Preview and prediction: Michigan basketball vs. Northwestern

On3 imageby:Clayton Sayfie02/22/24

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Michigan Wolverines basketball (8-18, 3-12 Big Ten) has won just two games since the calendar flipped to 2024, and it’ll be short-handed Thursday night at Northwestern (18-8, 9-6 Big Ten). The Maize and Blue will be without two starters and the team’s top two leading scorers in sophomore guard Dug McDaniel, who’s suspended for road games until further notice, and graduate forward Olivier Nkamhoua, who was ruled out for the season after undergoing surgery on his left wrist.

Northwestern has gone through its own fair share of adversity, namely with senior guard Ty Berry having suffered a season-ending injury himself (torn meniscus). His last game came Feb. 7 against Nebraska. The Wildcats have been able to stay afloat, winning two of their three games without Berry.

Here’s everything you need to know before tip-off, including our final score prediction.

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DateThursday, Feb. 22, 2024
VenueWelsh Ryan Arena
Time9 p.m. ET (8 p.m. CT)
TV / StreamFox Sports 1
On The CallKevin Kugler (play-by-play) and Stephen Bardo (color)
RadioDetroit: WWJ-Radio (950 AM) | Ann Arbor: WWWW (102.9 FM) | Grand Rapids: WOOD (106.9 FM) | Stream: MGoBlue.com
On The CallBrian Boesch (play-by-play) and Terry Mills (color)
Betting LineNorthwestern -11.5, over/under 140
Kenpom PredictionNorthwestern 77, Michigan 68 (21-percent chance of U-M victory)

Michigan projected starters

Projected starters: Graduate guard Jaelin Llewellyn, graduate guard Nimari Burnett, senior forward Terrance Williams II, redshirt sophomore forward Will Tschetter and sophomore forward Tarris Reed Jr.

Michigan injuries: Nkamhoua will miss the remainder of the season with a wrist injury. Williams missed last game against Michigan State with illness, but has been back working out. McDaniel is suspended for road games until further notice.

Northwestern projected starters

• #0 – Graduate guard Boo Buie (6-2, 180) — The reigning first-team All-Big Ten honoree is averaging 19 points, 5.2 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 44.1 percent on twos and 41.3 percent on 150 three-point attempts. He generates 0.986 points per possession on ball screens (including passes), which ranks in the 77th percentile in the country. He averages 4.5 isolations and 4.7 points from those situations per game, with both marks leading the Big Ten. He’s made just 11 of his last 45 two-point looks in a six-game span.

• #5 – Graduate guard Ryan Langborg (6-4, 195) — The Princeton transfer is putting up 12.2 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. He just dropped 26 points in a 76-72 win over Indiana last time out. He shoots 45.5 percent from inside the arc and 40.7 percent on 135 tries from beyond it. He spots up (1.228 points per possession) and uses a lot of off-ball screens to free himself up (0.940).

• #2 – Sophomore forward Nick Martinelli (6-7, 200) — Berry’s replacement in the starting lineup is registering 7.8 points and 3.8 rebounds per clash, while connecting on 54.4 percent of his twos and 35.5 percent of his 31 threes. He spots up (1 point per play) and posts up (0.865, including passes).

• #13 – Junior guard Brooks Barnhizer (6-6, 215) — Averaging 14.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. He shoots 46.8 percent on twos and 34.1 percent on 82 three-point tries. A jack of all trades, Barnhizer can spot up, use ball screens, cut and post up. He has the second-highest usage rate on the team behind Buie (22.3).

• #34 – Senior center Matthew Nicholson (7-0, 280) — The Clarkston (Mich.) High product is producing 5.6 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game, while connecting on 66 percent of his field goal attempts (all twos). During the conference season, he’s grabbed 9.3 percent of his own team’s missed shots when he’s on the floor (11th in the Big Ten) and blocked 6.8 percent of opponents’ shots (fifth). Many of his points 145 have come off of cuts (69) and ball-screen rolls (30). He shoots 64.8 percent at the rim.

