Game 19: Michigan at Northwestern Preview

Dylan Burkhardt
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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  • AG2

    Every team has weaknesses, but not every team is capable of exploiting those weaknesses. Michigan is going to have a hard time doing that vs. Northwestern.

  • Dylan Burkhardt

    Thanks Craig :-) Guess I just had the Pitt/Cuse game on my mind.

  • Andy

    I think Ken Pom’s 27% chance of winning sounds about right. UM could certainly pull this off, but probably won’t. Things seem pretty low after the showing in Bloomington on Saturday, but it’s a long season. There are always ups and downs. Get it together and pull this out tonight and we’re right back in business for getting 2 out of 3 in this little stretch.

    • georgeesq.

      I’d put our chances of winning much lower than 27%. We have a tough time defending what NW does. On offense, their trapping zone will be an issue. In both cases, our youth really hurts. We just haven’t had any experience dealing with NW’s schemes.

      • MarcO

        Interesting. Seems like whenever I expect nothing this team shows up. I hope our collective expectations get shoved back down our throats!

  • Jeff

    Second straight short-turnaround road game against a desperate team. At least NW didn’t have a week to prepare for us like Indiana did. I think we’ll play better but think we lose one more before ending the streak at home against Minny. Sure hope I’m wrong about this one though.

  • mgolax

    is that john shurna or…nw lloyd brady?

  • Tweeter

    It is getting very difficult to predict what we will see from this Michigan team as is the case with most young teams. I just want to see them come out and play hard and continue to improve as individuals.

    As excited as most of us fans got over seeing them beat a bunch of bad teams and nearly upset several top five teams, I think we all knew deep down that this team still had a long ways to go to make a run as a tourney team. That said, this team is still capable of putting together a good season and knocking off some upper tier Big Ten teams.

    I dont see this team playing that poorly in two straight games and therefore I think Michigan gets the win tonight in a close game.

  • MikeSal

    What I would like to see early in this game are dribble drives from THJ and Morris. I would like to see us force the defense to collapse which will open up the outside shot. THJ more than Morris because once he gets confidence watch out. I hope JB had this team practicing against the 1-3-1 in practice because they will give us a steady dose of it. If we can effectively move the ball we will get high percentage looks (the same thing teams do to us).

    UM and NW are similar and pose similar problems for each other. This is almost a must win if we are going to get to postseason play. I’ve watched NW play Iowa and MSU and they played pretty decent. But they didn’t blow me out of my seat. I would make someone other then Thompson Crawford or Shurna beat us. Shurna was a non-factor in OT against State and if we shadow Crawford it should get in his head. I don’t think Mirkovic will be able to consistently score on Morgan or Horford.

    Darius should be able to get any shot he wants tonight and if that happens we win. UM in a close one.

  • KAB

    I think if Stu can bounce back and give us a lift off the bench then we should keep it close.

  • The possible parallel with football–other than the (reputedly but not really) unorthodox play-making may be the mid-season collapse. Have a sense of foreboding about this one, and think any talk of the post-season should be placed on permahold.

    • Jeff

      Hasn’t really been the case under Beilein. Clearly played better the second half of the season the first two years. Last year was a mess from start to finish (they were playing better late in the year, but perfected the art of the heart-breaking loss). This year it’s really just the Indiana game that was out of line. The schedule was pretty brutal in four of the previous five.

      • Yes, should have said the prospect of a collapse. Hoping it’s not the case.

  • Alex

    Big game. Let’s see the team respond to a disappointing performance in Bloomington with a ton of energy and passion.

  • jihadistjohn

    if you’re on the west side of michigan, there’s a good chance that the best way to listen will be WGN 720 AM out of the windy city…huge blowtorch signal

  • Section13Row15

    MikeSal, you are right on. I think if U-M can penetrate the NW zone early and either take the ball all the way to the basket or kick it out for wide open looks, we should be okay. But if everyone wants to stand around and shoot threes over the NW zone then we’ll get beat much like Saturday against Indiana. The games like Clemson where we mixed it up between dribble penetration and timely 3-pt shooting, we’ve been sucessful. The games where we haven’t done that, we’ve gotten behind early and it’s been tough to recover.

    NW is a beatable team home or away, and is a game that we need to win in order to give any credibility to what we’ve done already.

  • Go Blue

    I predict we get a rebound before the 10:00 minute mark..Thats all I got

    • Brick

      I predict more than 15 points in the first half.

      • MarcO

        Now this thread is Optimistic!

  • AG2

    The important thing is we have to play smart basketball, because you can already assume that NW will.

  • mgocanada

    John Shurna looks like a TV dad from a 1980s sitcom. Not that that’s a bad thing.

    My extended (and somewhat enjoyable) period of unemployment has come to end, so I probably won’t be able to check UM Hoops with the same obsessive drive as before. But I’ll try to stop by from time to time. go blue and keep up the good work, Dylan.

  • MaceoBaston

    Does anyone have a stream for this game?

  • Nick

    kinda low quality, but stream is here:

    for it to work, follow the stream torrent directions further down the page. I use the run-as-date program and it fixed the problem i was having with it.

  • Nick
  • chris

    hahaha… nu fans cleverly chanting “justin bieber” as vogrich shoots free throws