In a short telephone interview Tuesday afternoon, Northwestern men’s basketball coach Kevin O’Neill had this to say: The Wildcats have very little depth, he wasn’t surprised that they got their “asses royally kicked” 91-57 at Iowa on Saturday and he compared the team’s defense to something that might fall from the rear of a horse.
Why then, did Gophers coach Clem Haskins express as much trepidation, minus the vulgarity, about tonight’s game in Evanston, Ill., as O’Neill?
Besides that it’s a Big Ten road game, the well-known bane of Haskins’ career at Minnesota, the Gophers might also have to play without their leading scorer and another key player.
Haskins said that senior Sam Jacobson’s injured lower back is still sore and that there is about a 50-50 chance that he will play tonight. Jacobson hasn’t practiced all week after he sprained his back getting out of a chair.
“He’s been day-to-day the last three days and it’s not getting any better,” Haskins said.
Trainer Roger Schipper said, however, that while Jacobson still has soreness, he’s regained some range of motion.
“Hopefully we can get the soreness out of there by tomorrow,” he said.
Junior guard Kevin Clark, who would start in Jacobson’s place, had a root canal Monday, but he was expected to practice Tuesday and play Wednesday.
Still, without Jacobson, who has scored more than 20 points in each of his last five games after an early-season slump, including a season-high 28 in Minnesota’s loss to Purdue on Friday, the Gophers could be in trouble.
“We have two road games this week, and they’re two games that if we had all our healthy bodies, we’d have a chance to be very competitive,” said Haskins, whose team travels to Penn State on Saturday. “At the present time we’re working with not as much depth and we’re probably in worse shape than Northwestern.”
That’s doubtful. O’Neill is down to six scholarship players that he plays regularly. Freshman walk-on Jeff Eschmeyer, who has scored one point this season, will probably start tonight at guard.
“That shows us where we’re at,” O’Neill said. “It’s difficult for us to maintain consistency for 40 minutes. We’ll play well in stretches, but we don’t play well over a long period of time.”
Northwestern has few good players, but they have one of the best in the Big Ten in Eschmeyer’s big brother, Evan. The 6-11 senior center is leading the Big Ten in both scoring (23.6 points per game) and rebounding (12.0).
“They’re a very patient team,” Gophers associate head coach Bobby Jones said. “They like to control the game with their offense. They want to make five to 15 passes and try to get the ball to Eschmeyer.
To keep the Wildcats from playing to their strength, the Gophers will press full-court, but their own lack of depth might prevent them from doing that as much as they want.
“We could offset each other,” Haskins said.
If they do, Northwestern might have a chance to win simply because of the physical Eschmeyer, an all-Big Ten selection last season. That means Haskins will probably play the 6-8, 225-pound senior walk-on Rob Schoenrock more than freshman Antoine Broxsie. Schoenrock played 12 important minutes against Purdue and pulled down four offensive rebounds.
“I don’t know if he’s that good,” Haskins said, “but he’s not that bad, either.”
Haskins and the Gophers will find out tonight if the same is true about Northwestern.