Here we go, indeed, seniors: Tonight, the Juice Thompson era at Northwestern University comes to a close. (As do the less venerable, but still, going-to-be-discussed-at-later-dates, Mike Capocci, Jeff Ryan, and Ivan Peljusic eras.)
We'll honor those four bros on this site at a later date, but, much respect due to them. I wish Bill Carmody did dumb things like start the seniors and take them out at the first stoppage in play, but historically thinking, he probably won't - I remember when two years ago, against Iowa, Sterling Williams couldn't even get in his senior day game - even though he was a passable member of the rotation and had started the year before. Sad.
But tonight's game is important, in NIT terms - as I've said a bunch of times, the NIT isn't optimal, but, it would be plain depressing for a team as talented as this - and, despite everything, they're somewhat talented - to miss out on even the consolation tourney and go CBI and/or sit at home. More than anything, that would be a depressing cap to Juice's four years at NU. So tonight's big.
Jump like Luka Mirkovic never could to read about tonight's matchup:
Northwestern essentially held their own in the first meeting in the Barn, a place where, like a lot of other places, nothing ever seems to go right for the purp. That night, two specific things went wrong: Juice Thompson was uncharacteristically cold - he finished with 18 points on the strength of some garbage time buckets - and Trevor Mbakwe was unsurprisingly bigger and better than everyone on Northwestern, finishing with 18 and 14. Also, John Shurna got pushed into a stanchion and got a concussion.
All told, NU played well, making some truly convincing runs to keep it a game, but the absence of Juice and Shurna's injury doomed the Cats to defeat. That said, tonight is senior night: Juice Thompson cannot, and will not be absent. He loves pressure and I'm being cliche but I just know that he's going out with a bang. He has to.
Problem is, Minnesota brings two distinct problems, both of which are things NU typically struggles to defend: the first is a solid rotation of big men (Mbakwe, Ralph Sampson III, and even Colton Iverson, all of whom had 14 points or more against NU). The scary thing is, NU defended them well: the 1-3-1 in particular seemed to give Mbakwe, who for all his beast, didn't look comfortable making decisions quickly (and struggled at the line) trouble. But even when he screwed up, their front line is significantly more athletic than NU's and got to loose balls. The other problem is Blake Hoffarber, a deadly shooter, who will break any zone you play against him.
NU has a shot. For Juice's sake, let's hope they take it and give themselves an NIT shot.
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