Sunday, December 19, 2010

Johnny “Cash” and the Wildcats Ready to Play MSG

Johnny "Cash" Shurna broke out during last year's in-season tournament at UIC

Northwestern is heading the Madison Square Garden Holiday Festival for the first time since the late 1960s when they went 1-2 in what was then an eight team event. They’re heading to Madison Square Garden for the first time since a loss to Fordham in 2001. I’m excited about this event and Johnny “Cash” Shurna getting to take his game to “the world’s most famous arena”, but I’m weary given the ‘Cats past history. I have believed for eight years that the 2001 loss to Fordham is what kept the ‘Cats out of the 2001-02 NIT despite their 16-13 overall record. I think the selection committee, based in New York, looked at NU’s schedule, saw a loss to Fordham, and basically said, “Well, Fordham is no good and Northwestern lost to them, so we don’t want them in our tournament.” Now, the truth is events from the past don’t play a role in deciding current games so I shouldn’t let such nonsense worry me. So let’s move on.

Instead, I’ll let the fact that Northwestern’s only challenge in their 7-0 record came on the road at Texas-Pan American worry me. Now, certainly New York, New York is far more accessible than Edinburg, Texas, but the road was tough for NU last year. That’s why the ‘Cats current 2-0 mark in true road games is so significant even if the wins were over Northern Illinois and UTPA. Still, I think we can all agree that NU isn’t losing to Mount St. Mary’s or SIU-Edwardsville which basically means that NU’s potential 11-0 non-conference mark goes on the line Monday and (hopefully) Tuesday.

NU’s opener Monday is against St. Francis (NY) who sits at 6-3 overall this season. They have two players named Akeem both from New York who star for them. Akeem Bennett is a 6-3 guard who has started all nine games and is the team leader in points (16.3ppg) and rebounds (6.1rpg). He’s also a very good three point shooter at 43% overall and has made 6-of-7 in the two Northeast Conference games St. Francis (2-0) has already played. Akeem Johnson is 6-6 forward who is force off the bench at 12.0ppg and 5.9rpg. He makes 60% of his field goals, but only converts 55.3% of his free throws. Perhaps that’s what limits him to around 22 minutes a contest. The other St. Francis (NY) player who averages double figures is Ricky Cadell. Cadell’s another solid shooter at 45.5% overall and 41.5% from three. The major chink in his amour is his 1-to-2.2 assist to turnover ratio. Actually, as a team St. Francis has more turnovers than assists. That means it’ll be critical for NU to apply pressure defense whether in the 1-3-1 or the matchup zone JerShon Cobb, Alex Marcotullio and Jeff Ryan need to keep starting offense by getting their hands on balls and creating turnovers. If NU manages to do that they’ll have a chance at another very solid win. The crowd could be pro-St. Francis as they are a local school, but I’d suspect the majority of the fans in attendance will by St. Johns fans waiting for their game to start. This is actually a good simulation for the Big Ten Tournament when NU often plays in a half-empty NBA arena with no atmosphere at all. One more worry is that in such places sometimes shooting is tough, but I’m thinking John Shurna could make shots pretty much anywhere.

I don’t want to say too much about the Tuesday game because we really don’t know who NU will play. The odds favor St. Johns (5-3) over Davidson (5-4). St. Johns is the home team, they’ve got a deeper roster, and they already who the Great Alaska Shootout so they’re tournament tested (remember when the Great Alaska Shootout was THE preseason event). Even given those facts, Davidson is a very solid program and could spring the upset. If you’re going to attend and stick around to watch that game or stay tuned in on the MSG Network, if you can, then watch 6-7 forward Justin Brownlee of St. John’s who converts 59.2% of his shots for 13.6 ppg and 6-10 center Jake Cohen of Davidson who averages 14.7 and 6.7 that’ll be an intriguing matchup. Also, checkout the sidelines for former Purdue head coach Gene Keady who is an advisor for new St. John’s head man Steve Lavin.

I predict: Northwestern, 77 St. Francis (NY), 62

I’ll save game two predictions till I see game one from all four squads. I will say, though, I think NU will get tested in game two no matter whom they face.
Note: NU will be withour forward Ivan Peljusic due to an appendectomy. If his spot in the rotation comes up look for guard Nick Fruendt.


knickelbein5 said...

Any idea if the game is available on TV in the Chicago area? Anything online?

Ryan said...

That's a good question. It doesn't look like any TV in Chicago, sadly. Maybe somebody can find something on-line.