Iowa is riding the highs of a win over Purdue when the Hawks take their talents to Evanston this weekend. The Wildcats are coming off a win over Rutgers that was a little too close for comfort at times (we all know how that feels) so on the surface these could be some pretty evenly-matched teams.
Max Brekke: The Wildcats are 14-4 on the year and 3-2 in conference play, so things seem to be going swimmingly for Northwestern. Is... is it The Year?
Zach Pereles: Oh man, you've done it now. You've jinxed it. Nope. Nope. Not the year. It's your fault. But seriously, this year could be The Year. The Wildcats picked up some solid out-of-conference wins (Dayton, Wake Forest) and haven't really helped or hurt themselves so far in conference. It's games like this one, though, that Northwestern absolutely has to win. I think 10 Big Ten wins and a Big Ten tournament win puts them squarely on the bubble leaning in. Anything more than that and I'd be more certain. I think they're on track for 10 wins in conference, so that'll make for a nervous Selection Sunday.
MB: Scottie Lindsey and Vic Law are the two biggest names on this Wildcats team. What makes them so good and how can they be stopped?
ZP: Lindsey and Law are two long, athletic wings who can score in a variety of ways. Both guys have added significant muscle since arriving in Evanston, and that shows in the post. Law missed last year after shoulder surgery, but his ability as a lock-down defender has brought the defense as a whole to another level. He's also a good three-point shooter, and when he's aggressive, he's a good finisher at the rim. As for Lindsey, he's made a gigantic jump forward this year after two very inconsistent seasons. He's a good shooter who can knock down shots off the dribble or in the catch-and-shoot. Also, he has motivation playing Iowa: The Hawkeyes pulled his scholarship offer after he broke his leg in high school. To slow down Law, you have to make him uncomfortable and force him to put it on the deck. Lindsey's been really consistent this year, but when he struggles, it's usually because opponents take away his transition opportunities.
MB: Who else can Iowa fans expect to make an impact?
ZP: Bryant McIntosh, a junior, could break the program record for assists before season's end. He's had major struggles shooting the ball but will have the ball in his hands a lot and needs to limit his turnovers. When he can get to the basket and either score or kick it out, Northwestern is at its best. Dererk Pardon has been really good in his three games back after missing eight with a thumb injury. The sophomore center can score over either shoulder and is a good rebounder. He also had eight blocks against Rutgers. Off the bench, keep an eye out for Gavin Skelly and his luscious blond hair. He's a good rebounder and can knock down the three on the pick-and-pop.
MB: What weaknesses have teams such as Minnesota and Michigan State been able to pick out in the Wildcats in order to beat them, if any?
ZP: The big things are getting back in transition and hoping Northwestern misses shots. The Wildcats got off to an ice cold start in East Lansing and went down 28-9 at one point but battled back to cut the lead to four points multiple times. They just couldn't quite dig themselves out of a massive hole. Against Minnesota, the Wildcats shot 1 of 15 from three in the second half. So part of it is Northwestern not making shots. Also, length on the inside tends to bother them; the Wildcats don't have a ton of size down low.
MB: Iowa is a high scoring team and is led by the Big Ten's leading scorer in Peter Jok. Does Northwestern have the offensive firepower to keep up with the Hawks?
ZP: If the shots are falling, absolutely. The good thing about this team — and something that's different from years past — is that it features the athletes that can really compete in the Big Ten and score in transition. Lindsey and Law head that charge of course, but Pardon is a great athlete who runs the floor well and McIntosh is a good distributor of the ball. Skelly is hyper-active off the bench, and freshman Isiah Brown is absolutely fearless driving into the lane. When he stays in control, he's a huge boost for this team.
MB: Finally, prediction time. What's your pick?
ZP: Northwestern wins 75-71. The Wildcats sorely missed Law last year, especially during the beatdown at Carver-Hawkeye. He's good enough to bother Jok and at the very least make him work really hard for his points. Lindsey is a completely different player and, as mentioned above, always plays well against Iowa. The Wildcats have the firepower and the experience; this is the type of game they must win to prove they're moving in the right direction. I think they get it done.
And there you have it. Even though the Wildcats fan predicts a Wildcats win, I successfully jinxed Northwestern and it will never win a game for the rest of the year. You’re welcome.
Thanks to Zach for doing this. You can find him on twitter @zach_pereles. Best of luck to Northwestern, but I hope you get shellacked by the Hawks.