Who: Michigan (8-6) vs. Northwestern (11-3)
Michigan is in the midst of their first winning streak since beginning the season 3-0, and they welcome the Northwestern Wildcats into Crisler Arena for a Sunday afternoon matinee.
While many (myself included) were quick to write off Northwestern’s season after Kevin Coble was sidelined by a preseason injury, Northwestern kept chugging and has even made an appearance in the top 25. Northwestern is 11-3 with wins over Notre Dame, Iowa State, at North Carolina State, and Stanford. They might not have any signature wins but they have respectable losses (Butler, at Illinois, and Michigan State) and have handled their business.
John Shurna is the go to guy for the Wildcats. The 6’8” sophomore has embraced the void left by Coble’s injury and is averaging 18 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Shurna can score inside and out and is one of the most versatile power forwards in the league.
Michael Thompson gives the Wildcats a scoring option in the backcourt. The 5’10” point guard leads Northwestern in minutes and scores 14.6 points and 4.4 assists per game while shooting 40% from three point range.
Similar to Michigan, Northwestern loves the three point shot. They shoot 49.7% of their shots from three point range (3rd nationally) and hit them at a respectable 35.2% clip. Michael Thompson, Alex Marcotullio (40%), and Drew Crawford (35%) are the Wildcats resident snipers but John Shurna and Jeremy Nash don’t hesitate to hoist up three point shots despite both shooting 31%.
On the offensive side of the ball, Northwestern looks like a traditional perimeter oriented team. They don’t turn the ball over (16.9% turnover rate), they shoot a lot of threes, and they don’t crash the offensive glass or shoot many free throws.
On defense, Northwestern is solid across the board but doesn’t really excel. The bad news for Michigan is that the best element of Northwestern’s defense is their ability to defend the three point shot, allowing opponents to shoot only 29.3% from three point range. 6’11 sophomore Luka Mirkovic starts down low for Northwestern and is their best defensive rebounder and also blocks a fair amount of shots.
Shurna is an extremely tough match-up for Novak because of Shurna’s size and versatile skill set. Jeremy Nash is a very capable wing defender who will likely draw the assignment of guarding Manny Harris. Harris had one of his best games of last year versus Nash in an overtime win in Evanston.
If Michigan learned something last week, it is that they need to play inside-out, get the ball to DeShawn Sims early and often and let him get comfortable. Defensively, Michigan needs to do their best to force Northwestern into bad looks, allowing shooters like Marcotullio and Thompson to get into a groove is just asking for a disaster.
Let’s hear your thoughts, predictions, and in-game discussion in the comments.