Northwestern definitely sucked, letting Josh fucking Gasser get a triple double is one of the low points in program history, and there's a lot of competition for that honor.
As for the weak non-con schedule, I'm furious about it, but not because it's hurt NU's NCAA chances, they were never good enough to get an at-large bid anyways. Instead, it kept them with a decent won/loss record for far too long, allowing for more and more national media stories, from hacks who thought a team that has zero bench and plays defense like it would give them herpes could actually make the NCAAs, same shit the last three years.
I'll save you some time for Wednesday's NU preview: NU sucks, Gophers by 25.
Apparently people don't all agree, because earlier this week Snacks e-mailed me about how he is absolutely convinced that the Gophers won't/can't win this game. Quite a storied matchup here between two teams with fanbases that are convinced they can't win. The movable object vs. the stoppable force. David vs. David. The Washington Generals vs. Prairie View A&M. Epic doesn't begin to describe it.
In all seriousness though, there's no reason at all the Gophers should lose this game, even without Al freaking Nolen. It feels like Northwestern should be good because they do actually have some weapons:
John Shurna might not look like much, but he's one of the best all-around players in the country and has been a top 4 scorer in the conference both of the last two years. Even if he is slowed currently by an ankle injury he still managed to score 24 against Michigan just a few games ago.
Drew Crawford can be incredibly explosive, and he had one of the highest scoring fantasy days of any Big Ten player this year when he put up 25 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 blocks, and 2 steals against St. Francis. And it's not like that's the only team he can brutalize, because he's scored 16 or more in four Big Ten games already.
Michael Thompson, or "Juice" if you're a complete dork, is one of the best point guards in the conference, even if his shooting has taken a bit of a step back, and the second leading scorer on the team. He's also very consistent, scoring between 11 and 18 points in 15 of 19 games this year.
Besides those three, they have the insanely underrated Luka Mirkovic, who was pretty much the steal of our fantasy league draft, and freshman Jershon Cobb. Mirkovic is pretty much the slowest player in the conference, and in the Big Ten that's saying something, but he's got one pretty reliable move where he goes from block to block, moving to his left, and ends up sealing his man with his body and making a lefty lay-up. He somehow put up a 20 and 12 game against Indiana. Cobb is your typical freshman, just as likely to be a non-factor as he is to contribute, but he did blow up for 18 against Illinois.
In short, this is a very, very good offense, good enough to rank 14th in overall offensive efficiency. They shoot well from both two (52.2%, 41st in the coutnry) and three (40.4%, 13th), and rarely turn the ball over (9th best in D-I). They're going to get their shots, and against a piss-poor defensive team like the Gophers they are going to be open and make quite a few. They will score some points. That's the bad news.
The good news is that they are absolutely dreadful on defense. The once terrifying 1-3-1 (learn more here in an excellent post) is now about as effective as an empty gym at stopping opponents. They can't defend the two (opponents shoot 50.8%, 269th in the country) or the three (36.7%, also 269th), all of which adds up to the 295th effective field goal percentage defense in the nation, the 3rd worse among teams from the Big 10, Big 12, Big East, ACC, Pac-10, SEC, Conference USA, Mountain West, and the WAC - only Wyoming and Oregon State are worse. This means the Gophers should score some points, especially on the inside and especially because they have the towering trio of Sampson, Mbakwe, and Iverson, who should have their way in the paint.
Now, the X-factor is how the Gophers handle that zone without their point guard. Guys like Demetri McCamey and Jordan Taylor can penetrate and find open teammates in that zone all night long, and if Nolen was healthy I'd be confident he'd do the same. It's up to Blake and Armelin and Maverick and whoever else gets thrown out there, so I'm less sure of the results. I trust Blake, but that's about it. Can he play 36 minutes of point guard? Yeah, why not.
Minnesota 78, Northwestern 70