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Michigan

at

Northwestern

College Basketball

Pick

3/1/17

Things are starting to get interesting in the Big Ten, namely for Northwestern, a team that has never made the NCAA tournament. Labeled a lock by some only a couple weeks ago, the Wildcats have lost their last two games against winnable opponents (Illinois, Indiana) and five of their last seven. On the other end is a team going in the opposite direction as Michigan has won five of its last six. Back at home, Northwestern is hoping for one more win and the game on Wednesday is likelier than Sunday's against Purdue.

These teams haven't played yet, so there's no prior game to how these teams will match up. Northwestern has had problems against Illinois, but also one of few that won at Wisconsin. At home, the Wildcats haven't been unstoppable, beating Rutgers by a slim margin and losing to Maryland and Illinois before that. But the reason to take the home team is that Michigan has had some road woes this season. While the Wolverines are playing better, wins at a depleted Indiana and Rutgers aren't anything to write home about. Otherwise, they've been beat by every somewhat relevant team in the conference.

The Wildcats got Scottie Lindsey back from illness a few weeks ago, but he hasn't been himself, shooting just 2-of-16 from long range in the last three games. As the team's leading scorer, it's obvious to see why this team is struggling to win games. But in addition to being the team's top scorers, Lindsey and Bryant McIntosh will have the duty of limiting the impact of what Derrick Walton does. The senior for Michigan has been one of the best players in the Big Ten and is coming off a 17-point, 11-rebound, five-assist game against Purdue. If Walton has the freedom to do what he wants, this Michigan team can beat everyone in the conference.

But it doesn't stop there for the Wolverines. Mo Wagner has really picked up his play as well and his 24 points were huge against Purdue. To help, Northwestern leads the Big Ten in defensive effective FG%, with some of the worst percentages allowed, highlighted by just 33.6% from three-point range. That needs to be the case in this game because it's not only Walton and Wagner that can shoot. When the Wolverines get going, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Zak Irvin and DJ Wilson all have range, but the guy that can't get going is Duncan Robinson. However, as said above, it hasn't been as easy in road games this season for Michigan and going against one of the better defenses on the road, they be revert back to previous habits.

To help, the Wildcats have athletic bigs in Gavin Skelly and Dererk Pardon, that should be able to deal with Wagner and Wilson when they stretch the floor. Vic Law and Sanjay Lumpkin also provide the length to defend Robinson and Irvin. But can they score? Michigan doesn't have a good defense according to the numbers, but this has been a much different group in the last six games. If McIntosh or Lindsey can't get open looks and continue to struggle from the field, Northwestern could be in for yet another loss.

Will the pressure be too much to handle for the Wildcats with possibly one more win confirming their status in the NCAA tournament? Or will their best players show up and get the win in a big home game? Michigan is playing well and plenty will back the hotter team, but Northwestern knows what's at stake and will put everything into this game. 

Our Pick - Michigan by 5

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