Game 19: Michigan at Northwestern Preview

Who: Michigan (11-7) at Northwestern (11-5) northwestern-logo
Where: Welsh-Ryan Arena, Evanston, IL
When: January 18th, 2011, 9:00 PM ET
Radio: MGoBlue / WWWW 102.9 FM / Sirius 121 / XM 141
Pick to Click

This was the season that Northwestern was finally going to make the NCAA tournament. With a senior point guard, talented and skilled power forward, and a sophomore wing guard that was last year’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year, this had to be the season that the streak was snapped.

Two months into the season it’s clear that Northwestern has a lot of work to do if it wants to cash in on those NCAA Tournament hopes and dreams. More than anything, the Wildcats have been damaged by their own schedule. Northwestern played just one RPI top 100 team in non conference play, an 85-69 loss to St. John’s, and is 0-5 against top 100 teams. With 12 games left on the conference slate there is still a lot of basketball left to be played but it is now or never for Northwestern.

On the other hand, expectations couldn’t have been lower for this year’s Michigan team. Most predicted the team to win around 10 games and finish dead last in the Big Ten. After an encouraging 10-3 non conference performance that included narrow losses to Kansas and Syracuse, Michigan is gasping for air in conference play with a 1-4 record. Suddenly the Big Ten schedule looks treacherous and it has left Michigan fans searching long and hard for games that the Wolverines have a decent shot at winning in conference play.

shurna co
Michael Thompson, Drew Crawford, and John Shurna

It all starts on the offensive end for Bill Carmody’s squad. The three headed monster of John Shurna, Michael Thompson, and Drew Crawford is enough to stretch any defense in the country. The three players combine to score 48 points per game and all three shoot better than 36% from three point range.

Northwestern runs an offense with some similarities to Michigan’s. First off, the Wildcats shoot a lot of threes (41% 3PA/FGA), don’t turn the ball over (17% TO Rate), and don’t crash the offensive glass (28% OR%). The one, most important, thing that Northwestern does better than Michigan is shoot the ball. Northwestern has an effective field goal percentage of 55%, 52% on twos and 40% on threes, which is 15th best in the country. The Wildcats won’t get to the line often and surprisingly connect on a relatively average 70% their free throw attempts.

While the trio of Shurna, Thompson, and Crawford provides the majority of the Northwestern offense, the Wildcats have sufficient secondary options. 6-foot-11 Luke Mirkovic averages a very solid 8 points and six rebounds per game and touts a technical low post game that could give Michigan’s young big men problems. 6-foot-5 freshman JerShon Cobb was one of the most highly touted Northwestern recruits in all time and has been productive, averaging 8 poinmts and three rebounds per game as a starter.Michigan natives Alex Marcotullio, a three point specialist, and Davide A. Curletti, a back up post player, round out the bulk of the Northwestern rotation.

Northwestern isn’t quite as proficient on the defensive end. Bill Carmody loves the 1-3-1 zone and it results in a number of open shots for the opposition, evidenced by the 52% effective field goal percentage that Northwestern has allowed this season. Northwestern opponents are shooting 51% from two point range and 36% from three. Northwestern forces turnovers on a respectable 22% of its opponents possessions and rebounds a respectable 31% of its opponents missed shots.

Michigan runs the 1-3-1 zone and should certainly be familiar with the concepts but that doesn’t mean John Beilein’s teams have necessarily been successful. Michigan lost both games versus Northwestern last season and John Beilein is 3-3 at Michigan when taking on the ‘Cats.

The key for Michigan will be stopping Northwestern. Michigan has yet to hold a Big Ten opponent under 1.15 points per possession and Northwestern certainly has the offense to make Michigan pay for defensive lapses. It will be tough for Michigan to not only defend the three point shot but also defend the constant threat of the backdoor cut that Northwestern presents. It’s another road game but Welsh-Ryan Arena isn’t quite Assembly Hall in terms of home court advantage.

Pomeroy likes Northwestern by a score of 70-65 and gives Michigan a 27% chance at pulling the road upset. Both teams are desperate for a win and are similarly defensively challenged. Michigan’s sails were deflated by a blowout loss in Bloomington while Northwestern took Michigan State to overtime at the Breslin Center before falling just short.

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