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Three Thoughts on Northwestern's Loss to No. 1 Michigan

by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)

Northwestern fell 68-46 to No. 1 Michigan on Wednesday night, which really wasn’t unexpected. It’s tough to draw much from this game, other than the fact that Michigan is really, really good, but here are a few thoughts from the game.

1. Northwestern really didn’t play that bad

After a loss, people always look for someone to blame. But really, it’s tough to find anything that could have pushed Northwestern over the top. Simply put, Michigan is a lot better than Northwestern, and the Wolverines are better than anyone else in the country. For NU to win, Michigan had to have its worst game of the season and NU had to have its best game. Neither of those things happened.

However, that’s not to say that the Wildcats played all that badly. In fact, there were some encouraging signs. NU needed to shoot the lights out from beyond the arc for that to happen, and the Wildcats didn’t do that. The veterans — namely Dave Sobolewski and Reggie Hearn — didn’t do enough. However, Alex Olah had some bright spots and Jared Swopshire was very active. The defense also wasn’t terrible; Michigan just has outstanding ball movement, shooters and playmakers.

Northwestern is an average team. Michigan is the best team in the country. Both teams lived up to their billings Wednesday night.

2. Swopshire and Olah’s evolution

Obviously, Swopshire has progressed much quicker than Olah has, and that’s to be expected: Swopshire is a graduate transfer, while Olah is a freshman. However, both gave reasons to be optimistic Wednesday night.

Swopshire was the best player on the floor for Northwestern for much of the night. He wasn’t great off the ball early on, but became much more active and got open for some cuts. He was the only Northwestern player who could attack the rim — he’s improved mightily in that area the past month — and was the team’s best defender. Simply put, he’s been NU’s best player this month and if he keeps it up, he’ll keep NU in games against teams that aren’t the best in the country.

NU fans love to hate Olah, but there’s no denying that his offense was far better than it’s been in months. That’s an encouraging sign against a defense that is extremely underrated. Of course, Olah has a long way to go — especially on defense — but he was more comfortable taking jump shots and showed potential with some nice post moves. We’ll have more on Olah later on InsideNU, but this loss wasn’t on him.

3. Guard play has to improve

Guard play was the only thing keeping Northwestern afloat earlier in the year, and there’s not doubt that Reggie Hearn has been the Wildcats’ season-long MVP. However, Hearn has had a couple of rough games in a row, while Dave Sobolewski has been very inconsistent.

Hearn struggled with a sickness against Nebraska and was off against Michigan. He’ll likely return to form, but he can’t afford to have off games like this against beatable, but good teams like Purdue, Iowa and Illinois. Sobolewski, meanwhile, has been off-and-on as a scorer during conference play and was fairly ineffective against Michigan. Also, his 60 percent free throw percentage is alarming and missing three straight free throws essentially ended NU’s chance at a run in the second half.

For NU to have a solid end of the season, the guards must be as consistent as they were early in the season. Now that Swopshire is playing better, this could be a solid team, but all the pieces have to go together at the same time, and that means the guards have to return to form.