Northwestern will be looking for their 8th straight win as Stanford visits Welsh-Ryan Arena this afternoon at 1 PM central. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network with Wayne Larrivee and former 'Cats center Shon Morris on the call. Morris provides some good in-game analysis, but I could do without some of his cheesy pop culture references. Just hope NU doesn't allow a lot of offensive rebounds or you'll hear his go to line: "more second chances than Robert Downey Jr."
Anyways, in past years this annual matchup with Stanford has seen the 'Cats as the underdogs, but the Lopez twins are not walking through that door anymore and the Cardinal are struggling. After a 10-0 start last year in Johnny Dawkins' first season, they went just 6-12 in Pac-10 play and ended up in the CBI. Stanford then lost 4 starters from that team and thus were picked to finish last in the Pac-10 going into the season, which is a bit like being the shortest midget given how terrible the Pac-10 is this year. So far they're 5-4, and have been up and down, with a neutral court win over Virginia and a near upset of Kentucky, but also losses to Oral Roberts and San Diego. The San Diego game was their only road game of the season before today, and they lost by 13.
The key player for Stanford is their only returning starter, 6'7" swingman Levance Fields. Fields leads the Cardinal with 22.9 points per game and 8.8 rebounds per game, and is the only player on the roster who can create his own shot. He can knock down jump shots, post up smaller players, and take it to the hole vs bigger players, so he's a big matchup problem.
Their only other dangerous offensive player is shooting guard Jeremy Green, who is primarily a 3-point shooter. He's averaging 15 points a game and shooting 45% from 3-point range. More interestingly to me is that he's managed just 7 assists total this season in 9 games and 277 minutes played, making him quite the chucker. So when he gets the ball, it's going up.
There are several notable weaknesses on this Stanford team, mainly inside play and free throw shooting. Their front line is undersized, as two scrawny 6'9" white guys are starting at the forward spots, one of them a walk-on, leading to the Cardinal being one of the worst teams in country in blocking shots at just 1.7 per game as a team. Their free throw percentage is just 65%, and that low number is almost entirely due to point guard Jarrett Mann, who is a terrible 27 of 54 from the line. Had he made 2 free throws in the final seconds vs Kentucky, Stanford wins that game. So Northwestern needs to get the ball inside early and often, and make Mann beat them from the free throw line.
I'd especially like to see John Shurna focus more on taking the ball inside. Shurna is shooting 52% on 2-pointers and just 24% on threes, so it doesn't take a genius to see where his strengths have been this season. He's shown the ability to score in the post, let's see him do that. There are plenty of other guys knocking down outside shots, Shurna doesn't need to force the ball up whenever he gets anything close to an open look.
As for the spread, Northwestern is a 5.5 point favorite, a line that seems right on the money. This is a game Northwestern should win; Stanford will have a tough time making the postseason and is on the road where they've struggled. My pick after the jump...
Northwestern 72, Stanford 63
Stanford has a couple guys who can score, but their defense is highly suspect and the 'Cats are clicking on offense. As long as they execute their offense and contain Fields and Green, the winning streak should roll on. Go 'Cats, and comment here if you're watching, the multiple commenter win streak is still alive and well.