Last season, Northwestern's only conference win came against Michigan in Ann Arbor. Last night, this year's likely cellar dweller Indiana gave the Wolverines all they could handle before coming up short in overtime, 72-66 in a 73 possession game (65 possessions per 40 minutes). The Hoosiers actually held a 20 point lead early in the second half of this one before Michigan started clawing their way back. The Wolverines shot 18 three pointers in the first half, and made only 3 of them. IU, on the other hand, was 5-8 from deep and 15-30 overall in the opening half. In the second half, everything was reversed. Michigan was 7-17 from deep (and 14-27 overall), while IU shot just 2-9 (and 9-25 overall) in the final 20 minutes of regulation. But IU still had their shots to win this one in overtime, but went 3-9 from the FT line in the extra period. Michigan survived this scare, but this game will likely serve as a cautionary tale to the rest of the conference. Don't expect the rest of the teams to take the Hoosiers lightly after this one.
IU had three players in double figures, but Nick Williams probably had the best line with 14 points on 12 shots, to go with 7 boards and only one turnover. Manny Harris led Michigan with 17 points on 12 shots to go with 11 boards, but he did cough it up 4 times. Box score.
I know Michigan is a POT and all, but maybe that philosophy should take a backseat when playing IU. The Hoosiers have only 2 players taller than 6-5 in the rotation, and Kyle Taber isn't much of a shotblocker. That lack of height shows up on the statsheet as well, as the Hoosiers allowed opponents to shoot 52.1% from two point range coming into this one (good for 297th in the country). Nonetheless, Michigan dedicated 66% of their field goals to three pointers against the Hoosiers, and they happened to be pretty cold last night (making just 30% of those attempts). Beilein's been pretty successful with his perimeter-focused scheme, but a night like this shows what happens to a POT offense when the shots aren't falling.
Wisconsin manhandled Northwestern, 74-45 in a 61 possession game in the Kohl Center. This was, by a wide margin, Wisconsin's best game of the year, statistically. The Badgers averaged over 1.2 points per possession and held Northwestern to just 0.73 points per trip. On offense, everything went well, including the normally-tepid offensive rebounding. On defense, the Badgers held the Wildcats to 31.4% shooting (including 3-17 from behind the arc) and didn't allow many second chances. Jason Bohannon had a pretty line, with 20 points on 12 shots, to go with 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and just one turnover. Things were not so good on the other side of the court, as no Wildcat scored in double figures. Box score.
Despite a less-than-impressive non-conference performance, the Badgers are suddenly looking like the title contenders everyone figured they'd be when the season started. The offense has played well all season, but now the defense is starting to pick up. Is this the elite unit that shut down the rest of the conference last season? No, not even close - after all, Michigan and Penn State put up over a point per possession against the Badgers. But those are two pretty decent offenses, and that beats the heck out of allowing a point per possession against the likes of Long Beach State, Idaho State, and Virginia Tech (who actually posted an obscene 1.3 PPP). A big test looms this Sunday, when the Badgers visit Mackey Arena, to take on what must be a very angry Purdue squad.
The Wildcats started out the non-conference with such high hopes, but now sitting at 0-3, many fans are probably ending whatever thoughts they had of making the NCAA Tournament this season. But two road contests against Penn State and Wisconsin, along with a home game against Michigan State were not automatic Ws for this team, so it's not like they've underperformed. And in the first two games, Northwestern let second half leads slip away. The Wildcats have a week off before facing Purdue at home, which means there's a real possibility that they start out the conference season 0-4. If that happens, this team will be up against a wall.
Tonight, Minnesota visits Iowa at 6 pm (ESPN2).
Also, Illini fans might want to check out an interesting story on how Chester Frazier ended up at Illinois.