Northwestern at Virginia
Northwestern (1-3) has won just once in four tries this season and the Wildcats will be one-for-five after visiting Charlottesville, Virginia. They beat Benedictine by 32, but in their other two home games the Wildcats lost to Stanford by 11 and most recently got bounced 73-67 by Brown. Virginia, arguably, is better than all of those basketball teams.
Northwestern went 13-18 last season and a wretched 2-14 in Big 10 play. Coach Bill Carmody is in his eighth season as head coach and he is searching for his second winning season in Evanston and his first NCAA Tournament appearance. That certainly won’t happen this year, but things can’t be any worse than they were in 2006-2007.
Carmody returns three starters and also welcomes one of the better recruiting classes he’s had at Northwestern. The Wildcats will be led by two sophomores in 6-8 Kevin Coble and 6-7 Jeff Ryan. Point guard Michael “Juice” Thompson is the cream of the recruiting class crop and he is already leading the team in both points and assists. Junior guard Craig Moore and senior guard Jason Okrzesik will also have to step up after relatively pedestrian performances last season.
Coble, however, is taking an indefinite leave of absence to be with his ailing mother. So what little chance Northwestern had of going into Virginia and stealing a win for the Big 10 is all but gone. Thompson will have to somehow keep up with UVA point guard Sean Singletary is the Wildcats are to have any chance of keeping this one close.
Virginia (5-1) just got what was probably a much-needed reality check by losing at home to Seton Hall 74-60. The Cavaliers has started out sky high at 5-0, including an impressive 75-72 road win at Arizona. UVA also has wins over Drexel (by 14) and at Pennsylvania (by 15). The loss to Seton Hall should have the Wahoos refocused and ready to have their way with the Northwestern Wildcats.
Third-year head coach Dave Leitao and crew are coming off a season in which they went 20-10 overall and 11-5 in the ACC. Virginia took out Albany in the first round of the NCAA Tournament but then lost a 77-74 heartbreaker to Tennessee in the following game.
The Cavaliers hope to go at least that far again this season despite losing two key starters in shooting guard J.R. Reynolds and big man Jason Cain. Reynolds’ prolific scoring ability will be must and the departures of both players will really hurt on the defensive end of the floor. Senior Adrian Joseph and sophomore Jamil Tucker must raise their games on both ends of the floor in an attempt to replace Cain.
The bottom line, of course, is that UVA still as Sean Singletary. The floor general and by far the team’s best player is averaging 21.5 points per game and 6.3 assists through six games this season. Singletary averaged 19.0 points and 4.7 assists in his junior campaign last year.
The cold, hard truth—although one that Northwestern fans should have no problem accepting since it’s painfully obvious—is the Singletary will easily be the best player on the court Tuesday and the Wahoos will easily be the best team on the floor. The Wildcats have no recognizable advantage over UVA, and let’s also not forget that the proceedings will take place in front of a raucous Virginia crowd. That will only add insult to injury.
The pick: Virginia by 16.