Saturday, December 31, 2011

Wildcats Host Penn State on New Year’s Day

Wildcat Nation might still be depressed that Coach Fitz’s football couldn’t get the monkey off their back and win a bowl game, but the basketball ‘Cats are focused on a monkey of their own. Northwestern has lost for consecutive games to Penn State by an average margin of 17 points. Many of Penn State’s players and coaches haven’t been a part of those games, but most of Northwestern’s have and they know those losses have been disappointing and critical to harming NU’s postseason dreams over the past three years. The last Northwestern win over Penn State was in 2007 in Evanston.

Coach Patrick Chambers brings in a Penn State team with an 8-6 record. The Lions are led by point guard Tim Frazier who took over the do everything role that used to belong to Talor Battle. Frazier leads the team with 17.4ppg, 5.6rpg, and 6.9apg. This will be another tough matchup for freshman guard Dave Sobolewski who faced off versus Ohio State’s Aaron Craft in NU’s first Big Ten game of the year. It’s tough to ask Sobolewski to battle these guys, but that’s the Big Ten. You don’t get any off nights as Wisconsin found out in going down to Ohio State.

The fact is that while the Frazier v. Sobolewski matchup might not be an advantage for Northwestern, I think the rest of the floor offers positives for NU. One of the key notes is that NU has size over Penn State at nearly every spot. Penn State’s biggest starter is 6-8 Billy Oliver. Off the bench they’ll bring in Sasa Borovnjak who is 6-9, but the fact is that Luka Mirkovic will have a significant size advantage over anybody Penn State plays. That means Luka needs to get involved in the game early. Luka’s inconsistency has been frustrating for NU fans over the years, but we all know that a strong game from Luka equals a Wildcat victory and this game presents the Wildcat center with the chance to have a big game.

Another Wildcat who has to be expected to have a big game is John Shurna. At 6-9 Shurna is also bigger than any Penn State starter. Sure, Penn State might play zone as opposed to let a 6-5 guy try to guard Shurna, but that means Shurna should have the advantage in getting off open shots and getting off shots with a size advantage. Personally, I called out Drew Crawford and JerShon Cobb for what I thought was selfish play in the Ohio State game, but it seems to me that Coach Bill Carmody had more issues with Shurna based on what he said in the post game after Ohio State. Penn State isn’t one of the stronger teams NU will play this year, but it is probably important that Shurna respond to the adversity of the last game and show up focused from wire to wire on Sunday evening.

As for the rest of Wildcats Drew Crawford should have an advantage in terms of athletic skill which he didn’t have versus Ohio State, but I’d still like to see him take shots within the offense instead of freelancing. Reggie Hearn has been very quite since his big game versus Central Connecticut. I’d like to see either Hearn or Alex Marcotullio start to hit some three point shots and give the Wildcats another realistic scoring threat from behind the arc that teams need to respect. Will that happen on Sunday? It’s hard to say as the consistency hasn’t been there for those two guys yet this year. However, I do think NU will do enough to win this game. I predict: Northwestern, 77 Penn State, 70

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