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Preview: Michigan vs. Northern Michigan

Michigan basketball opens its 2015-16 season with a home date against D-II program Northern Michigan. We preview the matchup for you.

Patrick Barron-MGoBlog

The Basics

Who: Northern Michigan (0-0)

When: Friday, November 13th, at 7:00 p.m. ET (BTN Plus)

Where: Crisler Center -- Ann Arbor, Mich.

Spread: Vegas: N/A | KenPom: N/A (100%)

The Stage

Other than that John Beilein won't coach against his offspring tonight, the stage against Northern Michigan is very much the same as it was against Le Moyne. Michigan is cashing in its mulligan and taking its shot at redemption after last year's injury-riddled setback. Michigan is competing against a Division II program that it should overpower with ease in the Crisler Center. And, though Zak Irvin likely will sit out while Spike Albrecht will earn just spot minutes, Beilein will use this contest as an opportunity to experiment with lineups, so he can start to formulate how he will whittle down his rotation from 12 scholarship players to eight or nine by the Big Ten season.

One slight difference between last week and tonight, though: this one counts.

The Opponent

Northern Michigan is a Division II program and not a very good one at that. The Wildcats were just 9-19 last season, are 167th out of 317 in HERO Sports' preseason Division II power rankings -- for the record, Le Moyne is 120th -- and were picked by the Great Lakes (GLIAC) coaches to finish last in their division this season. Ouch.

Obviously, Northern Michigan hasn't played an official game yet, but the Wildcats did compete against Michigan State in an exhibition last week. They actually hung close with the Spartans in the first half, heading into the locker room with only a five-point deficit at halftime. But Michigan State blew them out in the second half for a 94-53 final score.

You know, in case you want to compare Michigan and Michigan State's results.

The Personnel

Like Le Moyne, Northern Michigan is undersized and went with a four-guard lineup in the exhibition against Michigan State. Two of those guards are 6-foot-3 sophomore Jordan Perez and 6-foot-3 junior Marcus Hall -- no, not that Marcus Hall -- both of whom are the Wildcats' highest-scoring returners from last season. Perez and Hall, who averaged 11.6 and 10 points per game, respectively, are perimeter scorers because about half of their field-goal attempts were threes and both had abysmal free-throw rates. But Michigan needs to respect their ability from the outside. Perez knocked down 42.3 percent of his threes, while Hall made 35.2 percent of his. And neither Perez nor Hall create points for their teammates often. They both averaged less than two assists per game and more turnovers than assists. Perez and Hall are outside scorers. That is it.

The Wildcats that will try to get Perez and Hall open looks are 5-foot-8 freshman Naba Echols and six-foot senior Terry Nash. Nash was Northern Michigan's starting point guard last season, but Echols seems to have usurped him. From the brief scouting report that I read, Echols is very quick, which helps him on both ends. Not only is he a feisty on-ball defender, his change of pace, solid handles, and great vision make him a "tremendous" passer. That might be a liberal use of "tremendous" given that Echols is only a D-II player, but he did tally seven assists and no turnovers against the Spartans. So there may be something to it. However, Echols isn't much of a three-point shooter apparently, and he lacks the size to score over the trees in the paint. Though, that doesn't seem to stop him from shooting as he went 4-of-13 (2-of-9 2PT) against Michigan State.

Though Terry started as a second point guard against MSU, I wouldn't be surprised if 6-foot-5 senior forward Donnell Cegers took his spot to add size against Michigan. Cegers is a transfer from fellow D-II school St. Cloud State, where he averaged 10 points and 4.2 rebounds per game last season. Offensively, Cegers did most of his work inside, making 57.3 percent of his twos and posting a free-throw rate of 35.5 percent. I'm curious as to how many of his points came on put-backs because almost half of his boards were on the offensive end. Cegers struggled against the Spartans in his 22 minutes off the bench, making only 2-of-11 shots, but he scored 20 points in an exhibition vs. Finlandia (D-III).

Northern Michigan's center will be either 6-foot-6 sophomore Kenny Williams, 6-foot-7 junior-college transfer Alex Mustert or 6-foot-10 freshman Vejas Grazulis. Williams most likely will start given that he did so seven times last season and against Michigan State this season. He doesn't get the ball much, and, when he does, he struggles to put the ball in the bucket; he made only 47.8 percent of his shots. However, he does a great job of getting to the free-throw line, where he usually makes only one of two, and is a solid rebounder. Mustert doesn't do anything that jumps off the page, and that the Wildcats start a 6-foot-6 guy over a 6-foot-10 one says about all you need to know about Grazulis.

The Keys

No Injuries (again): Zak Irvin likely won't play tonight. Spike Albrecht isn't 100 percent. Aubrey Dawkins and D.J. Wilson are dealing with tweaked ankles already. Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, Jr. are returning from severe injuries that sidelined them last year, though they looked smooth against Le Moyne. This isn't a game where Michigan must push itself. Winning and remaining healthy are priorities 1A and 1B.

Practice the Offense: Northern Michigan shouldn't threaten the Wolverines, so this is a chance to work on the offense and build chemistry. Though Michigan posted 1.25 PPP against Le Moyne, there were lots of stretches when the offense became stagnant; the offense disintegrated into ISOs and other off-ball stuff. This is fine when you play a Division II program because ISOs still should be effective against an inferior opponent, but that won't cut it once Michigan faces its peers. So Michigan should use this time to work on its offense in a real-game environment and become more comfortable with it.

Know Your Perimeter Matchups: NMU's Naba Echols and Terry Nash like to penetrate and kick, while Jordan Perez and Marcus Hall like to fire from outside. Thus, Michigan's guards should sag off Echols and Nash, inducing them to launch jumpers, while U-M's wings should run Perez and Hall off the line and force them to do stuff off the bounce.

The Prediction

It'll be a blowout, and there'll be little to glean from it.

Michigan by 34.