Men’s Basketball: Northwestern faces uphill battle against Michigan

Daily file photo by Meghan White

Senior guard Reggie Hearn attempts a shot. Hearn and the Wildcats will try to defeat the No. 1 team in the nation for the first time in school history on Wednesday.

Josh Walfish, Reporter

The last time Northwestern played a team ranked No. 1 in the regular season, it took a last-second foul shot to stave off an upset.

That contest against Ohio State preceded Wednesday’s matchup with top-ranked Michigan by two years and a day.

The Buckeyes were unbeaten at the time and led the Wildcats by 12 points with eight minutes left. NU went on an 18-6 run to tie the game with 92 seconds left, but Jared Sullinger iced the game by making the second of two free throws with three seconds left to escape Evanston with a 58-57 win.

Wednesday will mark the 18th time in program history the Cats have taken on a team ranked No. 1 by the Associated Press, and NU is 0-17 in such contests.

Coach Bill Carmody has never beaten a No. 1 team during his 17 years as a head coach in Division I basketball. He said although it adds a little more juice to the game, he’s not too concerned with where the Wolverines are ranked.

“It’s great,” Carmody said. “I hate to say this opportunity stuff all the time because everyone we play is an opportunity. It’s not just Michigan; we have to play Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan State, and they are all good opportunities. We just have to take care of ourselves.”

Dave Sobolewski took a very similar tack to his coach when discussing playing the top ranked team in the country. The sophomore guard said the Cats must be ready for every opponent in the Big Ten, but playing the No. 1 team does add a little bit more energy to the game.

“It’ll be fun,” Sobolewski said. “We should obviously get up for every game especially in this league, but playing the No. 1 team in the nation is a great opportunity for us.”

The last time NU (12-9, 3-5 Big Ten) and Michigan (19-1, 6-1) squared off on the court, the Wolverines stunned the Cats with a quick start. Michigan scored 20 of the game’s first 24 points en route to a 94-66 win Jan. 3 in Evanston to begin conference play.

The key contributors for the Wolverines, guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., each scored more than 20 points and combined to hit 8-of-11 shots from behind the arc. The pair are the second and fifth leading scorers in the Big Ten this year, with Burke averaging 17.9 points per game and Hardaway Jr. averaging 15.9 points per contest.

NU’s defensive gameplan will be complex given how many weapons Michigan has at its disposal. Burke tops the league with 7.1 assists per game and Carmody said it is almost a given Burke will score 20 points. Sobolewski will most likely draw the assignment of picking up the Wolverines’ point guard when the Cats go to a man-t0-man defense.

“Trey’s a great player,” Sobolewski said. “He’s great offensively both scoring and getting the other guys shots, so it’s going to be a whole team effort to try and slow him down. They’ve got so many weapons, and obviously it starts with Trey Burke scoring and distributing. But they’ve just got weapons throughout their lineup and you just got to do your best to slow them down.”

Slowing down the Wolverines’ attack will be no small task for the Cats, but there will be one part of their scheme that has changed from when the two teams met Jan. 3.

NU has gone to a much slower offensive tempo in the contests since the loss to Michigan, which should help to slow down and limit the Wolverines’ offensive possessions. NU has managed to beat two ranked teams and nearly topple another with the slower offensive pace, and Carmody said that will be crucial for the Cats to stand a chance in Ann Arbor.

“They’re good at a lot of different positions and they’re deep,” Carmody said. “It’s very hard to beat them going up and down because they’ll wear you out if you do that. We definitely have to control things as good as we can.”

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