The Matchup: Michigan (11-10) @ Northwestern (14-7)
Location: Welsh-Ryan Arena (Evanston, IL)
TV: Big Ten Network (6:00 PM February 2nd, 2010)
Radio: WGN AM 720
Fun Fact: With the addition of guard Austin Nichols to the roster, NU now has three players from the state of Michigan.
About the Game
Last season Michigan was the only Big Ten team to sweep Northwestern. The Wildcats got some measure of revenge for that last month when they overcame a 17-point deficient to beat the Wolverines in Ann Arbor. Now, the Wildcats are looking for complete payback by finishing off their own season sweep. If the ‘Cats can do so, they’ll get their 15th win (three away from setting a school record) and put themselves in position to finish their last 10 games of the regular season with an impressive record. This is important because the NCAA Tournament committee will pay close attention to a team’s play down the stretch.
Much of the credit for Northwestern’s 68-62 win has to go to Drew Crawford who pulled a personal 11-0 run and finished with 25 points. Credit also has to go to Luka Mirkovic who woke up in the second half and started guarding DeShawn Sims (17.6ppg 51% FG). Early in the game Sims has his way with NU (most notably a dunk where he posterized Ivan Peljusic) and Michigan got a big lead. The ‘Cats got back into the game when Sims stopped scoring. Sims played well in both Michigan wins over NU last season as well. Therefore, it is easy to see that stopping him will be a key to an NU win. Once again, that job will likely fall to Mirkovic. Though, he had a poor game against Michigan State, I think Mirkovic has only gotten better since NU’s game in Ann Arbor, and I believe he can contain Sims.
Part of the reason that stopping Sims is so important is that NU has nobody to stop Michigan star Manny Harris (19.1ppg 6.6rpg) Harris had 24 points and 9 rebounds in the game last month. With his 6-7 size and superior athletic skill, Harris is really too large for NU’s guards to play consistently man-to-man and too quick for John Shurna. His only major weakness is that he makes only 28.3% of his threes. If one can take away Harris’s route to the basket, it might be possible to contain the star. If NU wants to go man-to-man, the best matchup for Harris is Drew Crawford. Crawford still might be a little young to be a great defender, but his 6-5 size and great leaping ability makes him potentially a better defender on Harris than the slower John Shurna or the smaller Jeremy Nash. It is also possible NU might play their 1-3-1 against Michigan. Although Michigan guards Stu Douglass (only 26 turnovers this year) and Zack Novak (only 18 turnovers this year) don’t turn the ball over much, neither has shot well either. Douglass (despite a reputation as a three point shooter) is making only 30.9% of his threes and Novak is making just 29%. If the season long shooting slump both those guys and Harris have been in continues, it makes sense for NU to play the 1-3-1 in order to help Mirkovic defend Sims. Michigan’s only shooter with a decent percentage from three point range is reserve guard (and Lake Forest native) Matt Vogrich who makes 39.1% of his threes. However, Vogrich only plays 6.4 minutes a game and is somewhat turnover prone.
Michigan has some advantages in a game over NU, such as more knowledge of the 1-3-1 than other opponents (since they also play it); however, that works both ways. Plus, to really beat the 1-3-1 you need shooters and the Wolverines haven’t shot well all year. I also expect that after two road games Northwestern will be happy to be home. On the other hand, Michigan is 1-5 in road games this year and the only win was over a Penn State team that is 0-9 in Big Ten play. Hopefully, Northwestern can fill Welsh-Ryan with purple and create a hostile in Environment which gets Michigan uncomfortable. I think that can happen and I think it leads to a win and a wining streak. Northwestern, 65 Michigan, 60