Thursday, March 15, 2012

Wildcats in Washington for NIT Round Two Matchup

Turn on your favorite episode of Frasier, get your umbrella, order some Starbucks, and grab your favorite grunge mix tape, because the Wildcats are going to Seattle.

The NIT seeding document (which is clearly just for show) says that geography is included in placing teams in regions. Therefore, based on the last two years we can only conclude that the geniuses at NIT HQ believe that Washington is right next to Illinois. Clearly, the need to take a geography class. Either that or they’ve discovered wormhole travel and haven’t let anyone else in on the secret. Whatever the case, like last year’s quarterfinal game, Northwestern must travel west to play a team in Washington. On the positive side, UW is located in the easy access city of Seattle while the trip to Washington State forced the ‘Cats to travel to difficult to reach Pullman. With that in mind, I’m hoping NU gets off to a better start in this contest and I’m hoping that we’ll see a good NU turnout as even in Pullman the west coast Wildcat alums represented NU well.

Washington won the Pac-12 regular season title, but was upset by Oregon State in the Pac-12 tournament. Thanks to that loss and overall weakness of the Pac-12, the Huskies are in the NIT instead of the NCAA Tournament making them the first major conference team to win their league regular season title and not play in the NCAAs. Washington is a young team with only one senior who sees significant time. That senior is Darnell Grant one of two big front court players for UW. Grant has posted 10+ rebounds three games in a row and when teamed with 7-0 center Aziz N’Diaye the two certainly seem a formidable presence inside the paint. Of course, Northwestern isn’t know for getting rebounds, but they’ll have to do a better job on the glass against Washington than they did vs Akron or Minnesota if they want to get out of Seattle with a win.

In the back court Washington has one of the nation’s best freshman guards in Tony Wroten. He’s the team’s leading scorer and posts almost five rebounds and four assists a game. He’s 6-5 and should be an interesting matchup if NU goes man-to-man. I wouldn’t be shocked to see JerShon Cobb or Drew Crawford draw that defensive assignment. Another tough guard for Washington is Terrence Ross who scores more than 15 points per game. He’s 6-6 so he’s another guy that one of NU’s bigger guards (maybe Reggie Hearn) needs to defend. The only small Washignton guard is 6-3 Abdul Gaddy and 6-3 isn’t that small. He’s the point guard who will try to distribute the ball around for the Huskies.

I’m sometimes off on predicting how NU will defend a team, but considering that C.J. Wilcox off the bench and Ross are the only Washington players who make more than 35% of their threes and that Washington is barely better than 1-to-1 in assist-to-turnover ration I’m betting we see a lot of 1-3-1 from Northwestern.

On offense, the Oregon State version of the Princeton Offense was good enough to upset Washington recently, so we have to hope NU’s version (which is reportedly a little more creative) can do the same. It’ll probably come down to three point shooting and minimizing Washington’s rebound advantage for NU. The other intangible is the road environment. Washington had just under 3,000 people for their first round game and I can’t think this game will bring that many more to Alaska Airlines Arena. I do know that NU will have a nice crowd so that ought to help somewhat. Also while it probably means nothing Northwestern is 7-0 this season on ESPNU and is 5-0 on ESPNU away from Welsh-Ryan Arena. Also, the ‘Cats will likely wear their black jerseys which they’re 4-1 in this season. I know none of that really impacts the outcomes, but I’m liking the omens I see. I also like the fact that I think Washington will turn the ball over. If NU gets production from players other than Shuna, Crawford, and Cobb they can win this game. Of course, they haven’t gotten that production in the last two contests. Still, I feel this game is a lot like the game at Illinois which NU pulled out thanks to Reggie Hearn’s huge afternoon. I predict: Northwestern, 69 Washington, 67

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