There are two questions that are going to define Northwestern's game against Minnesota. 1) How healthy is John Shurna? 2) How will the Gophers deal with the injury to Al Nolen?
Thankfully we have some help in answering these. Dan Hanner over at Yet Another Basketball Blog (or YABB) ran through a number of injury scenarios
in hopes of discerning some magic about how injuries affect team play. What he's got are a lot of numbers that appear to be very specific to individuals and team systems. But, as luck would have it, two of the splits he's calculated are Northwestern with an injured Shurna and Minnesota without Nolen.
Adjusted Efficiency Numbers:
- Northwestern with injured Shurna - 118.5 offense, 102 defense
- Minnesota without Nolen - 104.3 offense, 99.6 defense
Notice that Minnesota has been significantly worse on both sides of the court without their point guard. This intuitively makes sense. Taking away your senior leader should make your team worse. Imagine if, horrors, Michael Thompson was injured. Or was in extended foul trouble. Oh wait, you can just look at the tape of the Wisconsin game.
What do those numbers mean? Does Northwestern have a chance?
The short answer is yes. In fact, even when accounting for home court advantage, the Wildcats still should be the favorite in this game if Hanner's numbers are correct. I took those numbers, adjusted for the game being at Minnesota and then figured out that Northwestern has a 63.4 percent chance of winning the game given the factors in play. (For more on how I did it, you should check out this very useful blog post.)
What's the expected score? 77-73 in 66 possessions.
Please note that this is very different from the score that Ken Pomeroy is currently showing
on his site. That has Minnesota favored 76-71 with the Wildcats having a 30 percent chance at victory. That's for a number of a reasons, one of the main ones being that Pomeroy doesn't adjust for injuries, which is where Hanner's post came from in the first place. Nolen played most of the games in Minnesota's sample as so the Gophers look like a much better team than they will be tonight.
Still, this isn't going to be an easy game for Northwestern. There's a lot of work to do. Even with the numbers, slightly, on their side the Wildcats need to go into a hostile gym and put together a solid effort. We'll see how tonight goes, but at least this is something to boost the hopes of Northwestern fans looking for a win.