Northwestern is back in action Monday night hosting 6-3 Long Island. It’ll be NU’s first game since defeating Georgia Tech back on November 30th in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. At 5-0 the Wildcats were off to a hot start and I certainly hope the long layoff doesn’t harm their momentum. This is a scary game, though, as LIU isn’t a total cupcake and as a jump shooting team rhythm is a key to NU’s success. They won’t have a safety net a la Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger who can score 40 points inside if the team is cold from outside thanks to the long break.
If NU doesn’t slump numbers would indicate a high scoring affair. Long Island averages 81.1 points per game and NU has already shown that posting 90 is almost routine for these Wildcats. It’s a shame the game won’t be live on TV, but only live on-line at bigtennetwork.com. The game will be rebroadcast on the BTN at 4PM CT on Tuesday, but I doubt anybody will try to live in a vacuum in order not to learn the score until then.
In order to score those 81.1 points per game LIU averages four players in double-figures and shoots 34.1% from three. This might be a game in which NU will try to stay away from the 1-3-1 defense and work more on the matchup and switching man-to-man that Coach Carmody has repeatedly said will be critical for the Big Ten season. LIU’s best player is 6-5 guard Kyle Johnson. Johnson hits a high percentage from three (48.8%) and hits the boards hart (6.1 rpg).6-7 Julian Boyd was the best scorer in his teams win over Lafayette last time out with 23 points. For the season he’s a near double-double with 12.4ppg and 8.4 rpg. He does have somewhat of a chink in his amour, though, as he’s only a 63% free throw shooter and he does get to the line a fair amount. It’ll be interesting to see how the Wildcats defend him. NU has actually done better than expected when facing challenging big men this year. Another 6-7 player for LIU is Jamal Olasewere. He’s at 12.2 and 5.9 per game. Amazingly, despite all their players high rebound totals LIU is actually outrebounded on average. However, they still do pull down 41-plus a game so you can what type of pace they play at. The guy who sets that pace is C.J. Garner. He’s a 5-10 sparkplug who is similar to NU’s Juice Thompson. The major difference between the two is that Garner isn’t a three point shooter (only has taken two all year) he prefers to attack the basket or put the ball in the hands of other shooters as he has a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Overall, this game may present more of a challenge to NU than some might expect. The long layoff, lack of a crowd thanks to no students, NU’s dependence on outside shootings, and LIU’s offensive talent make this seem like a potentially close game. I think Northwestern will be able to pull out a victory (and I actually think they’ll shoot pretty well), but I think it’ll stay closer longer than people expect. I predict: Northwestern, 83 LIU, 75