Despite a 2-0 record the doubters are out in full force when it comes to this year’s edition of the Wildcats men’s basketball team. After an unimpressive win a number of critical articles and message board posts appeared Wednesday night and Thursday morning which took the Wildcats to task for their poor defense and inconsistent offensive play. On Friday evening the Wildcats get a chance to prove their critics wrong in person as they prepare for the home opener against 2010 NCAA Tournament qualifier Arkansas-Pine Bluff. The crowd in Welsh-Ryan is expected to be larger than usual for a game of this caliber because many fans in town for the All State Wrigleyville Classic on Saturday will attend the basketball game as well. Pine Bluff is 0-2 this having been blown out by Colorado State and future Big Ten member Nebraska. However, I really feel considering the number of critics who have appeared the last couple days, the Wildcats are almost playing against themselves. They’ll likely win the game, but will they look like a team that can compete in the Big Ten or a team that almost lost to a UTPA team that only won six games last season? We will see.
In terms of who Arkansas-Pine Bluff does have in their lineup, 6-8 220 pound forward Daniel Broughton is a legitimate threat on offense and on the glass. Broughton averages 12 points and 5 rebounds a game. With Luka Mirkovic’s recent problems, look for Pine Bluff to try and involve Broughton early and often. Mirkovic will also contend with 6-6 250 pound bruiser Terrell Kennedy who will lineup at center as well. One other front court player of note is Anthony Jones. A 6-6 240 pound forward from Evanston.
In the back court, Pine Bluff trusts in 6-1 guard Savalance Townsend who scores 11 points and dishes off two assists a contest. However, Townsend has struggled somewhat with his outside shot making only 33% of his threes and just 34.8% of all his shots.
On the Wildcat side of things the most important thing to watch will be defense. Northwestern has looked bad defensively and let a mediocre UTPA team drill 9-of-11 threes and make 57% of their field goals. With defense like that, NU will be able to keep any opponent in a game. Pine Bluff has topped out at 51 points for this year, but with the way NU has played, I bet they’re hoping for more.
On offense, Northwestern didn’t have their best game at UTPA, but still got decent nights from the big three of Crawford, Shurna, and Thompson. Certainly, NU would like Shurna to be more consistent, but I think we can count on those three to show up each night. My interest is whether NU can get production from a fourth and fifth scorer. A healthy JerShon Cobb might help in that department. I’d also really like to see Alex Marcotullio find his range and, of course, have Luka Mirkovic live up to the potential he has as an offensive threat. If I could talk to Luka, I’d tell him that he’s a junior now and needs to get over and apparent fear and trepidation and start to get more aggressive. Cutting out the weak layup attempts and attacking the basket more directly would be a great start.
Looking at the situation, I’m worried NU is going to give their critics more ammunition after this contest. It was long trip back from Edinburg, Texas and NU didn’t get much rest or time to practice. I do think NU wins be a greater margin than Wednesday, but I don’t think they’ll match Nebraska’s 43 point margin over UAPB. I predict: Northwestern, 83 Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 62
Note: The game is on-line for a fee at bigtennetwork.com (MAJOR ups to UTPA for giving us something free to watch. Until webstreams actually work all the time and look like real TV, I can't believe we have to pay, but we do for the BTN's). The game's on the radio at 1160AM.