#27 Michigan (19-10, 9-7 B1G) at
#37 Northwestern (20-9, 9-7)
|WHEN||7 pm ET, Wednesday|
Northwestern -1 (KenPom)
Northwestern -1 (Vegas)
PBP: Kevin Kugler
Analyst: Stephen Bardo
Right: McIntawwwww. [Eric Upchurch/MGoBlog]
A Michigan team that suddenly finds itself on firm tournament footing faces a Northwestern team that suddenly finds itself back on the bubble. The Wolverines are an eight-seed in the latest Bracket Matrix. The Wildcats, losers of five of their last seven, have fallen to the ten-seed line after looking like a dead lock heading into February. They are, after all, Northwestern.
This game has significant implications for the NCAA bubble and Big Ten Tournament seeding. Both teams are 9-7 in the Big Ten, one game behind Michigan State and Minnesota, which are tied for fourth place. Michigan can still get the four-seed and a double-bye in the conference tournament by winning out and getting some help; you can play around with the various scenarios here. The only scenario I've found that gets Michigan to the four-seed requires Minnesota to lose out (Nebraska, @Wisconsin) and Michigan State to drop one of their last two (@Illinois, @Maryland).
UPDATE THE FIRST
The BTN helpfully laid out all of the various BTT seeding scenarios:
6. Michigan (9-7)
Can be as high as #4 seed with wins in its final 2 games (at Northwestern and Nebraska) + 2 Minnesota losses + 1 MSU loss OR wins in its final 2 games + 2 MSU losses + 2 Wisconsin losses
Can’t finish higher than #6 with a loss at Northwestern tonight
Could fall as low as #8 with 2 losses + tiebreakers
UPDATE THE SECOND
The line has moved to Michigan -2 after opening at Northwestern -1.
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||Jr.||6'3, 185||85||27||99||Yes|
|Good distributor. Takes lots of tough shots, occasionally makes them.|
|G||20||Scottie Lindsey||Jr.||6'5, 210||67||23||109||Kinda|
|NW's leading scorer in slump since midseason bout with mono.|
|F||4||Vic Law||So.||6'7, 205||81||21||104||Not At All|
|Solid defender, rebounder, and outside shooter. Only making 35% of twos.|
|F||34||Sanjay Lumpkin||Sr.||6'6, 220||70||11||127||Kinda|
|Low-usage garbageman type. Iffy outside shot.|
|C||5||Dererk Pardon||So.||6'8, 235||56||14||121||Very|
|Strong finisher, rebounder, and shot-blocker. Plays 70% of mins when healthy.|
|F||44||Gavin Skelly||Jr.||6'8, 225||47||19||111||Kinda|
|Gets offensive boards and blocks. Struggling to finish, turnover- and foul-prone.|
|G||12||Isiah Brown||Fr.||6'2, 175||41||27||90||Yes|
|Like McIntosh, but without the assists.|
|F||32||Nathan Taphorn||Sr.||6'7, 215||28||16||127||Not At All|
|Just A Shooter™, hits 45% of his threes.|
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]
After starting 18-4 with a 7-2 mark in the Big Ten, Northwestern has fallen hard back to earth. They've dropped five of their last seven, losing two games to Illinois and most recently blowing a game at Indiana that KenPom says they had a 97% chance of winning with under three minutes left. While the Northwestern defense has remained relatively stingy throughout, offense has been tough to come by of late.
That's easy to believe when you watch Northwestern play or look at the stat sheet. Lead guard Bryant McIntosh takes just under 29% of the team's shots when he's on the floor, which ranks fifth in the Big ten. Over half of McIntosh's shots are categorized as two-point jumpers by hoop-math; his pet shots are the running floater and the midrange pull-up. He's shooting 44% on twos and 30% on threes in conference play; even with an excellent assist-to-turnover ratio, that's not the efficiency you want out of your top option. It doesn't help that primary backup guard Isiah Brown is essentially the same player without the passing acumen.
The team's slump has coincided with leading scorer Scottie Lindsay missing four games with mono, then not looking like the same player in the three games since his return. At his best, he's an effective player off the dribble and a strong outside shooter; he finally got his inside-the-arc game going against Indiana, but he's 2-for-16 on three-pointers since getting back on the court.
Sophomore wing Vic Law, the rare four-star Northwestern recruit, provides length and athleticism that translates well to defense. He hasn't put it together yet on offense, posting identical 35% marks from both two- and three-point range in Big Ten games. Senior four-man Sanjay Lumpkin is the same guy he's been for three years: a low-volume, high-efficiency finisher of inside shots usually created by others. He'll take the occasional three; Michigan will be fine with that.
Sophomore pivot Dererk "Not A Typo" Pardon has emerged as one of the better big men in a conference loaded with them. He's logging over 32 minutes per game after a midseason injury knocked him out for eight games, showing impressive stamina and foul avoidance for a guy who does the dirty work in the paint; Pardon is an excellent rebounder and rim protector. While not the focal point of the offense, he makes 59% of his shots; his weakness is at the line, where he's shooting only 52%.
Northwestern's offense isn't pretty; they rank tenth in two-point percentage and 13th in three-point percentage, and while they don't turn the ball over often, they don't make up for their poor shooting with offensive rebounds or frequent trips to the line.
They have a much better defense, though: they make opponents shoot like, well, Northwestern. They're especially tough inside the arc, though they do have a propensity for fouling, which could spell trouble against (raises voice for the people in the back) the #10 free-throw shooting team in the country.
Don't lose the free-throw battle. Both teams are very good at converting at the line, but Northwestern's defense is much more foul-prone than Michigan's. While it's tough to expect the Wolverines to gain too big of a foul advantage in a Big Ten road game, keeping it relatively even should be sufficient given their decided shooting advantage from the field.
Make Pardon uncomfortable. We saw on Saturday what Michigan's offense can do to shot-blocking big men in space. Pardon is more mobile on defense than the Swanigan/Haas duo; I'd still like to see Beilein take the same general approach to at the very least draw Northwestern's best rim protector away from the paint.
Let McIntosh/Brown shoot their shots. Beilein had an illuminating quote about M's defensive approach after the Purdue game that I couldn't cram into yesterday's Basketbullets:
We just have to battle. We just have to find ways to stop people by hustling, by flying around. We have some isolation problems sometimes. We found a way to help that a little bit, and we’ve been working on that in practice. We’re not big and strong in the post, so that’s been an issue. We’ve made a conscious decision to defend the three-point line, knowing that a tough two is much better to give up than an open three, which we were giving up like crazy in our earlier struggles.
Northwestern's guards are inclined to take those anyway, even though none of them are exactly Kyrie Irving. If Michigan is running the Wildcats off the line and forcing a bunch of McIntosh floaters, they should be in good shape. As Purdue found out, it's difficult to keep up with this offense by attempting difficult shots inside the arc.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Northwestern by 1.
The Wildcats are a desperate team returning to their home court after two straight on the road. Michigan is going to have to match their intensity. I like this matchup on paper, but there's definitely a letdown factor here after the emotional Purdue win.
In February, he’s shooting 20 of 26 inside the arc and 9 of 22 from three-point range — that’s a 69.8 eFG% — with 16 assists. His eFG% before February was just 48.3% and those numbers are night and day difference and certainly make an impact. Abdur-Rahkman had settled into a grove late last season as well and he’s certainly an important piece of this Michigan offense heading down the stretch.
Quinn on Chicago native Billy Donlon returning home to face childhood friend Chris Collins.