📵At Northwestern, polar opposites exist simultaneously

Plus, a little football nugget for you.

After a week when we got to be blissfully ignorant of the Northwestern men’s basketball team and this increasingly hard-to-write newsletter, we’re back.

And nothing has changed.

The men’s team crapped the bed again in a road loss at Rutgers before getting blown out at home by Michigan.

All the while, the women’s team returned from their week off to continue a march towards a potential Big Ten title.

And, later in the newsletter, I’ll throw a little football in there for you as a treat (if you can call it that).

Hey, at least we got this blessed image:

Let’s blame some things.

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📵Blame the desire for something positive

Each time I watch the Northwestern men’s team play, I search, hopelessly, for something positive on to which I can latch.

For most of the season, it’s been Miller Kopp. More shots for one of the Big Ten’s best shooters! I’m keeping my real estate on Kopp Island, but it may or may not be listed on Airbnb now.

Then there were the few weeks in December when Boo Buie emerged to get me all jazzed up. Because Chris Collins’ offensive sets are, well, um, not the most innovative nor effective, Northwestern will need a shot-creating guard to keep the team’s head above water as long as Collins is calling the shots. For now, at least, Buie is too inefficient to make a consistent positive impact. And while that’s normal for a freshman guard, it doesn’t make me feel great right now.

So, the hunt continues.

Benching Pete Nance was a good move. But I feel like Robbie Beran has been playing worse without Nance on the floor as much, which also stinks.

What can we have to look at over the next few weeks?

Despite how Beran has kind of faded over the past couple games without Nance to take on the more physical opposing wing threat on the defensive end, the lineup of Pat Spencer, Buie, Kopp, Beran and Ryan Young has been really the only main lineup of consequence that’s been a net positive for the Wildcats.

That group, according to NatStat, has been a net positive on a per possession basis. Maybe with more time it can grow into something?

I mean, I find it wild that Collins has just discovered that you can have two ball-handlers on the court at the same time. He’s doing it pretty often now, with two of Spencer, Buie, and Ryan Greer sharing the court for more minutes over the past couple games than they have all season.

When you have so little shot creation from your highest volume shooter (Kopp), and the offense you run doesn’t do much to manufacture open looks without relying on a defensive breakdown, having guys that can dribble can go an awful long way.

In short, dribbling. I’m excited for more dribbling. Ugh.

📵Blame nothing

Nine wins in 10 games has the Northwestern women’s team positioned as the polar opposite of its male counterparts.

They’re near the top of the Big Ten.

The Wildcats had to battle against Michigan last night, but good thing they have Veronica Burton, who put them ahead for good late in the game for a 66-60 win.

With Lindsey Pulliam having an off night, Burton (who I think is more indispensable than Pulliam), controlled the game masterfully.

Joe McKeown relies on his starters a lot. That group (Pulliam, Burton, Sydney Wood, Abi Scheid, and Abbie Wolf) has played way more than any other other five-woman grouping on the roster. And they’ve been damn good. It’s been one of the better lineups in the country this season.

That group is outscoring its opponents by about 30 points per 100 possessions, according to NatStats. That’s just bonkers.

Northwestern closes Big Ten play with five games in which they should be the favored team. The Wildcats sit a half game back of Maryland right now, who play three of their final four games on the road.

📵Blame returning “production”

Remember those stats I was quoting during football season to showcase Northwestern’s per-down weighted efficiency and all that nonsense. Well, the 2020 projections of SP+ are now out and, woo boy, it’s pretty entertaining.

OK, so Bama’s back atop the rankings, with Ohio State close behind.

But where’s Northwestern?

In the context of the country, ESPN’s Bill Connelly has Northwestern ranked No. 50. Not bad! The defense is rated No. 17. The offense? 110th.

Looking at the Big Ten, Northwestern is the 11th-best team, rated higher than the vaunted trio of Illinois, Maryland, and Rutgers.

In the Big Ten West, Northwestern sits next-to-last. The ratings see the division in two tiers. There’s the top tier with Wisconsin (9), Minnesota (20), Nebraska (25), and Iowa (29). And there’s the bottom tier of Purdue (46), Northwestern (50), and Illinois (61).

You might think that No. 50 is pretty high for Northwestern. And, frankly, I agree with you, especially after ending last year ranked 91st based on the metric.

The reason: returning “production.”

One of the “major factors” in the ratings, this metric is a weighted calculation of how much of a previous season’s productive players are returning. And, guess what?

Northwestern projects to have the most “production” returning in the country. The metric indicates 88% of Northwestern’s offensive production is back for another action-packed season in Evanston in 2020. (On defense, it’s 80%.)

But, as we all saw during a season that feels like a lifetime ago, that might not be such a good thing.

That’s where we’ll end things this week. Thanks for sticking with another edition of 📵Blame the Phones.

And remember, if you want to be one my bag people, it’s here.

Please let me know if you have any questions or ideas. I’d love to hear them.

Take care,
Josh Rosenblat