Nebraska heads to Evanston this Thursday to take on Northwestern in their second game of the series. If you remember, the Wildcats came into Lincoln and shot lights out against the Huskers winning 74 to 66.
We caught up with fellow SB Nation blog InsideNU (no, we don’t condone them thinking they’re the real NU. Go talk to the copyright lawyers). Their resident basketball guru Zach Pereles gave us some insight on why the Wildcats are having such a good season and where it could take them in the long run.
Corn Nation: Northwestern is 16-4 and having one of their best seasons of all time. Did you see this coming? Why or why not?
Zach Pereles: I certainly didn’t see this start coming, and for a couple of reasons. First, Northwestern’s wings — an area where the program has long lacked the skill and athleticism necessary to compete in the Big Ten — have been very much improved. Scottie Lindsey is a completely different player this year, and Vic Law Jr. is a legitimate three point shooter and one of the conference’s best defenders. The second reason is that usually Northwestern has that one inexplicable loss that derails a season by this point. The Wildcats haven’t had that… yet.
CN: Scottie Lindsey scored 19 points in the win against Nebraska on January 8th. Who else should the Huskers worry about this time around?
ZP: Law Jr. scored 15 points the last time out but took just nine shots. I’d look for him to be more aggressive. The same goes for point guard Bryant McIntosh, who has struggled with his shot this season but seems to be trending in the right direction when it comes to getting into the paint and either scoring on his patented floater or kicking it out to his wing players. And finally, Dererk Pardon seems to feast on Nebraska, and he’ll be looking to bounce back from a rough offensive outing against Ohio State.
CN: Last time these two teams played the Wildcats shot 51% from the field. Has their scoring kept up over the last few games? What else has this team improved upon recently that the Huskers will have to look out for?
ZP: Yes and no. After leaving Lincoln with a win, the Wildcats dealt with some tragedy with the death of women’s basketball player Jordan Hankins. It was really a draining week emotionally, and the men struggled mightily in the first half against Rutgers before putting the Scarlet Knights away 69-60 with a dominant second half. Then they ran wild against Iowa, racking up 89 points in McIntosh’s best game of the year (20 points, 10 assists). That was the best the offense has looked: It averaged a ridiculous 1.31 points per possession. Then against Ohio State, the Wildcats couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, shooting just 37.5 percent. But they knocked down 19 of their 24 free throws, including 11 of 12 down the stretch, to get the win.
CN: Is this a fluke year or is Northwestern building something lasting that teams will have to look out for for the next few seasons? Are they headed to be a new Big Ten threat?
ZP: When Chris Collins got the job in Evanston, his biggest priority was getting the caliber of athletes capable of competing in the Big Ten, and he’s done a great job with guys like Lindsey and Law Jr. This team only has two seniors (defensive specialist Sanjay Lumpkin and reserve Nathan Taphorn), so if the Wildcats continue to show progress on the court, that will carry over to the recruiting trails and eventually the program as a whole. I wouldn’t call them a threat just yet, but they should certainly be headed toward consistent middle or upper-middle tier finishes going forward.
CN: Okay, second to last question and it’s a big one. Is this the year that Northwestern breaks their NCAA Tournament drought?
ZP: I don’t want to jinx it… but yes, I think it is. When you can get scoring from your backcourt and defend at a high level — both things Northwestern has done this season — you’re built for March. But that’s all I’ll say because if I say any more I’ll jinx it.
CN: Last question. What will happen Thursday night in Evanston and what will the final score be?
ZP: This has all the makings of a trap game. The Wildcats are coming off their first win at Ohio State since 1977 and have a massive home contest with Indiana on Sunday. This has the makings of a game Northwestern of the past few years would lose. But I’ve been constantly impressed at this team’s ability to win when it’s not at its best, and I think Nebraska without Ed Morrow Jr. will have a lot of trouble with Dererk Pardon. He puts up 15 as do Lindsey and one of McIntosh and Law, and Northwestern wins 70-65.
Well, hopefully the Huskers can actually pull this one off on the road. We would like to thank Zach for taking time and answering our questions. Feel free to check out www.insidenu.com for more info on this years Wildcat team. Also, follow Zach on twitter at @Zach_Perelez.