Preview: Northwestern

Submitted by Ace on January 3rd, 2013 at 4:15 PM

THE ESSENTIALS

WHAT Michigan at Northwestern
WHERE Welsh Ryan Arena, Evanston, Illinois
WHEN 7:00 PM Eastern, Thursday
LINE Michigan –8 (Kenpom)
TV ESPN2/WatchESPN

Right: Willie the Wildcat, presumably in happier times.

THE THEM

Poor Northwestern, man. The team that has never made an NCAA tournament appearance wasn't expected to make a ton of noise after losing all-time leading scorer John Shurna; slim hopes for postseason play were dashed entirely when Drew Crawford was lost for the season after tearing his labrum last month.

Now the Wildcats must open Big Ten play against Michigan without the services of leading scorer Reggie Hearn, who will miss the game with an ankle injury. Even though Tim Hardaway Jr. likely won't play tonight with an ankle issue of his own, this bodes unwell for Northwestern's upset hopes.

Sophomore point guard Dave Sobolewski is the team's only healthy double-digit scorer, not to mention the lone returning starter from last year's team in the lineup. Sobocop takes a little over half his shots from beyond the arc, hitting those at a 49% clip; he's decent on the drive (52 FG% at the rim) but hasn't found his stroke on two-point jumpers, connecting at a 12% rate per hoop-math.com.

Hearn should be replaced at the two by senior Alex Marcotullio, a career role player who can knock down the three and otherwise doesn't stand out as doing anything very well or very not-so-well. Freshman Kyle Abramson steps in for Crawford at the three; he's another decent outside shooter (35.3 3P%) that doesn't do a whole lot else.

BONUS POOR NORTHWESTERN: Marcotullio has been limited by back spasms.

The Wildcats do have some size up front in 7'0" freshman center Alex Olah and 6'8" senior forward Jared Swopshire. Neither is a stellar rebounder, though Olah at least is a good shot-blocker. Neither hits 50% of their twos, though Swopshire contributes(?) 30.8% three-point shooting. Olah does boast an unusually high assist rate (26.2%); he also shoots 41.7% from the line. Advantage up front: Michigan.

The bench no longer really exists because of injury. Only seven Wildcats average over 15 minutes per game—two of those are Crawford and Hearn.

THE RESUME

Northwestern currently boasts a 9-4 record with quality wins over KenPom #28 Baylor (by four on the road) and #43 Illinois State (in overtime, neutral site). Losses have come to #53 Maryland, #139 Illinois-Chicago, #41 Butler, and #50 Stanford, all at home.

THE TEMPO-FREE

Four factors:

  eFG% Turnover % Off. Reb. % FTA/FGA
Offense 50.6 (96) 17.5 (34) 29.7 (242) 36.5 (140)
Defense 45.2 (77) 20.8 (173) 29.9 (92) 32.9 (125)

These numbers are probably highly misleading with the absence of Crawford and Hearn, who have missed just four combined games, not to mention a schedule with seven opponents ranked #235 or worse on KenPom. Michigan can expect Northwestern to take care of the ball and shoot well from outside; without their two top players, it seems unlikely the Wildcats will be able to threaten inside the arc.

Defensively, Northwestern will break out the 1-3-1; while they've done well limiting opponent shooting, especially inside the arc, they're not forcing the turnovers one would expect from an aggressive zone defense. While the rebounding numbers are decent on their surface, Dylan points out that the Wildcats were abused on the boards by Stanford, Maryland, and Butler—the closest comparables on their schedule rebounding-wise to Michigan.

THE PROTIPS

Key on Sobocop. The only conceivable way I can see Northwestern winning this game is by catching fire from three, and Sobolowski is by far their best outside shooter. If the Wildcats set a screen for him, Michigan should be going over the top and hedging like crazy—let anybody else on that team try to beat them.

Attack Sobocop. Hell, why not foul the guy out—he's committing 3.2 fouls/40 and hasn't faced a Trey Burke. If Sobolewski reaches a point where he can't commit to contesting Burke's drive because he's worried about fouling out and leaving the Wildcats with nothing, it's game over, man.

Do not contract Northwestern Injury Curse Virus. Please and thank you.

Keep doin' what you've been doin'. I mean, yeah.

THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES

Michigan by 12, which is not KenPom's prediction because KenPom is accounting for data from Crawford and Hearn. This number would be higher if not for Big Ten road game.

Elsewhere

UMHoops preview. Tremendous preview. Maize 'n Brew preview.

Optimism abounding at Sippin' On Purple!

How many injured players are there on Northwestern's stat sheet with more points per game than Dave Sobolewski, Northwestern's top leading healthy scorer?: That would be two.

How many teams in the country are ranked higher than Michigan: That would be one.

How many conceivable ways could Northwestern win a game in that scenario?: That would be zero.

Or not.

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