Just as assistant coach Bacari Alexander predicted during a pregame speech to his team, the undefeated No. 2 Michigan Wolverines “tore up” the Wildcats in Evanston Thursday night to kick off Big Ten play. Behind a dominant defensive effort and efficient perimeter shooting, the Wolverines won by a decisive 94-66 final.
Without captain Drew Crawford and fellow senior Reggie Hearn, Northwestern was lost in the woods. Behind sophomore Trey Burke’s early shooting hot streak, Michigan took a quick 20 -4 lead in the first 6:30 of the game.
For the rest of the night, Burke and fellow guard Tim Hardaway Jr. took turns tearing apart the ‘Cats’ defense. Whether it was from behind the arc or in the paint, the two combined for 44 points on 15-of-24 shooting.
Early on in the second half, he Wildcats showed no signs of mounting a comeback from the huge 21-point deficit. Throughout the rest of the game, the Wolverines managed to hold their lead.
Michigan continues their undefeated season, while the Wildcats fall to 9-5.
What the Big Ten lacked this year in football prowess, they make up for in basketball. Six of Northwestern’s next nine games are against opponents ranked in the top 11 in the nation.
Thus far, the ‘Cats have proved they are offensively stagnant without Crawford and Hearn. They’ll have to deal without Crawford for the rest of the season due to a torn labrum, but they desperately need Hearn (ankle) back soon to provide some instant offense. Coach Bill Carmody noted that Hearn could return Sunday against Minnesota.
There were not many positive aspects to Northwestern’s game against the Wolverines. To be fair, the Wildcats were without their two leading scorers, but there were a few bright spots to this bleak night at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Alex Olah’s offense
Olah’s offensive game continues to progress. Thursday, he consistently called for the ball on the low post, made a move, and scored, finishing with 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting.
Even against a good defender in junior Jordan Morgan, Olah was able to use his size to his advantage – something the big man from Romania has been struggling with all year.
After a few good possessions, the ‘Cats offense quickly digressed, missing jumper after jumper. When their usually decent three-point shooting isn’t working, they need to give the ball back to their big men who, when given the opportunity, have had success around the rim.
Switch to zone defense
With about 11 minutes left in the first half, Northwestern, realizing they weren’t having much defensive success, switched to a zone defense.
The zone defense was just what the doctor ordered because Northwestern defenders simply could not stay in front of their men. For a couple of possessions the ‘Cats were able to force some missed shots and turnovers.
Poor rotation and hustle down the court, however, eventually forced the ‘Cats to return to man defense.
When a team shoots 59 percent from behind the arc like Michigan did Thursday night, you know there is a problem with the other team’s defense.
Most of the Wolverine three-pointers were uncontested. Defenders were hesitant to leave the roll man on the picks, leaving the ball holder with wide-open jump shots.
Alex Olah’s defense
Most 7-footers make up for their lack of athleticism on the defense end with incredible length. While Alex Olah does have incredible length at seven feet, he looks slow out on the court. Most defenders easily dribble around him.
One of his biggest problems is on help-defense. Often times he is late rotating down low, allowing opposing guards to take it to the hoop, untouched.
He needs to improve at rebounding the ball as well. Even though he is the tallest on the court for Northwestern, he only the fourth best rebounder on the team.
Thursday night was a rough one for Olah defensively. The freshman continues to battle with inconsistency.
Were it not for Michigan taking out their best players after amassing a huge lead, their rebound advantage over Northwestern would have been even higher. At the end of the game, the Wolverines out-rebounded the ‘Cats 37 to 21.
Northwestern isn’t exactly the most potent offense in the Big Ten, but if they have any hopes of getting some wins against some solid opponents in upcoming games, the ‘Cats will have to do a better job at snagging boards.
Even though the ‘Cats were sure to lose the game late in the second half, they lacked much effort.
Failing to hustle back on defense, Northwestern allowed the Wolverines to convert a lot of easy fast break points.