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Of Boards and Men

January 7, 2009  |  By Benjamin Miraski

In the process of applying for a real job yesterday afternoon, I had to write a short article on a subject with a local angle.

That shouldn't be a problem when the subject is Northwestern sports.

So I wrote it.

Three hundred glorious words on why Northwestern men's basketball is struggling now that conference season has started because of rebounds.

Heck, I should just let you read it yourself:

The Northwestern men’s basketball team is no stranger to a 0-2 start in the Big Ten. It just doesn’t usually come after an 8-2 non-conference slate.

Yet that is the position that the only team in the six major conferences to never make the NCAA tournament finds itself in as it prepares for the next opponent in the Big Ten gauntlet, Wisconsin.

While victories out of conference over Florida State and DePaul had fans and the media thinking that history might be made, perhaps the celebration began a bit too early.

The truth was that Northwestern matched up fairly well against the Seminoles and Blue Demons. But once the conference season began, Northwestern was suddenly outsized by the upperclassmen at Penn State and Michigan State.

The result?

Northwestern got out-boarded 46-24 and 47-28. Even worse, both opponents hauled in more than 15 offensive rebounds.

It is hard to win when you can’t stop the other team’s second-chances.

Much of the same might be in store when the Wildcats take to the road against Wisconsin on Wednesday. While Northwestern has trailed in the rebound category, the Badgers have been beating opponents off the glass, including in its most recent victory against Penn State.

Explain how Northwestern is going to deal with Joe Krabbenhoft, who averages 6.8 rebounds a game – a better average than any Wildcat – despite not having anyone matching the Wisconsin senior’s combination of size and speed.

The road through the Big Ten is never easy, especially when you are Northwestern. But things get more difficult when you can’t match up against a bigger opponent.

All signs point to that equaling another 0-3 conference start for Northwestern, its third in a row and the fifth time this decade.

That wasn't my final submission. I made the article even more local looking at how influential John Shurna has been on the team.

Here was a kid who was not highly recruited but is starting as a freshman for a team in the major six conferences, even if that team is Northwestern. That is something to celebrate.

But the rebounding was still a factor in my final submission because the discrepancy is so egregious. And if Northwestern doesn't find a way to stop Wisconsin from outrebounding them, they are going to lose.

It doesn't get any more simple than that.

Apparently I wasn't the only one to pick up on this.

Look at the Chicago Tribune's headline from this morning: "Northwestern needs to improve rebounding ratio in Big Ten games"

And the discrepancy has not been lost on coach Bill Carmody as reported by the Trib:

"We basically showed them a lot of tape," Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. "Situations, the box-outs, this and that, and then really emphasized it yesterday in practice, in the scrimmages and the half-court sets. Everything. Just every single play. We spent a lot of time on it."

So there you have it. Northwestern's next game -- and probably its season, since an 0-3 conference start is not easy to overcome -- all come down to improving on the boards.

I guess that No. 8 start for the Wildcats in the MRI was a fluke after all.

Ben Miraski is a freelance reporter, edits and writes for MRISports.com and is a featured blogger on FanIQ. Readers can contact Ben at bmiraski@mrisports.com


Posted January 7, 2009 10:13 AM