Can the Wildcats break a press?

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 20: John Shurna  of the Northwestern Wildcats dunks against the St. Francis Terriers during the Madison Square Garden Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden on December 20, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)

Well against St. John's tonight we'll find out tonight. In the past this hasn't been one of Northwestern's strong suits. On the other hand, this is where Alex Marcotullio and JerShon Cobb might really be useful. Both seem comfortable handling the ball and if the Red Storm can force Michael Thompson to give it up then maybe those two can carry some of the load.

Things to know:
Northwestern vs. St. John's from Madison Square Garden, 9:30 p.m. - MSG Holiday Festival Championship Game
TV: MSG
Radio: WGN
Live-blog: Here again tonight! (Last night's was a lot of fun.)
Ken Pomeroy: St. John's 70, Northwestern 69 (45%) in 64 possessions
Accuscore: Northwestern 72.1, St. John's 71.7 (53.9%)

Well last night was fun. Northwestern romped to a 92-61 victory over an overmatched St. Francis (NY) squad. Now though comes the Wildcats' first real test of the season. It's a true 50/50 toss up according to all of the statistical projections.

The reason it becomes even trickier is because St. John's does some things well and some other things really poorly. It's pains me to say this, but this game might come down to how locked in Northwestern's shooters are from three-point range. The Red Storm doesn't play particularly good perimeter defense, so if John Shurna, Drew Crawford and Thompson start knocking down threes early it would give the Wildcats some serious breathing room.
Here are three other things I'll be watching tonight:
1. The post defense of Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti - Neither center played particularly well against St. Francis. Now in comes an undersized, but more athletic St. John's team. It's troubling to think what might happen to these two underneath. Both will have to stand their ground and play better man defense than they did on Monday night if the Wildcats are going to contain St. John's. Also, both really need to rebound. 
2. How Northwestern handles the press defense - I talked about it in the opening, but this is really, really important. As Rodger Sherman pointed out in his preview over at Sippin' On Purple, St. John's likes to throw a lot of different defenses at an opponent. It's important that the Wildcats stay composed and get the ball into half court situations where they'll find open looks aplenty.
3. What impact St. John's athleticism has on the game - This is a good game to play prior to Big Ten play because the Red Storm have a toughness and athleticism that resembles a Big Ten team more so than any other squad Northwestern has faced. How the Wildcats stand up to that challenge is going to show what to expect come Purdue, Michigan State and Illinois to start conference play.

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Tags: Northwestern, preview

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