Based on every objective measure (and probably most subjective ones) 6-0 Northwestern is much better than 1-6 Mississippi Valley State and will most likely win this game easily. However, I can’t help but be a little worried. I remember a 47-45 loss to Mississippi Valley State in 2003 that was one of the games that cost Northwestern an NIT bid that season and I know that every person involved with Northwestern basketball (whether they admit it or not) has Sunday’s massively important game versus Baylor in the back of their minds. Therefore, this is a trap game and one that Northwestern needs to stay focused in on or a disaster could occur.
As noted above, Mississippi Valley State isn’t great record wise, but they have played some good teams. They’ve faced Notre Dame, DePaul, North Carolina, and South Carolina already this season. While only the South Carolina game was really close (a 61-57 S.C. win) only the North Carolina game saw Mississippi Valley State get totally blown off the court. What does that mean? To me it means that Northwestern has to be ready for some of the better players in the Mississippi Valley State lineup and has to maintain their defensive intensity in this contest.
Defense to me is the key. Mississippi Valley State hasn’t played much of it this season as they allow on average more than 82 points per game and let their opponents make 40% of their three point shots. That’s really bad defense and with NU’s multiple talents on offense the Wildcats should be excited to play this game because it could be one where everybody gets into the scorebook.
On offense, Mississippi Valley State is average. They scored 90 points in their lone win (but that was an OT game) and for the year score about 65 points per game. Their best player is Terrence Joyner who averages about 11 points per game and joins Brent Arrington as solid three point shooters. Still, if Northwestern maintains the defensive intensity they have in their previous games then it is realistic to believe that the ‘Cats should win this game fairly easily.
Given the magnitude of Sunday’s contest, it would be ideal if NU got some rest for the frontline players and gave Nick Fruendt and Tre Demps a little action off the bench. Will that happen? I’m exactly sure. I’m hoping so, but I also know that Bill Carmody knows this game is one which he needs to put extra emphasis on to make sure his players don’t lose focus and start to look too far forward. With Mississippi Valley State’s defensive issues, I don’t think that’ll be a problem. I predict: Northwestern, 88 Mississippi Valley State, 63