It’s another road test for Northwestern on Sunday and this one might prove an even bigger task to the depth-challenged Wildcats than their last contest in Madison. Minnesota enters the game with an identical 2-4 Big Ten mark as NU, but the Gophers have won two games in a row and feature a team which goes at least nine deep. For an NU team that is playing with basically seven healthy players that could be a major issue.
The Wildcats would probably be advised to slow this game down and play at a pace which forces Minnesota to guard them for the entire shot clock. If that happens, it would be prefect if the Gophers would overextend their defense and allow NU backdoor cuts with the shot clock running down.
The other advantage NU would have in slowing the game down is it might force them to work all the way through their offense instead of forcing shots as I thought they did vs Wisconsin.
Minnesota has to want to speed NU up and use their superior depth as an advantage. I’ve been really impressed with how Minnesota has fought through injuries and an extended losing streak at the start of conference play to reach the point they are at now. I don’t actually see either NU or Minnesota as an NCAA Tournament team right now, but the winner of this game is probably one at the moment the contest ends. They might not be one at the end of the season, but at least for the winner they enter the realistic discussion.
Look for Minnesota to try and use the athletic front line of Ralph Sampson III(8.2ppg) and Rodney Williams (10.6ppg) not only to score in the post but also to crash the glass. I really think one of the reasons teams shoot so well vs NU is because shooters aren’t worried about missing because they know their teammates have a great chance at an offensive rebound versus NU’s rebound-phobic front line. With that in mind, look for Julian Welch (10.4ppg) to potentially have a career game because he impresses me as the Gophers top shooter. I also wouldn’t sleep on guard Joe Coleman who is coming off a career game.
At this point Northwestern really needs to show me something to prove they are anything more than what they were at the end of last year—a middle of the pack NIT team. One of the ways to show this is to pick up a road win over a team that is at least as good as they are if not better. This really hasn’t been done by NU since the current seniors were freshmen, but it’s not impossible. The trouble to me is that NU just doesn’t seem to have the depth to deal with Minnesota’s constant pressure defense. At 100% NU would have probably beat Michigan at Michigan and maybe even Wisconsin at Wisconsin, but NU wasn’t then and isn’t now anywhere near 100%. I predict: Minnesota, 70 Northwestern, 58