Northwestern heads to Ann Arbor this evening to face-off against No. 21 Michigan for the second time this season at 6 p.m. CT.
The Wolverines are 19-6 overall and 8-4 in conference, and are trying to make it to the NCAA Tournament in star Katelyn Flaherty’s senior season after narrowly missing out on an at-large bid last year. The Wolverines wilted down the stretch in 2017 and must snap a two game losing streak.
The Wildcats will look for their third win in conference and try to snap a five-game losing streak.
Here are three things to know about the explosive Michigan Wolverines ahead of tonight’s contest.
1. It’s a two-person show.
Katelyn Flaherty and Hallie Thome lead Michigan and are two of the most dynamic players in the Big Ten. Flaherty averages 23 points and four assists a game and shoots almost 40% from behind the arc while Thome averages 17 points and eight rebounds. Thome torched Northwestern in their first meeting at ETHS, scoring 25 points and adding four rebounds and two blocks. Flaherty had a cold start in the game, but dropped 20 points in the second half to finish with 27 en-route to a 80-59 win. Michigan is not a very deep team, and only gives six players major minutes. Nicole Munger and Hailey Brown are solid role players in the starting five, while Jilian Dunston does a ton of the dirty work of crashing the boards and playing lock-down defense. Northwestern could benefit from getting the Wolverines in some foul trouble.
2. The turnovers are an Achilles heel.
Despite playing an exciting-brand of inside-out basketball with an elite post threat and perimeter scorer, the Wolverines turn the ball over way too much for a team of their caliber. They average 16.5 turnovers a game, the worst mark in the conference, and have an assist to turnover ratio less than one. In their last contest, they turned it over 26 times against Rutgers and only mustered 56 points. Michigan turned it over 17 times against Purdue in the overtime loss at the Crisler Center. Northwestern struggles to take care of the ball itself, but could stay in this game if it forces the hosts into a chaotic pace.
3. They shoot the ball and rebound extremely well.
Michigan is ninth in the country in three point shooting at 39% and tenth in the country in rebound margin, snagging nine more rebounds per game than their opponents. Both statistics rank second in the Big Ten. Michigan’s defense is stingy as well, holding opponents to 61 points per game. The numbers paint a complete team on both sides of the ball, and Northwestern will need to put in a strong performance. The Wildcats have struggled to slow teams down from the three point arc, but have rebounded well with the performances of Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah.
Northwestern has also struggled with consistency, and has followed up strong showings against Purdue and Maryland with frustrating outings against Wisconsin and Michigan. Having just taken Indiana to overtime on the road behind a monster performance from Lindsey Pulliam. Can the Wildcats play two good games in a row?
They will have their work cut out for them, because Michigan is determined to make the NCAA Tournament and avoid a slide like last season. With a remaining schedule of Michigan State, Minnesota and Maryland before the Big Ten Tournament, Kim Barnes Arico will want to get things back on track with a big win at home.