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Take Five with Sippin' on Purple

In addition to having the best site name on the SB Nation Network, the guys over at Sippin' on Purple also happen to know a lot about Northwestern athletics. As we get ready for tomorrow's game at Northwestern, they took the time to answer five questions for us and I did the same for them.

Before we get to the questions, there are a few notes I wanted to pass along:

  • For those thinking Wisconsin will be OK without Leuer, you will appreciate this note. Wisconsin is 3-1 in Big Ten play so far and in UW's three wins, Leuer hasn't been much of a factor. He is averaging only seven points, 23 minutes and has made only 7-of-27 field goal attempts in those three games.
  • For those thinking the loss of Leuer is the end of the world, you will probably note that he was 8-for-12 with 18 points in the second half against Michigan State the Badgers still lost. Still, that's really the only half (out of eight) that he has done anything in Big Ten action.
  • The Badgers are already on their way to Evanston, Ill. From the BadgerMBBall Twitter:"On the road again... Badgers are watching scouting tape of NW as they ride the bus down to Evanston. Practice in Welsh-Ryan tonight."
  • You can read my answers to Sippin' on Purple's questions here.

Take Five with Sippin' on Purple:

1) Obviously the big news is that Jon Leuer is out indefinitely. How does this change the game for Northwestern?

This is huge for Northwestern as the biggest weakness for the 'Cats all year has been interior defense, particularly against Illinois when they made Mike Tisdale look like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Starting center Luka Mirkovic is an average defender at best, and his backups are just awful, particularly Kyle Rowley who is the slowest, least coordinated player in the Big Ten by a mile. A strong big man with a good mid-range jumper like Leuer really would have given Northwestern fits.


2) Drew Crawford has provided a huge spark for the Cats with Coble out. Where did this guy come from? Why did he go to Northwestern? What else should we know about the freshman?

Crawford was a highly touted recruit by Northwestern standards, as he had offers from programs like Wake Forest and Oklahoma State. He's an Illinois native and apparently grew up wanting to play for the 'Cats, as surprising as that may sound. He's probably the best athlete Northwestern has had in the 11 years I've been following the team, and he can get hot from three and take over games, like he did Sunday against Michigan and against North Carolina A&T when he went off for 35 points and hit eight threes.

My one criticism of him is that he can be too passive and sometimes lacks confidence in himself. If he misses his first couple shots early in a game, he often stops looking for his shot and instead defers to his teammates. He's too talented a player to do that; Northwestern needs him to be taking 10+ shots per game and demanding the ball.


3) When you look at Wisconsin, what worries you most?

I'm very concerned about Hughes and Taylor penetrating off the dribble and finding open shooters, Jason Bohannon in particular. If Wisconsin gets hot from 3-point range it could be a long night for Northwestern.


4) It wasn't so long ago when fans wanted Bill Carmody out. Now the Cats have a shot at the NCAA Tournament and things look real good for next season. What changed in his recruiting/coaching?

The biggest change by far is that he's finally recruiting Big Ten caliber talent. Some of his past teams couldn't have won with Red Auerbach coaching them, as Northwestern wasn't bringing in any good players. When Tim Doyle has to play 30+ minutes a night you're going to have trouble winning in the Patriot League, never mind the Big Ten. But now it seems he's getting at least one good player a season, and Northwestern is finally competitive. Assistant coach and former player Tavaras Hardy has had a lot to do with the improved recruiting, but Carmody definitely deserves credit as well. It's amazing that despite season-ending injuries to two rotation players (Kevin Coble and Jeff Ryan), the 'Cats are still deep enough to compete in the Big Ten. I never would have thought it possible 2 years ago, as just about every NU fan wanted Carmody fired after 2008, when he'd won 3 Big Ten games total in 2 years and lost at home to an Ivy League team in back to back seasons. It took him 9 years, but it looks like he's finally figured it out.

5) Finally, is there one key matchup or stat that will decide this game? What is your prediction?

The point guard matchup between two of the league's best in Hughes and Michael "Juice" Thompson (nicknamed for his 100% pure jump shot, and no I am not making that up) will be worth the price of admission, but to me the key matchup will be John Shurna vs. whoever on Wisconsin will be guarding him. I assume the Badgers will go to a smaller lineup with Leuer out, and that may lead to a mismatch with Shurna having a size advantage in the post. Shurna reminds me a lot of Butler's Gordon Hayward in that he's a skinny guy who looks 14 years old, but is deceptively strong and agile, can rebound the ball well, and scores both inside and out. So the Badgers will have their hands full with him.

As for a prediction, I definitely would have liked Wisconsin to win with Leuer healthy, but now that he's out I expect a game much like last season's in Evanston, a grind it out half-court affair that’s close the entire way. It may come down to the last few possessions, but I think Northwestern will manage to win at home.