Saturday, November 18th is loaded with Northwestern sports action. The football team hosts Minnesota at 11 a.m., but before that one wraps up, men’s basketball tips off against the La Salle Explorers at 1:30 p.m. If you’re going to the football game and live in the area, you might be able to catch the end of the basketball game (and can always follow along on Twitter — @insidenu). If you’re staying home, you better get multiple screens ready.
NU hoops is coming off of its first loss of the season, although the Cats played quite well offensively in falling 92-88 to Creighton. Northwestern should be motivated and ready to bounce back against La Salle today. The game is a first round matchup/semifinal in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament, which takes place at Mohegan Sun Resort in Uncasville, Connecticut. The other semifinal, between Texas Tech and Boston College, tips off at 11 a.m. if any of you wants to do some advance scouting while also watching NU football. The consolation game is Sunday at 2 p.m. and the championship will follow at 4:30. (All of these times are central, by the way).
But back to Saturday’s opponent. La Salle, out of Philadelphia and the Atlantic 10 Conference, is 3-0 and a very respectable 115th in KenPom. NU, which started at 18 in KenPom, is down to 35. The Explorers were dominant in a 61-40 season-opening victory over Saint Peter’s, but the defense has been much shakier in their last two wins. La Salle beat in-state rival Penn 75-71 on the road in double overtime, then survived sub-250 team South Alabama 81-73.
The name you need to know is Syracuse transfer BJ Johnson. The 6-foot-7 senior forward is averaging an eye-popping 21.7 points and 12 rebounds per game in this young season. He put up roughly 18 and 6 in his first season with La Salle last year, so this isn’t a totally fluky start. Johnson uses over 31 percent of the Explorers’ possessions, which is a lot. Gavin Skelly has his work cut out for him on the defensive end. Johnson does commit turnovers frequently, though.
The other name to know, both because it’s an awesome name and because he’s a major piece of this team: Pookie Powell. Yes, his name is Pookie. Powell, a Memphis transfer who like Johnson is in his second season with La Salle, is averaging over 15 points per game and is the Explorers’ most dangerous three-point shooter. La Salle also has a senior point guard in Amar Stukes and rotates two 6-foot-10 guys at center.
Facing a solid team at a neutral site is no guarantee, but this would be a tough game to lose for Northwestern, which narrowly missed out on a non-con tourney trophy last season and appears to have an easier path to one in 2017.
Game Time: 1:30 p.m. central
Mobile: ESPN App
Radio: WYLL 1160AM
KenPom prediction: 77-68 (78% chance to win)
Betting Line: NU -8