Jan. 29, 2013
Skip Myslenski's Preview
EVANSTON, Ill.-- Northwestern takes on the top-ranked team in the Associated Press poll for the 18th time in school history on Wednesday as it travels to Michigan. Tip-off is set for 5:30 p.m. CT.
Big Ten Network is providing live television coverage. The contest can also be heard on 720 AM WGN before switching over to 560 AM WIND prior to the start of the Chicago Blackhawks' game.
The Wildcats last faced the No. 1 team in the AP rankings during the 2010-11 season. NU fell to Ohio State 58-57 at home Jan. 29 and 67-61 in overtime to the Buckeyes in the Big Ten tournament on March 11.
NU and Michigan have a history of playing close games of Crisler Center. The last five meetings between the teams in Ann Arbor have been decided by an average of 5.6 points with the Wildcats winning two of the matchups. The Wolverines won 66-64 in overtime last season.
The 'Cats have alternated wins and losses in each of their last seven contests. NU dropped a 64-49 decision at Nebraska on Saturday despite 21 points from Dave Sobolewski and 16 rebounds from Jared Swopshire.
First Meeting: NU fell to Michigan 94-66 in Evanston Jan. 3. Reggie Hearn, the Wildcats' leading scorer, missed the game due to injury.
The Wolverines (19-1, 6-1 Big Ten) climbed to No. 1 in the Associated Press poll this week following a 74-60 victory at Illinois on Sunday. Trey Burke paced the Wolverines with 19 points.
Burke ranks second in the Big Ten in scoring at 17.9 points per game and first in assists at 7.1 per contest. Tim Hardaway Jr. is the leagues fifth-leading scorer at 15.9 points per game.
John Beilein is in his sixth season as head coach at Michigan where he has a 110-78 record. He is 661-396 in 35 seasons overall as a collegiate head coach.
(H)EARNING HIS KEEP
Senior guard Reggie Hearn has taken his game to another level during his senior season. He tallied a team-high 20 points on Jan. 17 in leading Northwestern to a convincing 68-54 victory at then-No. 23/22 Illinois. It was the second straight year that Hearn scored 20 points in a victory at Assembly Hall. The Indiana native followed up the performance by scoring a game-high 22 points against his homestate school on Jan. 20. The former walk-on leads the Wildcats and ranks 10th in the Big Ten with a scoring average of 14.0 points per game while leading the team with a .485 field goal percentage.
Graduate student Jared Swopshire has started every game for Northwestern this season in his first year with the program. When Swopshire plays well, the Wildcats seem to be successful. Northwestern is 8-3 when he scores in double figures but is 4-6 when he tallies nine points or less. His 16 rebounds against Nebraska on Jan. 26 were the most by a Northwestern player since Evan Eschmeyer had 21 against Penn State on Jan. 20, 1999. Over the last four contests, he is averaging 13.0 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. Swopshire spent the last four seasons at Louisville, appearing in 109 contests with 23 starts while helping the team reach the Final Four last year. He is pursing his graduate degree in sports administration.
Everyone knows how good of a conference the Big Ten is this year and Northwestern has certainly been challenged to begin the season. Wednesday's game marks the Wildcats' sixth ranked opponent in their first nine league contests. During that span, NU will have faced Minnesota and Michigan twice as well as Indiana and Illinois once apiece.
CLOSELY CONTESTED AT CRISLER
The last five meetings between Michigan and Northwestern in Ann Arbor have each been battles that have gone down to the wire:
Feb. 13, 2008--NU 62, Michigan 60
'Cats start game on 16-2 run, hold on behind Craig Moore's eight 3-pointers
Jan. 24, 2009--Michigan 68, NU 59
Wolverines lead by nine at half and hold off Wildcats' second-half run
Jan. 10, 2010--NU 68, Michigan 62
NU rallies back from 17-point first-half deficit behind Drew Crawford's 25 points
Feb. 9, 2011--Michigan 75, NU 66
'Cats use late 14-0 run to cut deficit to one, but Michigan scores last 8 points to hold on
Jan. 11, 2012--Michigan 66, NU 64 (OT)
NU leads throughout, but misses opportunities at the end of regulation and OT
COMING ON STRONG
Redshirt freshman Tre Demps has come on strong over Northwestern's last 12 contests. He is averaging 9.7 points per game over that span and has scored in double figures in nine of those contests. Demps had come off the bench for NU prior to starting each of the last two games.
DOING IT ON DEFENSE
Northwestern has taken a step forward defensively so far this season. The Wildcats are limiting their opponents to an average of 61.5 points per game after allowing 68.2 points per contest a year ago. NU is also holding its foes to a .413 field goal percentage. The 'Cats have held nine of their opponents to below 40 percent shooting in a game. During the 2011-12 season, Northwestern's opponents shot 45.2 percent from the field. Three times this year (Texas Southern, Fairleigh Dickinson, TCU), the Wildcats have limited the opposition to 14 first-half points, while holding three others (Brown, Minnesota, Penn State) also under 20 points in the opening stanza. The 48 points scored by Minnesota on Jan. 23 were the Gophers' lowest total of the season at the time by 18 points and were the fewest allowed by NU in a Big Ten game since Illinois had 48 on Feb. 18, 2007.
DISHING IT OUT
Sophomore Dave Sobolewski has been in a giving mood so far this season. The point guard handed out a career-best nine assists in Northwestern's season-opening win over Texas Southern Nov. 13 and then followed it up with eight helpers against Mississippi Valley State Nov. 15. His average of 4.3 assists per game ranks fourth in the Big Ten. A year ago, Sobolewski led the Big Ten and paced all nation's freshmen with a 2.63 assist-to-turnover ratio. So far this season, Northwestern ranks second in the country with a .700 assist percentage.
Northwestern is well known for playing "team" offense and that's reflected in the statistics. The Wildcats ranked fourth in the nation with a 1.53 assist-to-turnover ratio last season and they're 15th in the nation so far this year with a 1.38 ratio (317 assists, 230 turnovers). NU ranked second nationally to only Wisconsin with a 1.70 mark in 2010-11.
PROTECTING THE ROCK
Though the end result didn't go the way they would have liked, the Wildcats did a great job of taking care of the basketball against Maryland Nov. 27. Northwestern committed just four turnovers in the entire contest, the fewest since it committed three in an overtime game at Illinois on Dec. 30, 2009. NU is committing an average of just 11.0 turnovers per game, ranking 15th in the nation.
Northwestern led the Big Ten and ranked fifth nationally in 2011-12 with an average of 9.0 3-point makes per game. The Wildcats are averaging 7.8 makes this season and are 8-1 when they make at least eight shots from behind the arch.
The Wildcats return home Saturday to take on Purdue. Tip-off is set for 11 a.m. with ESPN2 providing live television coverage.
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