The #2 ranked Michigan Basketball team will open the Big Ten season with a game at Northwestern on Thursday night. Tip off is scheduled for 7pm and the game will be televised on ESPN2.
Northwestern enters the game with a 9-4 record. Their most impressive win was a 74-70 victory at Baylor on December 4th. Since then, the Wildcats lost their top player, Drew Crawford, to a season ending shoulder injury. In addition to Crawford, Northwestern will be without Jershon Cobb (suspended for the season) and without their leading scorer Reggie Hearn (ankle injury). That leaves point guard Dave Sobolewski (11.3) as Northwestern’s top remaining player. Redshirt freshman guard Tre Demps is averaging 12.0 points per game off the bench over the last four games for the Wildcats.
Michigan cruised through the non-conference portion of their schedule with a perfect 13-0 record. The Wolverines are talented, deep, and unselfish. The only question mark hovering over this team right now is the health of Tim Hardaway Jr. He missed Michigan’s last game with an ankle injury. “Tim did a few things yesterday. He will do more today,” Michigan coach John Beilein said on Wednesday. “We’ll find out more, but we really don’t know until he stretches himself out a little more in practice. Tim felt good, but it wasn’t a basketball practice, yet.”
In Hardaway Jr’s absence, freshman Caris LeVert made his first career start and played well with 9 points and 5 assists. John Beilein won’t rush Hardaway Jr. back because he doesn’t want him dealing with a lingering injury all season.
Michigan is a balanced team. They have 4 players averaging double digits in scoring and 3 players averaging over 5 rebounds per game. They have been extremely efficient shooting the ball as they rank 5th in the country in field goal percentage (51.1) and 12th in three point percentage (40.7). They rank 29th nationally in assists per game (16.4), 6th in fewest turnovers per game (10.2) and they rank 2nd in fewest fouls per game (12.2).
Leading the charge is Player of the Year candidate Trey Burke. The sensational sophomore is averaging 17.8 points and 7.4 assists per game. He is also shooting an absurd, for a point guard, 53.6% from the field and playing great defense. Burke is playing so well that ESPN analyst John Gasaway speculates he is having a perfect point guard season.
If there’s such a thing as The Perfect Point Guard Season, Trey Burke’s having it.
— John Gasaway (@JohnGasaway) January 2, 2013
Nik Stauskas is the nation’s top three-point shooter as he is connecting on an outrageous 56.5% of his shots from beyond the arc. He has already collected 3 Big Ten Freshman of the Week awards and despite his brilliance from three-point range is no one-trick pony. Stauskas can rebound, pass and put the ball on the floor.
Glenn Robinson III is a high-flying, sky-walking player. He plays above the rim better than any Michigan player has in a long, long time. He is averaging 12.1 points per game and a team-high 5.9 rebounds per game. Robinson III ranks 5th in the Big Ten in offensive rebounding and 7th in field goal percentage (57.3). He is a cool customer, who like his fellow frosh, Stauskas, plays with swagger.
Two areas that had long been a weakness for Michigan Basketball, depth and rebounding, are now strengths for the Wolverines. Michigan goes 10 deep and in players like, Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary, U-M gets inside scoring and loads of rebounding. The duo of Morgan and McGary is shooting a combined 61.1% from the field and corralling 10.3 rebounds per game.
The Big Ten season should be a fantastic journey for the Wolverines. They are very well equipped to make a run at a second consecutive Big Ten Championship. Northwestern always plays Michigan tough, but they have been ravaged by injuries and this Michigan team is on another level from the teams the Wildcats have seen the last few years.
Predictions: So far this season, Joe and I are both 13-0 predicting the outcome of Michigan Basketball games. We both like Michigan to win this one.
Joe: Michigan 73-59
Rob: Michigan 74-60
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