Coming off a fierce battle against the 14th-ranked Maryland Terrapins on Thursday, Northwestern (9-13, 2-6 Big Ten) faces another tough test on Sunday against No. 16 Michigan (18-4, 7-2 Big Ten). The two teams have not played yet this year, but have two matchups scheduled in the next two weeks. Here are three things to know about Michigan, plus one way the Wildcats can pull of an upset.
1. Their 1-2 punch is a force to be reckoned with
Michigan features two of the Big Ten’s top ten players in both scoring and field goal percentage. Senior guard Katelynn Flaherty ranks third in the conference with 23.3 points per game, and her 45.7 percent field goal percentage is ninth-best. Center Hallie Thome, meanwhile, averages 16.3 points per game (tenth in the Big Ten) while ranking second in the conference with her 62.6 field goal percentage in her third season in Ann Arbor. Stopping these two stars will be one of the toughest assignments of the year for Northwestern’s defense, but it must be done if the Wildcats want to compete with the Wolverines.
2. They play tough defense
The Wolverines are second in the Big Ten in scoring defense this season, allowing just 60.1 points per game. They place fourth in opponent field goal percentage, holding their competition to just 36.7 percent from the floor. The Wolverines are also tops in the conference in defensive rebound percentage, meaning second-chance points will be hard to come by for the Wildcats. Taken together, these stats show just how crucial every Northwestern possession will be on Sunday.
3. Their coach means business
Kim Barnes Arico is incredible at what she does. At every stop in her career, she has found success, regardless of the level. Her career highlights prior to joining the Wolverines include a New Jersey Coach of the Year award, two Big East Coach of the Year awards, and a Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA tournament. Since moving to Ann Arbor in 2012, Arico has coached the team to five consecutive 20-win seasons (6 once the team wins two more games) and a program-best 129 total wins. She is also first in Michigan history in winning percentage and led the team to the WNIT championship in 2017. It’s no fluke that the Wolverines are once again one of the best teams in the Big Ten, with a strong roster commanded by an equally strong presence on the bench.
One potential weakness for the Wildcats to exploit
If this article has made Michigan seem scary, it should! They are ranked 16th in the country for a reason. However, there is one area in which the Wolverines are far from elite: turnovers. Michigan is 11th in the conference in turnovers per game, averaging 16.2 giveaways. Combined with the team’s 15.7 turnovers forced per contest, Michigan’s -0.5 turnover margin leaves them 9th in the Big Ten. If the Wildcats’ defense can cause havoc and take advantage of Michigan’s weakness, Northwestern may just be able to leave Sunday afternoon’s tilt with a huge upset victory.
Parker Johnson and Ben Krieger will have the Wildcat pre-game show at 1:45 with tip-off at 2 pm CT. You can listen on 89.3 FM in the Evanston-Chicago area or online at wnursports.com.