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Big Ten Tournament 2016: Previewing Northwestern vs. Michigan

Chris Collins said he feels like Northwestern should have beat Michigan just a few weeks ago and feels good about the way his team is playing.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

EVANSTON--It was just a few ago that Northwestern should have beaten Michigan, according to Wildcats head coach Chris Collins. His team was up 10-0 and 17-4 within the first seven minutes in Ann Arbor and began the second half on an 8-0 run before eventually falling to the Wolverines 72-63.

"We probably should have won, not could have won," Northwestern head coach Chris Collins said before practice Tuesday. "We felt like we played well enough to win in that game. We got off to a great start in both halves. In the last five minutes of the game we gave up 20-some odd points. We just kind of wilted when it was time to get tough...Things to me in my eyes that are toughness plays and we didn't make them. That angered me."

Because of that, Collins said he doesn't anticipate changing much fundamentally from his first gameplan. For example, when asked about Michigan point guard Derrick Walton Jr.'s ability to probe the lane against Northwestern, Collins said the Wildcats have to do a better job of defending that, but that his main focus when it comes to defending Michigan will be protecting the three-point line.

"I think they're at their best when they're hitting threes," he said.

Northwestern held Michigan to a 53.1 effective field goal percentage, just below its season rate of 55.8 percent, the tenth-best mark in the country according to Northwestern's switch from its matchup zone to a man-to-man defense forced Michigan's starters into a 1-for-12 night from deep.

Collins could employ the man-to-man strategy against Michigan because the Wolverines do not present the athletic challenges that many other Big Ten teams do, particularly without star Caris Levert, who is out for the season with a leg injury  Expect Collins to go with the man-to-man Thursday.

Offensively, center Alex Olah paced Northwestern in the first meeting, as he has done many times against Michigan. The Wildcats have a clear advantage on the interior with Olah, who was able to dominate in the post against Michigan's overmatched centers. The big man finished with 19 points in 31 minutes in the matchup earlier this year.

Curiously, though, Olah took six threes in that game, a number that is unsetting for Collins. He'd prefer Olah to trade in some of those threes and many midrange jumpshots for post looks. Collins said that he has worked with his assistants to devise sets to get Olah the ball on the block more easily.

The Wildcats shot 26 threes compared to just 28 from inside the arc in the first meeting, a ratio that Collins insisted must not be repeated. In the season finale against Nebraska, for example, the Wildcats shot 39 twos compared with just 14 threes. The Wildcats shot 54 percent on twos against the Cornhuskers and just 21 percent on threes.

The third story line to keep in mind is that of Tre Demps's pregnant wife. Collins said Tuesday that if Demps's wife was to go into labor at all during the Big Ten Tournament, he would not allow Demps to play and would send him back to Chicago as fast as possible. Demps said his wife is due on March 14.

"I saw her at senior day, and I can tell you she's close," Collins said.

The Wildcats tip off in the second round Thursday at 11 a.m. CT.