Last season Northwestern had a serious problem with fouling opponents. It seemed like that problem had been solved this season, but against Minnesota it resurfaced and was the key as the Gophers pulled out an 81-70 victory.
It was like whack-a-mole, except it wasn't nearly as fun. Minnesota attempted 46 free throws and made 31. These weren't fouls caused by the Gophers' strong paint play either. Northwestern had a number of players hack a guy standing 30 feet away from the basket.
While some of that was inflated by late-game fouls, a number of Northwestern's 31 personals occurred much earlier in the game. On the other hand, the Gophers committed 13 fouls leading to 11 Northwestern free throw attempts.
Forced to earn their points, the Wildcats struggled shooting the ball against a very tall Minnesota team. Early in the game the movement against the 2-3 zone was completely stagnant. Northwestern finished 12-39 from three-point range.
Some individuals struggled against Minnesota as well. Luka Mirkovic continued his frustrating tendency to disappear during road games. He attempted two shots, grabbed four boards and committed four fouls. Against one of the tallest front lines that had to ever appear in a Big Ten game, the Northwestern junior center did absolutely nothing. Credit Davide Curletti for stepping in and playing 18 solid minutes, but even he attempted two shots and scored all of four points. This wasn't the night for those two to go quiet and boy did they ever.
The other player that struggled against Minnesota was Michael Thompson. Why I'm not quite sure. The Gophers were without their point guard and shut down defensive player Al Nolen, which makes the senior's performance all the more perplexing. At the end of the day 18 points and seven assists with only two turnovers looks alright, but Thompson needed 16 shots to score those points and many came after the game was sewn up. He seemed hesitant to attack gaps during the first half and also struggled with his shot. Conversely, Thompson's opposing point guard, Blake Hoffarber, scored 20 points on 10 shots and 8-10 free throw shooting.
With those two struggling and neither Alex Marcotullio or JerShon Cobb able to find their shot to complement John Shurna and Drew Crawford, it was likely that the Wildcats were going to lose this one. They need three offensive players. They only had two, and one had to leave for a period of time to get stitches in his chin after a nasty collision with the basket. It looked like in the first half that Marcotullio might be that guy, but he cooled off significantly in the second half and finished 2-10 from the field with nine points.
Now Ohio State comes to Welsh-Ryan Arena on Saturday. There are no statistics I can find that even think that game will be remotely close. I probably can't find too many people that think it will be either. Still, if Northwestern wants to shock the world and get a good conference win, that would be the time to do it.