Men’s Basketball: Northwestern hopes winning ways will return in Michigan


Sean Su/Daily Senior Staffer

Bryant McIntosh attempts a drive. The freshman guard is a big part of NU’s competitive play but isn’t content to accept moral victories.

Kevin Casey, Sports Editor

Men’s Basketball

The Wildcats (10-7, 1-3 Big Ten) will head to Ann Arbor, Michigan, on Saturday to take on the Wolverines (10-7, 3-2), and they must be feeling a little cursed.

Northwestern will trek east with the baggage of consecutive close losses, including a home defeat to Illinois that had coach Chris Collins listing off a bunch of positive factors that still didn’t lead to victory.

“We shoot almost 50 percent, we outscore them in the paint, we get to the line, we made our free throws,” Collins said.

Freshman point guard Bryant McIntosh didn’t mince words about his team.

“We have to get better,” he said.

If there’s any upside to NU’s early struggles in Big Ten play, it’s this: The Wildcats are in a far better position than they were at this time last year.

Yes, the Cats’ 1-3 start in conference plays mirrors last season’s opening quartet, and at least then NU took care of business at home against Illinois — a ranked team at that time.

Wins and losses can distort narratives though. Last year, NU’s first three conference defeats came by margins of 27, 23 and 26 points. In this season’s opening slate, those numbers are 23, 7 (OT) and 5.

Following those opening conference blowouts last year, NU went nuts. The Cats captured five of their next seven contests, including a win against then-No. 14 Wisconsin, an eventual Final Four team — an unfathomable victory to this day.

With the team so far ahead of a squad that produced that mind-numbing stretch, maybe Cats fans can dream of better days.

At the very least, NU faces an enticing matchup with the Wolverines.

Michigan has been respectable this year, but their foibles have already been the stuff of legends. The then-No. 17 Wolverines inexplicably lost at home to the New Jersey Institute of Technology, a team competing in its first ever game against a top-25 opponent. They followed up that shocker with a 45-42 defeat to Eastern Michigan, a team the Wolverines had not lost to since 1997.

The Cats also can take solace in the opportunities Michigan’s personnel presents them. In past years, the Wolverines’ brilliant 3-point shooting (25th and fourth in the nation in 3-point percentage in 2012-2013 and 2013-2014, respectively) would have carved up the current NU defense that is letting opponents knock down 35.9 percent from deep — putting the Cats at 254th in the country in this metric.

But this season, Michigan is a mediocre 157th in 3-point percentage, removing a place to exploit a glaring NU weakness.

The Wolverines are also in last in the Big Ten in rebounding at 31.8 boards per game, an important distinction against an NU squad that struggles on this front itself.

The team can also be enthused by the performance junior center Alex Olah put on against Illinois. After some recent struggles, the center had 14 points and 12 rebounds in a robust effort following recent criticism.

“I didn’t play as well,” Olah said. “I wasn’t as aggressive these past couple of games. I wanted to show that from now that I need to be as aggressive as I was (against Illinois).”

But whatever the signs that give the Cats a fighting chance against the Wolverines, close isn’t good enough.

NU wants to start tasting the sweet smell of victory again.

“(Winning) is the next step for us as a team,” he said. “You play a lot of close games, you guys see in this league, it’s about close games. … You have to find a way to win those close games.“

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