Northwestern announced today that it will reveal its bowl destination on Sunday afternoon, seemingly a few hours before the BCS has its national wing-ding show. The Wildcats have their first official bowl practice on Tuesday. They're also going Thursday, Saturday and Sunday before taking it easy during Finals Week.
Most folks in Evanston seem to believe the Alamo Bowl is the clear frontrunner -- with Missouri being the opponent if it loses Saturday's Big 12 title game and Oklahoma State stepping into the game if the Tigers somehow shock Oklahoma.
(If Northwestern does indeed head to San Antonio, make it a must that you go to the Little Rhine steakhouse located on the Riverwalk. Certain members of my family who attended the 2000 Alamo Bowl would figuratively kill for the chance to have one of their steaks again.)
Meanwhile in DeKalb, NIU coach Jerry Kill isn't running organized practices, but some of the fellas are throwing the ball around in the Rec Center and staying ready in case all of the bowl pieces fall into place and the Huskies sneak into a low-level bowl like the Papajohns.com or Hawaii.
Now, on to Northwestern hoops and the Wildcats' 59-43 win over UC Riverside on Monday night. As the score might suggest, this game won't be rebroadcast on ESPN Classic or the Big Ten Network any time soon.
The good things:
--Freshman 7-footer Kyle Rowley showed some patience and nice back-to-the-basket scoring skills against Riverside's 6-foot-8 post players. He made all but one of his 6 shots from the field for a career-high-tying 10 points.
--Guards Craig Moore and Michael Thompson made a nice tag-team at the top of NU's press. During the Wildcats' crucial 12-0 run midway through the first half, Thompson stole an inbounds pass, drove, hung in the air and forced contact for a 3-point play. Ten seconds later, Moore stole the ball near the center circle and took it for a breakaway finger roll. They combined for 5 steals on the night.
--Sophomore forward Mike Capocci (Glenbard East) was one of the first two Wildcats off the bench and made some encouraging plays in producing 4 points, 2 rebounds, 1 block and 1 assist in 10 minutes. Moore tried to throw him an alley-oop in the second half that would have been spectacular...except it wasn't Capocci running downcourt looking for the ball. Moore looked, saw blond hair and threw the pass...but it was Jeff Ryan instead of Capocci. Their vertical leaps aren't exactly identical.
Moore could laugh about his mistake after the game, but NU coach Bill Carmody delivered an all-time two-handed conniption/gesture in Moore's direction as he retreated downcourt to defend. I pray the Big Ten Network caught that for its highlight reel, as well as Carmody's gesture a few moments earlier when he tried to show 6-11 freshman Luka Mirkovic how to feed the post from the free-throw line extended.
If somebody in the NU coaches office is reading this, please tell me there's a DVD of Carmody's Greatest Fits that's available for black-market purchase (I should note here that I love his sideline moves because they're so genuine. If they were premeditated, it would take the humor out of it).
--In the final two minutes with the game all but clinched, freshman forward John Shurna delivered back-to-back 3-point plays in a 25-second span. On the second one, Shurna ran out and swatted Sean Cunningham's 3-pointer, controlled the ball and drove downcourt for the layup and the foul. Stuff you don't see at NU every day. He finished with 10 points, a game-high 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 block in 19 minutes.
Said Carmody: "He's been a little tentative the last couple of games. I had to tell him today during shootaround that he can play with anybody: 'You know, if they're not in The League, you can play with them. If they're out on the court, you can play with them. If you're playing with Donyell Marshall, for instance, then no. But anybody else? You can play against.' "
Now the bad stuff:
--When the NU video people aren't cutting up Carmody's sideline antics, they'll be busy making a video of the big men's mistakes. Rowley traveled twice and had two easy passes bonk off his hands for turnovers. Mirkovic set an illegal screen within seconds of entering the game, then added another in the second half to prove it wasn't a fluke. Ivan Peljusic traveled on a drive to the hoop. Craig Moore stepped on the sideline while catching a pass and setting up to shoot a 3 at the same time.
Oh, and in the final minute, freshmen Davide Curletti and Nick Fruendt each committed turnovers while trying too hard to make something happen on offense in their limited time.
The Wildcats finished with 16 turnovers, but they can only afford about half that if they intend to knock off Florida State (7-0) in Wednesday's ACC/Big Ten Challenge showdown.
--Northwestern got sloppy after taking an 18-point lead into the halftime locker room. Its second-half issues have been almost predictable, but they were supposed to be a thing of last year now that the Wildcats have so many more players now.
NU took a 48-30 lead with 10:32 to go on Jeff Ryan's free throw. When John Shurna made his first of two 3-point plays with 1:48 left, that broke a long string where all 5 of the Wildcats' points were scored by junior Kevin Coble. This team shouldn't have to rely on one guy for any length of time.
That's it for now. The Straight Hoops Express now points toward Champaign for the Thrilla in the Vanilla Dome: Clemson (7-0) at Illinois (6-0). Tune in here for all of the latest as it pertains to basketball...or whatever.