Well the Big Ten basketball season is finally upon us. Time to find out what this PSU basketball team is all about. Northwestern, too, for that matter. If you haven’t been paying attention, NW has been having a great season so far. They have gotten out to an 8-2 start, and due to some lucky scheduling, they have accumulated a gaudy #10 ranking in the RPI. They have dominated Depaul and Florida State at home, and their only losses have been very close and on the road at undefeated Stanford and at Butler (#2 in the RPI).
Everyone expected the Wildcats to be improved after their dismal Big Ten campaign last year. They returned a solid 3 man attack with 6′-8″ all Big Ten F Kevin Coble, 5′-11″ up-and-coming PG Michael Thompson, and 6′-3″ deadly 3 point shooter Craig Moore. After those three studs, Carmody has been tinkering with his rotation all season. Freshmen F John Shurna and C Kyle Rowley have started at the other 2 spots all 10 games of the season. But Shurna is only averaging 20 MPG, while Rowley is averaging only 15 MPG. Rowley was a highly touted big man that was getting interest from many schools. I don’t remember his exact situation but many big time programs wanted him to wait a year and go to prep school (?) to develop his game more. He didn’t want to wait and Northwestern offered him a scholarship in the 2008 class. Now he’s starting for the Wildcats. It was questioned whether or not Rowley would redshirt due to the rawness of his game (I believe he just started playing organized ball). Obviously that didn’t happen, but it does provide a reason for why he’s only averaging 15 minutes a game as a starter. He’s listed at 7’0″ 280 lbs and is only averaging 5 points and 2 rebounds a game. Shurna is listed at 6’8″ and has had a solid start to his campaign. He’s averaging 9.8 points in just 20 minutes and provides a little bit of everything for the Wildcats.
Carmody has a wide array of options off his bench. 6’6″ Jeff Ryan, 6’8″ Ivan Peljusic, 6’4″ Jeremy Nash, and 6’11” Luka Mirkovic have all had appearnances in the majority of NW’s games. Ryan’s the primary reserve, averages 4 points in 17 MPG. Peljusic’s playing time has had no consistency has he averaged just 6 minutes against Brown, but played 29 minutes in the Butler loss (their next game).
Back to the big three. Coble’s averaging 15 points, 6 boards, and 2.6 assists a game, while hitting threes at a 41% clip. While averaging 32 MPG, Coble has played 37 or more minutes 4 times this season, generally in NW’s big, close games. Moore has been on fire from 3 so far this season. He’s averaging 14 points, 3 assists and 3 boards a game, while connecting on 32 of 67 threes (47%). He caught fire on the road against Brown, nailing 9-13 from behind the arc on his way to 31 points. Same as Coble, Moore has notched 37+ minutes 5 times this season. Thompson’s stat line is 10 points, 4 assists, 3 boards a game in 32 minutes. He’s only played 37+ minutes just three times this season. Regardless, these three guys are going to be on the floor for Northwestern essentially the whole game.
It’s pretty clear what PSU will have to do to win the game. They need to speed the game up, limit their own turnovers, crash the boards hard, and force NW to turn it over. PSU has won 5 of their last 6 games against the Wildcats, and they absolutely cannot afford to drop a home game tomorrow. PSU is giving up a lot of size but they’re more athletic so I’d expect PSU to stay in man defense against the Cats. Pringle has got to harrass Moore all game. Coble is going to get his points, but the Lions have got to limit NW’s other options.
It’s going to be a very sparse crowd tomorrow, with everyone in LA for the Rose Bowl, including HHV. It’s an early game at noon on ESPN2. I’ll be there. Hopefully the guys can keep their own intensity up despite the lacking atmosphere in the building.
PREDICTION: PSU is a 3.5 favorite. I’ll take PSU to cover as they pull away late for a 69-59 victory.