What has been a relatively disappointing season of conference play following the high expectations built from the early season tournament in Atlantis was erased over the weekend when the Wolverines got a huge win over in-state rival, Michigan State. With the much needed return of Isaiah Livers from injury, the Wolverines knocked down 11 3-pointers. It’s safe to say this is a whole different team when they have #2 on the court.
Now, the Wolverines go back on the road. Home-road splits have been the story of this conference all season long, but frankly, the Northwestern Wildcats are jsut not very good, regardless of where they are playing. At 6-16, and 1-11 in the conference, the Wildcats sit all alone at the bottom of the Big Ten. Their only win came at home against Nebraska.
Back at full strength, one of the main focuses for Michigan will be to not look past this game. The last thing the Wolverines want to do is also Northwestern to hang around enough so that they start to believe they can win the game. A win
would give the Maize and Blue consecutive conference wins for just the second time this year.
What to Watch:
40 Minutes of Focus: The Wildcats are not going to roll over in this game. Despite their record, Head Coach Chris Collins holds his players accountable for their effort. The Wolverines need to treat this game just like any other because this is a game they cannot afford to lose. There may be a point in the game where the Wolverines feel like their lead is safe, but even Northwestern is capable of making runs. I think Michigan will prepare the right way. They are the better team in nearly, if not all, aspects of the game. The Wolverines should be able to get good looks in the half court; it just becomes a matter of converting those looks into points.
Control the Game Through Defense: The Wolverines this year have not been as stellar defensively as they were in past years under John Beilein. In this game, they should have the opportunity to turn defense into offense. The Wildcats rank dead last in 2-point field goal percentage in the conference. By getting stops and dominating the glass, the Wolverines should be able to win the fast break game. As the faster and stronger team, Michigan should take care of business even if they do not shoot the lights out.
Lineup Versatility: Brandon Johns Jr. stepped into a starting role after a groin injury sidelined Isaiah Livers, and on several occasions he showcased his potential. With Livers back, Johns Jr. returns to a bench role where he will still play meaningful minutes. In an age where basketball is more positionless than ever, Coach Howard has the option and versatility to use several different lineups. We have seen him use a two center look a few times this year. Johns Jr. has and is capable of also playing the five, although he plays mostly at the power forward spot. On Saturday, we actually saw Livers slide to the three when Michigan went big. Just as quickly though, Coach Howard is not afraid to go to a three guard lineup. I think with Livers back though, we will see less of the three guard lineup and less of Franz Wagner at the four.
The Wildcats have struggled all year. At this point, they are mostly looking to play spoiler and knock off some teams that can not afford losses to them. Hopefully that team is not the Wolverines. Michigan jumps on them early and holds a lead the whole game. Michigan 77-66.
Date: Wednesday, February 12, 2020
Location: Welsh-Ryan Arena, Evanston, Illinois
Time: 9:00 p.m. EST