NCC 78- MILLIKIN 65
On the bus after the game, Michelle turned to me and said, "You told me before the season that we'd make the conference tournament, and to be honest, I didn't believe you."
But we did. Tonight's win, combined with losses by Elmhurst and North Park, place us at Carthage this weekend for the tournament semifinals, and word on the street is that Carthage is not thrilled about this. But from our perspective, the matchup is the best we could have hoped for. Carthage is a team we were able to stay with for most of the game in our previous matchups, whereas the other two semifinalists, Wheaton and Illinois Wesleyan--much better suited to play an uptempo game--dismantled us. Carthage may dismantle us too, but their more methodical style gives us a chance to make them uncomfortable, and that's what we plan to do.
As you can see from the numbers, though, the Millikin game was somewhat un-systemlike. We had only 75 shots, the result of committing 29 turnovers (11 of which were traveling calls). We also hit only 4 of 28 three point attempts, and it looks like switching man-to-man is going to be the defense of choice for our conference opponents from now on. Millikin was determined not to give us a clean look from the arc and succeeded admirably.
Switching man-to-man or not, I know from experience that it's well within our capabilities to generate 50+ threes a game, even versus such tight perimeter defense. (Our ONU squad last year averaged 57 3FGAs per game, and we hardly saw anything but switching man-to-man defense all season.) It's clear to me that even after 25 games, our players at NCC still are reluctant to take the quick three, reverting as we did tonight to a more "careful" offensive approach. Apparently, mastering the System is a never ending process as players will always gravitate back towards old, familiar habits.
One clear lesson I've learned this year at NCC is that the key to succeeding with a first year System team is teaching them to truly "go for broke," pushing the tempo to break down the defense (especially off steals and rebounds) to create what Coach A calls a "knockdown three." It's no surprise that at this point in the season, opposing defenses aren't going to give us a clean look from the arc. They can read a stat sheet.
But even when the look isn't perfect, lots of good things happen when a team generates second chances via the offensive glass. Shoot... rebound... shoot... rebound... score... press... steal...score! It's hard to describe, but the System, when it's humming, is like a whirling dervish, a perpetual motion machine. The beauty of the System is that no single component works that well independent of the others... but when everything is clicking, that synergy makes the whole greater than the sum of the parts.
It wasn't pretty tonight, but we are still alive and are taking our high-wire act up to Wisconsin this Friday night to do post-season battle with the conference champions. And if we can create that magical Synergy for just 40 minutes... who knows?