Northwestern doesn’t have many chances in their non-conference schedule to build a tournament resume, but they will get a challenge from a Creighton squad and program with considerable postseason experience. This year’s Blue Jay squad is 4-1 and returns four starters from last year’s Collegeinsider.com Tournament semi-finalist team. On Friday Creighton beat Kennesaw State (who beat future NU opponent Georgia Tech) 75-57. Northwestern (3-0) hasn’t played in over a week since beating Arkansas-Pine Bluff. The Wildcats are 3-0 and will get another chance of their own to play with a short turnaround when they face Georgia Tech in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on November 30th.
Creighton is led in the backcourt by 6-0 guard Antoine Young. He’s a versatile guard who averages 13.6ppg and also greater then four rebounds and assists a game. He’ll be an interesting matchup for the Wildcat backcourt and especially freshman JerShon Cobb. Cobb showed great athleticism playing defense against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, but he also had some major turnover problems and will need to secure the ball as NU won’t be able to turn the ball over as much and still get away with a victory as they did versus Pine Bluff.
One reason this game will be a good game for NU in terms of improving and getting ready for the Big Ten and Georgia Tech is Creighton has some size. NU is still looking to get production from the center position, especially from Luka Mirkovic who is NU’s only player with both size and mass. Mirkovic will be facing the MVC preseason Player of the Year in 6-9 250 pound Kenny Lawson Jr. who is posting 12.6ppg and 6.2rpg. He is by far the best big man NU has played this year. Mirkovic has the talent to be one of the better true centers in the Big Ten, but hasn’t lived up to the hype he had when recruited. Watching what other teams in the Big Ten have inside it is important that he start to do so consistently or the Wildcats will struggle and might actually post less wins this year than last year.
Fans should also watch forwards Doug McDermott and Darryl Ashford who both post double figures from the Blue Jays at 14.4 and 10.2ppg. On the face of it one would conclude this could be an offensive shootout with those guys shooting for the Jays and John Shurna, Drew Crawford, and Juice Thompson making shots for the Wildcats. That could very well happen, but in such a matchup the team which plays better on defense is usually the winner. It’s well known that NU hasn’t been great on defense, but Creighton struggled against Iowa State who is the only team they played that has anything close to a trio as strong as Shurna, Crawford, and Thompson. Plus, NU has been reported to have been working on their defense over the long break. Northwestern also has the advantage of playing at home, though, the crowd isn’t expected to be great. Still, Welsh-Ryan is sometimes a tough place to shoot the first time you visit and Creighton doesn’t have anybody who has visited Evanston before. I predict: Northwestern, 81 Creighton, 67