Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, February 28, 2017 at 1:00 PM
Fortunes can change very quickly in college basketball. Just a few weeks ago, everyone was talking about how Northwestern was a LOCK for the Big Dance…which would make HISTORY because the Wildcats had never crashed the Brackets! Though still in good shape overall, the Wildcats are on the verge of falling onto the bubble if they don’t break a recent skid.
By the same token, Michigan was off the radar in terms of being a team that “mattered.” Sure, they were still on TV all the time because of network contracts. But, they were only 4-6 straight up in a Big 10 that didn’t place anybody in the preliminary Sweet 16 “unveiling” by the committee a few weeks ago. An irrelevant team in what might be an irrelevant conference this season. Now, the team is absolutely ON FIRE!
Entering Wednesday night’s meeting in Evanston between the Wolverines and Wildcats, both teams are 9-7 in the Big 10 standings. Neither will finish below .500 once 18 games are played, and both could finish on the right side of .500 regardless of what happens tonight. Check out the details of their recent form, though…
Michigan 9-7 (but 5-1 their last six)
Michigan (-4) crushed Michigan State 86-57
Michigan (+2.5) dominated Indiana 75-63
Michigan (-2) beat Wisconsin 64-58
Michigan (+1.5) lost in overtime at Minnesota 83-78
Michigan (-8.5) won at Rutgers 68-64 (non-cover)
Michigan (-1.5) bullied Purdue 82-70
Purdue is the current Big 10 leader, and Michigan just beat them and covered by double digits. Wisconsin was the Big 10 leader when Michigan beat them. Michigan State is Dance-bound, and the Wolverines decimated Sparty. At the end of regulation, Michigan is 5-0-1 straight up, and 5-1 against the pointspread. Talk about peaking at the right time! Is Michigan the best team in the Big 10 “right now?” Tough to make a case otherwise given the size of that win over first place Purdue.
Northwestern 9-7 (but 2-5 their last seven)
Northwestern (+9.5) lost at Purdue 80-59
Northwestern (-6) lost to Illinois 68-61
Northwestern (+11.5) stunned Wisconsin 66-59
Northwestern (-1.5) lost to Maryland 74-64
Northwestern (-11.5) barely got by Rutgers 69-65
Northwestern (-2.5) lost at Illinois 66-50
Northwestern (+4) lost at Indiana but covered in a 63-62 loss
Over the last few weeks, Northwestern is not playing Dance caliber basketball. They got swept by Illinois! Maybe that road win at Wisconsin will be enough to put their resume over the top in final weekend discussions. The Wildcats seemed like a lock for the NCAA’s back when they were 7-2 in league play. If they lose badly to Michigan, they’re likely to fall back to the bubble with toughies still ahead vs. Purdue and in the Big 10 tournament.
You longtime bettors know that recent form is no guarantee of future performance. Virginia just snapped out of its coma to beat NC State and North Carolina in impressive fashion. North Carolina was seemingly best in the nation until laying that egg vs. Virginia this past Monday. Will Wednesday bring an abrupt turnaround for Michigan and Northwestern?
Let’s see what JIM HURLEY’S key indicators stats have to say. You regulars know that we focus on the publicly available stats at kenpom.com that adjust raw statistics for tempo and strength of schedule. (Jim Hurley’s in-house proprietary stats are for his eyes only!)
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency
Michigan: 120.5 per 100 possessions (#8 in the nation)
Northwestern: 111.3 per 100 possessions (#62 in the nation)
Michigan is almost always better on offense than people realize because they score efficiently in very slow-paced games. Scoreboards don’t capture their efficiency! They work for good shots, and make enough of them to get the job done. Pomeroy adjusts for pace and schedule, and shows Michigan as one of the 10 best offenses in the nation. Northwestern has been slumping in recent weeks…and is going to be outclassed on this side of the floor by most good opponents they’ll face the rest of the way.
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency
Michigan: 101.3 per 100 possessions (#92 in the nation)
Northwestern: 95.5 per 100 possessions (#29 in the nation)
Michigan’s defense is often overrated for the same reason their defense is underrated. Slow basketball creates low scoring games. But, if you just focus on getting stops and denying good looks…Michigan is an annual disappointment. Part of that is because they back off near the rim to avoid foul trouble. As long as the offense stays efficient, they can get away with that. Northwestern’s strength is defense. But, if the Big 10 is being overrated in Kenpom’s data (which is pretty likely this year), the Wildcats won’t seem as impressive defensively once they’re in the Dance.
Michigan is one of the slowest teams in the nation. Northwestern is well on the slow end of the spectrum. So, this is going to be a yawner to watch in terms of up-and-down basketball. Both teams will patiently work the ball for good shots. Whoever does a better job of draining those shots will get the win and the cover.
Against the Spread
Talk about turnarounds! You just saw that Michigan was 4-2 ATS their last six games…which would have been 5-1 if not for an overtime loss as a dog. That means they were 7-13 ATS through their first 20 board results…just 35%. Northwestern is 2-5 ATS their last seven games, which means they were 14-5 ATS before that skid started. For the season, Michigan has been overrated by the market, NW underrated. Over the last few weeks, it’s been the reverse.
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Back in a few days to preview the celebrated Duke/North Carolina rematch set for Saturday Night on ESPN. The month of March has finally arrived. Be sure you GET THE MONEY every day with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!