Game 25: Northwestern at Michigan Preview

Dylan Burkhardt
Who: Northwestern (14-8) at Michigan (14-10) NorthwesternLogo-241x300[1]
Where: Crisler Arena, Ann Arbor, MI
When: 6:30 PM, Wednesday, February 9th
TV: BTN (Gus Johnson!)
Radio: MGoBlue / WOMC 104.3 FM / WWWW 102.9 FM / Sirius Ch. 121 / XM Ch. 141
Last Game: Northwestern 74, Michigan 60
More: Opp Q&A, Pick to Click, Beilein Video, Player Video

Michigan hosts Northwestern in a battle to stay afloat in the bulging midsection of the Big Ten.  Both teams are 4-7 and entering an important final stretch seven games with strong post season implications. When these teams met two and a half weeks ago, Michigan was crashing toward bottom on the tail end of a six game losing streak. Michigan lacked intensity early on and ran into the buzz saw that is Northwestern’s offense on a good day. Now, Michigan has the chance to prove that it has improved as a team and that it can defend its home floor in conference play.


Northwestern is scoring 1.08 points per trip in conference play (fifth best in the Big Ten) thanks to a friendly combination of experience and shooting ability. The Wildcats boast four players that are shooting 38% or better from three point range in Big Ten games: Drew Crawford (40%), Alex Marcotullio (40%), John Shurna (38%), and Michael Thompson (38%). Leave any of these four guys open beyond the arc and they’ll make you pay.

Northwestern still plays a style of basketball that you would expect. The Wildcats still attempt 42% of their field goal attempts from outside, don’t turn it over, and rarely crash the offensive glass or get to the free throw line. The one difference between this team and some other recent Northwestern teams is that there are some improved two point scoring options. Freshman JerShon Cobb provides an athletic slashing option on the wing while Luka Mirkovic has developed into a more reliable back to the basket scorer on the block, averaging 9.5 points per game in conference play. Those two combined with Shurna, Thompson, and Crawford all provide a better two point threat than you’d expect.

Defense has been Northwestern’s Achilles’ heel. The Wildcat defense has surrendered 1.15 points per possession in Big Ten games, a mark that ranks second to last (.01 ahead of Michigan) in the league. Big Ten opponents have posted an effective field goal percentage of 56.5% – 55% on twos and 40% on threes. Northwestern rebounds just 66% of its opponents’ misses, eighth best in the league, and allows a higher free throw rate than anyone in the league but foul happy Indiana. Open shots are available against Northwestern’s defense as long as you run a patient an efficient offense.nw

The first game between these two teams was Michigan’s second worst defensive performance of the season. Michigan allowed John Shurna a couple clean looks early on and the lethal scorer put on a clinic, scoring 22 points on 11 shots in the first half. The Wolverines unraveled as they consistently lost Northwestern’s shooters in transition and left them wide open for easy threes. If you are Michigan, finding and stopping Shurna has to be your number one priority. Evan Smotrycz looked relatively hapless trying to guard Shurna but Novak wasn’t much more successful. Michigan needs to figure something out. I suspect that it will be Novak trying to guard Shurna for the majority of the game but Michigan has to figure out a way to make someone else beat them.

Michigan also had an extremely difficult time defending any sort of screen and roll action in the first game. Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford were both abused when trying to play defense at the five position. In the second half it was Luka Mirkovic who methodically picked the duo apart, scoring 11 points in the last 20minutes. Morgan and Horford both have defensive weaknesses right now but Michigan needs them to understand the game plan, be in the right spot, execute, and force Northwestern’s bigs into more challenging shots. If Smotrycz struggles to guard Shurna, a cameo at the five for the three point shooting freshman will be likely.

Michigan’s offense the first time around was good not great. Considering this is a battle of the conference’s two worst defenses, it’s probably going to take great offense to win. Michigan needs to hit open threes and Darius Morris needs to play the complete – scoring & passing – game that we’ve grown accustomed to. Morris has been playing very well over the last several games and, as always, that’s the key for Michigan.

