Michigan Basketball: Northwestern Preview

Michigan is coming off a gritty win over Minnesota, a big victory to start off conference play. The game at The Barn wasn’t high scoring, but Michigan scored just enough to overcome the Golden Gophers.

The Wolverines are back in action Sunday against the Northwestern Wildcats at the Crisler Center at noon. It will be the Wolverines’ second game after learning that forward Mitch McGary will likely be out for the year after opting to have back surgery.

Michigan received another injury scare in the second half of the Minnesota game, as Glenn Robinson III went down with an ankle injury. Robinson was seen jogging on the sideline, but John Beilein decided not to put him back in the game.

In the absence of Robinson, Jon Horford and Nik Stauskas stepped up for the Wolverines. The duo each had 14 points, with Horford adding nine rebounds and Stauskas dishing out seven assists.

Zach Irvin was the other bright spot for the Wolverines, as the freshman hit five three-pointers on his way to a game high 15 points. His presence was a big help to replace the points that would otherwise come from McGary and Robinson.

The Wolverines, plagued with injuries, are lucky to be facing what is likely their worst Big Ten opponent. Northwestern is coming off a two game losing streak, and are at .500 for the season. The program has regressed in the two seasons following the 2011 season, when they were close to making the NCAA tournament.

Northwestern relies heavily on senior Drew Crawford, a small forward who averages 15 points and nine rebounds a game. The other big scorer for the Wildcats is also another forward-guard combo, JerShon Cobb. He scores 12 points a game, though he shoots a subpar 40% from the field. Each stands 6 feet and 5 inches, and Michigan will need a strong defensive effort from Zach Irvin or Nik Stauskas to shut them down.

Caris LeVert is someone who needs to step up for the Wolverines. After averaging 12 points a game, he disappeared in the Minnesota game. He had four turnovers along with three fouls, while scoring only four points. If Robinson is unable to play, LeVert will be needed on the offensive end to help Stauskas.

This game could help boost the confidence of Derrick Walton, Jr. He has struggled in recent games, and the lackluster Northwestern unit might be a game to turn things around.

Michigan’s injuries may make the game closer than it would have been originally, but Northwestern still doesn’t have the firepower to hand the Wolverines their first Big Ten loss.