Wednesday, January 25, 2011
Coming off a brutal 32-point loss from the Wisconsin Badgers, Northwestern (13-6, 3-5) has yet another tough challenge ahead of them. The Wildcats travel up north to the Twin Cities to take on the #16 Minnesota Golden Gophers.
The Wildcats were outplayed in every facet of the game against Wisconsin, making a smooth rebound even more important for Northwestern's season. However, beating Minnesota will not be easy. The Gophers have won three-straight games, and have just one loss on their home court.
The Gophers average four scorers in double-figures, led by senior guard Blake Hoffarber.
But, all is not well for the Gophers. It was recently announced that senior guard Al Nolen will miss a significant amount of time due to a broken foot.
Northwestern is looking to regain the consistency that has led them to 13 wins. The Wildcats had just two scorers in double-figures on Sunday, and sophomore forward Drew Crawford finished with just one point in 27 minutes.
A Wildcat win against the 16th-ranked Gophers won't come easy, but it sure would be nice.
The Wildcats and Gophers split last season's series. In their first matchup in Williams Arena, Minnesota pulled out a four-point victory against the Wildcats. However, Northwestern took the second matchup at Welsh-Ryan Arena, winning by three points in overtime.
KEY PLAYER FOR THE WILDCATS: Michael Thompson
Juice Thompson seems like an obvious choice for ‘key player'. Thompson is the quarterback of Northwestern's struggling offense. The ‘Cats go as Juice goes. The Wildcats offense is reeling after Sunday's demoralizing loss.
Juice Thompson needs to deliver a great game on offense, because the rest of the ‘Cats success is based off of Thompson's play. Juice needs to put up some good numbers, because the rest of the team will follow suit.
KEY PLAYER FOR THE GOPHERS: Trevor Mbakwe
Northwestern is going to have their hands full with Gopher junior forward Trevor Mbakwe. The 6-9 forward averages a double-double of 13.2 ppg and 10.3 rbg.
Recently, Northwestern's poor post play has been exposed by bigger and stronger players. Luka Mirkovic has had a tough time matching up with some of the Big Ten's elite big men. The Wildcats are going to have a tough task with stopping Mbakwe.
KEY TO A WILDCAT WIN: Rebounding
As stated in the key for the Gophers, rebounding is going to be a key. The Wildcats have allowed far too many second-chance opportunities, which has cost the ‘Cats some games. Stopping Trevor Mbakwe will be just a part of this challenge. Northwestern needs an all-around better game on defense, and rebounding is the first key to that.
The Wildcats haven't taken advantage of cold-shooting opponents this season, and that has allowed the opposition to climb back into games (See Michigan State game).
Northwestern needs to control the boards on defense, and take advantage of Minnesota misses. If that doesn't happen, the Gophers will light up the scoreboard the same way Wisconsin did.