This one is going to be tough. Michigan continues to fall behind in games early on but a hot start would make things a lot easier. I worry about a “here we go again” mentality if Northwestern hits a couple threes to open the game. Pomeroy projects a 69-66 Michigan win and gives the Wolverines a 63% shot. Michigan has lost three straight games to Northwestern and losing a fourth, at home, would be a tough one to swallow. Let’s hear your predictions in the comments.

  • KAB

    I think this is a tough matchup for us..Dylan,do you know who is doing the game?I hope it’s not Ed Hightower(he kills us)…


    • Dylan Burkhardt

      Don’t know who is officiating but Gus Johnson and Shon Morris are on the mic, per the game notes.

      • but who will net the butterfly then, Dylan? WHO?!?

        • Tweeter

          Wait? does this also mean that we will not get to see our favorite mispaired eighties crime fighting duo, yooch and nails?

          • Mattski

            Stream? Just asking to piss Dylan off!!!

  • KAB

    Thanks,Shon Morris was a Wildcat right?I do like Gus Johnson as long as he’s not with Doyle…

    • jihadistjohn

      yep, morris is an unqualified ivy league mildcat, just like doyle…why on earth does the BTN have *two* analysts from a school that has NEVER been to the big dance?…look it up…radio for me…can’t even enjoy gus…very similar to how the Four Letter Network took their best team by far, sean mcdonaugh/bill rafftery, and completely ruined it by throwing bilas the dewkie in there…won’t put up with it here…GO BLUE!

      • sven

        Gus alone should be enough for you to not enjoy Gus.

        • jihadistjohn

          i respect your opinion, sven…but IMO, tom “swung on and belted” hamilton” is the only other BTN play-by-play man qualified to shine gus johnson’s shoes…tom is phenomenal…but gus is from detroit and i’m a longtime fan of his NFL & boxing work as well, so maybe i’m biased…i watch an insane amount of sports on TV though and would seriously love it if every PBP man had gus’ unique combination of passion AND knowledge…it’s obvious that all of the analysts enjoy working with him too

          • Nick

            you like tom hamilton?

  • greg

    Dylan, I’ve been to almost every NU game this year. Your analysis is spot on. On offense, if we are patient and reverse the ball a few times, we will get wide open looks. On D, they will get their back-door stuff but their explosiveness all relies on catch and shoot 3s off alot of screens and cuts. IF we can make them put the ball on the floor, I think we will handily at home

  • Ratt

    Tonight is my first visit to a Michigan Basketball game anyone have any tips?

    • JimC

      Only to make some noise!
      (And you will have to overlook some of the stodgy, quiet people in the blue section).

      • Tweeter

        Hey not all of us who sit in the blues are stodgy and quiet! I find that I am quite spirited during the game unless you mean stodgy in the sense of outdated then I probably am since most of the M basketball gear I wear is fab five era attire.

        Doesnt matter tonight since I have to miss this game. See you all in the game thread

        • JimC

          No Tweeter, I know you are one of the rowdy people in the blue section.
          Heck, consider yourself part of the baby blues.

  • Mattski

    This one scares me. To win this one Michigan has to not only play smart but inspired ball, a la Iowa. Not getting buried early would really help.

    • Azad

      This one scares me a lot too. They made our defense look so bad at home, and it just seemed like they executed at a much higher level than we did. I think how the game starts is going to be a huge deal and hopefully our guys are riding the momentum of Penn State and come out playing well.

  • peterklima

    IMO – Interesting Stat:

    Michigan has lost 4 home games. Each one of them to a Top 25 team (all but one are actually top 15…and all but one were very close).

    NW has only won one road game in the B10 this year…over Iowa.

    NW is maybe (?) a top 50 team.

    We all know how important home court is in the B10 (although some teams come close to winning on the road, the home team almost always walks away with the W).

    Add to those facts, the improvement this team has shown and….

    I think Michigan wins in a “nail-biter”….at a minimum.

  • Jeff

    I’m thinking both teams are going to go on 6-0, 7-0, and 8-0 scoring runs back and forth for most of the game, making this a definite nail-biter

  • MikeSal

    An offensive shootout to say the least. The team that gets the most stops wins (sounds cliche but this time it means something). I hope to see a more spirited game from UM today instead of coming out flat which seems to be the case recently. Ball reversal is key along with rebounding. When DMO gets started early we always seem to hang around. Let’s start quick both defensively and offensively. Go Blue!

