Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Anatomy of a Loss: Northwestern

About eight minutes into the Northwestern game, I was pretty sure Wisconsin was going to win. Charlie Thomas had just hit a three, and the Badgers were up 14-6. Northwestern had been garbage on offense, relying on floaters and whatnot, which were predictably missing.

The Badgers would go on to score just 8 points on their next 19 possessions, and head into halftime down 31-22 thanks to a three-point barrage from Northwestern (including one lucky bank shot). How did this happen?

The main narrative coming out of the game was that Northwestern's aggressive double-teaming of Ethan Happ shut the Badgers down. This is true in a sense, but the real truth is that the Badgers just didn't make Northwestern pay. Happ was good, really good, the rest of the first half in handling the double teams. Problem was, the rest of the team did nothing. Let's break it down.

Possession number 1: Now up 14-8, Trice tries an ill-advised drive and misses badly. Vitto Brown corrals the long rebound, however. Eventually he gets an open 3:

Possession number 2: After another McIntosh miss, Charlie Thomas passes cross-court to Koenig for a relatively open three, which he misses. Note that Thomas's pass is low, which throws Koenig out of rhythm:

Possession number 3: The Badgers still lead 14-8 after McIntosh misses again. Happ is back in the game and gets aggressively doubled. He finds Koenig cross-court, again he misses. Again, the pass left something to be desired, so you could credit the double team for that.

Possession number 4: Hayes gets called for a ridiculous phantom double dribble after the post-entry pass is deflected. Inexcusably bad officiating. The kind of stuff that makes you embarrassed to be a fan of the sport.

Possession number 5: Another open 3 for Brown, this time he gets the shooter's roll.

Possession number 6: One of the evening's more depressing possessions, as Koenig fumbles a rebound out of bounds. I don't know if this counted as an official turnover or just a team rebound for Northwestern, but it was a harbinger of things to come.

 Possession number 7: Another turnover, this time Showalter trying to find a cutting Hayes.

Possession number 8: This will be the only shot Ethan Happ takes in this slideshow, and it's from the top of the key. He had the line, I guess.

Possession number 9: With the shot clock running down, Nigel pulls up for a long two and banks it in. Not pretty. But note that the Badgers have now extended their lead to 7 points while scoring 5 points in 9 possessions. Still had to feel pretty good at this point, as Northwestern had scored just 12 points in 12 minutes, and you had to figure Wisconsin would snap out of their doldrums soon.

Possession number 10: After a Northwestern 3, Ethan Happ turns it over trying to find Brown before the double team arrives.

Possession number 11: This was when the game really turned. On their possession, Northwestern hit a tough two point jumper and Showalter was called for a foul for boxing out too hard on the made basket. This is a call that is pretty much never made, particularly against a home team. Really weird. So Northwestern got a make-it-take-it possession, and capitalized with another bucket to tie the game after a 4-point possession. How do the Badgers attempt to take back control? Charlie Thomas in the post.

Possession number 12: Game still tied, but Northwestern played great D on this possession (with Koenig and Happ resting) and Trice turns it over late in the shot clock.

Possession number 13: Now things are starting to slip away, as Northwestern hits another three and the Badgers again turn to Charlie Thomas to stem the tide. Alas, no.

Possession number 14: After another Northwestern 3, the Badgers again get nothing on offense. Hayes tries to create off the dribble at the end of the shot clock, but mostly is trying to draw a foul. Fruitlessly, it turns out.

Possession number 15: Northwestern has now hit three straight threes and scored 16 points on 6 possessions to take a 28-19 lead. Badgers get an open three for Showalter but he comes up short.

Possession number 16: Happ beats a weak double team and finds Showalter for another open 3, this time he nails it.

Possession number 17: Happ finds Koenig for a nice open 3, but Bronson just doesn't have it tonight.

Possession number 18: Happ again finds an open man, Hayes, but he can't score.


This is the moment when it started to seem pretty likely the Badgers would lose. Northwestern goes "2 for 1" at the end of the half, which consists of McIntosh chucking up a prayer, that gets answered by the backboard. Backbreaker. 

Possession number 18: The final possession of this sad stretch. And so it ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Here's one fun thing that happened during this stretch:

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