So, I had this all written and was about to hit publish when Brian informed me that our star post player will in fact be playing tonight. For your enjoyment I kept the original intact and just had a line through anything that needed changing.
The smart kids at Northwestern visit Pullman tonight with a trip to Madison Square Garden on the line.
The absence of DeAngelo Casto will obviously change this game, but against a team like Northwestern without a serious inside presence, they may be able to overcome his absence. Now that Casto is playing, he actually becomes a great advantage for WSU, because Northwestern does not have anyone on the inside to match him. Northwestern's Luka Mirkovic, a 6-11 junior, is probably most saddened to hear the news of Casto's reinstatement. He may have had a career day against what was left of the Cougs' front line. Now, it is entirely possible that DeAngelo will neutralize his effectiveness on the offensive end and get him into foul trouble on the defensive end.
When the Wildcats have the ball...
Northwestern does have an above average offense. They posted a 105.7 offensive efficiency in conference play, which was curiously enough good for 7th in the Big Ten. Isn't the Big Ten supposed be the defensive conference? The Cougs 100.4 conference efficiency put them sixth in the Pac 10. This why tempo-free stats are important.
Expect to see a lot of three point shots from Northwestern. They shot a three pointer on 45.5% of their field goal attempts in conference play and on 44.5% overall, which was the 6th highest in the country.
John Shurna and Michael Thompson are the biggest threats. Shurna is a big man who does a lot of damage with his jumper. He uses screens well and has a very quick release, to go along with unlimited range. Shurna is hitting on almost 45% of his three point attempts. Thompson is the point guard. He can create his own shots and does the same for his teammates with regularity. Thompson likely will not come off the floor tonight, as he has played 92% of available minutes this season, 13th most in the nation.
With WSU's just below average three point defense, Northwestern should have a good day from beyond the arc. This means it will be imperative for WSU to limit the Wildcats on two-point attempts.
This will obviously be more difficult without Casto.
The Wildcats won't shoot themselves in the foot with turnovers. They were among the best in the country, posting a 15.7 TO Rate this season.
Northwestern will have a good offensive game, the WSU defense is not good enough to hold them down. The question for the Wildcats is: Will that be enough to overcome their defensive shortcomings?
When the Cougs have the ball...
Northwestern is a really bad defensive team. They were last in the Big Ten in defensive efficiency, giving up 1.14 (adjusted) points per possession in conference play.
WSU's strength has been their ability inside the arc, and Northwestern has done little to stop opponents from scoring on two point shots. The Wildcats allowed Big Ten opponents to shoot 56.5% on two-pointers.
That's right, 56.5%.
This is where a guy like Brock Motum - Also DeAngelo Casto!- becomes important. He has done very well inside the arc this season, and
with increased minutes it will serve him and his teammates well to be a little more aggressive. Klay Thompson should also explore the interior with the dribble drive, and see if can get some good looks. When a team allows that high of a percentage on two pointers, you know there is some consistently awful defense being played.
Reggie Moore could have a huge impact, especially if Northwestern's Thompson is guarding him. If Reggie can wear him down on defense, it's possible Thompson's jumpers may be falling short towards the end of the game.
KenPom predicts the Cougs to win 73-69 with 63% confidence.
Without Casto, I would guess this game is more of a toss-up. The game should be highly efficient on both ends of the floor, but not necessarily high scoring because Northwestern plays a pretty slow pace.
If the Cougs can play just a little defense, and exploit Northwestern inside the three point line, there is a good chance we see them play at MSG next week.