  • Tweeter

    My predictions for things that will be said during the game (thread):
    – “What is Morgan doing?”
    – “Why not try Horford and Morgan on the floor at the same time?”
    – “STUUUUU”
    – “Smotrycz looks lost”
    – “Horford looks lost”
    – “Northwestern is the ugliest team in the history of college basketball”
    – “Morris needs to stop dribbling so much”
    – “Morris needs to be more aggressive”
    – “Morris is really forcing things”
    – “We need to score on this possession”
    – “We need to close out the half well”
    – “Why can’t Stu make a layup?”

    Anyone got anything else?

    • Alex

      “Michigan wins!” (hopefully).

    • Azad

      Is Hardaway not playing today? I hope we are going to be saying or hearing something about him.

      • JimC

        Yeah, I think THJ is key for this game. I don’t think NW has anyone as athletic as he is.

        • Matt

          please. Drew Crawford?

          • Merlin

            Why doesn’t Beilein work the refs more-we are the home team!

    • jihadistjohn

      pre-game tweet from dylan/rothstein/beard/snyder:

      “[insert player here] has the flu and isn’t participating in warm ups”

    • Sam

      Douglass RISE AND FIRE…HITS!
      Stu again……PUUUUUURE!

      (if you are watching on TV)

  • Alex

    Michigan needs to try to use the momentum from the last four games. As the above poster said, Michigan has won at home for the most part and played the teams that beat them tough. This is a huge game. Go get it Blue.

  • KAB

    Agreed Tweeter,Northwestern does have some ugly people(Ha Ha)…

  • Joe

    Coulda sworn we were 14-10

    Why would THJ not be playing

    • Azad

      He is playing, just in Tweeter’s “things that will be heard during the game thread” post there were no mentions of Hardaway so i was saying I hope we’ll be talking about him at game time

    • Dylan Burkhardt

      Sorry, updated the record in the little header table. Forgot to do it when I posted it.

  • KAB

    We are 14-10!

    • john yanz

      We are actually 13-0 when it comes to tourney selection. The game against Concordia does not count

      • Dylan Burkhardt

        That’s actually not entirely correct. The game against Concordia doesn’t count in the RPI but it does count in our actual record. A bit confusing.

        • john yanz

          Ok…I should have clarified.

  • Dylan Burkhardt

    FREE tickets to tonight’s game vs. NW FOR THE NEXT 2 HRs ONLY. Use promo code GOBLUEMOBILE. Limit 2 tix per customer.

  • sven

    If we win tonight I am ordering tickets to the game in Chambana next Wednesday.

  • Colin

    Random side note: I am reading new bball book, Play Their Hearts Out, about AAU bball. The author talks about Darrius Morris a little bit, as he played for the AAU coach profiled in the book. Worth reading.

    • Tweeter

      is that back when he was a pupa or was he still a caterpillar then?

  • Rob in AA

    I’m feeling a 70-64 U-M victory tonight.

  • Sam

    Michigan 72
    Northwestern 59

  • sven

    Michigan 77 Northwestern 62

  • Section13Row15

    I’m just curious how many people on this site are season ticket holders? I think it will be a close game but as long as we’re patient and don’t just chuck up the first shot we see early in the shot clock, we’ll be fine. Hopefully the crowd is into it tonight!

  • Kenny

    this would be a tough game but I am confident that the boys will respond well after a humiliating loss against the same team earlier.

  • Dylan Burkhardt

    Hey guys, we are running some different ads on the site, if you see anything obtrusive like a pop up (or your pop up blocker comes up) or a big expanding banner or anything like that please let me know.

  • jay

    novaks a beast

  • jay

    is the game at 630 cst?

    • Dylan Burkhardt


  • rlc

    My popup blocker has been going off every time I load the site.

    • Dylan Burkhardt


  • Alex

    Fun little thing I’ve done in past Gus Johnson games is to put the game on mute and use the Gus Johnson sound board to spice it up. This is only advised if Gus Johnson is off of his game during the game.

    • jihadistjohn

      the sound board was pulled off the internet by the copyright dewshbags