The Big Ten season is only two games old and already both sides of the “I Told You So” scale have already been reached. On one side Minnesota lost at home to a beatable Michigan State team. On the other they went into Purdue and won in overtime led by an amazing performance from Nate Mason.
Mason’s 31 point, 11 assist game was the first of it’s time in Golden Gopher history as no Minnesota player had ever hit 30 plus points AND 10 plus assists in a single game before Sunday. Mason is having an All Big Ten caliber year so far with 14.7 points, 5.8 assists, and 3.5 rebounds a game shooting 44 percent at the arc.
As a team the Gophers are ranked one spot outside of the top 25 so they are technically ranked 26th in the nation going into tomorrow’s game.
The Wildcats are currently 12-3 on the season and coming off a nine point loss to Michigan State in East Lansing. Earlier in the year Butler beat the Wildcats by a basket and Notre Dame beat them by two scores so the MSU defeat was their biggest of the year. Northwestern has beaten Penn State, Dayton, DePaul Wake Forest, and Texas among others this season.
Northwestern starting center Derek Pardon, a 6-foot-8, 235 pound sophomore center, is expected to return to the Northwestern line-up tonight after missing eight games because of injury.
Pardon gave his team seven points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes a game before his injury. Derek was replaced as the starting five by 6-foot-10 freshman center Barret Benson. Benson is averaging 2.5 points and 2.4 rebounds a game in ten minutes a contest.
Northwestern’s long time starter Sanjay Lumpkin is the son of former Gopher safety Sean Lumpkin and the step-son of former Gopher center Jim Peterson. He’s made a great career for himself in a worker role and he’s doing it again with 7.6 points and a team high 7.3 rebounds in an average 28 minutes a game. Lumpkin is shooting 62 percent from the floor and 75 percent from the foul line.
The Wildcats have a three player playmaking group with 6-foot-3 junior point guard Bryant McIntosh leading the way at 11.7 points and 5.6 assists a game. McIntosh puts games away at the foul line (88 percent on 33 attempts) but has been terrible at the three-point arc (15 of 61).
Six-foot-7 sophomore Vic Law has come back from missing last year to give the Cats 13.7 points and six boards a night. Law is making 46 percent of his field goals and is a three point weapon making 44.5 percent of his 4-5 threes attempted a contest. Six-foot-5 junior wing Scottie Lindsey is the team’s leading scorer at 15.7 points a game shooting 90 percent at the foul line (35 of 39), 42 percent at the arc (35 of 83), and 45.5 percent from the field.
Northwestern has been excellent in the halfcourt offense controlling the ball and taking high percentage shots. They average 18 assists a contest (11 for their opponents) and those 18 assists have led to 37.5 percent three point shooting as a team and 75 percent foul shooting. The Cats take 23 or 24 of their 60 shots a contest from the arc.
Three-pointing is something that everybody was concerned about for Minnesota and after 15 games this team is blowing away expectations from the arc. We at GI thought the goal should be 33 percent for the year but three guys in the rotation are above that (Nate Mason is shooting 44 percent on 4-5 a game, Dupree McBrayer is at 37 percent on three a game, and Akeem Springs 38 percent on five a contest) leading to the team shooting 34.9 percent at the arc.
What does Derek Pardon back to the line-up if fully healthy? He brings a very aggressive rebounding effort more than anything. Pardon is a high energy guy and at 6-foot-8 he’s just slightly smaller than Reggie Lynch. The number one thing Minnesota must do is get a body on him and that is Lynch, Bakary Konate, and Eric Curry. Stick a forearm in his chest when the shot goes up every time and they will benefit.
Who will be in charge of slowing down the rebounding efforts of Jordan Murphy? That would be Lumpkin at 220 pounds. Lumpkin did not produce numbers against Minnesota last year but he did give effort. The first game he and his teammates (Wildcats defense will have several bodies on him) slowed down Murphy but Jordan had 14 in the second contest. They have to keep a body on him which will be tough.
Vic Law versus Amir Coffey. Two new guys from a year ago, both are in the 6-foot-7, 6-foot-8 area. Law is Northwestern’s best athlete, Coffey is very versatile and a good athlete too. Their battle will be key as Law has had a great start to the second and length needs to be on him at all times and when Akeem Springs is on the floor he needs to be aggressive with him and keep him in front.
The Cats guards destroyed Minnesota last year. McIntosh had 20 points including three treys in the 82-58 win Lindsey came off the bench to hit shots in both games including three in the 77-52 win. Tre Demps hurt the Gophers in a big way but he has graduated (Aaron Falzen also hurt Minnesota in the first game with 6 treys but he’s out for the Cats).
Nate Mason has something to prove this evening. He had two terrible showings against the Wildcats a year ago shooting 7 of 24 in both games and getting frustrated by the defensive looks that Northwestern threw at him. Those same defensive strategies will be back (think FSU taking the ball out of his hands or putting him in bad spots) and Mason must handle things better tonight. With he and Dupre McBrayer being much improved expect a better performance but they must defend Lindsey and McIntosh better and also watch freshman Isaih Brown who has been having a nice year.
I feel I’m an honest man and I feel like I always predict in an honest way. Today, I will be honest, I really don’t know what is going to happen tonight. When 8pm comes around expect Minnesota to play way better vs the Cats than last year. But last year puts doubts in my head because Northwestern completely destroyed the Gophers last year and the Cats are now better (need a reminder of how bad it was in Evanston last year, check the video below). And at home. But they have not played the way they wanted defensively in conference play giving up too many points to Penn State in a win and losing to Michigan State. This is a tough call. Last year’s games were just too ugly for me to pull the road win trigger for Minnesota. But I really don’t have a good feel for this game.
Northwestern 65 Minnesota 63