I said before the Purdue game that I thought I’d be better able to evaluate Northwestern after their next three games. The Wildcats went 2-1 in those games and could have gone 3-0. They actually outrebounded teams and played with as great a sense of urgency as a Bill Carmody team ever has. What does that all mean? It means that somehow Northwestern now stands at 4-6 in the Big Ten. That’s not great, but it also means that the ‘Cats have a very good chance at winning at least four, if not five, more games before the end of the season as long as they continue to play with the same focus and intensity they have brought to their last three games.
Northwestern still has some issues related to defense and depth has been a problem, but they’ve gotten better efforts from their supporting cast, especially guard Dave Sobolewski in the scoring column, these past two games and that has been enough to push NU into position to earn another shot at playing their way into the NCAA Tournament. And that’s what it really comes down to at this point. The ‘Cats have eight regular season games left. No doubt if the season ended today the ‘Cats wouldn’t make the Big Dance, but unlike past seasons where it seemed NU was just prepping for a late season collapse, this year’s team seems to be positioning themselves at a spot where a good stretch run could play themselves into the history books. The first step is to beat an Iowa team that NU seems to matchup with favorably.
Iowa’s 5-6 Big Ten record is obviously similar to Northwestern, but Iowa seems to be a far less consistent team than Northwestern. As depressing as most of NU’s losses have been, they’ve really only been out of three games all season. Iowa has had some great wins, but they also have days where they simply don’t play defense. While defense isn’t a strong point for Northwestern either, offense is a strong point for the Wildcats and if Iowa doesn’t step it up on defense it’ll be a big day for John Shurna, Drew Crawford, Sobolewksi, and Reggie Hearn. Also, Iowa doesn’t start a player over 6-8 so if Luka Mirkovic can return from his injury this and the Sunday game at Purdue (who also doesn’t have a starter over 6-8) could be two games in which Luka could make his presence known on offense and really regain his confidence.
Iowa’s offense starts with Matt Gatens who is an excellent shooter and someone NU can’t afford to let get his feet set against the zone. The Hawks also have guard Roy Devyn Marble who has shown the ability to score in a number of ways. If NU goes man-to-man look for Marble and Bryce Cartwright to try to force Sobolewski guard them on drives to the hoop. Inside Iowa freshman Aaron White has hit the glass well during Big Ten season, NU can’t allow the freshman to give Iowa second chances. Hopefully, that’s where NU’s size advantage plays a role.
I’m counting on NU’s offense in this game. I think Iowa will score some points, but from watching the Hawkeyes this season, I don’t think they’ll stop Northwestern. I predict: Northwestern, 88 Iowa, 74