After starting the Big Ten season in grand style with a reality claiming victory over the Michigan State Spartans, the Golden Gophers end the first week of the conference season against the injury riddled Northwestern Wildcats. After a couple surprising losses by some of the Big Ten’s best, a win would go a long way towards establishing the Gophers as one best teams in the conference. First, they need to take care of business against the always annoying, sometimes effective 1-3-1 zone.
How to watch/listen:
The game will air on the Big Ten Network and on KSTP 1500AM. This also may be one of the few opportunities left to see the Gophers in person if you don’t already have tickets. There are plenty of good, though not great seats left in the upper deck.
How the Gophers got here:
After a hard fought 30 minutes and a very Gopheresque mid-second half collapse, the Gophers calmed themselves, found themselves, and blitzed the Spartans to close the game on a 22-4 win and a runaway 76-63 victory to open Big Ten play. You can read our reaction here, or see how the national media handled the big win.
How the Wildcats got here:
Just like every year, there was plenty of loose talk that the Wildcats would finally make the NCAA tournament this season. That lasted as long as their back to back losses to Maryland and Illinois-Chicago. Then the season got worse when Drew Crawford was lost for the season, Reggie Hearn sprained his ankle, and the Wildcats lost by 28 at home to Michigan to start the Big Ten season. This is not the Wildcats’ year.
Gophers statistic to watch:
By now you should all be generally familiar with Northwestern’s 1-3-1 zone, which attempts to triple team the ball handler, leaving massive gaps in the corners and underneath the basket. There are two ways to beat the zone, either by attacking the basket or shooting three-pointers. The Gophers try to avoid three-point shooting, mostly because they are not very good at making long jumpers. If they choose to beat the zone by the three, they better make a lot of them, or they could die by the three. If the Gophers can beat the zone without attempting many three-pointers, which should be the goal, Northwestern might have to change up their defensive strategy.
Wildcats statistic to watch:
Offensive rebounding is not a strength of the Wildcats, but defensive rebounding may end up being the Gophers’ fatal flaw. Minnesota players typically have poor rebounding position by being too far underneath the basket. Northwestern shoots a lot of three-pointers. This could lead to a lot of open shots for the Wildcats on long offensive rebounds.
The most important Gopher:
Andre Hollins always seems to show up for big games. This is not a big game, but he will need to show up anyway. As the most reliable Gopher shooter, it will be his responsibility to keep the Wildcat zone honest. He will have plenty of open shots, and will need to knock them down.
The most important Wildcat:
If he can play, Reggie Hearn gives the Wildcats a three-point shooter who is not afraid to put the ball on the floor. He leads Northwestern in scoring, is a reliable defender, and can get to the free-throw line. Without him, Northwestern will have a hard time competing against anyone.
With everyone else hurt or not being good at all, Dave Sobolewski will have to do everything he can to limit Andre Hollins, and score in bunches on his own. The Wildcat sophomore has scored in double figures seven times, but can disappear when his team needs him the most. Andre Hollins can limit the damage of a poor offensive performance by staying in front of Northwestern’s occasionally good point guard, and distributing the ball to teammates who should have plenty of scoring opportunities.
What to expect:
If the Gophers really are a top ten team, and if the Wildcats horrid performance against Michigan reflects their true ability, this game should be over half-way through the first half. The Gophers have not taken any opponents lightly this season, and have refused to play down to their opponents. Even if the Gophers struggle against the 1-3-1 zone, they should still win by double figures, like they have the last two season at The Barn.