Game 26: Michigan at Northwestern Preview

Dylan Burkhardt

: 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:

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  • Come on Gibson. Finish it.

  • AG2

    That was clutch for CJ.

  • Go Blue: that last look for Moore is why Grady doesn’t lplay

  • BJ


  • Avery Queen

    i certainly haven’t been impressed with lee or especially merritt’s d today. and it can’t be easy to sit on the bench all game and come in with 1 minute left in overtime.

  • AG2


  • Get on the bus and go home. That is a road win, they aren’t easy. Three more wins to the dance? I’ll take that one no matter how it comes.

    Hey, at least maybe we are a good overtime team?

  • Uh, Grady brings way more to the table than he gives away. I think coach learned that today.

  • PeteM

    Maybe, Dylan, but Grady can bring the ball up the court which was a big problem in the 2nd half. Merritt and at times Lee looked completely frazzled by NW’s defense.

    I’m glad we won, but we have to rebound and handle the ball better.

  • Eric

    Good to get the win.

  • Adam

    Dylan.. Grady wasn’t in the game when Moore shot that 3. He was subbed out as soon as they beat the pressure.

  • AG2

    Three days rest before Minnesota at home. Just keep taking care of business.

  • Avery Queen

    I want to hear an explanation for Grady by Beilein. You just cannot sit the guy all game while Merritt and Lee repeatedly screw up and then put him in at the end of OT. I’m clearly no expert but that is poor coaching.

    LLP not getting more time despite playing quite well and Wright getting significant minutes because he hit one shot are also puzzling.

    But in the end just thankful that game is over.

  • Ken in Las Vegas

    Between the awkwardly hoisted Coble three and the phantom Simms foul, I would have been pretty furious had we lost this game. Thank god for Manny’s best half of his career. Can we get one other person to contribute? Anyone? Anyone? Moneyline here in Vegas was +165 just before tip-off. Pretty good return for a game I was pretty confident in.

  • Avery Queen

    haha good work Ken.

  • Mith

    Getting a win over Minnesota Thursday and getting some momentum going would be awesome.

  • ohmigods

    thinking some players were sick?

    other wise bad calls by Beilein

    thinking an assistant coach should be fired,
    to save face.

  • Look im not happy having to complain about the Grady situation, I do not like to sound like im being negative and not supporting coach Beilein, because I do. But, this ball handling issue is so vitally important and its so clear that Lee, Merritt and Stu are incapable of handling any pressure at all that it gets frustrating. The bottom line is we have no other true ball handler, no one else who can stretch a defense and penetrate. The defensive issues are probably true to an extent but has anyone been impressed with Merritts D?

  • Wright played because Manny, Novak, and Sims all had foul issues at some point. Lee also played minutes with Manny in the first half because he can also play the three.

    CJ played because he plays defense. Douglass also plays much better defense than LLP (check out Moore’s #s) and that is why he played. Beilein said it after the game that 7 TOs out of the guards is too much but they needed their defense.

    Calling for someone to be fired after a win because Grady didn’t play and Wright did? A month ago everyone was talking about how much Wright NEEDED to play.

  • Also, I’m almost positive that Grady was in the corner on that look from Moore at the end. Anyone got the DVR handy?

  • Ken in Las Vegas

    He was Dylan. I remember it clear as day.

  • Adam

    Grady has to play from now on and hopefully this game made Beilein realize this. Nobody else can handle the ball effectively when teams apply a lot of pressure. Grady provides a lot and was really having a good year. His assist to turnover ratio is low and he played a HUGE role in the victories over Duke and UCLA. The team was simply more efficient offensively when Grady was getting minutes.

  • ohmigods

    (sry for bad spelling, kinda dyslexic)
    at the start of the season
    i knew sims and harris would have to
    carry the team on offense And defense
    (ie fouls)
    but this team is not gelling between front
    and back court
    good example where it did was -> UCONN
    def kept Thabeet from getting ball from backcourt

    just my observation

  • Dylan, with all due respect I have not called for anyone to be fired. That 7 turnovers from the guards is a joke. Stu turned the ball over no less than 5 times in the first half alone, forcing passes in to the post. Lee Turned the ball over on the last 2 possessions of regulation and at least once in overtime. I also recall LLP turning it over several times and another STU turnover in overtime. Look if you watched this game and were not appalled at the ball handling and turnovers, the difficulty getting the ball past half court including a huge 10 second call and the virtual no offensive production from the point guard position then thats fine. I must have watched a different game, but it sounds like there are many here and over at Mlive who feel the same way I do. Evidently coach must have had a revelation also, since he inserted him at the very end of overtime. As far as Grady being the player guarding a NW player who missed a shot, does not really matter to me personally.

  • Mith

    Since when did Grady become a basketball god? If he was so good, he’d be playing! We see him play(or not) every 3-5 days. Coach B sees him everyday in practice! is there a chance that Coach might know a little bit more than we do? Honestly.

    ohmigods was the one calling for a coach to be fired. What on earth? Also, your dyslexic has nothing to do with capitalization.

  • Adam

    He isn’t a basketball god, but last time I checked when you turn the ball over 3 times in the final minute simply due to pressure there is a problem. Your point guard is who you turn to when you need someone to take care of the ball at the end of a game, especially when you have a lead. And CJ Lee/Stu Douglass just did not provide ball security at the end of the game and therefore we could not hold onto the lead and were forced to play OT.

  • Avery Queen

    First off I should say I think Beilein is a great coach and knows what he is doing. If KG’s defense is really that terrible then ok but don’t put him in with a minute or two left in OT after sitting him all day. But I still find it hard to believe that Merritt merits pt over him.

    And I understand Stu still getting the minutes over LLP but why not let LLP run point a lil bit when Lee needs a breather. That way you get a few more minutes out of him on a day when he’s finally showing some life.

    And I personally never have or ever will advocate playing Wright.

  • Paul

    Great another win! Now its time to focus on beating Minnesota.

  • Walt

    You were right Dylan. My DVR shows Grady was slow to pick up on Moore and could not fight thru the screen, allowing Moore to have a good look, a near miss to tie. Also could have fouled as long as not a 3 pt foul.

  • Thanks Walt. Post-game coming up real soon.

  • Avery Queen

    There was a dead ball right before that possession. Why not take Grady out for defense if you are going to put him in for offense?

  • UM will not win many games with walk on point guards who couldnt earn playing time at Manhatten playing this many minutes. He is a great kid and I think there is a role for Lee, including some PT but it is naive to think that Grady, a scholarship player and easily our best and fastest ball handler is not needed. If this is a disciplinary situation that im not aware of, then fine.

  • Adam

    Regardless, why is someone who has played all of 12 seconds the entire game called upon to guard one of Northwestern’s best players in the final seconds? Grady has a very important role on offense and if he really is a bad defender you can hide him by having him defend a weaker offensive player.

  • Maize56

    I went to the game and was surounded by NW fans who do not know anything about Grady. When he was finally inserted into the game and easily advanced the ball past half court, about 3 of them said, “Whoa, they have a guy who can dribble? Why hasn’t he been playing?”

    I am not calling for a large increase in PT, but I think it is clear there should be more substitutions to get him in on offense and out on defense, especially against a team like NW that is one of the best in the country at forcing turnovers.

  • The Oracle

    “I must have watched a different game, but it sounds like there are many here and over at Mlive who feel the same way I do.”

    Dylan, isn’t using Mlive(especially their “message boards”) a banable offense???? If not, it should be.