After starting the season on an impressive 6-1 run, Northwestern looked like a JV team against Maryland.
Head coach Bill Carmody has the opportunity to string together some impressive wins against non-conference opponents Baylor and Butler, which will allow the team to breath easier before facing off against a wave of challenging Big Ten opponents.
North by Northwestern will not be publishing recaps for the next eight games but to make up for it, here is the guide for the true Wildcat basketball fan on where to watch the games and how the ‘Cats matchup against their opponents.
VS. University of Illinois-Chicago – Sunday, Dec. 1
Where to watch/listen: Big Ten Digital Network or wgnradio.com, 1 P.M. CT
The Flames don’t crack the top 200 in the NCAA in the four major statistical categories (rebounds, field goal percent, points per game and assists). They have a pair of decent 3-point shooters, but there shouldn’t be too much cause for concern.
UIC does have some size, but Northwestern should have the athletic advantage, allowing them to scoop up some rebounds and control the paint.
@ Baylor – Tuesday, Dec. 4
Where to watch: ESPN2, 8 P.M. CT
After beginning the preseason ranked 19th in the nation, Baylor’s performance has slid after dropping two close games to mediocre Colorado and College of Charleston. While their shooting has been top notch, the Bears continually play poorly on defense. Still, Baylor is one of the top teams in the nation, and if some defensive miscues are corrected, the Bears should climb back into the Top 25 in no time.
All year long, the ‘Cats have struggled to stop opposing teams’ star players, so Northwestern’s biggest challenge coming into the game is Bears’ point guard Pierre Jackson. The senior averages over 20 points per game, shooting 47.7 percent from the field, on top of 6.7 assists per game. Though undersized at 5 feet 10 inches, Jackson is one of the quickest on the court at all times, easily penetrating opposing defenses. NU point guard Dave Sobolewski will need assistance guarding the speedier Jackson off the dribble if Carmody plays man-to-man defense.
Expect Kentucky to hand Baylor its third loss in four games on Dec. 1, but the Bears should be able to handle the less athletic Wildcats easily at home.
VS. Butler – Saturday, Dec. 8
Where to watch: Big Ten Network, 7 P.M. CT
Butler’s record is perplexing. One day the Bulldogs upset No. 9 UNC, and the next they find themselves on the wrong end of a pounding at the hands of Illinois. If Northwestern could steal a win here, it would be a huge moral booster.
Senior transfer, Rotnei Clark leads the team in scoring with 18.4 points per game but averages less than two assists per game, which screams mediocrity for a point guard. Ever since his transfer from Arkansas, the senior’s stats have digressed in every category other than points.
Northwestern must play aggressive defense. The ‘Cats are taller at every starting position and need to harness their physical advantage. Overzealous defense should not be frowned upon against a team who shoots only 62 percent from the charity stripe.
The key matchup will be Drew Crawford defending the talented forward Khyle Marshall, who is Butler’s second leading scorer and leading rebounder. Will Crawford shut down the junior and show America Northwestern basketball can defeat a legitimate opponent, or will the excitement around the Wildcats die down?
VS. Texas State – Monday, Dec. 17
Where to watch: Big Ten Network, 6 P.M. CT
The ‘Cats should be able to easily subdue the Bobcats without much trouble. With an unimpressive couple of wins, and no road experience until Dec. 15 against Texas, Texas State doesn't look like a team that will finish above .500.
VS. Stanford – Friday, Dec. 21
Where to watch: Big Ten Network, 8 P.M. CT
The Cardinals have one of the hardest non-conference schedule’s in the nation, facing the likes of No. 13 Missouri, No. 18 North Carolina State and an underrated Minnesota team. Though Stanford has already lost two of these (to Missouri and Minnesota), they battled relentlessly in both losses.
Head coach Johnny Dawkins plays just about every player on his bench at some point in the game, so the ‘Cats will have to make a lot of adjustments on defense.
Will Northwestern be able to guard Dwight Powell? Northwestern big men have not shown enough aggression or toughness thus far. The 6-foot-10-inch junior continues to perform at a high caliber, but his constant foul trouble has limited his minutes thus far.
