Game: Northern Michigan (0-0) at #25 Michigan (0-0)
Date: Nov. 13, 2015
Location: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Time: 7:00 P.M. EST
TV: BTN Plus
Opponent Analysis: East Lansing wasn’t good to the Northern Michigan Wildcats, but they’re hoping that they’ll have better luck in Ann Arbor. The Wildcats are coming off an exhibition loss to the Michigan State Spartans, in which they were defeated 94-53. Though it ended as a blowout, the score isn’t indicative of how the game really went…at least in the first half. NMU stuck around in the first half and only trailed 38-33 at halftime. The Wildcats couldn’t establish a shooting rhythm against MSU, ending the game 27.5% from the field and going 19-69. Michigan ended the game against Le Moyne shooting 58.6%. That difference in percentages doesn’t bode well for Northern Michigan. Another factor working against NMU is that they have a notable lack of size. Freshman center Vejas Grazulis is the only guy on their roster who has decent height at 6-10. Then, there is a severe drop-off as the next tallest guy is 6-7. It’s evident that Michigan will have a serious size advantage over the Wildcats. NMU has some players to watch out for. Sophomore guard Jordan Perez played well against the Spartans tallying 15 points. Freshman guard Naba Echols also contributed by adding 13 points and dished out a team-best seven assists. Sophomore forward Kenny Williams will also be someone to keep an eye on coming off the bench, as he was able to grab six rebounds against MSU. Head coach Bill Sall is heading into his third season as the NMU head coach. Previously, he spent 11 seasons as the head coach at Ferris State University where he went 171-145.
Here are my three keys to the game:
1.) Defend the Entire Game – Michigan basketball hasn’t been known for defense in the John Beilein era. He knows that and he’s trying to change the perception. He’s harped all off-season about the improvements he wants the team to make defensively. If the first game against Le Moyne is any indication, then they have a lot of work to do. Le Moyne notched 52 points against the Wolverines. The team defense wasn’t cohesive for a lot of the game. Often, the Wolverines struggled in man-to-man, much like last year. There are a few players that struggled more than others. While Duncan Robinson was fantastic offensively, he couldn’t replicate that success on the defensive end. At Williams College, he played zone 100% of the time, so he’s not accustomed to playing man-to man. That has to improve going forward. Moritz Wagner and Aubrey Dawkins also looked sloppy on the defensive end. They’ll be looking to redeem themselves Friday. Northern Michigan went 9-26 from behind the three-point arc and 6-12 at the free-throw line against MSU. They are not a good shooting team by any means. There is no doubt the Wolverines can and should be able to out-shoot NMU, but it will be important to limit opportunities by defending not just for one half, but the entire game. This is the season where a team with an offensive identity must find the same on defense.
2.) Taller is better– The Wolverines have a notable size advantage over the Wildcats. Out of 53 points, NMU only had 16 points in the paint against the Spartans. Michigan will have the opportunity to post up all game. They’ll also have the opportunity on the perimeter to shoot over the top of guys. In their last game, NMU tallied 32 rebounds compared to 39 for the Wolverines over a much shorter Le Moyne team. The rebound battle will be a big key in this game, because on paper, Michigan has a big advantage. The Wolverines have the length and the height and that will have an impact on both ends.
3.) Still Banged Up? – Junior Zak Irvin was really coming on in all phases of the game late last year. He had to carry much of the load when guards Derrick Walton Jr. and Caris LeVert suffered injuries in January. Unfortunately, Irvin caught the injury bug in the off-season as well. He is currently recovering from back surgery. Coach Beilein said on Tuesday that Irvin may play on Friday. That’s questionable, because they may save him until they really need him. Walton Jr. and LeVert played well in the exhibition game and didn’t seem to have any health related setbacks. Dawkins did tweak his ankle in the game, so that may be something to keep an eye on going forward. Spike Albrecht is also recovering from his hip surgeries. Michigan is not as healthy as Beilein would like at this point. Irvin was the leading scorer last year averaging 14.3 points-per-game, so that’s a big piece of production that’s currently missing. If he does come back on Friday, then it could get uglier than anticipated for the Wildcats. Against Le Moyne, everyone except Brent Hibbitts saw double digits minutes. That won’t be likely against NMU. We should realistically see the bench go eight deep at the highest. It’ll be interesting to see how Beilein distributes minutes and balances lineups with the many question marks on the roster.
Prediction: Michigan 81 – Northern Michigan 59: This game should be a blowout. Michigan has more talent and more height. The Wildcats didn’t shoot well against the Spartans and I expect the same against the Wolverines. It’s the first game of the season and the Wolverines are at home. Everything is working in Michigan’s favor. If they defend solidly the entire game and don’t play down to their opponent, like we saw last year, then Michigan will walk out starting the season 1-0.