|Who: Northwestern (10-7, 1-3 B1G) at Michigan (10-7, 3-2 B1G)|
|Where: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI|
|When: 8:15 p.m., January 17th, 2015|
|Radio: 950 AM, 1050AM|
The Wolverines will look to put Tuesday’s disappointing blowout loss at Ohio State in the rear view mirror as they host Northwestern for a Saturday evening tilt at the Crisler Center.
The Wildcats travel to Ann Arbor with a 10-7 record and are just 1-3 in Big Ten play, with the win coming at Rutgers and respectable losses to Wisconsin, Michigan State and Illinois. Northwestern came tantalizingly close to upsetting Michigan State in East Lansing, but Tre Demps’ buzzer-beater rimmed out and the Spartans prevailed in overtime.
On the other hand, this Northwestern team’s best win was at home over North Florida during the non-conference season. Chris Collins’ team has improved significantly on the offensive end after last year’s dreadful offensive season, but still has a long way to go.
Northwestern’s offense hasn’t been great this season – the Wildcats are ranked 176th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency – but it has been very impressive over the last two games. The Wildcats scored 1.10 points per possession at Michigan State and followed that up with 1.09 points per possession against Illinois. Both games resulted in losses, but they were impressive showings from an improving offense.
Northwestern does a great job of valuing the basketball, giving it up on just 16.4% of its offensive possessions (31st nationally). The Wildcats also do very little on the offensive glass — rebounding 26% of their misses — and only attempt 30 free throws per 100 field goal attempts (325th nationally). They also aren’t afraid to bleed the clock as the third slowest team in the conference after Michigan and Wisconsin.
The Wildcats have mustered just a 49.4 eFG% (139th) and are shooting 48% on twos and 34% on threes. All of those numbers are fairly average, but in Big Ten play Northwestern has heated up from outside, shooting 37.5% from long distance.
Nearly a third of Northwestern’s offense possessions are ball screens (including passes) and the they grade out in the 74th percentile nationally according to Synergy Sports.
On the defensive end of the floor, Northwestern’s strength is its ability to clean up the glass. The Wildcats rebound 73% of their opponents’ misses and have also done a great job of defending the interior. The glaring weakness of Northwestern’s defense is its inability to force turnovers as its opponents only give the ball away on 16.7% of their trips — 311th nationally.
The Wildcats also have a tendency to pack things in defensively, allowing just a 44% 2-point shooting percentage (60th nationally), but also giving up a 36% 3-point shooting percentage (256th nationally).
True freshman Bryant McIntosh leads Northwestern in scoring and assists with averages of 13 points and four dimes per game. He has a lot of maturity to his game and can handle on ball screens and really create offense for a team that isn’t necessarily loaded with creators. He’s not the most efficient player — 43% on twos, 41% on threes, 22% turnover rate – but he’ll be a staple of Northwestern’s offense for a while to come.
6-foot-3 guard Tre Demps is a chucker, but he’s very capable of heating up in a hurry. His shot chart is a bit ugly, but he always seems to hit shots in big moments for the Wildcats.
Alex Olah stands 7-foot, 270 pounds and is a capable scorer with his back to the basket when given time and space, although his low post efficiency has regressed this season. He’s a solid rebounder that isn’t afraid to step out and shoot a three (7-of-20), but his 2-point shooting percentage is down six percent to 49% this season.
Highly rated freshman Vic Law is shooting 46% on twos and 21% on threes, but is a critical component of Northwestern’s defensive rebounding attack. Sanjay Lumpkin is a high-usage, low-efficiency player that shoots 67% on twos and 36% on threes, but uses only 11.8% of available possessions.
This Northwestern team doesn’t shoot as many threes as Bill Carmody’s teams, but players like Nathan Taphorn and Scottie Lindsey both play limited minutes as primarily three-point shooters. Even backup point guard Dave Sobolewski has started hitting some shots this season, but he’s just a shooter, the 6-foot-1 point guard is 7-of-18 on threes and 2-of-6 on twos this year.
- Keep Demps and McIntosh in check: Demps and McIntosh are responsible for creating the majority of Northwestern’s offense. Together they account for 79% of Northwestern’s isolation offense and 76% of its pick-and-roll offense. Slowing down that duo and keeping them from getting in the lane and making things happen is the key to stopping the Wildcat offense. Walton and LeVert seem like the natural defensive matchups for the duo, but given Michigan’s switching everyone will need to chip in.
- Rebuild confidence: This Michigan team has been so up and down this season that it’s impossible to tell what team you’ll see. From the body language to the results, Tuesday’s game was ugly, but we’ve also seen better performances from this group. This is a game for Michigan to get its footing back and maybe even win a game at home without requiring a second half comeback.
- Can the offense be fixed? Northwestern’s defense is ranked 12th in Big Ten play and should give this Michigan offense a chance to get back on track. While the Wolverines have played a couple of strong offensive games, this is a chance at home to get everyone involved and jumpstart the offense before heading to Rutgers, who boasts a very good defense.
Tuesday’s trip to Columbus was presented as an opportunity to make up ground, but a Saturday home game against Northwestern is a game where you can’t afford to lose any. KenPom favors Michigan, 61-54, and gives the Wolverines a 78% chance of picking up their fourth Big Ten victory.