The Matchup: Liberty (1-4) @ Northwestern (2-1)
Location: Welsh-Ryan Arena (Evanston, IL)
TV: www.bigtennetwork.com for $2.99 (5:30 PM November 24th)
Radio: WGN 720 AM
Fun Fact: Northwestern is the only team in the Chicago Invitational Challenge who the Liberty Flames have played before.
About the Game
This Northwestern team is still something of a mystery, but that’s understandable considering the ‘Cats are still probably adjusting to loss of Kevin Coble and Jeff Ryan. Against Tennessee State, Michael “Juice” Thompson stepped up big with 31 points. Against Northern Illinois it was Jeremy Nash who stepped up with 20 points. Against Butler nobody stepped up for NU. Those facts seem to prove that NU is still trying to find a consistent replacement for Coble’s points. The good news is the Wildcats have several options; the bad news is several have been very inconsistent. In fact, other than Thompson, NU hasn’t really gotten the production they expected from their other top offensive weapons. This game against Liberty could be a chance for front court guys like John Shurna and Luka Mirkovic to really step up.
The shortest description of Liberty would young and small. Liberty’s tallest starter is 6-6 guard David Minaya. Their tallest front court starter is 6-5 Patrick Konan. Liberty does have two more traditional big men on the bench, but neither 6-10 Joel Vander Pol or 6-11 Carter McMasters has seen that much time. McMasters has made a number of blocks in his time on the court and may get more action against NU, but at only 210 pounds if NU wants to use Kyle Rowley or even Davide Curletti he might get pushed around.
The top scorer on the Flames is 6-4 swingman Kyle Ohman. He averages around 15 points per game and has displayed an ability to rebound as well with about five per game. 6-3 guard Jesse Sanders also gets more than 5 rebounds per game. This has to be something of a concern for NU as the ‘Cats did allow both Butler and Tennessee State to get a number of second chance shots. If NU wants to get back to rebounding like they did against NIU it’ll take another good effort from freshman Drew Crawford and some major steps forward from the center position and John Shurna.
Given Liberty’s size disadvantage it’ll be interesting to see if NU tries to feed the post or if they continue to depend on the outside shot. If NU wants to shoot from distance I suspect Alex Marcotullio will continue to see his playing time increase.
Marcotullio is also interesting on defense as he displayed some good athletic skills at the top of the 1-3-1 against Tennessee State. If Marcotullio can play the top of that zone, it’ll free Jeremy Nash up to play on the wing and that might help NU close out on shooters as Nash has good size and quickness on the wing.
Prediction: Northwestern has been unimpressive the last two games, but I think they learned some important facts about themselves in the narrow win over TSU. I look for the Wildcats to work Alex Marcotullio into the game early and try to get John Shurna going offensively as well against the smaller Flames. Those two guys combined with continued solid play from Juice Thompson and a concentrated effort to take care of the ball should give NU a win. Northwestern, 70 Liberty, 57