It doesn’t get any easier in the Big Ten now does it? That’s the question the Northwestern Wildcats are certainly asking themselves as they get ready to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers tonight at Welsh-Ryan Arena. It’s the third straight game for the ‘Cats versus a ranked foe and it may be the toughest test yet. Minnesota is coming off two straight losses, albeit to the highly ranked Indiana Hoosiers and Michigan Wolverines, where they were outplayed for most of the contest. The final scores don’t really indicate how much they were dominated.
A major problem for them in those two “L’s” was their guard play. Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins have been relatively ineffective despite their final stat lines. Most of those numbers came in serious “garbage time” when the Golden Gophers were down 10 or more points. They must stay out of foul trouble and finally click together for them to win against the best the B1G has to offer. Let’s get to the game plans for both teams.
This is really a “must” game to keep up their slim chances of winning the conference. Northwestern is still thoroughly outmatched despite their fine (mostly 2nd half) effort against Indiana. A fast start is a must because unlike that game, Northwestern will probably have a “true” home court advantage tonight. Don’t let their fans get into it. I want to see Trevor Mbakwe get the ball on the block and work on Alex Olah. He doesn’t have the ability to keep up with Mbakwe’s first step and overall athleticism. If Olah gets into foul trouble, Bill Carmody will be forced to go to Mike Turner who has been a near disaster.
If Northwestern goes to their 1-3-1 zone, you must attack. Passing the ball around the perimeter is useless. It nearly cost Indiana the game. Let Andre Hollins get into the teeth of the defensive and kick it out. Then cut to the basket. You don’t necessarily have to “shoot” the ‘Cats into a man-to-man look.
Defensively, I would put a lot of pressure on the ball. Northwestern doesn’t really have any great ball handlers as only Dave Sobolewski and Reggie Hearn look even remotely comfortable bringing the ball up court. See if you can force them to play at your quicker pace. They won’t be able to keep up with that in the 2nd half.
I thought Carmody’s strategy to go to the small lineup against Indiana was sheer brilliance (and I’ve been hard on him at times as you know). The Wildcats aren’t going to win a strictly physical game with Minnesota either. You’ve got to try and “out finesse them”. I want to see the ‘Cats show a willingness to go to the small lineup much earlier. Don’t use it as a rescue against a huge deficit. In theory, it should force each Minnesota defender to be “honest” defensively. That will open up some backdoor cuts, which then create less pressure on the perimeter.
Defensively, mix up your defenses every couple possessions The “amoeba like” look should be able to bother a Golden Gophers team that has had trouble limiting turnovers. This should get you a couple easy buckets for a team that is struggling to score. What that does to you mentally is immense, let alone the results on the scoreboard.
The 2nd half against Indiana gave me renewed hope that Northwestern will probably be at least competitive at home to some of the elite teams in conference. However, until they prove to me they can win one (or better yet two) I have to go with the visitors. Minnesota’s size and athleticism will be too much to overcome. Gophers 65 – Wildcats 57.