The Matchup: Northern Illinois (0-0) @ Northwestern (0-0)
Location: Welsh-Ryan Arena (Evanston, IL)
TV: www.bigtennetwork.com for $2.99 (7:00PM November 13th)
Radio: WYLL-AM 1160
Fun Fact: Between the two teams 18 players in this game played high school basketball in the state of Illinois
The Game: Many have predicated this will be THE year for Northwestern basket ball and we’re going to see early on how accurate those predictions are early on this year. In the non-conference season NU plays name schools Butler, Notre Dame, and Stanford. While those games have gotten most of the preseason hype, this opener against Northern Illinois should not be taken lightly. The Huskies feature a potent trio of guards lead by second team all-MAC selection Darion “Jake” Anderson who averaged 16.9ppg and 5.4rpg last season. When comparing him to Big Ten foes he is probably similar to Penn State’s Talor Battle in terms of how much of a stat-sheet stuffer he is. Along with Anderson the Huskies will use sophomore Mike DiNunno and junior transfer Xavier Sails in a three guard backcourt. DiNunno was a member of the MAC all freshman team for his 12.3ppg and 2.62apg. He was made almost 2 threes per-game on average. If NU plays 1-3-1 it’ll be DiNunno who NIU tries to camp out in the corner. Sails is a transfer from the University of Colorado where he played for Huskies coach Ricardo Patton before Patton was fired. In two years as a Buffalo Sails averaged 10.9ppg. These guys will test NU’s defense for sure. They might even provide the chance for Jeff Ryan and Jeremy Nash to play some man-to-man defense. Of course, NIU’s guards have to defend NU as well. The advantage NIU has is that they’ve had all preseason to prep for NU’s Princeton Offense. Of course, NU runs it much better than NIU’s scout team and is more athletic.
NU’s biggest advantage in this game will be in the front court. Other than center Sean Kowal who lead the MAC with a .551 field goal percentage, NIU doesn’t really have a serious scoring threat in the front court. If NU uses Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti to keep the ball away from Kowal NIU will become very perimeter oriented and it may open up some chances for NU to pressure passing lanes and get turnovers. Along with Kowal, forward Najul Ervin did show flashes on offense for NIU, but even without Kevin Coble I like NU’s front court of John Shurna, Mirkovic and either Ivan Peljusic or Davide Curletti in this matchup. Part of the reason is that other than the 6-11 Kowal NIU doesn’t have a player who stands above 6-7. Given that NU will start a guard in Drew Crawford who is 6-5 and use a reserve point guard in Ryan that is 6-6 plus, NU should be able to control the boards. Actually, I think this will be an advantage NU has in many games this season.
Prediction: NIU has some nice guards, but NU can shoot from multiple spots on the floor and it will be tough for NIU’s forwards to defend the athletic skill and size of Shurna. The real question, though, is how will Kevin Coble’s injury impact NU’s play? NU actually will probably get better on defense without Coble, but they will not have their best scorer and a reliable rebounder. Still, I think NU can scrape together enough to win this game. Often when a star goes down a team rallies—at least initially. I think NU plays slow and gets enough scoring from Shurna, Thompson, and the bench to win a close and low scoring battle. Northwestern, 58 Northern Illinois, 52