Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Northwestern: A Preview

Note: So, if you haven't noticed, I have been doing some anecdotal/mostly impressionistic game recaps for each game since the Royce White Iowa State game [ed: actually, I forgot that I did the UVA game as well]. I'm going to try and see if I can get a word in before the games now with a little previewin'. The format is a work in progress but we'll see how it goes. 

(HT: UMHoops)
General Outlook
Michigan comes in to play its third home game of the young B1G season on the heels of a string of sellouts (previously unheard of) and crowds that actually made their presence somewhat audibly known. Michigan is even offering $5 tickets for "5 straight sellouts," so if you are in Ann Arbor then you really have no excuse to not go to this game. 

Michigan enters the contest at 13-3 (3-1) and #13 in the polls, its highest ranking in FOR-EV-ERRRR. Northwestern comes in at a respectable but inflated 11-4, with a tough start to the conference slate, going1-2 by losing at Ohio State by 33, a tough 1-point loss to the Illini, and a home win against PSU (the other 2 losses being a respectable 8-point loss at Creighton and a 28-point thumping at the hands of undefeated Baylor). On the MGoBlog "Need To Win" and "Fear/Paranoia Level" scales, this is probably a 9 and a 3 respectively. Yes, one of those, where's there's nothing to gain and a whole lot to lose. As excellent as the Wisconsin win was, those good vibes would instantly wash away against a tide of pessimism and teeth-gnashing if the Wolverines drop one at home to an, in all likelihood, non-tournament team. 

With that said, when you are a high-volume 3-point shooting team like we are, you can never take anyone for granted. Plus, being in attendance for a home loss against the Wildcats in the 2009-10 "Year of Unmet Expectations," there's no doubt that the Wildcats have the ability to beat us at the Crisler Center, which is still not quite close to reaching the upper-echelon of tough places to play in the conference. Additionally, top-scorers Drew Crawford--who killed us that day--and John Shurna are holdovers from that year's Wildcat squad. 

The Offense

As much flak as the Hoosiers have gotten for winning despite having the conference's worst defense, the Wildcats aren't exactly too good themselves. As you would expect, Northwestern lacks size and athleticism all over the court, and in a sense they are just a very poor man's version of us. With that said, look for Michigan to push the issue regularly; there will be open guys on the perimeter on the break and in half-court sets. It simply comes down to making those shots for guys like Smotrycz and Douglass, and, yes, Hardaway. 

While Michigan should be able to drive and dish their way to some good outside looks with regularity, look for Michigan--particularly Jordan Morgan--to be active and successful on the boards. I think I've had a bit of a tendency to look at his stat lines of late, see not very many points, and assume that he wasn't a strong player that day. That sometimes is the case for Morgan around the basket, but, of late, he has been a rebounding maven. Also, Morgan dropped 27 on the Wildcats last season at home, a career high. As Nick Baumgardner notes, Northwestern is the worst rebounding team in the conference and it's not even close. Horford sitting on the bench means less for this one than any other matchup we could have in the conference. 

On a similar note, while the 3-ball will almost always be there, this is the type of game that THJ should simply dominate. Unless Burke is ultra-efficient with his shooting (in which case Michigan will likely score 80+), which he hasn't been of late, then this will probably be a game where he puts up anywhere from 10-12 and distributes the ball like he's a basketball Oprah. HERE'S AN ASSIST FOR YOU, AND YOU, AND YOU!

The Defense

As mentioned, the Wildcats, like us, will shoot the three if you look at them funny or suggest that they're a state school (the effrontery!). John Shurna is a wiry 6'9'' fellow that shoots a very nice 42% from outside. Drew Crawford, as we've seen before, is a dangerous guy that we don't really want to go Brandon Paul on us. I would assume that Hardaway will be matched up on him or either the 6'5'' JerShon Cobb, but, if it is Crawford, then THJ will have to play better D than he has at times or Crawford will put up a crooked number on us. 

At the point, Northwestern's Dave Sobolewski, despite sounding like a Wisconsin offensive lineman, is actually 6'1'' 185 pound guard. After Burke shut down Jordan Taylor, this shouldn't be much of an issue at all. Sobolewski averages 8 ppg and shoots a nondescript 36% from 3, the team average. 

Once again, the story for Michigan's defense will be whether or not they can defend against the 3. With Shurna and Luka Mirkovic being, as far as I can tell, the only semblances of an inside game, Michigan should be able to key against it, but that doesn't guarantee success, as we know. 

Who To Watch

I just see this as a game where, if everything goes right, THJ and Morgan simply go off. Morgan's career high of 27 came against them last year, so it's definitely one of the few teams he will look like Shaquille O'Neal against. As for THJ, I just don't see anyone on Northwestern's roster being able to defend his combination of size, speed, and athleticism. The only one that can stop him in this game is himself and the 3-point line; THJ, SEARCH AND DESTROY MODE PLEASE. 


Michigan comes out and destroys Northwestern on the boards, but has trouble defending against the 3 in the first half. Beilein and Co. figure it out, and Michigan pulls away for a smashing victory of 20-25 points. Michigan 78, Northwestern 57. 

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