Did you watch Northwestern choke in Ann Arbor on Wednesday? Well then, you know they can’t close a deal.
Did you watch Illinois cough up a 15-point second-half lead on Tuesday? Well, then you know they can’t close a deal either.
Did you watch Northwestern choke against Michigan State on January 15? Well then you know they can’t finish against Michigan State.
And neither can the Illini. And like Illinois, Northwestern won because MSU choked worse.
Last year’s game at Evanston was one of the strangest college basketball games ever played. The ‘Cats scored 43 points in the first half, and 13 in the second. They led by 15 and lost by 25.
Boo Buie was 0-6 from the field, dished a single assist and booted the ball twice. He garnered four fouls in fifteen minutes of tick.
Six weeks later in Champaign, Buie shot 4-of-9 from the field, scoring nine points. Again one assist. Again two turnovers. But in that much closer game (a 73-66 Illini win), Buie’s 15 minutes produced FIVE personal fouls.
Buie didn’t play in the ‘Cats best recent performance against the Illini, the too close for comfort 75-71 Illini win of January 2020. That game (in Champaign) saw lots of Pat Spencer, the gritty 5th-year transfer who spent his first four years playing lacrosse. Remember that guy?
Then, two years ago at Evanston, Buie shot 4-12 (0-5 arc) in a 74-66 loss, again tallying four fouls, but this time in a reasonable 33 minutes.
Boo Buie, Northwestern’s leader & best player, has been terrible to invisible against Illinois.
A reversion to the mean isn’t necessarily in the cards for Boo. After all, the defensive nemeses who shut frustrated him in the past are still playing for Illinois.
But you feel like he might possibly have a better shooting night for once. Like Alfonso Plummer, he doesn’t need a lot of time or space to get his shot off.
The ‘Cats top scorer is Pete Nance, whose recent success makes you wonder why he plays for Northwestern. His dad was an NBA all-star. Surely he could have gone to a school with academic chops that also knows how to play basketball?
Basketball purists will appreciate the Nance development. He averaged 13 minutes per game as a freshman, on a team that starred Dererk Pardon and Vic Law. But Nance was also behind fellow “First-Year” Miller Kopp, who finally gave up on The Evanston Dream and became Indiana’s worst starter. Despite the pedigree, Chris Collins didn’t rush the Nance development. Pete’s numbers have increased & improved each year.
Pete will encounter Da’Monte Williams tomorrow. If he’s successful against Da’Monte, bully for him. Sometimes it’s nice to root for the underdog.
The pivot is a point of concern with Kofi Cockburn’s status uncertain. Northwestern’s bigs are Ryan Young, who doesn’t start, and Robbie Beran, who does. These guys combine for about 40 minutes and a little more than 5 fouls per game.
Young is considered the more dynamic offensive option, and that’s why Northwestern sucks so much. He’s the last guy you’d want handling the ball with a game on the line. Bad decisions, alligator arms, easily flustered.
If he scores 26 points on 10-14 shooting in a Wildcats win, you can assume this season is, in fact, cursed.
But here’s the thing: All these Wildcats are older and more experienced than they were during any previous game against Illinois. Until the clock reaches 00:00 and the Illini have more points, there’s no reason not to worry about the outcome.