The Matchup: Northwestern (11-3) @ Michigan (8-6)
Location: Crisler Arena (Ann Arbor, MI)
TV: Big Ten Network (1:30 PM CT Sunday Jan. 10th)
Radio: WGN 720 AM
Fun Fact: Bill Carmody got his first Big Ten road win at Michigan. Michigan was also the site of the 2007-08 Wildcats only Big Ten win.
About the Game
These two teams are very similar in how they play. Michigan was the only Big Ten team to beat the ‘Cats twice during the league schedule last season and that may have had to do with Michigan’s familiarity with the 1-3-1 defense. It will be interesting to see how the Wildcats attack the Wolverines offense this season. The 1-3-1 hasn’t been that effective of late, so NU might just scrap it all together versus UM.
UM’s offense is led by two future NBA players, Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims, the good news for NU is that while those two might be the best players in game, NU star John Shurna probably has a stronger supporting cast. You have to respect Harris scoring 19.4 points per game and Sims (17.3 ppg) playing as a threat both inside, where he converts more than 50% of his shots, and outside where at around 30% he converts enough to get the respect of other big men. This is important because like NU, Michigan will use the fact centers have to play outside on defense to setup backdoor cuts. This could the less of an issue for NU’s defenders if the ‘Cats play some type of zone. Sims is coming off two huge games in the Wolverines two game Big Ten winning steak against Ohio State and Penn State. Against OSU, Sims scored 28 points and he added another 25 versus Penn State to move his career total to 1,290 points. He should get to 1,300 against Northwestern.
UM’s other players are mostly three point shooters or ball handlers. However, they’ve really struggled shooting the three as they’re last in the Big Ten in three point percentage at 29.6%. As far as handling the ball, UM’s coaching staff has rotated a number of players to the point guard spot. Stu Douglass and Zack Novack are probably the best at taking care of the ball. Novack only has 9 turnovers this year in 421 minutes and Douglass has 10 in 387. NU will also need to be aware of him and Laval Lucas-Perry who helped the Wolverines break out of a major shooting slump in the second half at Penn State by hitting four threes. Before that, UM was 0-for-14 from behind the arc. With Michigan, like Northwestern, dependent on made threes for much of their offense, hitting open shots is critical to the team’s success.
This is a tough game to predict. A week and a half ago I would have said NU could go into to Crisler and win easy, but now I have serious questions about NU on both offense and defense. I think the past few games we have finally seen Northwestern start to miss Kevin Coble. Sure, John Shurna has scored a lot of points, but NU has seemed to lack a go to guy when suffering long scoring droughts where Coble could have taken the ball and got a good shot at the hoop. Shurna can get good looks, but he’s more dependent than Coble would have been on getting a teammate to set him up for a good look. If NU’s scoring problems continue in Ann Arbor, it’ll be a problem because I’m not sure how NU will stop Harris and Sims. Sims is actually scarier to me because Harris could have an off day shooting, but I don’t know how Luka Mirkovic or Kyle Rowley can defend Sims. I think this game will offer a chance for Ivan Peljusic or Davide Curletti to show their stuff. Hopefully they’ll take advantage because this game is critical for NU. However, after Thursday night I can’t honestly predict a Northwestern win. I hope I’m wrong, but I see Michigan’s athletes being too much for an NU squad which is slumping shooting and getting lazy on defense. Michigan, 77 Northwestern, 64