Good thing, long suffering, Northwestern Wildcats fans got their first bowl game victory in 63 years on Tuesday because this one has the potential to get uggggggly.
Northwestern was already without their top two players in JerShon Cobb (academics) and Drew Crawford (shoulder surgery). Now, guard, and on-floor leader, Reggie Hearn is on the shelf with an ankle injury while freshman energy guy Sanjay Lumpkin banged up his wrist and won’t go. That means head coach Bill Carmody might have to go with walk-ons in spots against the number two team in the country. Gulp.
Those Michigan Wolverines are in Evanston to tip off conference play and have been by far one of the most impressive teams this young college basketball season.
John Beilein though may be down one of his key players as Tim Hardaway Junior is questionable with an ankle injury he suffered in the Wolverines last non-conference tuneup against the Central Michigan Chippawas. Forward Jon Horford was already declared out with a pretty serious knee injury.
Nevertheless, this year’s Michigan team has plenty of weapons but more importantly has gotten much needed toughness. Freshman Mitch McGary is one of the best per minute rebounders in the country and has taken pressure off Jordan Morgan, who for years was Michigan’s best, and worst, option up front.
Another freshman, Nik Stauskas, has emerged as one of the best shooters in the country, while Glenn Robinson III has proven he has more in common with his father than just his last name. He’s letting his game do the talking. Is “Little Dog” already taken? That’s my nickname for him.
Oh and we haven’t even gotten to the star of our show in Trey Burke. His decision to forgo the NBA Draft is looking better by the day. I guess staying in school can have its benefits!
Northwestern will need a monumental effort to even keep this one close. I assume Carmody will utilize his 1-3-1 zone from the start because there is no way his squad can match the quickness from Burke or Robinson. Of course, then you expose yourself to the three point shot from the corners but perhaps Stauskas gets nerves being on the road in his first Big Ten game.
Offensively, I’d pound the rock to center Alex Olah early and often. He’s a legit 7 footer and Michigan is still a bit undersized. If he has early success, perhaps Michigan will have to throw a double team at him which can reward you with clean three point looks. Problem is, Northwestern hasn’t hit from deep like years past. They better find the rhythm tonight.
Michigan’s job is simple to me. Run, run, run and run. With the lack of depth the Wildcats have available they might be simply too gassed to keep this one “in range”. A win for Michigan here would almost assure a 3-0 start with home games against the Iowa Hawkeyes and Nebraska Cornhuskers before they travel to Columbus to take on the “overrated” Ohio State Buckeyes.
Meanwhile, Northwestern has to go on the road after this one to face the Minnesota Golden Gophers, in what is almost a certain loss, before they take on a feisty Penn State Nittany Lions team they have had serious trouble with during the Carmody era.
It’s just the start of conference play for both teams but to call this a “big game” isn’t an understatement. It’s a reality.