Northwestern plays against St. Francis (NY) tonight at 7 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. CT. The Terriers are the class of the Northeastern Conference, but that's not saying much as the conference is ranked somewhere around 30th in each of the major metrics.
Still, the Wildcats - and newly crowned Big Ten Player of the Week John Shurna - need to win this game in order to play Davidson or St. John's tomorrow in the championship. So what does Northwestern have to do? And even if it does turn into a blowout what should you watch out for? Check it out after the break.
Things to know:
Northwestern vs. St. Francis (NY) from Madison Square Garden at 6 p.m. CT
Radio: WGN 720 AM and wgnradio.com
Ken Pomeroy: Northwestern favored 74-60 (92%) in 63 possessions
Accuscore: Northwestern favored 79.3-63.5 (88.7%)
Key #1 - Play defense: First off, that's not a typo. According to Ken Pomeroy the Wildcats are expected to hold St. Francis to under a point per possession. That's partially because the Terriers have one of the worst offenses in the nation and it's partially because Northwestern has shown that it's capable of doing so. Other opponents that scored fewer than a point per possession against the Wildcats include: Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Creighton, Long Island and American.
So maybe I should amend this a bit to - play defense in the first half. The Wildcats have had problems breaking away early because it takes some time for the offense to begin wearing down an opponents legs. Hopefully they'll be able to get this one sealed up a bit quicker.
Key #2 - Get Michael Thompson and John Shurna rest: I know Thompson wants to be on the court all the time, but with a game tomorrow against either St. John's or Davidson he's going to need rested legs. Of course, in order to play for the championship tomorrow and to keep the team's bubble hopes alive Northwestern has to win this one. This is another case in which getting a comfortable lead is a must. If the Wildcats win and Thompson has to play 37+ minutes it's like winning the battle but setting yourself up to ultimately lose the war. For if Northwestern has to play St. John's tomorrow it's going to need all the legs it can muster because of the Red Storm's pressing style.
Thus it is important that players like Alex Marcotullio, JerShon Cobb, Mike Capocci and Jeff Ryan step up and allow Bill Carmody to feel comfortable digging into his bench a little bit tonight. I'd really like to see the Wildcats do something crazy, like playing the 1-3-1 without Thompson on the floor, but I doubt it'll happen.
Key #3 - Avoid fouling: Last season Northwestern had a problem with fouling people. This season it isn't quite as bad, but it's still lurking. Long Island is very good at getting to the line and the Wildcats allowed 30 free throw attempts. The Terriers are no slouch at getting to the line on offense either, in fact its the only thing they do really well. Thus tonight against St. Francis I'd like to see their free throw attempts be down below 20.