Thursday the Wildcats play Purdue at home and I see this as perhaps the season’s defining game. Starting 0-3 in conference is bad, but starting 0-4 including two home losses is even worse. Now, I’m not saying the Wildcats will repeat least year’s 1-17 debacle if they lose Thursday, but I do think a loss makes finishing above .500 overall very tough.
If you look at the rest of the schedule, the only sure win NU has is against Chicago State on February 4th, though, at home against Indiana on January 28th is looking more and more like a sure thing as well. Other than those two games, I’m not sure NU will be favored in any other contests. The best chance NU has to win on the road is at Indiana on February 25th. They might be favored in that game or against Iowa either time, but it depends on how those teams play over the next few weeks. I'm not as down on Iowa as some. I think the Hawkeyes have really good talent, they just don't seem to have put things together yet. In fact, they somewhat remind me of NU.
The positive here is that although NU might not be the favorite in many more contests this season, I do think NU has the potential to matchup well against a number of Big Ten teams. Although we haven’t seen it thus far during the Big Ten season, this NU team matches up better against the larger Big Ten teams than any of NU’s recent teams. The freshmen big men NU has like Kyle Rowley, Luka Mirkovic, and Davide Curletti have great potential. As the year goes on I expect these guys will get better each game. They might struggle at first against some of the Big Ten’s larger teams (MSU and Wisconsin showed this), but hopefully as the year gets better they’ll get more comfortable against Big Ten competition.
Also, if Craig Moore, Kevin Coble, and John Shurna return to the shooting form they showed earlier this season NU will be able to stay in most games. This area does concern me because I worry NU’s recent struggles in shooting are the result not of a slump, but of the fact that it is much harder for NU’s so-so athletes to get off shoots against Big Ten competition. My hope, though, is that some of strategies employed in wins over Florida State and DePaul (i.e. getting Juice and Coble to the hoop) can create more open shots on the outside.
Realistically I think I see NU with 14 wins this year. They can beat Chicago State and I don’t think 5 Big Ten wins is out of the question. However, improved shooting and better play on the inside, especially rebounding, could boost that total. The only two games I feel NU has almost no chance in are at Michigan State and at Minnesota, and NU has played Minnesota well in recent years.