No. 2 Michigan basketball has a chance to make history Sunday night.
The Wolverines (16-0) tied their program record for best start with a win at Illinois on Thursday.
All that stands between this team and a new record? Northwestern, which visits Crisler Center on Sunday night (7:30 p.m., BTN).
The Wildcats have played Michigan tough in recent years. And on Dec. 4, Northwestern nearly upset the Wolverines at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Here are three things to watch for during the rematch.
Northwestern isn’t strong offensively, ranking No. 125 in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency.
But the Wildcats found early success against U-M in December by going to center Dererk Pardon.
Pardon is having a big senior season, averaging 13.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game; against the Wolverines, he had 16 first-half points before Michigan started doubling him in the post in the second half.
Northwestern’s offense bogged down for a stretch when the Wolverines shut down Pardon; the Wildcats don’t have many other options.
Simpson’s outside shooting, decision-making
Northwestern’s defensive strategy in the first game was very pronounced: the Wildcats sagged off point guard Zavier Simpson, daring him to beat them from the outside.
After Simpson had eight points in the first half, all from attacking the rim, Northwestern chose to give him more space. In the second half, he missed open 3s on three consecutive possessions, and was eventually subbed out for Eli Brooks during the game’s latter stages.
Simpson, shooting 28.9 percent from outside this season and is a career 28 percent 3-point shooter, has dealt with the same defensive treatment before. But his struggles against Northwestern were notable, and his decision-making when given open shots this time around will be something to keep an eye on.
Matthews’ mid-range game
Charles Matthews has improved significantly as a shooter this season.
His 3-point shooting is up to 34 percent on 3.1 attempts per game; last season, he shot 31.8 percent on 2.6 attempts per game. His free-throw shooting has jumped from 55.8 percent to 62.2 percent, and he’s averaging 0.8 more attempts per game.
Matthews also started off hot in the mid-range shots, but has cooled since a three-game stretch against Holy Cross, Villanova and George Washington, shooting 9-for-54 on mid-range jumpers, according to Eric Shapiro.
Matthews’ fadeaway is his signature shot. It just hasn’t fallen much in recent games. And it’s the reason why his field-goal percentage is at 44.3 percent after hitting 49.5 percent last season.
Michigan’s first game against Northwestern proved to be a big test of the Wolverines’ mettle. The Wildcats never let the game get out of hand, and eventually clawed their way back to a lead.
U-M, though, pushed right back and pulled out the victory. The Wolverines are more talented. The rematch is at Crisler Center, and in college basketball, home-court advantage makes a huge difference. It has been over a year since Michigan lost at home, and it’ll be hard to envision Northwestern breaking that streak.
Michigan 74, Northwestern 64
Contact Orion Sang: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang.