On Wednesday night, the Northwestern Wildcats traveled into Ann Arbor despite some rough weather conditions to take on a Michigan Wolverines team fighting for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid. Though Northwestern had less on the line, the Wildcats were looking for an upset road win and to help secure its place in the NIT.
Early on, it was all Northwestern. In fact, the Wildcats jumped out to an 10-0 lead at one point and led for the entire duration of the first half. However, as the first half continued, Michigan started to close up the deficit and at the break, Northwestern held just a 29-28 lead. In the second half, it was a tight battle on both sides with one team making a run and the other responding. However, at the end Michigan came out on top 72-63.
With that, let's see what we learned from the game.
What We Learned
1. Michigan Is On The Verge Of Clinching An NCAA At-Large Bid.
For weeks, it seems like the Wolverines have been sitting firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Michigan did a nice job of taking care of the bottom teams, but just couldn't put together enough marquee wins to secure itself a spot in the NCAA Tournament field. Well, after Wednesday night's win, Michigan is likely just a win away from pushing itself into an at-large bid for this year's NCAA Tournament.
This is particularly significant given that Michigan's final two regular season games are on the road against Wisconsin and at home against Iowa. The Wolverines are very likely going to be underdogs in both of those games, so this means that Michigan can likely just win a Big Ten Tournament game and make the field.
Overall, Michigan is now 20-9 and 10-6 in the Big Ten. Given that the Wolverines don't have a bad RPI loss to date, that certainly looks like one of the strongest bubble resumes in the country.
2. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (MAAR) Continues To Develop.
Coming into this season, MAAR was a player that was expected to have to battle for minutes in one of the deepest backcourts in not only the Big Ten, but the entire country. However, once Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert went out with injury, he was quickly forced into the starting lineup for the Wolverines.
Nonetheless, MAAR has developed into far more than just a player forced into a starting role due to injury. He's legitimately turned into a good player for Michigan in his sophomore season. In fact, MAAR has now scored double-digits in six Big Ten games this season and had an offensive rating of at least 100 in each of the last six games.
MAAR certainly isn't an All-Big Ten contender by any means, but his role has steadily grown over this season and if he can continue to develop, he has the chance to do some big things for the Wolverines down the line.
3. Northwestern Will Have To Hope For Something Big In The Postseason.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece for BTPowerhouse detailing what Northwestern could do in order to make the rest of this season successful. After all, the Wildcats were pretty much already locked out of the NCAA Tournament, so the natural question is what the team can accomplish.
Well, one of the biggest things I noted was that Northwestern needed to go and get a marquee win to get fans, the team, and the program excited for the future. The Wildcats do have a nice win over Wisconsin, but otherwise, Northwestern doesn't have a win over a top 90 KenPom team. A big win wouldn't have gotten Northwestern into the NCAA Tournament, but it would have certainly put some real optimism into the program.
Now, with now marquee opponents left in the regular season, the Wildcats will have to hope to secure a big win in either the Big Ten Tournament or the NIT.
4. Northwestern Still Runs Through Alex Olah.
For much of the season, the talk with the Wildcats was about the progression and development of the team's guards and wings. In particular, many in Evanston were excited about the hot start that sophomore guard Bryant McIntosh had this season. Nonetheless, when it gets down to it, this is still Alex Olah's team.
Olah's legacy for the Wildcats is still up in the air, but when it comes to this season, he's still the guy who has to get it done for Northwestern to be a real contender. For instance, just take the first half on Wednesday night. Northwestern got off to a really hot start, but it was Olah who allowed the team to start so well. In fact, he had as many made field goals in the first half as the rest of Northwestern's team combined.
Where Northwestern ends its season is still up in the air, but it will have a lot to do with how Olah plays.
It was a tough battle on Wednesday night, but it left the Wolverines in a solid spot heading into its final few games of the season. If Michigan can find a way to win just one more game, it should make the NCAA Tournament.