It might not have come against the absolute toughest competition, but wins are wins, and the Michigan Wolverines are quickly getting back on track after consecutive thrashings of Maryland and Illinois. Those victories got Michigan to 3-3 in the Big Ten with plenty of games to go and could be the start of a what turns into a huge run.
Saturday brings a big trip to the Breslin Center, meaning Wednesday’s game against Northwestern is another contest the Wolverines essentially must win. Though the Wildcats (hilariously) beat the Spartans in East Lansing, they have really struggled since New Year’s and should not provide a ton of resistance against an on-fire Michigan team.
Northwestern offers the No. 10 offense and No. 12 defense in conference games, which is obviously not great. It should not take an 11-for-17 effort from deep for the Wolverines to make it three wins in a row, but Sunday’s incredible shooting performance should keep the energy up coming back home. Just need to take care of business and charge into the weekend.
Northwestern Wildcats (9-8, 2-6) vs. Michigan Wolverines (9-7, 3-3)
This is Hunter Dickinson’s team, and the elite sophomore is primed for another huge game this week. While the 9-for-23 three-point shooting is pretty incredible considering last season, his 63.6 percent eFG rate really stands out as the strength of this team. Moussa Diabate has been cleaning up down low as well (58.6 percent), but Dickinson’s expanded range makes him so difficult to stop.
This tandem has boosted Michigan to the top of the Big Ten in eFG rate and adjusted offensive efficiency in conference play. Yes, the Wolverines have been the best offense in Big Ten games this year. Tougher defenses may lie ahead, but that is not the case on Wednesday — the Wildcats are just 12th in defensive efficiency against conference foes, which has contributed to their 2-6 start.
The other aspect of that is the trouble on offense, as no team has worse shooting numbers in Big Ten play than Northwestern, making this a good chance for Michigan to suffocate and get out in transition. There will be plenty of misses, so one thing the Wolverines must do is secure the rebounds and avoid giving up second-chance looks. Do not expect many turnovers from the Wildcats, but this is not Michigan’s strength anyway.
The three-point barrage in Bloomington is not something that is often repeated, of course, but Northwestern sits near the bottom of the conference in both threes allowed and threes made, so there could be continued productivity here. All fans have to be hoping that Caleb Houstan has finally turned the corner for real, as the five star has a big impact on the Michigan’s performance; Houstan is shooting 60 percent from deep in wins, but just 31 percent in losses.
Pete Nance missed the upset over Michigan State, but he is the Wildcat to watch in Ann Arbor. The senior is second on the team in usage and is the most efficient shooter, including a strong 44.9 percent mark from behind the arc. However, Michigan certainly has the advantage in the frontcourt, and if Nance gets into foul trouble like he did against Purdue last time out, Dickinson and friends will have a great time at the rim. Even with Nance in the game, this is a good matchup for the home team.