First off congrats to NU's football team and coach Fitzgerald. Wildcat Nation is really a very happy group right now and deservedly so. Hopefully, many of those who cheered the football 'Cats on to victory in Jacksonville will be around to support NU's hoops team on Thursday night. I truly believe the NU crowd made a difference in the Gator Bowl and I know similar things can happen in basketball when the crowd is into the game.
Now, I have to admit that this game doesn't seem to offer the Wildcats much of a shot. Michigan is a team which seems not to have any sort of weakness. They get rebounds, play defense, and can score both inside and outside. I think they're also well coached and have played a competitive enough schedule that their 13-0 record is legitimate.
As has been the case in the past, the guys who really make UM go are Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. It's a shame both didn't go to the NBA as they considered because it would have really increased the odds of NU beating these guys who they've consistently lost close to in the last few meetings. Burke's all around skills have him scoring nearly 18 points per game and shooting over 50%. He's also given out 96 assists so far this year. Hardaway has improved as a shooter at 35% from three which forces defenders to respect his outside shot and causes him to have more ability to get to the hoop. Those two are joined by dead-eye shooter Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III as UM's top scoring threats. Those offensive players are supported by past Wildcat killer Jordan Morgan and freshman Mitch McGary who dominate inside. I once again feel this will be a tremendous challenge for NU's Alex Olah and I'm glad NU played enough tough non-conference games that Olah won't be totally overwhelmed by Big Ten big men.
NU's other key players are Tre Demps and Reggie Hearn. The 'Cats must score points and those guys to be offer the most well rounded offensive games on the Wildcats. I'd like to see Demps get a little more time than he has those far. He needs to play well on defense to keep himself on the court, but the kid is a natural scorer and that's huge. Health is a hopefully not an issue for Hearn who missed NU's last game. With the number of injuries NU's had the team now is without a doubt led by Reggie and Alex Marcotullio so hopefully Hearn can be on the court most of this game. Also, look to see if Nikola Cerina can play. With Sanjay Lumpkin once again out the added depth of Cerina's return could be a big boost for NU. He's also possibly someone who can add a little more offensive as Jared Swopshire has been more of a defensive oriented player of late.
Prediction: I have more hope for NU than many others it seems. Real Time RPI predicts NU to go 7-11 in the Big Ten and I really think that's not unreasonable. I think Demps scoring is a key and I think Olah needs help form Cerina on the glass, but it could happen. That said, I struggle to see how NU can have enough fire power and size to best a very strong Michigan squad. Michigan, 70 Northwestern, 60