The Michigan Wolverines earned the No. 14 ranking in the country after an 11-7 season that included two wins over top 25 teams. Despite opening the season 3-3, the Wolverines have bounced back to advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. However, this matchup is tough for them. This Northwestern squad has beaten them soundly twice this season, scoring 16 or more goals in both contests. Also, Michigan has never beaten Northwestern in lacrosse in 12 tries. Despite that, they're still a foe to be respected and feared. Here’s three things to know about the Wolverines:
They like to slow the pace
The Wolverines have the 21st-ranked scoring defense in the nation, giving up just 9.61 goals per game. While the Wildcats prefer games with a scoreline of something like 17-8, Michigan would be much happier with a 12-9 score. Its save percentage of .459 is a top-30 mark in the nation, meaning that even if the defense does break down, there’s still a high chance the opponent doesn’t score. The reason for this slow pace is simple: the offense is not very talented. The mark of 11.78 goals per game (64th in the nation) is nearly four goals below the other three teams left in their side of the bracket. If Michigan wants to keep its season going, it’ll have to slow down and make the game stay at its pace, because it can’t afford to get in a shootout.
They lose the turnover battle often
Currently, the season mark for turnovers for the Wolverines lies as such: 264 given up, 152 caused. Despite the stellar defensive marks, this is a team that mostly gets stops through attrition and shots, not through turnovers. They’re also struggling in keeping the ball when they have it. The mark of of 13.78 turnovers per game is sitting among “traditional powers” such as Arizona State and Richmond in the national rankings. In the first battle against Northwestern, they committed 18 turnovers. The Wolverines did force 16 Wildcat turnovers, but were outshot 38-18. In the second battle between the two teams, in the Big Ten tournament, Michigan actually won the turnover battle, 14-12. That may be one of the reasons the second game had a closer margin than the first. However, the Wolverines still lost both of those games. The main reason for that is this:
They lack a consistent high-end offensive output
Northwestern has three players in the top 25 nationally in points per game. Izzy Scane is the runaway leader at 6.75, Erin Coykendall is sixth at 5.06, and Hailey Rhatigan is in a tie for 19th at 4.5. Michigan doesn’t have a single player in the top 44. Jill Smith is 45th at 4.12 points per game, but after that Michigan doesn’t have a single player in the top 150. Smith certainly has done an admirable job this year, with 14 games of three or more goals, but is nowhere close to the high-end power of the dominant Northwestern trio. The fact that she doesn't have any other dependable offensive teammates isn't helping.
For example, against Florida, Smith had six goals. The rest of the Wolverines had two. Against Denver, Smith had four goals... the rest of the team combined for just one. Smith is a very talented player who was a well-deserved addition to the Tewaaraton Watch List. However, there’s not much talent outside of her on this Wolverines attack. That’s the main reason for Michigan’s seven losses, including the pair to Northwestern, and it’s the main reason the Wildcats are expected to hand them a third tomorrow.