Friday night’s season opener was way more stressful than any of us expected it to be. Hopefully we won’t have to do any more late-game sweating tonight as No. 19 Northwestern takes on Saint Peter’s in game two of the 2017-18 season.
If you need a refresher, the Cats led Loyola Maryland (a team that went 8-10 in the Patriot League last season) by 17 points early in the second half, then collapsed defensively and barely avoided utter disaster. Loyola’s Brent Holcombe and Andrew Kostecka got crazy hot after halftime, combining to hit 7 of 8 three-point attempts, many of which were contested, and it was almost enough. NU trailed 64-63 with less than five minutes to go but pulled it out late in a 79-75 win. Scottie Lindsey went off for 26 points and 9 boards and the Cats got 16 apiece from Bryant McIntosh and Dererk Pardon.
Now we get to see whether Friday’s performance was a fluke or emblematic of bigger issues. My feeling is that a combination of temporary factors led to Loyola sticking around. Similar to Chicago State last season, the Greyhounds hit a bunch of difficult threes and had the luxury of having nothing to lose. Northwestern was also without Aaron Falzon and probably a bit jittery and tense in the season’s first game and at a new arena. Like Caleb Friedman wrote this weekend, it’s not time to panic. But if it happens again, we’ll have to start asking some serious questions.
It probably isn’t going to happen again. Chris Collins, McIntosh and Lindsey voiced their frustration after Friday’s game and will be motivated to come out strong in this game and remind everyone of the talent this team has. Ideally, this will simply be a tune-up for the first big game of the year, Wednesday’s Gavitt Tipoff Games showdown with Creighton.
Get to know Saint Peter’s
Before we talk about Northwestern’s Monday night opponent, here are some facts about Saint Peter’s University that you might not be aware of.
- SPU is a small Jesuit university located in Jersey City, New Jersey.
- They are the Peacocks, which is important. Saint Peter’s is the only Division 1 school in the country with a Peacock as a mascot. Look at this guy!
- On the basketball side, SPU competes in the MAAC and has gotten three NCAA Tournament auto-bids in its history, most recently in 2011.
If its first game is any indication, Saint Peter’s won’t present as much of an offensive threat as Loyola did. It was downright abysmal on that side of the ball in a 61-40 loss to La Salle (NU’s opponent this Saturday in the first round of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament). Saint Peter’s somehow managed just 0.65 points per possession, shot 31 percent from the field, turned it over 17 times and didn’t have anyone score in double figures. This was actually a very solid team last season; SPU won the CIT and finished 95th in Kenpom in 2016-17. However, coach John Dunne and the Peacocks returned just one of their top five scorers, which explains the struggles on Friday. The tallest player in Saint Peter’s rotation is 6-foot-7, so Pardon should be in line for another productive game.
From a Northwestern perspective, here are two things to watch for.
Can the Wildcats get more from people outside the big four?
The big four — McIntosh, Vic Law, Lindsey and Pardon — scored 70 of Northwestern’s 79 points against Loyola. There were only two field goals made by other players. Obviously, the score being close forced Collins to leave his best players in almost the entire game (B-Mac played 38 minutes, Law and Lindsey 35 each), but still. Gavin Skelly scored 3 points in 19 minutes, Isiah Brown 4 in 14, Anthony Gaines 2 in 12. Barret Benson and Jordan Ash didn’t crack the scoresheet in 10 and 8 minutes played, respectively. If Falzon, who is day-to-day with a hip flexor, is back, he would provide another scoring option. Hopefully Northwestern is up big in the second half and we can see more of guys like Brown, Gaines and Benson. Maybe even Charlie or Tino?
Can Northwestern defend the three-point line?
As I mentioned earlier, Loyola hit 7 of 8 from downtown in the second half to get back into the game. Although at least several of those were difficult shots, Northwestern can definitely do a better job at closing out on the perimeter. Saint Peter’s was actually better on threes (7 for 20) than twos (8 for 29) in its opener and has three players who shot at least 39 percent from deep last season. If the Cats can avoid giving up open looks from deep, they should be just fine in this one.
Game Time: 7 p.m. central
TV: BTN Plus
Mobile: BTN2Go App
Radio: WGN AM 720, WNUR 89.3 FM
KenPom prediction: 74-56 (95% chance to win)
Betting Line: NU -18.5