Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Big Ten Tournament or Two Wins From The Big Dance

Here we are on March 7th and Northwestern is on the precipice of the NCAA Tournament. I’ll admit I had my doubts about this team and coaching staff, but they’ve overcome so much that you can’t help but admire what they’ve accomplished. This has been one of the most impressive displays of perseverance I’ve seen and I’ve heard that perseverance is the main ingredient to make fantasy into reality. I think most assumed that if Northwestern were ever to make the NCAA Tournament it would be with some type of magical nearly perfect season where everything went right. Instead, it seems nearly everything has gone wrong at times this year and the ‘Cats are still on the verge of the Big Dance. I break down the odds this way:

Loss to Minnesota…10% chance of making the Dance
Win vs Minnesota…60% chance of the making the Dance
Win vs Minnesota and Michigan…We’re In!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Now how likely is that third outcome? Well, it’s probably something of a 50/50 proposition. I think Northwestern will beat Michigan if they get a third chance at the Maize and Blue. My biggest fear is a let down in the Minnesota game. It just seems like one of those games where the Gophers could out-athlete NU and steal a victory. The good news is that the Gophers might not have 6-11 center Ralph Sampson III due to a knee injury and if he can’t go that takes at least one big guy off the court. The other major advantage NU has is that fact that Minnesota isn’t a great three point shooting team. Julian Welch is pretty good, but to me he looks like he’s got kind of a low/slow release if NU can get out on him maybe they force him to alter his shot or put the ball on the floor and try to shoot off the dribble. Other than Welch, the Gopher shooters aren’t scary. What is scary is their athletic skill. Everyone talks about Rodney Williams because he gets highlight film dunks, but Austin and Andre Hollins are good athletes as well. They’ll be very tough guards for NU in man-to-man which is why I’m hoping to see the ‘Cats not worry too much about just springing the 1-3-1 on the Gophers. Without great shooters and great ball handlers the Gophers are just the type of team that zone was created to beat (as long as Rodney Williams doesn’t come flying in from nowhere and grab every rebound).

On offense for NU look for the Wildcats to attack the Gophers with hopefully the same balance they’ve shown recently. John Shurna is the leader, but I’d love to see another big game from Drew Crawford and continued solid efforts by JerShon Cobb, Alex Marcotullio, and Reggie Hearn. Also, if Davide Curletti rebounds like he did vs Iowa then he’ll be great help vs the athletic Gophers.

For years I’ve joked that Northwestern basketball has been paying off karma at a vastly accelerated and/or inflated rate, but I’d like to think it’s finally been paid off. The ‘Cats enter the Big Ten Tournament as ready to go as they’ve been all season missing only Luka Mirkovic from the regular rotation. That’s big and those returning players might be just what NU needs to push them over the top. I predict: Northwestern, 65 Minnesota, 60

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