffering a concussion in the previous game against Minnesota.
Role Players Stepping Up
In order to stun the college basketball world, Northwestern is going to need one of its role players to step up. Freshman guard Jershon Cobb is still out with a hip injury and its unclear if reserve forward Mike Capocci is recovered from his concussion. Capocci scored a season high 11 in the first meeting with the Buckeyes.
Marcotulio has stepped up in Cobb’s absence. The sophomore guard has 31 points and has shot 41 percent on three-pointers in his last two games.
To counter Sullinger, Luka Mirkovic is going to need to give them some inside scoring. The junior center had a midseason stretch scoring in double figures five times in six games. If Mirkovic can give NU a presence in the paint it will open up the lane and the give the outside shooters more space.
Thompson’s play has picked up as Shurna has struggled with the after affects of the concussion and an injured ankle. Over his last six games, Thompson has average 22 points, 4.2 APG and is shooting 48.8 percent on his three-point attempts.
The play of Freundt and Marcotulio was important as Northwestern was missing backup Mike Capocci to a concussion and starting guard Jershon Cobb to a hip injury. Getting Capocci back for Ohio State will provide NU with some needed depth. Capocci scored 11 against Ohio State earlier this season.
Scouting the Buckeyes
Jared Sullinger has received many of the accolades this season for Ohio State. It has been balance that has fueled the way to 29-2 record and likely number one seed in the NCAA Tournament. Sullinger gives the Buckeyes 17.3 PPG and 9.7 RPG.
The Buckeyes are a balanced team. Four players average in double figures. Sullinger is their leading scorer and rebounder, but they also shoot the ball exceptionally well. Jon Diebler is the Big Ten’s All-Time leader in three point field goals made. He has been scorching of late. The 6’6 senior has connected on 17 of 20 beyond the Arc in his last two games.
As a team, Ohio State shoots 50 percent from the field and 41.9 percent on threes. That puts them third nationally. Diebler’s 51.1 three-point percentage puts him this nationally.
William Buford and David Lighty also shoot the ball wall from beyond the arc. Buford and Lighty are both average in double figures and more than three rebounds and three assists each.
Regular Season Meeting
Ohio State needed a late steal and a free throw by Sullinger to escape Evanston 58-57 in January. Northwestern’s formula to success the last two seasons has been to score more than 70 to win. Against the Buckeyes, they utilized a slower tempo. That limited the amount of possessions.
Rebounding and Defense have hurt Northwestern all season long. In the earlier meeting, the Wildcats actually out-rebounded bigger, more athletic Ohio State 22-18. NU also ran their offense perfectly with 16 assists on 20 made baskets. Ohio State was able shoot efficiently, hitting 56.8 percent of their field goals.
Chances for an Upset
Northwestern has had a few chances for a big upset this season, but they have only come through against then number 24 Illinois in January. That game was a week after losing to Ohio State. With a season that began with high expectations, NU can still give their fans a moment to remember if they upset the Buckeyes.
Dave O’Brien and Dan Dakich will be on the call for the 11:00 AM CST Tip-off on ESPN.