By beating Iowa on Sunday, Northwestern snapped its 10-game Big Ten losing streak and improved to 2-10 in conference play. The win actually moved the Wildcats up to No. 13 in the conference, ahead of 2-11 Rutgers, which could make a big difference in NU plays in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.
Tonight, Northwestern is at Williams Arena (also known as The Barn) to take on Minnesota, which has been disappointing this season. The Golden Gophers dropped their first five conference games and were muddling around before a recent three-game winning streak gave them some life. However, they got crushed by Indiana in their last game and desperately need a win to keep their extremely slim NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
Minnesota, coached by Rick Pitino's son Richard, is led by senior guard Andre Hollins, who is ninth in the league in scoring with 15.4 points per game. Senior Mo Walker and junior Carlos Morris also average double digits in scoring, providing Minnesota--like with Michigan State--a main trio of players who do much of the offensive damage for the Gophers.
Walker, at 6-10, is athletic and provides a bit of a matchup problem for Northwestern's Alex Olah, who has trouble with bigs that are quicker than him. He, along with senior center Elliott Eliason, are tall frontcourt players who could cause trouble for the height-challenged Wildcats. They also contribute to Minnesota being 31st in the country in scoring (74.7 ppg) and 14th in assists (16.2 apg). Clearly, Pitino's team can score, which isn't very good for NU.
Tre Demps will probably get the Hollins assignment on defense, so it'll be interesting to see how he guards him and if it will affect him on the offensive end. Demps has been inconsistent shooting-wise this season but is coming off 20- and 16-point performances against Michigan State and Iowa in which he went a combined 14-23 from the field and 6-9 from three-point range. How he plays will be important in how Northwestern fares in this game.
Here's everything you need to know about the game:
Time: 8:00 p.m. CT
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: WGN, 720 AM in Chicagoland and wgnradio.com
Line: Contrary to what was predicted on this week's Pound the Talk podcast, the Golden Gophers are a big favorite in this game, with the line currently at minus-11.
KenPom: KenPom does not like Northwestern's chances in this game, either, as the Wildcats are predicted to lose 81-71 with 86 percent certainly.
Key Stat: Minnesota's best attribute is its ability to force turnovers. The Gophers, according to KenPom, are second in the country in steal percentage (15%) and third in overall turnover rate (26.1). This means that a little more than one out of every four of their opponent's possessions results in a turnover, which is insane. In fact, during their recent win over the Purdue Boilermakers, they forced 23 turnovers, stealing the ball 17 times. No wonder they opened up the second half on a 21-2 run.
Check back here right before tip to follow along with us during the game on our gamethread.