Before Michigan’s senior night this Sunday, the Wolverines will try to spoil a party at Northwestern when they square off against a Wildcats team that has also had its share of disappointment this season.
When: 9:06 p.m. ET
Where: Welsh-Ryan Arena (Evanston, Illinois)
At A Glance
|RECORD||14-14 (7-9)||14-15 (5-11)|
|PPG||Zak Irvin 13.6||Tre Demps 12.5|
|REBOUNDS||Derrick Walton Jr. 4.7||Alex Olah 6.6|
|ASSISTS||Spike Albrecht 3.6||Bryant McIntosh 4.7|
Boo the Wildcats, right?! This is the team that that played Michigan last when Caris LeVert was in the lineup and not on crutches and in need of surgery. Michigan escaped narrowly with a two-point victory that day, but the void felt by the deflating injury of LeVert is still unfilled. Michigan has all but climbed itself out of contention for an NCAA Tournament bid (and maybe even an NIT bid), and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find any silver lining.
Sure, we’ve had the pleasure of seeing Spike Albrecht do some really special things, and Zak Irvin has grown tremendously as a player, and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman is growing up right in front of our eyes, and Aubrey Dawkins is flying 14 miles in the air every time he attacks the rim.
But for what?
Surely John Beilein isn’t telling his crew to treat Northwestern like the team it was six weeks ago. But Michigan can’t be treated like the same team it was six weeks ago either. That’s because new faces and new names are emerging, while mainstays like Albrecht and Irvin are finding rhythms of their own.
If either team is going to have a standout individual performance, it’s going to be Michigan, and it’s going to come from Irvin. Yes, Albrecht is capable of dazzling, and even Abdur-Rahkman and Dawkins can delve into the realm of jaw-dropping play, but there isn’t a player who needs it more than Irvin.
And tonight may be the perfect night for him to break loose. Northwestern’s zone defense defends well inside the arc, but when you get to that magical three-point range, it’s like they forget how to play defense. The Wildcats rank last in the Big Ten in forced turnovers and in the bottom half in both effective field goal percentage defense and rebound defense.
Something we’ve seen Irvin do more of as of late is drive. Though he’s blocked way more often than we ever thought humanly possible, tonight won’t be about driving—not for Irvin. Instead, Irvin will become the beneficiary of good penetration followed by a kick-out pass, likely coming from Albrecht.
It shall be the gift that keeps on giving.
Tyler Fenwick is the managing editor of The Big House Report. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.