Northwestern goes to Raleigh, North Carolina to take on N.C. State tonight in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. It is the Wildcats only true road game of the non-conference season. That fact alone makes it all the more important that Northwestern play well and come away with a victory.
When the season started this was expected to be an easy victory for Northwestern. The Wolfpack struggled to a 16-14 record last season. But N.C. State has proven once again that early season predictions don't mean anything once the games have actually started. Sure, the Wolfpack haven't played anyone really, but they are undefeated at 5-0.
More about N.C. State, Northwestern and the implications of tonight's game after the jump.
The game tonight is on ESPNU at 6 p.m. If you happen to live in Evanston, Ill. and want to come out to Tommy Nevins, I will be there watching the game and I'd love to have some company.
More about N.C. State:
The Wolfpack have played just one major conference opponent - Auburn. The game against the Tigers was very close as N.C. State squeaked out a 60-58 victory on a shot with 1.3 seconds remaining to win the Glenn Wilkes Classic. While N.C. State has been solid on offense this season, it's the defense that has really been stellar. The Wolfpack currently rank 45th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom. Teams aren't going to the free throw line and are shooting poorly against N.C. State.
Of course, there's no way opponents shoot 44.8% from the free throw line all season against N.C. State. That's just a little bit ridiculous. With two big, experienced forwards in Tracy Smith and Dennis Horner playing in the middle, the Wolfpack should have good interior defense all season long. Smith is currently averaging a double-double of 16.2 points per game and 10.4 rebounds per game.
The other player to watch on offense for the Wolfpack is point guard Javier Gonzalez. He's a little wild with the basketball - he averages 3.8 turnovers per game, but he offsets it by making a ton of plays - 6.6 assists per game, 10th in the country.
Keys for Northwestern:
- Don't let the size of N.C. State intimidate shots or create a great disparity in rebounding.
- Force Gonzalez to make more bad decisions than good ones.
- Prevent N.C. State from getting to the free throw line. Get to the free throw line and make some shots. (Okay, the second half of this might be difficult, but it's worth a shot.)
- Show composure on the road.
If Northwestern can do those four things, the Wildcats should be in a good position for the victory and a solid conclusion to their non-conference schedule. This game is going to be close - Accuscore predicts a two-point N.C. State victory, but it's a winnable game.