Key bench contributor
• #33 – Sophomore forward Luke Hunger (6-10, 255) — He averages 3.5 points and 1.6 rebounds in 10.2 minutes per game as the backup center. He’s shot 65.8 percent on twos and 6-of-20 (30 percent) from three-point distance.

What to watch for: Michigan vs. Northwestern

1. Michigan in even bigger trouble without Olivier Nkamhoua
The Wolverines are 8-18 overall, last in the Big Ten, and any hope of making a late-season run has pretty much been thrown out the window after the news that Nkamhoua is out for the year. The Wolverines won’t have two starters, and could be without a third depending on what Williams’ status is.

Tschetter will likely start in Nkamhoua’s place, and if Williams is also out, expect graduate forward Tray Jackson, who’s struggled mightily all season, to take his place. If the Wolverines are without Williams, their top three scorers won’t be on the floor.

In reality, while an ugly season will look even worse over the last six-plus games, it doesn’t make much of a difference. The Wolverines will likely have to win five games in five days in Minneapolis to make the Big Ten Tournament, a feat no Big Ten team has accomplished since the league expanded to 14 teams in 2014-15. The future of the coaching staff hasn’t been decided yet, but it was hard to imagine anything that happens these next few weeks changing the outcome of the tough decisions that will have to be made postseason — Nkamhoua on the floor or not.

With Nkamhoua sidelined, Michigan loses a steady frontcourt presence and tough shot-maker. The latter is especially important when they’re without McDaniel, because there aren’t many, or any, high-level creators on offense. Michigan will hope to get a lot out of Reed on the inside and some made threes to hang with the Wildcats, who are heavy favorites.

2. Boo Buie show
It’s amazing that Northwestern ranks 35th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, given that pretty much the entire offense runs through one guy, Buie, and the Wildcats don’t have much of a presence inside.

Buie takes 28 percent of the team’s shots when he’s on the floor, and he hardly ever gets subbed out. He leads the Big Ten in volume and points in isolations, and he draws a lot of attention. Buie does have shooters surrounding him, though losing Berry for the season was a big blow. Buie himself shoots 41.3 percent on threes, and Langborg has really stepped up with 55 made triples on 135 attempts.

During the conference season, Northwestern is shooting 42.7 percent from three-point distance, tops in the league. The Wildcats also lead the conference in turnover rate (12.7 percent).

However, they’re 12th in two-point field goal percentage (46.7) and 13th in offensive rebounding rate (24.2). They’re 14th in the Big Ten in shots at the rim, with 19.2 field goal attempts per game (10.8 makes per contest).

3. Northwestern defensive numbers
Michigan doesn’t have much offensive firepower without McDaniel and Nkamhoua, but Northwestern isn’t a good defensive team. The Wildcats rank 11th in the league in defensive efficiency during the conference season, with a 54.4 effective field goal percentage allowed that ranks dead last. Opponents are shooting 37.7 percent on threes and 53.2 percent on twos (both 12th in the Big Ten).

Michigan will have to take care of the ball, which has clearly been an issue after coughing it up a season-high 22 times in a 10-point loss to Michigan State over the weekend. The Wildcats help a lot — and gamble at times — which has paid off to the tune of turning opponents over on 18.3 percent of their possessions (third in the Big Ten).

Northwestern sprinkles in some pressure, but only on 2.3 percent of possessions, and plays almost exclusively man-to-man, with only nine zone sets logged on Synergy for the season.

Prediction

Michigan has lost its five road games without McDaniel by an average margin of 21.4 points. Northwestern is playing for its NCAA Tournament life down the stretch, having just pulled off a huge win at Indiana. The schedule is manageable from here on out for the Wildcats, who are seeking their third-ever berth to the Big Dance (2017, 2023). There’s no reason to believe the Wildcats won’t pull this one out, likely by a pretty comfortable margin.

Prediction: Northwestern 80, Michigan 66

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