This week, Michigan returned to being the top-ranked team in college basketball.
With Trey Burke – who is arguably the best player in the country – and Tim Hardaway Jr. in the backcourt, the Wolverines attack relentlessly.
With Glenn Robinson III and Jordan Morgan in the frontcourt, Michigan adds another layer difficult to beat.
Josh Reed at Big Ten Network used advanced statistics to find that Morgan has been the strongest defensive player in the conference.
Just when you think John Beilein’s crew reaches its ceiling, you discover something newly impressive about them.
Following its disappointing 64-49 loss to Nebraska on Saturday, Northwestern faces a much greater challenge. The Wildcats, however, have a fairly good understanding of what it might take to steal a road victory.
In their first meeting, Michigan was in control from the outset, and cruised to a 94-66 victory. Burke scored 13 points in the first five minutes. The outcome was never in doubt.
The Wildcats obviously need to set the past aside. This team has changed in many ways. The young core made strides in recent outings, particularly in the win against No. 12 Minnesota. First, they need to come out strong.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,” senior forward Jared Swopshire said. “We’re looking forward to it … We have to go out and play with confidence.”
NU’s resolve was tested at Nebraska. The motivated Huskers rallied behind senior guard Dylan Talley, and played solid defense en route to the upset win.
It hardly represented a mental letdown for the Wildcats. They played with energy, and Carmody even said that Reggie Hearn was sick during the game, though the coaching staff remained unaware until after the game.
Still, Michigan is a strong opponent. NU needs to avoid falling flat. And most important is having confidence. That’s step one.
Carmody has heard it all about Michigan. He understands their talent and depth, and even admitted that he expects Burke to get 20 points.
Carmody said that the team needs to focus on its own game. Games come down to making shots, and when the Cats fail to execute, you have games like Saturday.
The Cats clearly lack depth. With Hearn struggling, they posed little threat to Nebraska. The center position is hardly producing. Though Jared Swopshire improved in recent performances, NU needs more guys to step up.
“We have to just take care of ourselves,” Carmody said. “How are we going to score? We have to get contributions, like four guys in double figures.”
Coming off a weak 1-for-7 game on Saturday, Tre Demps looks to get back on track. Despite lingering back problems, Alex Marcotullio can provide a spark on both ends.
To compete with the best, Carmody is counting on production from the players he sends to the floor. One weak link, and the result could be similar.
Mix it Up
After the Michigan loss, Carmody said he would slow down the offense, and followed up on that promise. In the first game against Minnesota, the Cats milked the clock.
No one likes to call it a “slow-down” offense. But it was a slow-down offense. To an extreme. The Cats picked up the pace in recent contests, trying to take shots around the middle of the shot clock. In the process, they try to avoid desperation heaves.
But Carmody provided another hint when talking about Michigan’s depth.
“It’s difficult to beat them going up and down,” he said. “They’ll wear you out. We have to control things.
Perhaps Carmody could hit the slow-down button once more, hoping to psyche out the Wolverines. It seems a low-risk move, but the coach hopes to avoid falling into an up-tempo battle.
He might even play Swopshire at center. With Olah and Turner struggling midway through the Big Ten season, Carmody said he might switch it up.
The point remains: To beat the elite teams of college basketball, you need to be excellent.
Northwestern never seems to play the way you would expect.
But with confidence, execution and a change in approach, who can doubt NU? They’ve surprised us before.
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