In a tune up for a big game with Wisconsin on Sunday the Wildcats will battle SIU-Edwardsville on Thursday. The Badgers will take on Indiana the same evening. Northwestern is looking to post their second consecutive win in a stretch where they play four of five games at home. This is a game that Northwestern should win easily, though, last season’s step outside the Big Ten where the ‘Cats almost fell to Texas-Pan America does prove that no game is a total gimme. Still, SIU-E got demolished by both Indiana and Iowa who Northwestern shredded. The other item that certainly doesn’t work in SIU-E’s favor is that they just played on Tuesday. Yes, NU did the same, but teams that haven’t faced the Princeton Offense and who have limited prep time for it generally get picked apart and giving up 111 points to Iowa proves SIU-E isn’t a defensive powerhouse.
SIU-E also isn’t blessed with great size or shooting skill either—which is probably why they have a 5-15 overall record. Center Nikola Bundalo (9.5ppg 5.9rpg) stands 6-10, but he is the only front court player listed in an SIU-E lineup that features four guards. 6-5 freshman Michael Messer (8.8ppg 3.3rpg) is the second biggest player in the starting lineup and will probably have to content with NU’s John Shurna. As a team, SIU-E shoots 41.3% overall and 32.1% from three. SIU-E’s best offensive weapon is 5-10 guard Corey Wickware who scores about 12 points a game and will probably come off the bench vs the Wildcats. Northwestern isn’t a great defensive team, but if those are the numbers SIU-E has put up against some mediocre competition, I think NU can manage to defend them just as well if not better. SIU-E is also 0-11 on the road and NU tends to shoot lights out at home as long as Michigan State isn’t the opponent, so that doesn’t help the Cougars either.
The real worthwhile will discussion point for this game revolves around NU forward John Shurna. Fans are wondering if he will play and/or if he should play in what shouldn’t be a close game. At first, I thought he should probably rest, but as I think about it, I’m finding myself doubting one additional day of rest is going to do much for healing Shurna before Sunday. I now think it probably makes more sense to let Shurna play a little bit, feel good about himself for the second straight game, and get him to the bench early in the second half. Head Coach Bill Carmody has said Shurna’s injury has a psychological component to it and getting some easy baskets versus SIU-E can’t hurt Shurna there. I’d also say that I’d like to see NU get up early on SIU-E and truly finish the game before the second half starts, so letting Shurna start should help with that. When Shurna goes to the bench early in the second half I’d also like to see Juice Thompson go too. Juice deserves a break and this game seems like a good chance to let Alex Marcotullio and JerShon Cobb get some work in at running the offense.
Even though I think Coach Carmody will rest NU’s starters for much of this game, I think NU can get a lot out of this contest. It’ll be a valuable game for guys like Davide Curletti and Mike Capocci who are coming along off the bench and are critical to NU’s future success. They aren’t probably going to post enough offensive numbers for NU to best Iowa’s 111 against SIU-E, but them getting work will make NU better in the long run. I predict: Northwestern, 89 SIU-E, 52