Jan. 22, 2013
WATCH: Coach Carmody Game Preview | J. Swopshire Preview | D. Sobolewski Preview | R. Hearn Preview
EVANSTON, Ill.-- Northwestern plays its third straight game against a ranked opponent as it hosts No. 12/14 Minnesota at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. NU has won the last four meetings between the teams in Evanston.
The game is being televised by Big Ten Network and can be heard on 720 AM WGN and at wgnradio.com
This is the first time that the Wildcats have faced three consecutive ranked foes since the 2010-11 season when it happened twice.
NU defeated then-No. 23/22 Illinois 68-54 on the road last Thursday before falling at home to then-No. 2/2 Indiana 67-59 on Sunday. The Wildcats trimmed the Hoosiers' 17-point lead to five on three occassions but could never make it all the way back. Senior guard Reggie Hearn scored 20 against the Illini before tallying 22 against the Hoosiers.
First Meeting: Northwestern trailed No. 9/13 Minnesota by just three points at the half, but the Golden Gophers pulled away after the break for a 69-51 win Jan. 6 in Minneapolis. Reggie Hearn led three Wildcats in double figures with 11 points while Austin Hollins had 19 for the Gophers.
The Golden Gophers (15-3, 3-2 Big Ten) have dropped each of their last two contests, including an 83-75 home loss to Michigan last Thursday. Austin Hollins paced Minnesota with 21 points.
Andre Hollins leads the team with an average of 14.3 points per game. Trevor Mbakwe is first in the Big Ten with a norm of 8.2 rebounds per contest.
Tubby Smith is in his sixth season as head coach at Minnesota where he has a 118-71 record. He has a 505-216 career record in 22 seasons overall as a head coach.
|Watch Coach Carmody Game Preview|
(H)EARNING HIS KEEP
Senior guard Reggie Hearn enjoyed a stellar week for the Wildcats last week. He tallied a team-high 20 points on Thursday in leading Northwestern to a convincing 68-54 victory at then-No. 23/22 Illinois. It was the second straight year that Hearn scored 20 points in a victory at Assembly Hall. The Indiana native followed up the performance by scoring a game-high 22 points against his homestate school on Sunday. He shot 57.9 percent from the field and 89.5 percent from the free throw line (17-19) in the two contests. The former walk-on leads the Wildcats and ranks ninth in the Big Ten with a scoring average of 14.5 points per game. Hearn's .514 field goal percentage ranks 13th in the conference.
Graduate student Jared Swopshire has started every game for Northwestern this season in his first year with the program. When Swopshire plays well, the Wildcats seem to be successful. In NU's victories this season, he is averaging 11.9 points per game while shooting 48.8 percent from the field. In games the Wildcats have lost, Swopshire is averaging just 5.6 points per contest while shooting 34.0 percent from the field. Northwestern is 7-2 when he scores in double figures but is 4-6 when he tallies nine points or less. He spent the last four seasons at Louisville, appearing in 109 contests with 23 starts while helping the team reach the Final Four last year. Swopshire is pursing his graduate degree in sports administration.
COMING ON STRONG
Redshirt freshman Tre Demps struggled from the field to open the season, but he has come on strong. The guard missed each of his 14 3-point field goal attempts through Northwestern's first nine contests. However, he bounced back by hitting three of his four tries from beyond the arch Dec. 8 against Butler en route to scoring a career-best 15 points. Demps followed up the performance by hitting three of four triple tries again on Dec. 17 in a 12-point effort in a victory over Texas State and scored 12 more on Dec. 21 against Stanford. He is averaging 10.4 points per game in the last 10 contests while shooting 53.1 percent (17-32) from 3-point range.
Wednesdayt's contest wraps up an opening to the Big Ten season during which the Wildcats will have played five of their first seven contests against teams that were ranked at the time. During that span, NU will have faced Minnesota twice as well as Michigan, Indiana and Illinois once apiece.
DOING IT ON DEFENSE
Northwestern has taken a step forward defensively so far this season. The Wildcats are limiting their opponents to an average of 62.1 points per game after allowing 68.2 points per contest a year ago. NU is also holding its foes to a .415 field goal percentage. The 'Cats have held eight of their opponents to below 40 percent shooting in a game. During the 2011-12 season, Northwestern's opponents shot 45.2 percent from the field. Three times this year (Texas Southern, Fairleigh Dickinson, TCU), the Wildcats have limited the opposition to 14 first-half points, while holding three others (Brown, Minnesota, Penn State) also under 20 points in the opening stanza.
DISHING IT OUT
Sophomore Dave Sobolewski has been in a giving mood so far this season. The point guard handed out a career-best nine assists in Northwestern's season-opening win over Texas Southern Nov. 13 and then followed it up with eight helpers against Mississippi Valley State Nov. 15. His average of 4.4 assists per game ranks fifth in the Big Ten. A year ago, Sobolewski led the Big Ten and paced all nation's freshmen with a 2.63 assist-to-turnover ratio. Through 19 contests, Northwestern ranks 38th nationally with an average of 15.6 assists per game while ranking second in the country with a .711 assist percentage.
Northwestern is well known for playing "team" offense and that's reflected in the statistics. The Wildcats ranked fourth in the nation with a 1.53 assist-to-turnover ratio last season and they're eighth in the nation so far this year with a 1.43 ratio (297 assists, 207 turnovers). NU ranked second nationally to only Wisconsin with a 1.70 mark in 2010-11.
PROTECTING THE ROCK
Though the end result didn't go the way they would have liked, the Wildcats did a great job of taking care of the basketball against Maryland Nov. 27. Northwestern committed just four turnovers in the entire contest, the fewest since it committed three in an overtime game at Illinois on Dec. 30, 2009. NU is committing an average of just 11.2 turnovers per game, ranking 19th in the nation.
Northwestern led the Big Ten and ranked fifth nationally in 2011-12 with an average of 9.0 3-point makes per game. The Wildcats have picked up where they left off, averaging 8.1 makes through the first 19 games of the 2012-13 season, ranking 32nd in the nation.
Northwestern travels to Lincoln to take on Nebraska on Saturday. Following a game at Michigan next Wednesday, the 'Cats return home to face Purdue on Saturday, Feb. 2.
Be the first to know what's going on with the 'Cats -- Follow @NU_Sports on Twitter, become a fan of Northwestern Athletics on Facebook, subscribe to the NU Sports Express e-newsletter and sign up to receive promotional text alerts for the latest news, schedule updates and video and to interact with NU. For more information on following specific Northwestern teams online, visit our Social Media page!