2008-2009 Season

Game 26: Michigan at Northwestern Preview

: Michigan  (15-10) at Northwestern (13-9)
: Evanston, IL
When: Sunday, February 15th, 3 PM ET
: NW by 3.5
Preview: Stat Sheet, U-M KenPom Profile, NW KenPom Profile
: MGoBlue, WWJ-AM (950), WTKA-AM (1050)
Opposition Blog:
Lake the Posts

Michigan goes for the season sweep of the Wildcats and hopes to keep the NCAA tournament dream alive. The Wildcats have only lost three home games in conference play and they were to arguably the top teams in the league: MSU, Purdue, and Illinois. Northwestern choked away both the Purdue and Illinois games and probably should have one home loss were it not for those two epic collapses.

The keys to beating Northwestern hardly ever change from year to year so I’m just going to pull this out of my last post:

  • Don’t turn the ball over against the 1-3-1.
  • Knock down your 3-point looks.
  • Make good interior passes to beat the zone.
  • Force the Northwestern players to try to beat you off the dribble, rather than giving up open 3-point looks or back-door cuts.
  • Take advantage of your big edge on the boards.

In the first matchup Michigan did at least four of these five things very well:

  • Turnover percentage of 15.8%
  • 9-27 three point shooting
  • 15 points for DeShawn Sims inside
  • They didn’t quite eliminate the three point shot, Northwestern was 10-27 on three pointers but they weren’t a major factor in the game.
  • 40.6% offensive rebounding percentage compared to Northwestern’s 9.7%, Michigan’s largest rebounding% margin all year.

The big difference in the game was that Michigan got to the free throw line and Northwestern didn’t. The Wildcats only had 3 free throw attempts in the game while Michigan had 18. Michigan pretty much coasted through the first contest but I don’t think this one will be as easy.

Kevin Coble had a huge game in Ann Arbor but he just didn’t get enough support. Craig Moore and Michael Thompson both managed double figures but they were a combined 8 of 21 from three point range. Things could get dicey if a couple more of those shots fall and that is the risk you run while playing Northwestern.

Northwestern’s statistical profile is not much different than it was before. They shoot the ball well (especially from long range) while dominating the turnover battle. Luckily they can’t get to the free throw line or pull down rebounds. You can also count on a slow game because both Michigan and Northwestern love to slow the game down; the first match-up was only a 57 possession game. For more of an in depth look at their statistical profile and personnel, check out my preview of the first game.

This game looks very winnable except for the fact that it is a Big Ten road game. Michigan has exactly 1 road win this year and it came in overtime against the worst team in the league. They have given a couple teams (UConn and Maryland) a scare but just haven’t figured out how to win road games. Evanston isn’t a parciularly tough road trip but Northwestern has played well at home this year. Hopefully the Maize Ragers and alumni in attendance can give this team the boost they need.

UMquasi made a very interesting post in the comments section where he pointed out that Michigan has been a dramatically better team when they have 3 or more days of rest.

Record with 3+ Days Rest 11-2
Record with 0-2 Days Rest 4-9
Those 4 wins without rest were against Northeastern, Duke, Florida Gulf Coast, and IU and the two losses  on 3+ days of rest were to Ohio State and at Maryland.

A lot of factors come into play here but I think this is a valid observation. This is certainly an advantage to give to Michigan, especially because Northwestern played last night. A lot of this is coaching and proper time to prepare but we are also dealing with a team that is wearing down. This team just played three games in six days, two against top 10 teams, so they certainly could use some rest. UMquasi also points out that four of Michigan’s final six games are on 3+ days of rest.

Bubble Bullets:

  • Watch out for Wisconsin. The Badgers are 6-6 right now and close with an easy stretch: OSU, @IU, @MSU, U-M, @Minn, IU. With two games left against the Hoosiers I have a hard time seeing Wisconsin not get to 9-9 in conference. Their computer numbers are nice as well with an RPI of 30 and the #4 schedule in the country.
  • Bye-Bye Nittany Lions. Penn State has lost 3 in a row thanks in large part to Talor Battle’s disappearance. PSU finishes against Minnesota, @Ill, @OSU, IU, Ill, and @Iowa. Penn State probably needed an 11-7 finish in the Big Ten to make the tournament with their poor strength of schedule and RPI and I’d say a home loss this weekend would probably be the end of their tournament hopes.
  • So what? MSU, Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota, and Ohio State look like locks to dance right now. I think Michigan and Wisconsin are the other two teams fighting for a chance. There was speculation in the non-conference season about 7 teams dancing from the Big Ten but that talk has died down a bit. I guess if Michigan and Wisconsin put themselves in the right position they would both be considered “hot” teams on selection sunday.
  • Head-to-head. Joe Lunardi wrote a recent article about how head-to-head records don’t matter (much) which should be a bit encouraging in regard to U-M vs Wisconsin. The key is the overall resume. Both Michigan and Wisconsin have very tough schedules but it is time for Michigan fans to start paying attention to what would seem like otherwise trivial games. For example, Virginia Tech at Maryland this Saturday, a Maryland win would probably knock Tech out of the RPI top 50. This would knock Wisconsin’s record vs RPI top 50 teams to 1-7 compared to Michigan’s 3-8.

In the end I think a 9-9 record still does it. Michigan was repeatedly left out of the field with a .500 conference record under the Tommy Amaker regime but the difference here is that Michigan has the peripherals to differentiate themselves: two big non conference wins, top 20 strength of schedule, and the #2 conference RPI.

There are 6 games left and Michigan needs 4 wins. We are running out of chances and the odds get longer with every loss. Personally I’m get of sick of rationalizing with the fact that we could win one down the road. In the true sense of the word we won’t technically have a must win until we have to win every game left but every game we get closer.

Thoughts, predictions, theories, and in-game discussion are encouraged in the comments.

Pre-Game Reading:

To Top