Northwestern's 85-67 NIT second-round win at Boston College has earned the Wildcats a trip to Pullman, Washington for a quarterfinal meeting with Washington State.
The victory over BC makes this arguably Northwestern’s most successful season ever.
Five Wildcats scored in double figures in the victory over the Eagles. The Wildcats used a 15-4 run, spanning the halves, in NU's deepest postseason tournament run in school history.
NU’s Balanced Offense the Difference.
NU’s starters played all but 27 minutes. Michael Thompson and John Shurna led the offense. Shurna scored 20-points, had nine rebounds and four assists. Center Luka Mirkovic had arguably his best game with 13-points, five rebounds and seven assists. Drew Crawford scored-13 and Alex Marcotuli finished with a dozen.
Since being inserted into the starting lineup, Alex Marcotulio has stepped up his game. Marcotulio is averaging only 5.9-PPG on the season, but 12.4-points over the last five games. Against BC, Marcotulio scored 12-points, shot 3-of-8 on three pointers and grabbed four rebounds.
After missing the previous five games with a hip injury, Jershon Cobb returned and played 10 minutes. Cobb’s minutes are expected to increase against Washington State. Cobb didn’t score but contributed two rebounds and one assist.
Thompson Turning It On.
Michael Thompson has turned it on as the games have become more important.
In the Wildcats' last eight games, Thompson is averaging 21.6-PPG and shooting 47.1 percent from three-point range. He has also made 33 consecutive free throws.
Shurna Continues To Surge.
After struggling in the middle of the season with injuries, John Shurna has returned to his early-season form. In his last three games, the junior forward is averaging 22.6-PPG and 6.0-RPG. He is shooting 53.3 percent from the floor, 78.5 percent from the line and has connected on 37.5 percent of his tries beyond the arc.
If he scores at least 12-points against Washington State, Shurna will break Evan Eschmeyer’s two-season Northwestern scoring record with 1,154 points.
Defense and Rebounding.
A problem all season long, NU’s defense and rebounding more than held their own at BC.
BC shot 52.2 percent from the floor, but made just 5-of-15 on three-point attempts. The Wildcats out-rebounded Boston College 27-18. BC’s leading scorer Reggie Jackson was first-team All-ACC, but the Wildcats were able to hold him to just eight points on 2-of-8 shooting including 0-of-3 from downtown.
Scouting Washington State.
The Cougars have advanced to the NIT quarterfinals with home wins over Long Beach State and Oklahoma State.
After playing a more deliberate offense in the Tony Bennett era, the Cougars play up-tempo under Ken Bone. They average 73.5 PPG on the season, 51st in Division 1. In the NIT, the Cougars have scored 159-points in two games, and given up just 138. They are also a good shooting team, hitting on 46.1 percent of their field goal attempts, good enough for 56th nationally. The Cougars rank just 201st in rebounding.
Wazzu is led by junior guard Klay Thompson, who finished the season ranked eighth nationally in scoring at 22.1 PPG. Thompson has 46-points in his first two NIT games. Thompson also led the Cougars in assists and steals. Faisal Aden and DeAngelo Castro are the only other Cougars that score in double figures.
Washington State announced on Tuesday that Castro has been suspended because of a violation of team rules. Casto is the team’s leading rebounder at 6.8 RPG. The next closest Cougar on the boards is Thompson at 5.2 rebounds per game. Brock Motum and Abe Lodwick are likely to get the bulk of Casto’s minutes at forward. They combined for 26-points and 10 boards in the win over the Cowboys.
In the win over Oklahoma State, Washington State got to the line and converted. The Cougars made 22 of 26 free throws, making up for a 41 percent shooting night from the floor against OSU.
Northwestern has struggled this season with good shooting teams that can rebound. Washington State ranks 51st in scoring and 54th in field goal percentage. The Cougars are just 201st in rebounding, a factor that should help the Wildcats.
Klay Thompson should be able to get his points, but without Casto, the Cougars are likely to struggle inside. Motum has shown flashes this season, but can break out with the opponent able to game plan for him. The 6’10" Aussie has proven he can score with eight double-digit scoring outings this season, but he is yet to reach double figures in rebounds.
Casto’s suspension will force Wazzu to lean more on Thompson. With Shurna and Michael Thompson both playing at a high level, Northwestern matches up well with the Cougars.
If the Wildcats can continue 5to play good defense and rebound, they have a great chance to advance to their first NIT Final Four.