Here to help preview Northwestern vs. Michigan is Anthony Broome of Maize N Brew.
Inside NU: After a relatively slow start to conference play, Michigan has won five of its last six. What have been the biggest factors in the turnaround?
Anthony Broome: The biggest development has been the breakout of Derrick Walton Jr. He is playing the best basketball of his career by far and has a legitimate case for Big Ten player of the year. This team has its flaws, but he has been the quarterback, so to speak, that has helped them overcome them when it looked like the Wolverines were dead in the water earlier in conference play.
INU: The Wolverines are looking a pretty safe bet to be playing in March; what's the ceiling and the floor for this team going forward?
AB: The ceiling and floor of this team is fascinating. When they are on, they can compete with anyone in the country, as evidenced by their showing at UCLA in December, albeit in a losing effort. I would say that this team has second weekend potential in terms of how far they could go in the NCAAs, but if they don't play well they are ripe to be knocked off by anyone, either. This is as unpredictable a basketball team as we've ever covered in Ann Arbor, at least in recent times.
INU: Who is the X-factor on Wednesday night? Michigan will need him to play well to win and will struggle if he struggles.
AB: When Michigan is firing on all cylinders, Zak Irvin is playing well. The problem is, he has not done it all that much this season consistently. He is an absolutely liability when he is not performing well and they cannot afford that as they continue to try and pad their resume.
INU: The Wolverines are 2-5 on the road in the Big Ten. What struggles have they had when they're away from the Crisler Center?
AB: It's been a variety of things, but a lot of it seems to have been just bad defense and shots not falling, as cliche as it sounds. This is a team that lives and dies by the three, and when they aren't sinking while the volume of attempts is high, it's bad news for the Wolverines.
INU: Prediction time: Who wins on Wednesday and why?
AB: I will give the edge to Northwestern in this game because it's at home, but I think this has the makings of a low-scoring slugfest that finishes somewhere in the 60s.