Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Wildcats Host Gophers on Senior Day

On Wednesday night Northwestern hosts Minnesota in what will probably be the final home game for four seniors. Jeff Ryan, Mike Capocci, Ivan Peljusic, and Michael “Juice” Thompson have some chance of playing a home game at Welsh-Ryan in the NIT, but the odds are this is the last time those four will play a home game for Northwestern. Obviously, Juice is the headliner, but all four of those players have been part of two (and potentially three) postseason teams for Northwestern which is unique accomplishment in the history of Northwestern basketball. Perhaps what is even more remarkable is that this class which has a great chance to make three postseasons started their careers with very poor seasons. Fifth year seniors Jeff Ryan and Ivan Peljusic saw NU go 2-16 and 1-17 in conference play during their first two years in the program and Juice and Mike Capocci were around for that 1-17 season. Despite such poor starts, all four played roles in helping NU move their record to 17-14 and 20-14 the past two seasons and in helping NU to a sure winning season this year. They were also all part of an NU team in 2008-09 which was probably the best Northwestern basketball team in the last 40 or 50 years and the team which has come the closest to taking NU to the NCAA Tournament.

I’m sure the lack of an NCAA invite is frustrating to these four seniors as it has been to many seniors in the past history of NU hoops, but the door isn’t truly closed for these four just yet. They have a home game Wednesday and then a rematch with Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. If the ‘Cats win that first tournament game and three more they still have a chance and that would be a remarkable legacy for the seniors to leave. Regardless, though, I’ll have positive memories of all four. Juice has of course made countless big plays, but I’ll never forget Ivan Peljusic’s great game against Indiana in NU’s near upset of the Hoosiers his freshman season or Mike Capocci’s big dunks along the way like the one his freshman year vs Michigan, or the great defense Jeff Ryan played on Robbie Hummel when NU upset Purdue at Purdue during that 08-09 season.

As to if NU can actually beat Minnesota on Wednesday and send the four seniors out winners, I don’t know. This Northwestern team is unpredictable and the current state of NU’s program isn’t great. They’ve suffered many more embarrassing losses than expected this year, a poor close to the season has put Coach Bill Carmody on the hot seat, and the team hasn’t been fully healthy since December. Now, they face a Minnesota team who is also struggling, but who probably has a significant advantage over NU in one key area—inside play.

NU’s starting center Luka Mirkovic got benched in the ‘Cats last game against Wisconsin due to his poor play and NU turned to Davide Curletti. Curletti played great, but he’s only 6-9 and Minnesota has great size in Ralph Sampson III, Colton Iverson, and the super-athletic Trevor Mbawke who is walking double-double at 13.9ppg and 10.4rpg. Those are impressive totals and I know Curletti can’t stop all three and he might not be able to stop any of the three. For Northwestern to win, Luka needs to comeback and have a good game. The positive is Luka is generally better at home, so that has to help. But you can’t count on Luka showing up to rescue NU’s season.

I’ll also be interested to see how (or if) NU plays defense on the Gophers. NU has struggled on defense all year and often tries to their 1-3-1 zone to get them out of trouble. However, Minnesota has shown the ability to knock down threes which will probably force NU to go man-to-man. If that happens, NU has to pressure the ball better than before in order to keep the Gophers from easy entry passes and short looks inside. NU also has to keep Minnesota off the glass. I fear Minnesota might employ an offensive approach which encourages three point shooting just because they believe their big three big men will dominate NU on the glass. If that happens NU doesn’t have a great chance for success. I predict: Minnesota, 78 Northwestern, 70

1 comment:

Cat Lifer said...

Thanks for those memories. You really know your stuff. Ilove Senior night. Let's get a win for them.