Northwestern went to the east coast for their second round NIT game with Boston College and we can only hope that a trip to the opposite side of the country produces similar results. If the ‘Cats can beat the Cougars on Wednesday night in Pullman, Washington, it’ll mean NU will be back on the east coast for the NIT semifinals next week. Bottom line, the NIT might help Head Coach Bill Carmody and his team rack up a ton of frequent flyer miles.
Of course, to get to that semifinal game the ‘Cats have to get past a tough Washington State team in their own building on Wednesday night. NU caught something of a break when WSU suspended their third leading scorer DeAngelo Casto on Tuesday. Of course, WSU will still have Klay Thompson and he’s one of the best scorers in the nation. Thompson scores 22.2 points per game, but put up over 30 several times this season, including 43 in a Pac-10 Tournament loss to Washington. He does it in part from three point range where he makes 41.5% and the free throw line where he makes 83.4%, but really he can score from anywhere. Northwestern’s defense has been significantly better their last five games and it will take another solid effort to contain Thompson. Despite Thompson’s 6-6 size, I still think you’ll Alex Marcotullio as the primary Wildcat defender simply based on Marcotullio’s ability to fight through screens away from the ball. His primary goal has to be to stop Thompson from catching the ball in position to score.
After Thompson the next best Cougar scorer is Faisal Aden. He averages 12.9 points per game and is a decent three point shooter at around 33%. He’s another player NU has to be alert to defend as with Casto out one might think Aden’s role in Washington State’s offense will get even more significant. Another player the Cougars will need to step up is 6-10 Brock Motum. Obviously, losing Casto’s scoring and 255-pound frame hurts Washington State. However, at 6-10 Motum will negate what was going to be a size advantage for Luka Mirkovic inside. Hopefully, Luka will still be able to make an impact based on his superior strength.
Overall, Washington State like Northwestern and Boston College and UW-Milwaukee is a team that will shoot a lot of threes. The Cougars have attempted 655 threes this year and made 36%. Abe Lodwick is a forward who makes about 32% of his three point shots and who will likely get a start versus Northwestern. Guard Reggie Moore is also an excellent three point shooter, but he scored only two points in Washington State’s win over Oklahoma State.
On defense I think Washington State will likely play zone. Washington State has seen Princeton Offense-like teams in Arizona State and Oregon State. They also watched NU’s game against BC on tape (and maybe live) and even as well as Northwestern shot in that game, I think watching NU carve up Boston College with backdoor dunks will make zone a more logical way for Head Coach Ken Bone to defend NU. That means all of NU’s shooters must be on their game. John Shurna needs to make better than 1-of-8 threes and Juice Thompson, Drew Crawford, and Alex Marcotullio must continue to shoot well.
This is something of a tough game to predict. Washington State has the advantage of a home game, but NU has the advantage of rest. Washington loses a solid player in Casto, but gains size in their lineup which works against Northwestern. The crowd for WSU will probably be much better than the crowd NU saw at BC, but I’ve heard stories of several NU fans that are making major personal efforts to arrive in Pullman by 8PM local time Wednesday night. This game is important to both teams I’m sure, but I’m hoping that the dedication of such NU fans somehow carries over to our players and the ‘Cats play as hard as they’ve ever played before from the tip till the last horn whatever the result. I think Klay Thompson will score a lot of points, but I think John Shurna will have a big day as well. In my ideal scenario I’d love to see Thompson score about 42 and Shurna score about 39, but get his final three at the buzzer to propel NU to a win. Bottom line, I think Washington State’s biggest advantage is they are the home team, but I think NU is the better team, especially now that WSU doesn’t have Casto’s bulk to push around Luka. Hopefully, some of the intangibles will break in NU’s favor as well and it’ll be enough. It is about time that they do (though, actually, it’s well past time they do, so take that for what it’s worth). I predict: Northwestern, 69 Washington State, 68