The Matchup: Michigan (15-10) @ Northwestern (13-9)
Location: Welsh-Ryan Arena (Evanston, IL)
TV: Big Ten Network (2:00 PM CT Sunday)
Radio: WGN 720 AM
Fun Fact: Last year Northwestern and Michigan split their season series with the road team winning each contest.
About the Game
Based on numbers alone this game looks pretty even. However, numbers probably are the least important factor in figuring how this game will go. This game has perhaps the most fascinating physiological component I have ever seen in an athletic contest. Michigan needs to win this game in order to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive. Northwestern must recover from one of the most debilitating losses in the program’s history in order to win and keep hope alive for any postseason appearance. The first time these two teams met Michigan won 68-59 in Ann Arbor thanks to a great start and some poor shooting on the part of NU’s top guns. At that point, it seemed fair to assume a Northwestern win in the friendly confines of Welsh-Ryan Arena. However, thanks to the last two games I can’t say that assumption is still valid. Now, it seems the game will turn on which team can perform best under the pressure of a “must win” scenario.
The Wildcats posted perhaps their most impressive home win of the year in a similar scenario against Minnesota. Michigan has twice managed to stop extended losing streaks in the Big Ten season by beating Northwestern and Penn State after those squads knocked off Michigan State. However, those wins for Michigan were at home. Playing on the road has been totally different for the Wolverines who have only one Big Ten road win which was an overtime victory at last place Indiana in which they had to come back from 20 points down in the second half.
In order to avoid continued road struggles, Michigan will attempt to repeat their success against Northwestern from earlier this year. I suspect they will try to again get the ball inside to DeShawn Sims who scored the first 10 points of the game last time these two meet. Northwestern will counter this by playing Luka Mirkovic instead of Kyle Rowley. In addition, Michigan will attempt to use their knowledge of the 1-3-1 to get open shots and offensive rebounds. To counter this, NU might stick with the 2-3 zone or switching man-to-man which they used effectively against Illinois and late in their home game vs Wisconsin.
I find this the toughest game to predict all year. Based on the fact the two teams have similar numbers (UM 67.2 ppg NU 65.0 UM 32.2 rpg NU 28.5 rpg UM 15.3 apg NU 15.8 apg) and NU is the home team I would normally pick Northwestern without a second thought. However, I can’t get over the end of the Illinois game. I know the Wildcats have rebounded from tough games a couple times this year, but I’m not sure how many times a team can do that. I am also very worried about the potential physiological impact the crowd will have on the team. I fear the student sections, which I believe play a major role in firing up the team and creating a great atmosphere in Welsh-Ryan, might only half full after over-flowing vs Illinois. I hope I’m wrong. I know there are some great student fans who read this blog and do an unbelievably outstanding job getting their classmates to come to games. I wish NU had more students like them. Anyhow, this is going to be a tough game for Northwestern. I think a lot of factors are working against them, however, Michigan doesn’t exactly have everything going there way either. Hopefully, NU will have enough fan support to put them over the top. They absolutely need this game. Northwestern, 58 Michigan, 55.