Northwestern has some more significant non-conference games this year than in years past. As a result, building some early momentum could be key for the Wildcats. They’ll get a chance to start to do that in the three games in four days Charleston Classic which tips off Thursday. In the first game for NU the ‘Cats will battle LSU. LSU comes into the contest with a 1-1 record desperately seeking some positive momentum of their own after losing to Costal Carolina in their last contest. LSU coach Trent Johnson, who knows NU from his days at Stanford, specifically called out his team’s inability to rebound as Costal Carolina outrebounded the Tigers by 19. With NU’s own rebounding issues versus UTPA one starts to wonder if anybody plans on grabbing the ball when it goes off the rim in this game. Theoretically, 7-0 260-pound LSU center Justin Hamilton should be the main man on the glass as he pulled down 7 boards to go along with 9 points versus Costal Carolina. He should give Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti a more Big Ten-like challenge than the players from UTPA did. Also in the LSU front court is forward Strom Warren who played a nice game against Costal Carolina with 14 points and 9 rebounds of his own. NU needs to be able to keep both Hamilton and Warren from getting easy inside looks.
LSU also didn’t shoot very well against Costal Carolina, but NU needs to make sure they’re ready to defend a number of talented LSU scorers. Guard Ralston Turner led LSU with 15 points vs Costal and made two three pointers as well. Several other LSU outside shooting threats, including highly-touted freshman Johnny O’Bryant, had poor games but came fill the scorebook. NU needs to play with the same level of defensive intensity they brought at the end of last season and that Reggie Hearn showed in the opener on Sunday.
That brings up the question of whether Hearn will start and just what NU’s lineup will be come Thursday afternoon. JerShon Cobb is reportedly ready to play, but he may or may not get that start. I think Cobb’s an important player for Northwestern, but if he’s not 100 percent I don’t know that he has to start with options such as Hearn and freshmen Dave Sobolewski and Tre Demps available to Coach Bill Carmody.
Obviously, the two freshmen were somewhat underwhelming in their first official action, but they were good in the exhibition. Also, look for Alex Marcotullio and Drew Crawford to get back into the starting lineup and see significant action if the game is close. I’d really like to see Crawford assert himself on offense and have Marcotulllio take the led as he did last season in getting NU’s entire team to play hard on defense.
I’ll also pay close attention to John Shurna who more or less looked like he was just going through the motions against UTPA. Now, Shurna’s going to face tougher challenges on both offense and defense, but he’s still going to be the best player on the court. He, like Crawford, needs to get assertive and demand the ball because when he does the ball usually goes through the hoop.
Overall, I actually like NU’s matchup with LSU and think it gives the ‘Cats a good shot to start this tournament well. I see a close game, but I think Shurna will help edge the Tigers. I predict: Northwestern, 71 LSU, 65