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Minnesota Basketball: Previewing Northwestern

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Gophers look for second road win in as many games

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Michigan State
The Gophers face another stiff test in Evanston.
Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Well that was an unexpected surprise.

After a narrow loss at home against Michigan State, a missed opportunity, the Gophers showed guts and backbone on the road against a good Purdue team to steal a road win and do more than enough to get back on track early in the conference season. Overall, it’s was a net gain for a Minnesota team desperate to establish themselves as a team to take seriously in the Big Ten.

Now the attention turns to another tall task - taking down Northwestern in Welsh-Ryan Arena, which has been something of a house of horrors for the Gophers in recent years. In fact, they’ve only won once since 2008 in Evanston and have lost the last three overall meetings against the Wildcats.

Even when Northwestern is down, the Gophers seem to have trouble with them, and now that they’re up, the challenge becomes even tougher. The Wildcats are 12-3 on the season with good wins over Dayton and Wake Forest, and with respectable losses to Butler, Notre Dame and Michigan State. They have no bad losses but are coming off their first conference loss of the season, which also came against the Spartans. So they have that in common with Minnesota.

Essentials:

Who are the Gophers playing?

Northwestern Wildcats (12-3, 1-1)

What time are they playing?

8 p.m. CT

Where are they playing?

Welsh-Ryan Arena

Can I watch the game on TV?

Yes, ESPNU.

Can I listen to the game on the radio?

Yes. ESPN 1500.

Tell me more about the opponent.

The Wildcats are a veteran team, led by mostly juniors and seniors who are familiar with Chris Collins’ system, and it shows in the fundamental categories. Northwestern does not turn the ball over, they lead the league in assist-to-turnover ratio, and are third in free throw percentage. In short, they don’t make a ton of mistakes, which is what we’ve come to expect of a Northwestern squad.

Junior guard Scottie Lindsey has been the surprise of the season, as he leads the team in scoring at nearly 16 ppg, up from only 6 ppg last year. He dropped 31 on Penn State two games ago but came back to earth with 11 against Sparty. Still, he can light it up from long range, and is hitting his threes at a 42% clip. Yikes.

Also back in action after a year off due to injury is sophomore forward Vic Law, who is chipping in 14 ppg and 6 rebounds. He’s had an inconsistent season so far but has found his footing the last three games, averaging 13 ppg and 10 rebounds.

Bryant McIntosh and Sanjay Lumpkin are two guys who just won’t go away. McIntosh is in a bit of a slump of late, but is still third on the team in scoring. And, somehow, Lumpkin is managing 7 ppg and 7 rpg. I suppose by the time you’ve been in the league for eight years you figure out how to get the job done.

Keys to the Game

If this was being played on a neutral court I’d give the Gophers the advantage, but Evanston has been such a tough venue for them that it really evens things things up. The Gophers match up well with an undersized Wildcat team.

  1. Don’t get slowed down — Northwestern’s slows down the tempo and relies on fundamentally-sound basketball to score, which is quite the opposite of the Gophers, who tend to score in droves and have a much shorter average possession length. The Gophers have the advantage if they can get out ahead and rely on their defense to slow down Northwestern’s methodical scoring. But they can’t find themselves getting frustrated by any zone defenses.
  2. Use the size advantage — Minnesota survived Purdue’s size (and the refs) by a thread, but all three of Reggie Lynch, Jordan Murphy and Bakary Konate fouled out in the game, which could have been a death knell. The Gophers will have a size advantage over NU, but as we saw in the Purdue game, having Lynch and Murphy out there is imperative to having Minnesota firing on all cylinders. They need to stay out of foul trouble.

Predictions

KenPom is narrowly giving this one to Northwestern, 70-67, which is essentially a toss-up for a road game. I really like the matchup for the Gophers and am taking them by 4.