The Cardinal continue to struggle with their shooting, hitting only 39.5 percent of shots, which is nearly 300th in the nation. Three-point shooting is the biggest issue; Stanford has hit an unimpressive 27 percent of their shots from downtown thus far.
VS. Brown – Sunday, Dec. 23
Where to watch/listen: Big Ten Digital Network or wgnradio.com, 12:30 P.M. CT
Brown put up a respectable fight against the Blue Devils on Nov. 15, only losing by 15 points. Oh, wait, Brown lost to the Central Connecticut State Blue Devils, not Duke. Yeah, Brown should not be a challenge, but basketball is the most unpredictable sport in college for a reason. Northwestern can’t get too sloppy, or the Bears might pull off an upset.
VS. Michigan – Thursday, Jan. 3
Where to watch: ESPN 2, 6 P.M. CT
Unfortunately for the ‘Cats, Michigan could be 13-0 when they arrive at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Jan. 3. The game will be available for fans to watch on ESPN 2, but the Wildcat nation might not want to tune in to this one; so far, Michigan is living up to all of the preseason hype.
All but one of the Michigan starters have field goal percentages over 50 percent. Absurd. The Wolverines are hot, and of course the numbers will not last the entire season, but Michigan still looks scary good. One of the best players in the country and undoubtedly Michigan’s most talented player, Tim Hardaway Jr., rarely forces ill-advised shots. The ‘Cats will have a hard time guarding the explosive junior who averages nearly seven boards and over 18 points per game, a player many thought was good enough to enter the NBA draft after last year’s season.
The one place where Northwestern might have a fighting chance is in size advantage. The tallest starter for the Wolverines is 6 feet 8 inches, and the rest of the starting five is all less than 6 feet 6 inches. Northwestern needs to go with a big lineup to have any hope. With a pair of 6-foot-8-inch forwards and a 7-footer in Alex Olah, Northwestern needs to turn the game into a half court matchup, playing the ball down to the bigs. If Michigan runs their fast break approach, Northwestern is toast. The ‘Cats simply cannot compete with Michigan’s hustle and athleticism on the open court.
Last year all Northwestern needed to make the NCAA Tournament was one more signature win. The ‘Cats are gigantic underdogs against the third-ranked team in the nation, and a win against a Top 5 team could go a long way towards an NCAA tournament bid.
@ Minnesota – Sunday, Jan. 6
Where to watch: Big Ten Network, TBD
Led by a slew of talented upperclassmen, Minnesota continues to turn heads as another powerhouse in the Big Ten. With the only blemish to their eight-game season coming against No. 5 Duke, the Golden Gophers have had a promising start to their 2012-2013 campaign.
A tremendous bright spot thus far has been the play of Rodney Williams Jr. The senior stud ranks 15th in the nation in field goal percentage. With the ability to hit a jump shot from anywhere inside of 21 feet as well as the power to take the ball to the basket with force, Williams Jr. hits two thirds of his shots. His hot hand cannot stay burning for the entirety of the season, but don’t expect the guard to backslide significantly. Last year the Golden Gopher finished well above the 50th percentile because of his ability to nail the mid-range jump shot consistently.
Another key player is monster rebounder Trevor Mbakwe, who has grabbed more than 10 boards on two separate occasions in Minnesota’s young season. In their most recent loss, Northwestern grabbed a meager 15 boards to Maryland’s 42. The ‘Cats will be in heaps of trouble if they allow Minnesota to control the glass, which is exactly what the Golden Gophers did in last year’s Big Ten Tournament victory against the ‘Cats, even without an injured Mbakwe. So far, Minnesota has managed to grab an average of nine more rebounds than their opponent in all eight games.
Northwestern will have to shoot the ball well from long range. They simply won’t win the battle down low against a far stronger team.
As scary as it may seem, Minnesota isn’t even in the top five of Big Ten opponents Northwestern faces this year. In a way, the game is sort of a must-win if the ‘Cats want to escape a cycle of NIT Tournament bids.