My gut reaction when thinking about Wednesday’s game is that at least after the game is over Northwestern won’t have to face Minnesota again unless they play in the Big Ten Tournament (which always seems to happen) as I feel like Minnesota might be the worst matchup of any Big Ten team for the Wildcats. At Minnesota earlier this month NU was in the game at halftime down just 17-14 and could have had the led if they’d shot the ball better, but in the end Minnesota’s superior athleticism won out in the second half.
I think Minnesota is probably the most athletic team in the Big Ten and given NU’s lack of athleticism that makes Minnesota a tough matchup for the ‘Cats. I do think Northwestern is now playing better defense than they were when they first faced Minnesota and while Northwestern isn’t ever going to be impressive in rebounding I feel like the effort in that area has been better of late. All that said, I think Minnesota is going to give Northwestern some significant problems. The Gopher front court of Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams is so athletic that they have he ability to totally dominate Northwestern on the glass. That didn’t happen in the first half of the first game these two teams played because NU slowed down the game enough that Minnesota just didn’t have that many chances for rebounds, but once the game’s pace picked up you could see how those two could control the glass.
Minnesota also has some good guards. They got a great shooting performance from Austin Hollins last time they played NU but at various times this year it has been point guard Andre Hollins or Joe Coleman who has led the Minnesota backcourt. Perhaps the balanced attack the Gophers have is part of the reason why they are a top 10 team. You can’t assume that stopping one player will be enough because another will step up and beat you. In fact, Andre Hollins was pretty much shutdown by NU last time, but the play of Austin more than made up for that fact.
Prediction: Northwestern’s coming off a good effort in a loss to Indiana which might at least get some fans to show up at Welsh-Ryan Arena. The fact the game is at 8PM CT on a Wednesday night is probably good for student attendance and bad for any visiting Gopher fans who might want to make the trip. Maybe that does something to create a home court advantage at Welsh-Ryan which wasn’t present on Sunday vs IU. Of course, home court advantage or not Northwestern hasn’t played well at home this season. This is a surprise because in the past NU has at least defended their home court even though they’ve been poor on the road. Now NU is a sub-.500 home team but has won 5-of-6 away from Welsh-Ryan. To find a way to surprise and please the home crowd NU will need to make shots. The biggest difference between NU’s road and home success is NU seems to shoot the ball better away from home. That makes no sense, but NU couldn’t hit anything for a good portion of the Indiana game yet made virtually everything in the first half vs Illinois in Champaign. I’m still waiting to see Kale Abrahamson have a big shooting night as I think he might be the most capable of anyone of just catching fire. I’d also like to see Dave Sobolewski hit some threes consistently. The only game he really has was in NU’s win over Penn State which was, of course, in Happy Valley. Jared Swopshire has shown signs of life the past two games and he’ll be a key player on Wednesday both on offense and on the glass. Also, freshman Alex Olah needs to take advantage of the fact that while he’s not nearly as athletic as his Minnesota counterparts he’ll have about four inches on them in terms of height. He has to be able to convert shots from five feet away. In the end I don’t like NU’s chances in this game but maybe they’ll finally show up for 40 minutes in a home game. A few years ago this was a game you’d think NU would have real shot to pull the upset, but you can’t believe that now. Minnesota, 70 Northwestern, 56