Northwestern (17-10, 5-9 B1G) at
Michigan (19-9, 9-6)
|WHERE||Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI|
|WHEN||7 pm ET, Wednesday|
|LINE||Michigan -7 (KenPom)|
Right: Alex Olah, a candidate for the “wait, this guy is still playing?” award that would have been Spike Albrecht’s [Upchurch]
Caris LeVert is out for the third consecutive game, though Beilein has evidently not ruled out a potential return sometime later this season. Spike Albrecht is apparently doing some work in practice, but his return seems even unlikelier.
Michigan currently checks in as a ten-seed in the latest bracket matrix update; with the Wolverines in the suspect position of having its best bullet point on its resume be “no bad losses,” a home loss to Northwestern would be disastrous. With three regular season games remaining – at home against Northwestern, at Wisconsin, at home against Iowa – Michigan’s best chance of getting a win that would lock up a winning record in conference play is tonight.
It’s debatable if Michigan can get into the Dance with just two more wins total (including what will probably be a relatively easy Big Ten Tournament opener), but in almost any scenario, they need to beat Northwestern to avoid putting their tournament hopes in serious peril.
THE LINEUP CARD
Projected starters are in bold. Hover over headers for stat explanations. The "Should I Be Mad If He Hits A Three" methodology: we're mad if a guy who's not good at shooting somehow hits one. Yes, you're still allowed to be unhappy if a proven shooter is left open. It's a free country.
|G||30||Bryant McIntosh||So.||6'3, 185||87||25||No|
|Only Wildcat with a high assist rate (2nd B1G); eFG % has plummeted in B1G play|
|G||3||Tre Demps||Sr.||6’3, 202||91||23||Yes|
|Off-guard often forced to create late in shot clock, low TO, better at 2’s than 3’s|
|F||34||Sanjay Lumpkin||Jr.||6’6, 220||58||11||Sorta|
|Wallflower with just 79 FGA, terrible combo of efficiency and usage|
|F||35||Aaron Falzon||Fr.||6’8, 213||60||18||Not Really|
|Active on offensive glass, mostly shoots 3’s but only at 34%, low turnovers|
|C||22||Alex Olah||Sr.||7’0, 275||44||23||Very|
|Has dealt with injuries, but still a good rim protector, efficient scorer on offense|
|G||20||Scottie Lindsey||So.||6’5, 205||46||18||No|
|Other half of SF platoon w/Lumpkin, Northwestern’s best shooter at 41% from 3|
|F||44||Gavin Skelly||So.||6’8, 225||27||16||Very|
|Good rebounding rates in limited minutes, efficient from 2, rarely shoots|
|C||1||Joey Van Zegeren||Sr.||6’10, 235||26||20||Very|
|Great on off. glass, iffy on def. glass, bad at FT, blocks shots, fouls a lot|
|C||12||Derek Pardon||Fr.||6’8, 230||25||19||Very|
|Classic freshman big guy profile: rebounds well, fouls a lot, only 2’s (but at 67%)|
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]
Northwestern is the only Big Ten team that Michigan has yet to face thus far: in the third year of the Chris Collins era, they loaded up on cupcakes in the non-conference schedule (which ranked as the 345th most difficult in the country, out of 351) and went 12-1 – their only loss came to North Carolina in an early-season neutral site tournament. Since Big Ten play started, the Wildcats have predictably struggled, as their only notable win came at home against Wisconsin.
Senior center Alex Olah has been limited by a foot injury this year, but should be at full strength against Michigan; he was the Kenpom MVP in both games against the Wolverines last season and combined for 47 points on just 32 shot equivalents, while grabbing 19 rebounds. Because Olah will likely be unable to play a very high percentage of minutes tonight, expect to see his two backups, Derek Pardon and Joey Van Zegeren, get some opportunities – Pardon is a promising freshman who can score effectively, Van Zegeren is a 5th year senior who protects the rim while fouling a ton.
Northwestern’s guards have played the most minutes of anyone in Big Ten play, a combined 91.8% of available minutes at the one and the two. Bryant McIntosh runs the point and may very well be their best player – he’s extremely ball-dominant in the half-court and pretty much sets up all of their offense, but has shot just 40% from two and 27% from three in Big Ten play. Tre Demps is a quintessential chucker and arguably the only Wildcat who can create his own shot; Demps is less efficient overall than McIntosh and has put up some startlingly low single-game efficiencies in Big Ten play. He’s also the best player in the country(!) at avoiding fouls, which, if you remember Nik Stauskas, that’s not necessarily a good thing.
Collins seemingly prefers to go with a 4-out, 1-in offensive strategy, which leaves Northwestern with two wings on the floor at a given time. Aaron Falzon is a promising freshman who provides spacing and takes a lot of threes at a rather middling percentage. Sanjay Lumpkin has one of the more baffling statistical profiles I’ve seen: he’s decent on the glass, but that’s about it – his offensive rating (79.8) and usage rate (10.8) in conference play are extremely low. Scottie Lindsey is the nominal sixth man off the bench, takes mostly threes, and is Northwestern’s best shooter at 41%. Gavin Skelly rounds out the rotation and has the best rebounding rates of any Wildcat while playing around ten minutes a game.
Northwestern’s offense and defense are both mediocre: their offensive efficiency ranks 9th in Big Ten play, and their defensive efficiency ranks 10th. In no individual category are they better than 6th in the conference – both their offensive and defensive rebounding rates are slightly above average. If we look back to their full-season performance (which is distorted by the weaklings on the schedule), they do a good job of avoiding turnovers, but can’t force them and never get to the free throw line.
Don’t let Alex Olah go Godzilla mode. Last year, Northwestern essentially played Michigan even in both games, mostly due to standout performances from Olah. While it’s reasonable to expect that he’ll get a few easy looks out of post-ups no matter what, Michigan must work hard to limit his touches by making him catch the ball far away from the basket and by helping off of non-shooters in situations that call for a double-team. Mark Donnal avoiding foul trouble is key here.
Limit clean looks from three. Beilein said this week that Michigan would be focusing on defense; I think it’s too late to hope that Michigan can manage a respectable defense, but the first step would be to start contesting three point shots. While Northwestern isn’t an especially great shooting team, the more attempts they have, the higher potential for variance, which could potentially lead to an upset. Instead of simply hoping that the Wildcats fail to convert open looks, Michigan needs to do a much better job of not losing track of shooters in the half-court.
Get Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin going. In recent weeks, it seems like it’s been rare to see Walton and Irvin play well in the same game; Michigan may only need one to have a standout performance tonight, but moving forward, getting the most out of both is the best way to notch an upset or two. If both are on top of their game, the Wolverines move the ball better, get more open shots, and provide plenty of open looks for the bigs. Walton and Irvin are Michigan’s best two remaining players, and for the Wolverines to reach their ceiling, both need to play well.
THE MOMENT OF ZEN
Hard to believe Northwestern came into this game ranked 15th in the country.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 7. Few regular season games are more “must-win” than this one and I’m sure the team is well aware of that.