If Northwestern (4-0) played entire games on offense as well as they did in the first half versus Creighton and as well on defense as they did in the second half of that game they would likely go undefeated. NU’s execution on offense in the first half Sunday night was nearly flawless, but that paled in comparison to how amazingly well the much maligned defensive team did on defense in half number two. Holding a talented offensive Creighton team to just 20 points in a half was an outstanding performance. NU will need to build on that effort on Tuesday as they’ll entertain a Georgia Tech (4-2) team that has a number of offensive weapons and is coming off a solid performance in an 80-76 loss to Syracuse on Saturday night in the title game of the Legends Classic in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Northwestern did a very strong job of switching defenses from the matchup zone/switching man-to-man to the 1-3-1 zone and back again on Sunday night. Those efforts seemed to confuse Creighton at times. It also helped that NU brought more intensity to defense. I also liked seeing that both Jeff Ryan and Alex Marcotullio are very comfortable atop the 1-3-1 and that Mike Capocci is clearly able to use his athleticism to help out on larger players down low. This Georgia Tech team isn’t as powerful offensively as the famous “Lethal Weapon 3” team of 1990, but like that squad they feature a hot shooter named Brian Oliver. The 1990 Brian Oliver scored 34 against North Carolina while the 2010 version has already posted a 32 point game against Syracuse. At 6-6 Oliver can play guard or forward and can, like NU’s 30-point threat John Shurna, work both inside and outside. Oliver hits 38.8% of his threes so NU needs to contest on his shots, but he also can work inside as he’s comfortable enough to lead the Yellow Jackets with 6.7 rebounds a game.
His top scoring teammate is a Chicago-area product in Iman Shumpert. NU recruited Shumpert, but the guard from Oak Park chose Georgia Tech in part because he thought he would be surrounded by a deeper supporting cast. I’m not sure if he was asleep or what when his Huskies visited Glenbard West for their matchup with John Shurna’s Hilltoppers, but those West Suburban Conference rivals will renew their acquaintance on Tuesday. Shumpert has an impressive 2.5-to-1 assist to turnover ratio and scores 14.2 ppg. Also, like Oliver, he’s comfortable going inside. He’s 6-5 and pulls down more than five rebounds a game.
The third Yellow Jacket in the quest for the 2010 squad to rebuild a “Lethal Weapon 3” like group is 6-5 guard Glen Rice Jr. You probably aren’t surprised to learn that a guy named Glen Rice leads his team in field goal percentage. Inside, Tech will lean on 6-11 258-pound redshirt freshman Daniel Miller. Miller doesn’t have the greatest stats, but he’s obviously a big body. NU will need Luka Mirkovic to get a body on him when shots go up. Part of what made NU win the Creighton game was the nearly even rebounding stats. The ‘Jays pulled down just one more rebound than the ‘Cats at 33-32. The bigger and athletically skilled Georgia Tech team could make keeping that stat close to even much more difficult. If Tech starts really hitting the boards hard NU will need to try and make up for the deficit with turnovers and that’ll mean more 1-3-1. In such a defense NU can’t forget about the shooters Tech has. The good news is teams that don’t get to see the 1-3-1 regularly often struggle with it. Even Creighton, who at least had a coach who saw it recently, couldn’t solve the thing consistently. That works in NU’s favor for this game. What also works in NU’s favor is Georgia Tech has been criticized just as much as NU in regards to defense. They’ve even been called undisciplined. That’s music to NU’s ears as the Princeton Offense will take advantage of over aggressive teams. The home court also works in NU’s favor and with the game on ESPN2 I expect a big student turnout. This game should be close, but I’d expect Northwestern capture their third straight challenge win and their fourth in five years. I predict: Northwestern, 82 Georgia Tech, 74