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Northwestern comes calling on No. 13 Michigan

12:09 PM, Jan 11, 2012   |    comments
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Ann Arbor, MI (Sports Network) - Fresh off one of their best defensive efforts of the season, the 13th-ranked Michigan Wolverines have little time to pat themselves on the back as they welcome the Northwestern Wildcats to Crisler Arena for this evening's Big Ten Conference clash.

Northwestern had opened the season at 7-0 and as winners of 10 of its first 11, but since that time the team has gone just 1-3. The Wildcats have played three Big Ten bouts already, and two of them ended in defeat, including the most recent at home against Illinois last Wednesday, 57-56. NU is facing its fourth ranked opponent of the season tonight, and the third in the last five games. Looking ahead, the 'Cats will play at No. 6 Michigan State this Saturday.

Michigan is 13-3 on the year, and the Maize and Blue have won three of their first four Big Ten games, the most recent of which being a 59-41 rout of a ranked Wisconsin club at home this past Sunday. It was the second-fewest points allowed by the Wolverines this season, (59-33 win over Ferris State in the opener), and the fourth time they've allowed 50 points or fewer. Michigan is a perfect 10-0 at home this season, and has won 11 straight at Crisler Arena dating back to last season.

Michigan owns a commanding 103-56 lead in the all-time series with Northwestern, and the Wolverines won the most recent clash, 75-66, to snap a three-game losing streak to the Wildcats.

Thanks to guys like John Shurna and Drew Crawford, Northwestern leads the Big Ten with 9.0 three-pointers per game. Shurna (18.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg) is the team's leading scorer and rebounder, and he is hitting his treys at a 42.3 percent clip, while Crawford (17.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg) is a steady performer who knocks down 43.3 percent of his long-range attempts. As a team, NU is shooting 44.8 percent from the field, 36.8 percent from downtown and 70.6 percent from the foul line. As a result, the 'Cats average 70.9 ppg, which is a little more than five points more than they allow (65.6 ppg). Northwestern isn't the biggest team around so it is routinely outrebounded (36.3 to 31.5 rpg), but the team has done a nice job of protecting the basketball (10.0 tpg), and it is +3.5 in turnover margin. Shurna scored 20 points as the only Wildcat to reach double figures last Wednesday, but they couldn't make a five-point halftime lead stand up as they dropped a one-point decision at home to Illinois. Outside of Shurna, who also grabbed seven boards and blocked four shots, the rest of the team had a tough time, shooting a dismal 12-of-38 (.316) from the field. Crawford went just 3-of-12 on the night to finish with eight points.

Michigan actually averages a half point less per game (70.1) than does its counterpart tonight, but the Wolverines boast three double-digit scorers in Tim Hardaway, Jr. (15.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.7 apg), Trey Burke (13.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 5.0 apg) and Evan Smotrycz (10.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg), and a defense that permits just 59.6 ppg on typical shooting outputs of 40.4 percent overall and 34.7 percent from beyond the arc. As a team, UM is hitting its field goals 47.5 percent of the time, and its three-point tries at a rate of 36.5 percent. Add favorable margins in both rebounding (+3.3) and turnovers (+1.5), and it's easy to see why the team has enjoyed the kind of success it has thus far. Hardaway, Jr. was outstanding in Michigan's impressive win over Wisconsin on Sunday, as the sophomore guard scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, his second career double-double, and he got help from Burke (14 points) and Zack Novak (12 points). Jordan Morgan was credited with 11 boards, and Stu Douglass notched a career-best five steals for the Wolverines, who won the rebounding battle (38-29), and shot 85 percent from free-throw line (17-of-20). The Badgers were held to 31.4 percent accuracy on their field goal attempts, and they went just 2-of-5 (.350) at the charity stripe.

The Sports Network

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