We’re going to flip from football to men’s basketball for a bit today. Don’t worry, we’ll be cranking out all kinds of Northwestern football content ranging from NU alum travel guides to Jacksonville to interviews with all sorts of CFB media on NU and Mississippi State, along with a deeper dive in to the history of the Gator Bowl. We’ve got a full month of content lined up and simply not enough days to cram it all in. Northwestern basketball, meanwhile, is in a non-conference freefall after a horrible week which included a nationally televised butt-whooping by Maryland and an embarassing home loss to suprising UIC (6-1) on Saturday.
Now, Northwestern has the return Baylor game from exactly a year ago and must go to Waco, Texas tonight (ESPN2 8pm ct) to try and get back on track. Talk about a tall order. The Bears are coming off, oh, just the first road win at Kentucky by ANYONE in55 games in that arena. The Bears (5-2) are unranked, but don’t let that fool you. We saw last year just how athletic this team is when they pasted the ‘Cats in Evanston. Granted, several key players are gone, but the Bears are loaded with athletic above-the-rim talent. Let’s do a quick preview, shall we?
If They’re That Talented Why Aren’t They Ranked? Well, they were. The Bears were ranked in the mid-teens, but after opening the season 3-0 with wins over Lehigh, Jackson State and BC, they lost at home by a deuce to Colorado, blasted St. John’s, and then lost againto College of Charleston in their tournament. That will knock you from the rankings. They dominated then #8 Kentucky in the 64-55 win in Lexington on Saturday and were pretty responsible for Kentucky’s record-setting drop from the Top 25. Make no mistake about it, this is an upper tier team and a NCAA Tournament level team. A win by Northwestern here, highly unlikely, would be a resume statement game. Baylor is very much in the “Also Receiving Votes”, seven back from the Top 25 in the AP Poll and eight back in the Coaches’ Poll.
I’ve blocked last year from my memory, who should we be concerned about? Let’s start at the point, where David Sobolewski will have his hands full. Pierre Jackson is not only a stud PG, but he’s the Bears leading scorer. He led the way with 17 points at Kentucky, but he’s averaging a Shurna-esque 19.9 ppg. Oh yeah, did we mention he’s the preseason Big12 Player of the Year? Gulp. I’ve got three words for you “1-3-1” (OK, those are numbers, but you get the, uh, point).
Is that it? Hardly. Cory Jefferson is a beast in the post and puts up 13.7 ppg and 8.4 rpg, but he’s the kind of guy who puts back thunderous slams on missed shots and eats up space in the low post. He’s a huge mismatch issue for us down low based on his size, strength and foot speed. Then, they’ve got Brady Heslip who is a thicker version of ‘ol Wildcat Todd Leslie. OK, for you younger pups, think Kale Abrahamson in game one, or Alex when he’s on his best night ever. Heslip is 11-13 from THREE so far this season. He tends to hit dagger shots and from deep.
If we lost to UIC at home, why would I think we can beat Baylor? Well, perhaps you’re in to random things like the fact we’re playing well in Texas? This isn’t Indiana, Duke or Michigan, but they are the next level down from that. I point to the Illinois State win as one that should give you hope. That ISU team nearly knocked off Louisville on Saturday, so we’ve shown we can play at that level, but this is a Maryland-like match-up issue. In Carmody-ball, it is pretty simple. You live by the three, die by the three and if you don’t rebound well (like we normally don’t do) we’ll get crushed. This Baylor team is nowhere near as good as what we saw in Evanston last year, but then again, we may not be either. It’s two losses, so don’t overreact quite yet, however if we get thumped tonight, Butler becomes an early season must win or it could be a very, very long season in Evanston. Simply put, NU has to make FTs (we shot 50% on Saturday, missing 10!, TEN!!!) and we have to shoot better from three. We held UIC to 30% shooting from the field – and lost. R-E-B-O-U-N-D.
WILDCAT BOWL BITS
We’ve already been in contact with both the Gator Bowl execs and reps and several LTP readers who are NU alums from the Jacksonville area. We’re in the process of putting together an insider’s guide to how to bowl down there and it’s already been brought to my attention that the St. John’s River feeds in to the city and we might want to rename the blog River The Posts, just for this month. What I’ve already learned is the city is VERY spread out and you need a rental car to max out on enjoyment. If your plan is to just stay in the city by the team hotel, you’ll be pretty disappointed after a day or two.
The first travel tidbit came down yesterday from the very proactive Gator Bowl folks, who shared the following info as it relates to bookding hotels:
Call 1800-888-8292. Tell them you want the Gatorbowl.
I just checked and they can get you booked. Do not use the web. Don’t ask me why it’s being run over the phone because I honestly don’t know. I think this is only for the downtown hotels. The resorts and beaches hotels do not seem to be using the MTS system.
I hope this helps.
Fed up with the lack of honors the 9-3 ‘Cats aren’t getting? Good, me too. Tomorrow, we’ll have the LTP Wildcat Awards so we can break down every conceivable honor that this over-achieving team accomplished. The more I read about the lack of respect for NU in the media and the more I read just how little Mississippi State has done, the more I believe we can not only win this bowl game, but put on a show.
Chris Emma has a nice story on Galion, Ohio’s Dareian Watkins, a 3-star athlete who has Northwestern atop his favorite list for 2014. Watkins attended the ‘Cats win over Vandy and has been getting a weekly dose of Fitz contact and as you’ve read about so many recruits before, the description of the close-knit factor and the appreciation for Fitz seem to read like a script out of every past commit’s path. Watkins is a two-way stud and has offers from NU, Cincinnati, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Purdue and now has Wisconsin and Ohio State courting him as well.
Separately, James Clark, a 3-star WR from New Smyrna Beach, Florida – just down the coast from Jacksonville – has narrowed his pretty incredible offer list down to five finalists. Yes, Northwestern made the cut. The ‘Cats will have to beat out Florida, Texas, Rutgers, and Duke for his services. Let’s hope a huge purple turnout in Jacksonville influences a guy who is sure to be at the game. Oh the reasons the purple out en masse matter.