On Monday night, Ohio State won the national football championship, setting the streets on fire in Columbus. The basketball team probably won't be able to repeat the feat, but the Buckeyes were still looking to beat their biggest rival. Through the second media timeout, the Wolverines hung tough. Zak Irvin came out of the gate with 8 early points, and jumpers by Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht helped balance the attack.
But the Buckeyes led 16-14, and it was the closest Michigan would be for the rest of the game. Michigan's offense went stagnant, and committed careless turnovers throughout the half. Two that stick out especially are Zak Irvin's mis-dribble of his leg that led to an easy Ohio State basket, and Caris LeVert nonchalant inbounds pass that gave the Buckeyes an easy layup. Michigan shot 37% from the floor in the first half, but committed eight turnovers, giving the Buckeyes a 39-24 lead at the half.
If the first half was bad, the second half only got worse. Michigan didn't have a made field goal for six and a half minutes until Max Bielfeldt tipped home a missed Kam Chatman layup. By that point, Ohio State had already jumped out to a 13-0 run, and it was all but sealed. Michigan lost 71-52, a generous scoreline given how well the Buckeyes played defensively and how poorly Michigan handled the ball.
It's hard to find bright spots after scoring just over 50 points again. Caris LeVert led the attack with 14 points and Zak Irvin had 11, the only two players in double figures for Michigan. Unlike the Minnesota game, however, the bench was far more productive. Mark Donnal finished with 8, Aubrey Dawkins had 6, and even Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman finished with 3 points in 15 minutes of play.
Michigan has a few days to regroup before a must win game against Northwestern looms on Saturday night. The Wildcats, like Michigan, come into the game with a 10-7 record, but are only 1-3 in the Big Ten with their lone win coming against Rutgers. They are not particularly deep, and don't have a huge front line, but have savvy players in the backcourt that make up what they lack.
Starting at point guard, Bryant McIntosh has been a revelation for Chris Collins this season. McIntosh stole the job from Dave Sobolewski in the offseason, and has played phenomenally well, averaging 12 points and 5 assists per game. Joining him in the backcourt is Tre Demps, a 6'3 junior who takes roughly a third of his attempts from 3. Collins also starts Vic Law, a 6'7 combo guard/wing that is the mostly highly touted recruit Northwestern has ever had. Sanjay Lumpkin plays alongside Law at the 3/4 spot, and Alex Olah is the 7-footer in the middle.
Northwestern will play their starters for the majority of the minutes, but look for Sobolewski to play some guard off the bench, JerShon Cobb to get a bulk of the minutes at shooting guard or small forward, and Yale transfer Jeremiah Kreisberg to back up Olah at center. Northwestern is not the most talented team in the Big Ten by any stretch, but they know their roles and excel at playing high IQ basketball.
Any way you look at it for Michigan, it is a crucial must win. Michigan is 3-2 in the Big Ten, and needs 8 or 9 more wins to even be in the conversation for the NCAA tournament. Beating Northwestern isn't a resume booster, but could absolutely be a resume killer. Michigan needs Spike Albrecht to play better, especially because his shooting the last few games has been abysmal. If Michigan can hit shots and get the crowd involved, especially by jumping out to a 6 or 8 point lead early, they should have no problem putting away the Cats. If not, look for a lot of finger pointing and serious problems within the Michigan team.