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2017 NCAA Tournament: Talking Northwestern with InsideNU

We went straight to the source to learn about the darlings of this year’s tournament.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Northwestern vs Vanderbilt Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs face off against the Northwestern Wildcats tomorrow afternoon.

Not a lot of us know much about Northwestern, other than the fact that this is their first NCAA Tournament in school history, and as of writing right now, they are undefeated in NCAA Tournament games at 1-0.

To learn a bit more about the Wildcats, we spoke with Caleb Friedman over at SB Nation’s Northwestern blog

1) Ok. What gives. Why is this the year of all years that Northwestern decided they wanted to dance?

This year was really the first year Northwestern had the talent to compete in the Big Ten on a nightly basis. Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law Jr., Scottie Lindsey and Gavin Skelly, the members of Chris Collins's first recruiting class, are now juniors, and they've really developed in their years in Evanston. Law Jr. missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, and he gives them a new dimension on the wing with his length and athleticism. Because the talent is now there, the team plays to win every game, as opposed to playing not to lose. It took time, but Chris Collins revamped recruiting at Northwestern and changed the culture for a program that had previously never been to an NCAA Tournament.

2) Northwestern started off conference play rather hot, but things cooled before the conference tournament started. What was the difference between the two halves of conference play?

The biggest thing was Scottie Lindsey being sick with mononucleosis. Lindsey, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, was the team's leading scorer when he went down, and the team really missed his outside shooting and length defensively in his absence. The offense really stagnated at times without him, especially in the home loss to Illinois. Northwestern's schedule was also much tougher toward the end of conference play; games against Purdue, Wisconsin and Maryland all came in the second half of the Big Ten slate.

3) Northwestern isn't the best shooting team. Assuming Gonzaga shoots better than they did against South Dakota State, what are things the Wildcats will do to try and keep up with the Zags?

Northwestern isn't always a great shooting team, but they can be. Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey and Vic Law Jr. are all streaky three-point shooters, and Nathan Taphorn is a sniper from deep off the bench. Having said that, the Wildcats play at a slower tempo than most teams in college basketball--their adjusted tempo is 300th in Division I, per KenPom. NU also has the 28th-lowest turnover percentage in the country, so it will try to keep Gonzaga out of transition in that way. Northwestern will run when it can, but it will pick its spots to try to keep it as a halfcourt game.

4) The Wildcats operate with a rather small lineup. How do you expect them to corral Gonzaga's frontcourt, specifically the rather large Przemek Karnowski?

Dererk Pardon, Northwestern's center, is only 6-foot-8. But, he has freakishly long arms, and has held his own against bigger players time and time again this season. He's a good interior defender and blocks a lot of shots, and also gets after it on the glass. The problems will likely come if the Zags play Karnowski and Zach Collins together. Purdue, another team that often plays with two bigs at a time, has traditionally given Northwestern trouble because the Wildcats' bigs have gotten in foul trouble. Sanjay Lumpkin and freshman Barret Benson can hold their own on the interior, even though Lumpkin is smaller, but the multiple-big looks will be tough to deal with on the glass.

5) On a scale of 1-100, how sweet was yesterday's win?

If this video doesn’t cream 150 out of 100, I don’t know what does.

Big thanks to Caleb and InsideNU for answering our questions. We look forward to the game and future apologies for ending your run.