NU has only played 7 games up to this point, well below the national average, so it is a bit hard to make definitive claims, but it still appears Northwestern is a very good team, particularly on the offensive front. So far, the 'Cats have put up 80.0 points per game, good for 24th nationally (out of 346 teams) and first in the Big Ten. They have also shot .507 from the field, good for 5th in the country, and they are third in the country in adjusted field goal percentage (a measure that weights the value of 3-point shots) with a .595, behind only Kansas and Georgetown. It can be argued that these outstanding statistics are due only to the defensive weakness of Northwestern's opponents, but the Wildcats put up 91 against Georgia Tech, whose defense has otherwise been fairly solid. And even if these numbers are bolstered by weak competition, they are still rather remarkable. So the 'Cats are clearly having a good offensive year, but what factors have led them to be just as good as they are?
- John Shurna: Shurna has been All-American quality good so far this season. It is difficult to explain just how much he has contributed to the team. He has dropped 23.7 points per game, 9th best in the country, despite having fewer shot attempts per game than anyone else in the top 35 in scoring. This is due in large part to an unreal shooting percentage. Shurna has knocked down an almost unbelievable 64.3% of his shots. The only other perimeter players with even remotely comparable shooting percentages are Kyle Cassity of St. Louis and Ayron Hardy of Jacksonville with .627 and .622 shooting percentages respectively. He also holds an insane .622 3-pointer percentage, 4th best in the country, while averaging more attempts per game than anyone else in the top 20. Add his 3.1 assists per game, 4.7 rebounds per game, 1.4 steals per game, and 1 block per game, and it begins to become clear just how valuable this guy is.
- Michael "Juice" Thompson: The other half of "John and Juice" and the 'Cats' only senior starter, Juice is an extremely important part of the team. By far the best ball handler on the team, Juice has started driving to the basket more this year, making him an increasingly dangerous part of the offense. While his perimeter shooting is down a bit this year (.396 behind the arc), he still can be extremely dangerous if left open, and his overall shooting percentage is at a career high of .494. His 16.3 ppg and 4.6 apg are also at career highs.
- Drew Crawford: Crawford has been somewhat off and on this season, and seems to still be trying to figure out his role, but when he is good, he is very good. He sometimes seems to take too many outside shots and is averaging only .313 behind the arc, so he should probably back off many of these. He has otherwise been very solid with a .457 FG% and 13.9 ppg.
- Luka Mirkovic: I really don't know whether to say Luka has been good or bad this year. He frequently looks very sloppy, but his production has to be evaluated as being at least decent. He is averaging only 6.9 ppg, but he is shooting .500 and turning the ball over rarely, with a very good 2.43 assists per turnover. His 7.0 rebounds per game are also well over his career average. While the center position will not be Northwestern's strong suit, and Luka may not be the Wildcats' greatest asset, he has not been a liability.
- Ball Movement/Control: The 'Cats this year have played smart, safe basketball, picking up loads of assists while protecting the ball. Northwestern's 17.6 assists per game is 12th best in the country, while their 10.6 turnovers per game is 8th best in the country. This leaves their assist to turnover ratio at 1.66, 3rd best in the nation.
- Rebounds: Northwestern's 31 rebounds per game leaves them at 320th in the nation and dead last in the Big 10. This clearly is a bad stat, and no matter how I spin it, it is not good. However, I can come to the 'Cats' defense a bit. Northwestern is actually outrebounding their opponents, who are average 30.9 rebounds per game. To put it simply, there are not many rebounds to get in 'Cats games due to a lack of missed shots. Because the 'Cats don't miss many shots, they average only 8 offensive rebounds per game.
- Opponent Field Goal Percentage: Opponents have shot .436 against Northwestern, leaving the NU defense 210th in this category. Fortunately, coverage behind the arc has been somewhat better, as opponents have shot .323 for threes, leaving NU 125th in this category.
- Steals: Northwestern has 8 steals per game, which is by no means a bad number, but Northwestern runs primarily a 1-3-1 defense. This is a defense predicated around forcing turnovers, so you know the 'Cats want this number to improve.
- Free Throws: The 'Cats are shooting .694 from the line, which, again, is not a terrible number, but you would expect better from such a good shooting team.
Northwestern tonight will be playing the Terriers of St. Francis, a private, 2,300-person school from New York. The Terriers have an RPI of 172, compared to Northwestern's of 51. They are a 6-3 team averaging 65.3 ppg, while allowing 61.7 ppg. Their shooting has been well below Northwestern standards at .420 from the floor and .341 from behind the arc, but they have slightly outrebounded the 'Cats with 31.2 per game. The Terriers have a lousy .74 assist to turnover ratio but have a pretty decent 8.2 steals per game. By all accounts, this should be an easy Wildcat victory, and I would expect Northwestern to win by 20.
One final note: I have gotten way behind on blogging. There are a lot of things I want to cover that I just haven't gotten around to and likely may not. If there is anything any of y'all want me to discuss, let me know in the comments, and I'll try to get to it. I'm curious what you all want to read about.