If anybody ever questions my credentials as an NU basketball fan, here's my official statement.
A girl I know asked me to her sorority's formal. A normal person would immediately say "yes". I, on the other hand, paused, then took time to consider that the formal would necessitate me missing a Northwestern basketball game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. For a good like, 3-5 seconds, I thought about it. Does anybody else realize how crazy that is? (Then I had to ask my girlfriend if she was cool with me going to a formal with some other girl, which, to be honest, I assumed wouldn't be an issue, but could have been another way into NU playing Arkansas-Pine Bluff.) Those 3-5 seconds where I legitimately thought, "well, formals are really really fun, but... ARKANSAS-PINE BLUFF!" will forever live as a testament to my love of Northwestern basketball, and there's nothing you can do to take it away.
Point being, I'm skipping tonight's game. But that doesn't mean I won't write a preview of it and that I won't later rewatch the game on BTN.com.
I was looking forward to going to the home opener tonight for a while - I haven't attended an NU basketball game as a fan for about two years, and enjoy heckling the poor teams I've never heard of that NU brings in to play - I had some fun against Central Arkansas and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi as a freshman. Knowing that I'll be here winter quarter, I'm a little bit less anxious missing this game - I was honestly looking at a scenario where today's might be one of like, three NU games I saw all year and feeling sad - but I can rest easy now. I'll try to make my flight early enough to catch the Creighton game next week.
Are they good?: Remember when Arkansas-Pine Bluff captured your heart with a thrilling tourney run last year that saw them win the play-in game against Winthrop before dropping a game, 73-44 against Duke? Well, quite frankly, I can't tell you whether this team is worse yet than that team. UAPB's tourney win over Winthrop was its only victory in 13 tries against teams that weren't from the SWAC, a conference composed entirely of HBCU's in the south, so the fact that the Golden Lions are 0-2 in two landslide defeats against Colorado State and Nebraska - average margin of defeat: 36.5 points - is no surprise. The Golden Lions could lose every non-conference game and still return to the tournament. In summary, this team lost 83-40 to Nebraska. Nuf said.
Why exactly are they playing NU?: In case you're wondering what brings the Golden Lions to Evanston, consider that they start off the season on an absolutely murderous 12-game road non-conference road trip. Yeah, they don't play a single non-conference home game. They'll go through 10 states and five time zones - yup, five, playing as far east as Akron, Ohio, and as far west as the University of Hawaii - before heading back to sweet home Pine Bluff Arkansas. It's not a new strategy for the Golden Lions: last year, they started off the year with an 0-11 non-conference road slate before going 14-4 in the SWAC on their way to an auto NCAA bid - this, sirs, is your evidence winning the SWAC isn't very difficult - two years ago, they went 1-10 on the road in the non-con, sneaking a win against Southern Methodist. Smart thinking from a tiny school - rake up as much cash from opponents willing to pay to play you and get your team used to major competition and the rigors of the road, then coast in the conference schedule. They also have a freshman on their roster from Evanston Township High School, but I don't think that's a factor considering they don't have any players on their roster from Manoa, Hawaii, or wherever the hell New Mexico State is.
Who they got?: Last year's tourney team featured five players that averaged between 8.2 and 10.2 points per game, with Terrance Calvin leading the way at the higher end of the specturm. This year, only one of those players, 6-foot-1 guard Savalance Townsend, returns, leaving the Golden Lions with one of their top seven players, minutes-wise, from last year's team. As a whole, there are no real standouts on the squad: Townsend is averaging 11 points, 6-foot-8 forward Daniel Broughton - the team's tallest player - is averaging 12 and five down low. But the squad shot 31 percent from the floor in its first two games, 29.4 percent from three, and a more distressing 50 percent from the line - mainly because of 6-foot-6 guard Gavin Montgomery, who is a spectacular 1-of-13 from the charity stripe in his first two games. That's impressive. How do you go to the line 13 times in two games if you're going to go 1-13 from the line? NU fans, don't do the arm-wavey thing when he's shooting free throws - that's just mean.
Us and them: This is NU's first meeting against the Golden Lions. Surprising, considering how deep a rivalry I was prepared to make a joke about it being.
Difference between the amount of times they have been to the NCAA tournament and the amount of times we have been to the NCAA tournament: 1. Arkansas-Pine Bluff, along with Wofford, was one of two schools to turn last year's post - The 55 - into what next year will start out as "The 53", with hopes that some William & Mary sports blogger will write a post in 2012 about how NU has made the his post "The 52". Which is a roundabout way of saying they qualified for their first NCAA Tournament last year.
Generalizations about the school that I will henceforth put at the bottom of all these posts because apparently it makes people from these schools think that I am a douche (their words not mine): what the hell is Arkansas-Pine Bluff?: It's an HBCU in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, in case you couldn't figure that out. I would not like to live in Pine Bluff, Arkansas: located on the Arkansas Delta, the town of 50,000 was ranked the most dangerous metropolitan area in 2009 by Morgan Quitno Press - eat it, East St. Louis! - and also named to the 2009 Forbes ranking of America's ten most impoverished cities.
So if they're an HBCU...: No, there are no white dudes on the roster. It's not like that one time you were flipping through the channels on a Saturday afternoon and it turns out the kicker for Grambling State is a white guy.
Oh, just wondering. I'm not racist for asking, am I?: Technically, you didn't ask. I just knew you were curious on a dodgy subject.
Wait, does that make us both racist?: Possibly.
Well, Rodger, that's a pretty depressing statement about this so-called "post-racial America" we live in, don't you think?: Dude, can we move on with the questions? About basketball?
Moving on. Good names?: The key player is the aforementioned Savalance Thompson, whose first name is Savalance, but don't sleep on Lavoris Weathers.
Anything to look for?: NU outmatches Arkansas-Pine Bluff, so let's see if they can stick to the gameplan and play man-to-man or matchup zone for the full 40 minutes. I'm worried about perimeter defense - Juice Thompson and Drew Crawford got blown past by their man several times, leading to easy buckets, which would be somewhat acceptable if they were consistently getting hands up on shooters, but they weren't. We'll also see how Luka Mirkovic fares against a team with no players taller than 6-foot-8, and whose only "center", Terrell Kennedy, is 6-foot-6. Height didn't help him against Texas-Pan American - we'll see how that goes today. (I'm also looking for a way to watch this game on repeat without attending it. That is less likely.)
Should NU win? As I've said the last two times, easily. UAPB lost handily to two sub-par basketball programs in Colorado State and Nebraska, NU is better than both of those teams, transitive property, the Golden Lions shouldn't come within 25. Sub out Michael Thompson early and often, coach Carmody - I know there's a ten day break coming up, but, get the boys some rest.
Yeah, I still sorta wish I was going to this game. I'll make up for it by continuing to think about basketball for multiple hours every day of my life, like I already do.