I’ve flat out stated I don’t see Northwestern as an NCAA Tournament team right now and they won’t be one just by beating Minnesota. They will, however, take a significant step towards becoming one if they can beat Minnesota. Minnesota is a team that is also competing for a tournament slot and they are a team that Northwestern struggled with when the squads met earlier this season. Some of those struggles were simply the result of Northwestern missing shots, but Minnesota does offer a level of athletic skill that far exceeds Northwestern’s and that can be tough to handle.
I’d expect Northwestern to use more 1-3-1 zone than man-to-man in this game. Minnesota has two good shooters in Julian Welch and Andre Hollins, but the rest of the Gophers are at best average from behind the three point line. Also, I think Davide Curletti will be on the bench more in order for NU to put the best offensive team on the court, since NU isn’t much on defense anyway it’s not worth using the defense-only player in Curletti for more than a few minutes, and since NU doesn’t want John Shurna to have to play post guys man-to-man then I would say it is likely we’ll see a bunch of 1-3-1 defense from the Wildcats.
The 1-3-1 will also help clog the middle of the paint which should help NU in defending the front court of Minnesota which features the talented duo of Rodney Williams and Ralph Sampson III. If those guys get too many easy baskets than NU is in a lot of trouble, so I’d strongly advocate for forcing the Gophers to beat NU from behind the three point line.
On offense, Northwestern has been fine except for the lack of production from the center spot with Curletti in the game. He has to play, but it is a major problem when the ‘Cats essentially are playing 4-on-5. It was almost a joke how little respect Indiana gave Davide on the offensive end of the court. If Curletti actually does anything on offense, I would expect Northwestern to get a victory. I don’t know if I expect him to do anything, but it would certainly be nice if he did.
Obviously, John Shurna’s been playing great and should set the record for most career points at NU in this contest. Hopefully, that’ll prove a motivator for NU to continue to play hard. Of course, good defense and offense from NU’s supporting cast might be more important to Northwestern winning this game than Shurna’s offense. The home court advantage in this game could potentially be huge. I hope NU fans fill Welsh-Ryan Arena to support the ‘Cats in a game which will keep their NCAA hopes on life support and to see John Shurna make history. I predict: Northwestern, 77 Minnesota, 68