by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)
In the first five minutes of Northwestern and Michigan’s last meeting, the Wolverines scored 16 points to the Wildcats’ 4. The scoring summary for UM in those five minutes read like this: Glenn Robinson III free throw, Jordan Morgan tip shot, Trey Burke layup, Trey Burke three-point jumper, Trey Burke jumper, Trey Burke three-point jumper, Trey Burke three-point jumper.
Then No. 2 Michigan went on to stretch that 16-4 lead into a 94-66 victory, drubbing Northwestern in its first conference game of the season. Burke finished with 23 points, while fellow star guard Tim Hardaway Jr. had 21. If NU has any chance of pulling an upset against now No. 1 Michigan on the road, it has to get off to a better start.
The problem is, Michigan has so many shooters and so many weapons that it’s tough to find something that will work to slow them all down. The Wolverines’ initial run came with NU in man-to-man, but the hot streak continued with the Wildcats in the zone.
“You hit a three against the 1-3-1 and everyone is like, ‘Oh mom, the zone,’” coach Bill Carmody said, “but they do it against man-to-man. You’ve got some shooters on this team and Burke is unbelievable.”
Burke, in particular, took over this year’s earlier matchup. He’s on the short list for national player of the year and has greatly improved on an already stellar freshman season. NU took risks when defending him the first time around, forcing him to take deep shots, and the Cats paid dearly.
“We went under the screens against Burke, because when he comes off screens he just makes everyone so much better, so we said let’s slide under him a little bit and see if that (works),” Carmody said. “Because last year he was a decent shooter, but if you were going to say something he didn’t do real well it was that.
“But he’s improved upon that, and then he banged two threes when we went under. So I don’t know what we can do.”
There’s really no way to stop Burke — he still had 15 in UM’s only loss of the year to Ohio State — so NU will try to contain him and focus on good all-around defense.
“You have to give up something,” Carmody said. “He’s going to get 20.”
But elsewhere, NU must play solid defense in order to keep up, particularly against guards Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas, who are outstanding shooters. NU won’t be able to stay in the zone as much as it was against Minnesota, but when the Wildcats do, they must close out possessions better than they did against Nebraska.
“I thought we played defense really well the first 28 seconds (in the Nebraska game), then Gallegos hit those two threes (and) that was kind of deflating for us,” Tre Demps said. “And they were both contested. So he kind of caught fire.
“It’s a little deflating when guys make shots at the end of the shot clock, so it wasn’t so much more (that) it didn’t work. They just made good plays out of (the 1-3-1).”
Against Michigan, NU will have to be stellar on defense to limit the number of plays the Wolverines can make against the 1-3-1. The Wildcats will likely also have to slow things down more than they have in recent games against Minnesota, Indiana and Illinois.
After the last game against Michigan, Carmody mentioned that NU would likely have to slow things down for the rest of the season. With the emergence of Alex Marcotullio and Jared Swopshire, and the return of Reggie Hearn, NU has been able to speed the pace back up. However, Ohio State and Nebraska both had success slowing things down against the Wolverines and dictating the pace, so that will likely be NU’s gameplan, as well.
“Obviously I think we’re going to really have to slow the game down a little bit, not have it a track meet,” Demps said. “But at the same time, really, kind of just attack them on both ends of the floor and kind of just switch things up so they don’t feel comfortable, in a sense.”