Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Game 34: Northwestern Wildcats @ Rhode Island

The Matchup: Northwestern (20-13) @ Rhode Island (23-9)

Location: Ryan Center (Kingston, RI)

TV: ESPNU (6:00 PM CT Wednesday March 17th, 2010)
Radio: WGN AM 720

Fun Fact: Northwestern is 2-4 all time in the postseason. They are 1-0 on neutral courts, 1-1 at home, and 0-3 on the road.

About the Game
Well, here we are, ready for the postseason for the second year in a row. Yeah, it’s a bit disappointing it isn’t the NCAA Tournament, but overall after Kevin Coble’s injury most realists would have predicted NU would wind up in the NIT. The problem is the Wildcats put themselves, and us, in a position where talking about the Big Dance wasn’t unreasonable. They then lost games to Iowa, Penn State, and Indiana and it looked like the NIT was a question mark. Now, the ‘Cats are the final at-large team into the NIT and will travel to Kingston, Rhode Island to take on the URI Rams. Despite URI’s 2-seed and NU’s 7-seed, this is a game Northwestern can win, but they’ll need to put forth a very strong effort.

If you told me you had ten seconds to learn about the game and asked what team NU has played does URI compare to I’d answer, “Minnesota.” It’s not an exact comparison. URI turns the ball over less and shoots worse. They also can’t rebound as well as the Gophers, but the style of play is similar to what NU sees from Tubby Smith’s team. This concerns me somewhat as NU has struggled with Minnesota under Tubby, but they did beat the once Golden Gophers this year and last, though, both times in Evanston.

What makes Minnesota and Rhode Island similar? They both are teams who aren’t great in half court offense, but who score a lot of points off pressure. The Wildcats should anticipate seeing full court press on Wednesday night. I believe NU can handle pressure, but they’ll need Michael “Juice” Thompson to stay out of foul trouble and Jeremy Nash and Drew Crawford to stay cool when pressured in the backcourt. URI and Minnesota are also similar in that their half court defense features of number of players who make up for other defensive deficiencies by blocking shots. 6-8 forward Delroy James reminds me a lot of Minnesota’s Damien Johnson. James scored 12.4ppg, grabs 5.3 rpg, and blocks 1.1 shots. The Rams also have a 7-0 foot center in Will Martell. Martell converts 59.3% of his shots and records 1.2bpg, but his limited minutes per game (22.6) shows he might be prone to foul trouble or exhaustion. Luka Mirkovic will need to keep the pressure on Martell without committing stupid fouls.

6-4 guard Keith Cothran is URI’s top scorer at 14.6ppg. He only makes 32.5% of his threes, though, so you can bet he’ll want to attack the basket. I strongly recommend NU play the 1-3-1 zone against the Rams. These guys look like they’d eat alive the mismatches which could exist in the switching man-to-man, but their 33.3% team three point percentage makes me believe the risk-reward scenario of the 1-3-1 is worth the risk. The only very scary shooting threat for the Rams is Akeem Richmond. The 6-1 backup guard comes off the bench to make 39.2% of his threes. He must be guarded closely and closed out on. Point guard Marquis Jones is at 35.6% from three, but doesn’t take as many shots. With 132 assists this year, it seems clear Jones falls into the category of pass-first point guard.

6-6 forward Lamonte Ulmer wasn’t mentioned above, but his 52.7 FG% means that he can convert close or medium range shots. Most of the Rams have similar numbers and that worries me. I don’t think the matchup/switching man-to-man would be good to play, but if URI gets the ball into the guts of the 1-3-1 they’ll be able to score at will. I so wish Northwestern knew how to play real man-to-man, but they don’t. Maybe Bill Carmody can hire Todd Lickliter as an assistant. If nothing else, his Iowa teams did play defense. This game will be close. URI probably won’t have a great crowd. I’d guess around 4,000 which will make the Ryan Center just over half full. However, the game is still in URI’s gym where they are 12-3. Northwestern is 2-8 in true road games. I don’t know why NU plays so badly on the road. They actually started well away from home with a win at N.C. State, a narrow loss at Illinois, and a win at Michigan, but for some reason since then the ‘Cats have looked lost away from Welsh-Ryan. I think the game will be close, but at this point I can’t pick Northwestern to win a road game. URI, 64 Northwestern, 60

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