George Price of the Northwestern Blog, Sippin' on Purple, previews the Northwestern Wildcats with us this morning before the ACC-Big 10 Challenge Tipoff. I've yet to respond to his questions. Here are George's responses to my questions...
FTRS: There are currently 5 ranked teams in the Big 10. We remember a stretch where NU was ranked in the 2009-2010 season. Where does Northwestern sit in the power rankings of the Big 10? Do you think Northwestern will crack the Top 25 in the 2010-2011 season?
SOP: Most Big Ten power rankings currently have Northwestern 7th, which I think is fair. The league is very strong at the top and figures to get a minimum of 6 NCAA bids. As for Northwestern being ranked, I'd be surprised if that happens. About their only chance is if they enter Big Ten play undefeated (which isn't out of the question given how weak their non-conference schedule is) and upset Purdue in their Big Ten opener.
FTRS: What Northwestern player should be a household name by season's end? Who are the key big men for NU and who are the main guards for Bill Carmody's team?
SOP: 6'8" junior John Shurna is Northwestern's best player. He scored 20 points per game in Big Ten play last year, and is the Big Ten's leading scorer through 3 games this year. Despite his unorthodox shooting motion, he's a very dangerous 3-point shooter, and he's also athletic enough to score off the dribble and in the post. Sophomore guard Drew Crawford is off to a strong start after being named co-freshman of the year in the Big Ten last year; he's a good athlete and is most dangerous off the dribble on offense. Senior point guard Michael Thompson (who gave himself the nickname "Juice" at a young age for his 100% pure jump shot, and no I'm not making that up) is a solid ball-handler and the team's leader, and also a good 3-point shooter as his nickname would suggest.
There is a big drop-off for Northwestern after those three players. Freshman guard JerShon Cobb, a highly touted recruit out of Decatur, Georgia, has been battling a hip flexor injury and hasn't yet lived up to the hype, while junior center Luka Mirkovic is off to a terrible start, getting pushed around inside by much smaller opposing big men.
FTRS: This year's ACC-Big 10 Challenge looks to be as competitive as last season's. Give us a rough prediction of who you think should win the games.
UVA-Minnesota: Minnesota in a blowout, biggest mismatch of the challenge.
Wake-Iowa: Ugh, what a terrible game, don't see how either can win. Wake at home I guess.
FSU-Ohio State: Great match-up, should come down to the wire.
Clemson-Michigan: Clemson at home should be too much for a young Michigan team.
UNC-Illinois: I like Illinois at home, UNC is uber-talented but off to a slow start.
BC-Indiana: Interesting match-up, guess I'll take BC but it should be close.
NC State-Wisconsin: Wisconsin wins easily at home, Bo Ryan vs. Sidney Lowe is maybe the biggest coaching mismatch ever from an X's and O's standpoint.
VT-Purdue: Hokies should be able to grind out a win vs. an overrated Purdue team.
Maryland-Penn State: Should come down to the wire, I'll give Penn State a very slight edge since they're at home.
Duke-Michigan State: Duke wins easily, too much talent for Michigan State or anyone else in the country to handle.
FTRS: A lot of apathetic Tech hoops fans say that the worst thing that happened to Paul Hewitt was the arrival of Paul Johnson. Johnson energized the GT fan base in football and comparisons to the foundering hoops program quickly ensued. Is the Northwestern fan base more committed to its hoops program after Pat Fitzgerald's recent string of success on the gridiron?
SOP: Northwestern's modest success at football over the last 15 years (after decades of being a laughingstock) has certainly shown that it is possible for the basketball team to compete in the Big Ten. Unfortunately, the basketball team has been so incompetent for so long that fans recognize it's going to be difficult to have sustained success. NU basketball has never made the NCAA tournament and hasn't had a winning record in Big Ten play since the late 60's, and when compared to the rest of the conference, the home arena looks like a high school gym and the fan support is minimal. Still, more and more people are starting to care about the basketball team, for two reasons: first, the team has been reasonably competitive over the past two years, pulling off a couple upsets and making the NIT, and secondly, the advent of the Big Ten Network now allows fans all over the country to watch every single conference game and all the important non-conference games. The program has now reached the point where anything short of that elusive first NCAA bid is going to be considered a disappointment, which is as it should be.
FTRS: Any predictions for the game outside of this early season prediction?
SOP: Hmm, I think that 65% number I picked out of thin air is somehow looking pretty good at this point. I was ready to completely write off Georgia Tech after that Kennesaw State debacle, but they've played well since then and it's looking like that loss was a Va Tech football vs. James Madison type fluke. Still, Northwestern was very tough at home last season (going 15-4 with two of the losses to Final Four teams Butler and Michigan State), and their unusual style of Princeton offense and trapping zone defense can sometimes flummox teams that have never seen them before, especially against Paul Hewitt who is known more for recruiting than for his X's and O's talents. It should be a close game, but I'd expect Northwestern to come away with a win.
Thanks to Sippin' on Purple for giving us an insider's perspective on the Wildcats.