(ed. note: Consider this your game thread. comment away if you ain't in the Welsh-Ryan Thunderdome.)
Northwestern faces the toughest opponent on their non-conference schedule when they host Butler tonight at 7 PM central. Butler is ranked 10th in the country and they return all 5 starters from a team that went 26-6 last season and won the Horizon League before falling to LSU in the first round of the NCAAs. One of those 26 wins came over Northwestern, as the Bulldogs rallied in the 2nd half for a 57-53 win.
Both teams enter the game 1-0 on the young season, as Butler beat Davidson 73-62 and Northwestern defeated Northern Illinois 77-55. The number that jumped out from the Cats win over NIU was the free throw shooting, as NU attempted 48 free throws and made 34, both of which are all-time highs for Northwestern under Bill Carmody. While much of that was due to the officials blowing the whistle at every conceivable opportunity, hopefully this is a sign of things to come, as Carmody's teams have consistently been at the bottom of the Big Ten in free throw attempts.
Butler isn't the biggest or most athletic team, but they play excellent man to man defense and run their halfcourt offense well. Players to watch are big man Matt Howard, who was the Horizon League player of the year last year, and guard-forward Gordon Hayward, who was the freshman of the year in the Horizon League last season. Howard is a bit undersized but is a very good rebounder and a strong finisher in traffic, shooting 55% from the field last season. Heyward is a dangerous inside/outside threat, as he shot 44% from 3 last season and also uses his lanky 6'8" frame to get to the basket.
Butler is only a 2.5 point favorite in this game, which is a little surprising given their ranking and all the injuries Northwestern has suffered. For those who missed it, Kevin Coble and Jeff Ryan are both out for the season, Coble with a broken foot and Ryan with a torn ACL. Without those two in the lineup, its tough to see NU pulling off the upset. My pick after the jump....
Butler 59, Northwestern 48. This should be a grind-it-out, half court game, but just like last year Butler will out-execute the Cats down the stretch and pull away for a late win. I'm still holding out hope though, as I'll be watching the game on my newly acquired Big Ten Network and commenting here. Hopefully we'll get a good group of in-game commenters on a Wednesday night with not much else going on.
Before I sign off, I'd like to take this opportunity to laugh at Iowa basketball, as the Hawkeyes look like they'll be worse than Indiana was last year. Iowa is 0-2 with home losses to Texas-San Antonio and Duquesne. It's not getting any easier for them either, as they play #3 Texas on Monday. What happened to that program?
(ed note 2: comments below!)