Men’s Basketball: Offensive consistency key for NU against Michigan

Dan Ryan

Last week against Illinois, Northwestern looked like a team that was perfectly capable of making noise in Big Ten play – in the first half. There was just the slight problem of the second half.

The Fighting Illini, who defeated NU 57-56, changed up their defensive assignments and shut down the Wildcats offense in the second period, holding the team to three points for the first 10 minutes of play and forcing NU into bad looks on offense.

“Our offense has to run a little more smoothly,” junior forward Drew Crawford said. “We just weren’t able to hit shots in the second half and that’s something we do as a team. You need to be able to hit shots to win.”

With games against No. 13 Michigan, No. 6 Michigan State and Wisconsin looming on the schedule, NU must find consistency on offense, and that starts with getting the ball inside to senior center Luka Mirkovic, coach Bill Carmody said. The team struggled with its inside presence against Illinois, leading to poor shooting looks on the perimeter.

“You’ve got to get open,” Carmody said. “We have to do a better job getting (Mirkovic) open. We had trouble getting him to the elbows, which normally opens things up a little bit.

“We just have to move a little faster,” Carmody continued. “I don’t think it’s anything drastic we have to do. We have to get the ball down low so we can work behind the defense.”

First up for NU is Michigan (13-3, 3-1), a team Mirkovic said resembles the Cats.

“Michigan’s a really tough team,” Mirkovic said. “They’re kind of similar to us a little bit; they shoot and make a lot of threes. They like to get up and down the court. We’re just going to try to share the ball, play team basketball and do whatever coach wants us to do.”

Even with the offense lagging, a bright spot for NU against Illinois was the defense, which stymied the Illini in the first half and kept the game close enough to allow a meaningful, late-game surge from the Cats. A similar performance against Michigan would give NU a shot to pull off the upset on the road.

“We just have to play a solid game all around,” Crawford said. “They’re tough on ball screens on offense. We’ve got to be able to stop that. On our offense, we just have to be smooth and knock down shots like we’re capable of.”

Carmody also said the Cats should bring the same defensive intensity the team had against Illinois up to Ann Arbor, Mich., for Wednesday’s game.

“It’s a nice team,” Carmody said. “They got this kid (forward Jordan) Morgan inside – he’s making two-thirds of his shots and they surround him with four guys who can really shoot the ball. We really have to limit their makes on three-point shots. We have to hope we can guard them inside so we can stay close and they don’t get really good looks.”

In addition to Morgan, the Wolverines possess three elite scorers in guards Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke and forward Evan Smotrycz, all of whom average more than 10 points per game.

Michigan has earned its No. 13 ranking with an impressive first half of the season, highlighted by wins over then-No. 8 Memphis and then-No. 18 Wisconsin.

Despite the quality of the Wolverines’ squad and NU’s poor execution against Illinois, Carmody was optimistic about the potential for the Cats’ offense against Michigan.

“We’re just running our offense better,” Carmody said. “The guys watched the tape, how (Illinois) held us up a little bit, cutting and bumping us and all. Nothing drastic. It just has to be a little crisper and a little sharper.”

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