More B1G basketball for the Gophers today. Anyone else excited? Because I'm excited. To help get us ready for the matchup I sent Rodger Sherman from the excellent Northwestern blog Sippin' on Purple a handful of quick questions that he was kind enough to answer. So let's get to it!
The Daily Gopher: As an outsider, the Wildcats seem to have had a rough start to the season. Rough enough where the traditional "will they make the NCAA tourney this year?" talk seems like it would be welcome right about now. How would you describe Northwestern's season thus far?
Rodger: Well, to start out the year, Northwestern seemed like a pretty middling team in an extremely tough conference. We lost John Shurna from last year, but have a whole poopload of talented freshmen and some transfers coming in, so it seemed like it could be replaceable. There was a bad loss to Illinois-Chicago, but good wins against Baylor and Illinois State.
Then, Drew Crawford needed season-ending shoulder surgery. Crawford was Northwestern's best player and essentially the team's entire offense, and now he's gone. That turned Northwestern from a slightly sub-par team to one that will likely be a bottom-feeder in the conference. Luckily, the freshmen are developing and Crawford will be back next year.
TDG: Who should Gopher fans keep an eye on when they watch the game on Sunday night?
RS: Former walk-on Reggie Hearn has been a real find for Northwestern and has turned into the team's best player without Crawford. Because the deity that controls Northwestern basketball is sort of a jerk, he's hurt too, though, and might miss his third straight game against Minnesota.
I like Kale Abrahamson, the lanky freshman who is starting with Crawford out. He's a gunner, and we're starting to see him try other stuff out too.
TDG: Traditionally, the Wildcats give the Gophers fits with their 1-3-1 defense. This is still a worry for me and many other Gophers fans. Should we be worried? Or is this year's Northwestern team easier to knock out of the zone?
RS: I'd imagine gonna see a heck of a lot of zone. With better athletes, Northwestern has played more man this year than ever before, but they'll still get eaten up alive if they try to match up with the Gophers. It's not a terribly tough zone to beat if you make quick passes and hit shots, but that's not really Minnesota's game, is it? (ED NOTE: It's almost like Rodger has watched us face a zone before...)
TDG: Your coach seems to have been a hot-button topic in Northwestern circle for what feels like a decade now. Bill Carmody's future based on the season thus far. Discuss.
RS: The theory is that with Crawford out, Carmody has another year lined up - how can you blame a coach for a bad year with his best player hurt? But I'm not sure that'll hold up. If this team fights and scrounges for an NIT bid or something, sure, but I don't see that happening. This conference is a murderbeast, and this team is gonna get beaten badly a lot. If they look noncompetitive all year like the did in their first Big Ten game, he's not long for Northwestern. That said, if he does manage a fifth straight NIT bid with a team that shouldn't make it, he'll be back to coach a team with a chance to dance next year.
TDG: What's your prediction for the game?
RS: I hate playing Minnesota. I hate playing in the Barn. Trevor Mbakwe is going to do mean things to some sub-par athletes, and this is gonna get ugly quick.
Thanks Rodger! No offense, but I'm hoping for things to get ugly quick myself. As always, check back tonight and participate in the gamethread!