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Northwestern-Michigan Final Score: Wildcats lose another close one, 56-54

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Olah had a huge day and JerShon Cobb played another stellar game, but Caris LeVert and the Wolverines tuned out to be too much for the Wildcats in Ann Arbor.

1) Bah gawd Alex Olah

It’s like we’re back in non conference play again. It isn’t hard to see why Michigan has struggled this year. It doesn’t matter how good your guards are if you have no one who can play anything resembling defense in your frontcourt. Alex Olah went off in a huge way. After a solid double-double against Illinois, it wouldn’t have been inexcusable for Olah to have a bit of a regression tonight. But you can forget about that. 13 first half points, 7 2nd half points (through a dose of double teams), a gaggle of rebounds, and even some steals. Kevin Trahan wrote earlier in the week that Olah might be NU’s best player. While I still shy away from going that far, when he’s hot and the man guarding him his 6-9, he’s hard to stop. It makes the random Kreisberg interludes all the more frustrating when Olah is playing so dominantly. All year, people have said Olah needs to be playing great for Northwestern to win games, and today made that point even more clearly. You can’t teach size, and Olah has that in spades. As long as he keeps the ball high, he’s going to score a bunch of buckets.

2) Michigan is what NU wants to be

The way that Michigan looks is a rich man’s version of how Northwestern would look if all of Collins’ recruits played together. McIntosh is Walton, Lindsey is Rakhman, Law is Irvin, Falzon may or may not be LeVert, Skelly is Donnal/Doyle. Michigan just tries to pack the court with as many quick scorers as they possibly can and use speed and athleticism to get buckets. When it works, good lord is it fun to watch. Turning mismatches into buckets right and left and just being fast is always a treat. Of course, the issue is that you are putting all your eggs in the "outside shooting" basket. When Michigan gets hot, they go to Final Fours. When they shoot like they did tonight, they get beaten by not good teams. Couple that with the lack of anything resembling an interior defender, and you’re rolling the dice in a big way. I don’t mean to suggest that the current recruiting strategy isn’t, or won’t work, it’s just an interesting parallel. It does make me think about what the new guys could do in a 1-3-1. Law, Lindsey, Skelly, and Vassar could be really, really bothersome in a trapping zone system.

3) The team looked well coached today

If Michigan kept shooting the way they shot in the first few minutes, NU was going to get run out of the gym, but NU kept with the strategy, and it worked. Sure LeVert was going to get its points whenever the heck he wanted, but if NU could keep Irvin under wraps, Michigan was going to be hard pressed to score, and NU did that. Then on the offensive end, it seemed like NU was getting wide open looks 75% of the time they shot it. JerShon hit a couple of easy buckets off in-bounds plays. The 1-3-1 zone was carved up over and over again. Maybe NU didn’t hit a whole lot of jumpers were bad shots, they just weren’t going in. If offensive series end with the ball in Tre Demps’ hands on the wing with no one with in 20 feet of him, that’s a win for Northwestern, and that’s good offensive execution, and that starts with the coaching staff. Kreisberg got a few too many minutes in the first half, but that was corrected in the second. Skelly was used only until Olah was ready to get back in the game. Lindsey was used at the right times, Sobo came in just enough, and the rotations looked surprisingly polished considering Taphorn’s absence. Give Collins and company an A for this one.

4) Let this be a reminder of how important JerShon Cobb is

It’s almost hard to remember at this point, but in the preseason, people were counting on 12-15 points a night coming from JerShon Cobb. He was supposed to be the 3-point shooter who could put it on the deck every once and while. Injuries have taken away the second part of that equation, but with him back on the floor, even at a diminished capacity, he still is a very important spot-up shooter. Demps and McIntosh provided nearly nada from a scoring perspective tonight. In non-conference play, that would be the death knell for the team. Tonight, it was important, but nearly as much so because of what Cobb was able to provide. JerShon has always been one of my favorite Northwestern players, right up there with Jitim Young and Kevin Coble. It just feel good to see him do well. This Michigan team isn’t even a good matchup for him. The wings are hyper athletic and long, but Cobb got to double digits anyway. I don’t think NU needs him every night, but they will need him every time Demps and McIntosh aren’t scoring. Maybe not a great game, but definitely a good one for the redshirt senior.

5) Northwestern locks up its 3rd moral victory

A wide open layup to send it to OT. No one near McIntosh. It clangs out. It’s the same old story, same old song and dance for Northwestern tonight. Some people (a lot of people) are going to point to officiating and say that the Cats were rooked out of 3-5 points tonight. I don’t see it that way. There were a few calls that could’ve gone the other way, but the bottom line is that NU had ample opportunities to get a W tonight. If Demps and Lindsey combine to go 1-7 on three-pointers, virtually all of which were unguarded looks from 3, you’re not going to win. This one hurts probably more than both Illinois and Michigan State because Northwestern executed so well. They got the ball into soft spots, they created wide open looks, and outside of LeVert, they held the Wolverines in check. It has shades of Northwestern football. In every game, NU was a couple of bounces away from getting wins, but thye just can’t seem to lock it down. The positive spin is that they’re really close to having a really stellar record. The bad news is that, well, they don’t. Unlike either of the last two though (I might give you MSU), my take away is much more positive than negative. Good execution, just couldn’t convert open looks. Like the motto was under Carmody, "Make Shots." The Wildcats didn’t, so they lost in a heartbreaker.