When Davide Curletti showed up at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Saturday, he had no idea what his role would be, let alone if he would start.
“We were going to go small with John (Shurna) at center, but we weren’t too sure if Drew (Crawford, who was sick with the stomach flu) was going to play or not,” coach Bill Carmody said. “It was just a gametime decision to go with Davide.”
It turned out to be a good decision for Carmody, even though it happened due to a fluke, as Curletti was outstanding in what was essentially a breakout game, scoring 17 points and grabbing six rebounds in 36 minutes.
Even more impressive was Curletti’s hustle and physicality down low against Draymond Green, one of the best forwards in the Big Ten.
“Curletti was the difference in the game, if you ask me,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “He hit a three and made a bunch of free throws early. He’s the one that snagged those (rebounds) when we had them, and he took them and scored on them.”
Amidst all the praise, Curletti even earned a new nickname from his coach — “Energizer Bunny Curletti,” Carmody called him after the game.
It’s a fitting nickname, given the spark that Curletti created in his second career start.
“I try to be the energy guy whenever I can in practice, in games, on bench, at all times,” Curletti said.
But Curletti was more than an emotional spark for the Cats; he finally gave them an option at the five-position that wasn’t a liability, which is necessary for Carmody’s offense to work.
Curletti was a threat to shoot from anywhere on the floor — he had a three, a dunk and a number of layups near the basket. That forced Michigan State to give him attention and respect his shooting abilities from anywhere on the floor.
With extra attention focused on Curletti, NU was able to move the ball to get other players open for threes or backdoor cuts. The “throw up threes” offense that Northwestern fans have become accustomed to seeing was nowhere to be found Saturday night, due to Curletti’s effectiveness.
Curletti’s emergence is also important in that it allowed Carmody to make a lineup change, but keep all of his players at their natural positions. In NU’s game against Michigan, Carmody placed Shurna at the five, which was an uncomfortable position for him.
Having a natural five-man like Curletti allows every other player to stay in his typical position, and thus be more effective.
“It is fun when you play well like that,” Curletti said. “Helping other guys is a great feeling, especially with us, because our offense is built around each other.”
After two close losses in a row — by two at home to Illinois and in overtime at Michigan — NU was able to put together a complete 40 minutes, this time with Curletti playing 36.
Consistency will be key for the Cats down the stretch, as there is still a long way to go. However, the future of NU’s big men is looking up for the first time in a while.
It will continue on the uptick as long as “Energizer Bunny Curletti” can build on Saturday’s performance.