I have to admit that I never expected the Northwestern game in Evanston to be a turning point in our season. I thought it would be a difficult road trip because their unorthodox style of play. Like Michigan, we did not play Northwestern during the 2011 calendar year. Our one game against them last season came on December 31, 2010. That followed a season in which we lost to them in Evanston, but beat them in Indianapolis at the Big Ten Tournament.
The Wildcats, of course, are still looking for that elusive first NCAA Tournament berth, like some trying to find a wetsuit, but they don't know where to look for wetsuits. I want them to get there too, but certainly not at our expense. They had a great start toward it this season by winning the Charleston Classic over LSU and Seton Hall. The Seton Hall victory is still very good at No. 19 in the RPI, as is their home win over Michigan State, but LSU is just the third top 100 team they've beaten at a mediocre 78.
They don't have a bad loss at all. They are still a solid No. 38 in the RPI, so you know they will look to beat Purdue if only to put them a rung higher than us in the Big Ten pecking order. They are only 2-5 in league play so far. Losses to Baylor, Ohio State, Creighton, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota are far from bad. In fact, if they had not lost in overtime at Michigan and by a point at home to Illinois, they would be solidly in the field.
2011-12 Record: 12-7, 2-5 Big Ten
2010-11 Record: 20-14, 7-11 Big Ten
Postseason Result: Lost to Washington State 69-66 (OT) in NIT Quarterfinals
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 120-43
Last Purdue win: 12/31/2010 82-69 at Purdue
Last Northwestern win: 1/16/2010 72-64 in Evanston
Time & TV 4pm on ESPN2
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Once again, the Wildcats are lead by John Shurna, who feels like he is in his 12th year on campus. He leads the Big Ten in scoring at 19.2 points per game, while Drew Crawford is fourth in the conference at 16.9 per game. From there, the scoring drops dramatically to Dave Sobolewski at 7.7 per game. Our good friend Luka Mirkovic, who has never made a mundane first half three-pointer that wasn't cause for wild celebration, is still there at 5.9 points per game. Mirkovic's antics make him the Big Ten leader for Player Most Opposing Fans Want To Punch Dead In The Face, edging out Jordan Hulls.
Reggie Hearn, JerShon Cobb, and Davide Curletti (he of the Dwyane Wade school of first name typos) round out the main rotation. Alex Mercotullio and Nick Freundt will also draw some time. Overall it is your typical Northwestern offense. They average 69 points per game and will either backdoor cut you to death or swing the ball around open for threes.
This is a smart team. They only average 10 turnovers per game and they share the ball at 16 assists per contest. As a team they shoot 37% from three with Shurna and Crawford at 42.5%. That is with Shurna and Crawford each taking the most triples on the team. Our rotations simply have to be better. Mirkovic could wet himself with celebration if we let him become this game's BOMAFUWFWLOFST winner, especially since he is 0 for 10 on the season form deep.
Hearn and Sobolewski all shoot the three very well, so this will be a game that has the potential to shred our perimeter defense. Shurna, Curletti, and Mirkovic are each 6'9" or better, but they aren't typical low post bangers. Northwestern averages a pathetic 30.7 rebounds per game, good for 317th in the nation. If we get out-rebounded it is our own damn fault.
Defensively we will see a variety of zones, so unless we attack the basket or find our shooting touch we are in deep trouble. As I said this week, Terone Johnson, Kelsey Barlow, Anthony Johnson, and Lewis Jackson need to have their license to shoot jump shots revoked. AJ, TJ, and LewJack should be able to drive with impunity, so that needs to be a priority. John Hart and Ryne Smith could thrive on the perimeter if they drive and kick out too.
Travis Carroll could be in line for a big game offensively if we get him the ball off screen and rolls, but he has got to watch the back door on cuts. Sandi Marcius is Croation, so the mere sight of the Serbian Mirkovic could cause an unquenchable amount of animal bloodlust in the Chooch. Seriously though, I would like to see what the Chooch can do. He has had some positive moments this year, including a solid start against Michigan State.