Presuming that's a fair premise, Northwestern really needs to get back one or two of its injured players before heading to Minnesota on Sunday. The Wildcats didn't have junior guard Alex Marcotullio (concussion) or sophomore guard Jershon Cobb (hip) at Wisconsin, which meant they had just five perimeter players and two centers available.
That's not going to be enough manpower against the Gophers. Not only will they be fresh and revved-up after enjoying the Big Ten's midweek bye (and winning at Indiana and Penn State last week), Tubby Smith likes to go 10-deep with his crew of slashers.
Northwestern figures to spend lots of time in its 1-3-1 zone against the Gophers, even though Wisconsin shredded the 1-3-1 on Wednesday night and the Gophers are shooting a respectable 35.1 percent from 3-point range. Bill Carmody's bunch has to hope new Minnesota point guard Julian Welch and his younger cohorts get impatient against the zone.
Meanwhile, Sunday's game figures to be a fun trip for NU senior forward John Shurna, who gets to relive the concussion he suffered when the Wildcats visited Williams Arena last January. He was on a breakaway late in the first half when Minnesota center Ralph Sampson III nudged him into the basket stanchion and bloodied him.
Shurna returned to play the final 17 minutes of NU's 11-point loss as neither the team nor Shurna realized the extent of his head injury.
The Wildcats also have to worry about the current health of No. 2 scorer Drew Crawford. He injured his shooting hand late in the first half against Wisconsin.
Though he returned for the second half, he shot just 2 of 6 from the field after intermission.
ON THE SPOT: When Northwestern stunned No. 6 Michigan State last week, senior center Davide Curletti received the lion's share of the credit for his special performance (17 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) in just his second career start. That means Curletti, who started again Jan. 14 at Wisconsin, must take some responsibility for the Wildcats' 77-57 loss to the Badgers. He contributed just 2 points, 6 rebounds and 1 assist in 26 minutes against Wisconsin.
The Wildcats don't expect Curletti to repeat his MSU effort, but he has to be a legitimate offensive threat as the "5" man in order to make Northwestern's Princeton-style offense reach its potential. The Wildcats' three games against Minnesota last year serve as prime examples of the need for a competent 5 man.
When Northwestern lost by 11 points at Minnesota, the Wildcats hoisted 39 3-point attempts (and hit just 12) because Curletti and starter Luka Mirkovic combined for 6 points in 40 minutes against the beefy Gophers. But when NU won its regular-season finale against Minnesota, Curletti came off the bench for 12 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks in 21 minutes. Curletti had a more modest performance (3 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists) when NU beat Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament, but then-senior point guard Michael "Juice" Thompson saved the Wildcats with a career-high 35 points.
--Senior forward Davide Curletti had one of his best games of his career at a time the Wildcats needed a player to step up. In his second career start, Curletti tallied 17 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and a blocked shot in Northwestern's win over No. 6 Michigan State on Jan. 14. Curletti scored more points against the Spartans than he did in his last four games combined (14).
--Junior guard Reggie Hearn earned the praise of coach Bill Carmody following a 10-point game against Michigan State. Hearn has taken on a bigger role due to injuries to Drew Crawford, JerShon Cobb and Alex Marcotullio. Hearn tallied 10 points and five rebounds in NU's win over Michigan State. He has averaged 8.3 points in his last three games, while averaging 6.6 rebounds during that stretch. Hearn is one of three players to score in all 17 games this year.
BY THE NUMBERS: 3 -- Three Wildcats started all 17 games through Jan. 14 this year to help bring some stability despite a rash of injuries at the guard position. John Shurna, Dave Sobolewski and Reggie Hearn started 17 games, while Drew Crawford had 16 starts and Luka Mirkovic owned 15 starts.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "To be honest, it didn't really matter to me. It has been a while (since I started.) I'm also a senior now. I have to put the team ahead. I can't be nervous. I have to play my game." -- Northwestern senior forward Davide Curletti on earning the second start of his career and responding with 17 points against Michigan State.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--at Minnesota, Jan. 22
KEY MATCHUPS: This game might hold a lot of weight for both teams looking to sneak into the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats lost Trevor Mbakwe for the season, but Rodney Williams and Ralph Sampson III are capable of dominating Northwestern in the paint. The Wildcats can spread the floor with their shooting, but hitting the boards is priority against the Gophers.
FUTURES MARKET: Sophomore guard JerShon Cobb sat out his sixth game of the season against Michigan State. The 6-foot-5 Cobb is a valuable player due to his athleticism and size, but he's not been able to display his talents due to his injuries. Cobb has played more than 20 minutes in four games this season. Cobb missed the MSU game due to a hip injury. Cobb showed what he can do when healthy, scoring 18 points against Illinois last year as a freshman.
--Senior F John Shurna got off to a blistering start Jan. 14 at Wisconsin. He drilled his first 5 shots (2 3-pointers, 2 free throws and one jumper in the paint) for 10 points in the opening five minutes. From there, though, Shurna scored just 9 points in his next 32 minutes as he finished 6 of 12 from the floor. Shurna continues to pace the Big Ten in scoring (19.1 ppg) while ranking seventh in rebounding (6.1 rpg), fourth in free-throw accuracy (.855) and second in 3-pointers (48).
--Junior G Drew Crawford harmed his shooting hand late in the first half Jan. 14 at Wisconsin, yet still played 37 minutes. He delivered 11 of his 17 points prior to the undisclosed injury, but the bigger harm was done to his overall game. Crawford has stuffed the stat sheet on a regular basis this season, but he posted 2 rebounds, no assists, no blocks and no steals against the Badgers. Crawford remains the league's No. 3 scorer at 17.6 ppg and still shoots 44 percent on 3-pointers, but he dropped to 4.7 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.0 spg and 0.8 bpg for the year.