Game Preview: Northwestern Wildcats Visit No. 1 Michigan

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Just as Northwestern Wildcats fans were getting back on the NCAA Tournament bandwagon, the caravan crashed into a fiery heap as the Nebraska Cornhuskers outworked the Wildcats to grab their 2nd Big Ten win and throw more questions than answers into the air in Evanston.

Tonight the task will even be tougher as Northwestern visits the number one ranked Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor. Michigan’s only defeat this season was on the road to the hated Ohio State Buckeyes in a game they nearly saved with a late 2nd half run. This team is ready to get to the Final Four.

However, Northwestern looks to catch a huge break as center Jordan Morgan won’t play with an ankle injury he sustained early in the Wolverines game against the Illinois Fighting Illini. While his numbers don’t jump off the page initially, he always dominates Northwestern and is a key member of John Beilein‘s rotation up front. Expect Mitch McGary and the recently back Jon Horford to take most of those minutes.

NORTHWESTERN:

The Wildcats have got to rebound the basket. They were crushed by a bad rebounding Nebraska team and that just can’t happen, especially on the road. You’d think that wouldn’t happen twice although with the youth up front for NU you just never know. Michigan isn’t overly physical and the opportunities will be there. You’ve got to seize them.

The ‘Cats have also got to make some early threes. Michigan’s man to man defense is outstanding. They bump cutters, close out on shooters and communicate so effectively. If they don’t respect the long ball then they’ll pack in it.

To that point, Alex Olah needs to be willing to shoot. He can’t just sit at the high post and do nothing. Just giving them that threat can open up backdoor layups. He showed he can make the mid range jumper against some of the better non-conference opponents!

Defensively, I think you have to play man. Michigan is too good from the outside to risk the 1-3-1 zone. Maybe even help off McGary or Horford to help contain Trey Burke‘s penetration  Those two bigs only score on garbage buckets really.

MICHIGAN:

Get running! Force Northwestern to expend all their energy on the defensive end. The Wildcats are limited athletically as it is and they won’t be able to sustain a high pace for 40 minutes. You can win this game by halftime doing this.

Go at Northwestern’s bigs. Both Olah and Mike Turner tend to foul at a very high rate. Bill Carmody hasn’t shown the willingness to go to TCU Horned Frogs transfer Nikola Cerina due to an ankle injury despite their struggles. If NU is forced to go small that plays to your advantage.

Defensively, I’d think about pressing Northwestern a bit. The Wildcats also lack true ball handlers outside of Reggie Hearn and Dave Sobolewski. You don’t even need to turn them over but instead you force them to use precious seconds of the shot clock while in the back court. They’ll have less time to operate when they get the ball across.

PREDICTION:

Northwestern’s isn’t nearly as terrible as it seemed after their first two conference games. However, this would be a herculean task to get past Michigan. The Morgan injury and perhaps the Wolverines looking ahead to their huge showdown in Bloomington against the Indiana Hoosiers may give you an opening. I just don’t see that translating into a win though. Michigan 68 – Northwestern 57.

Like my article? Hate it? Let me know on Twitter (@tmichaelcronin). I look forward to your thoughts.

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