After putting forth its most supreme defensive team effort of the season and coming away with another major road win, the Michigan basketball team must swallow the emotion from its 10th-straight victory and concentrate on getting No. 11 tomorrow afternoon at Northwestern.
On paper, Northwestern (0-3 Big Ten, 8-6 overall) at Welsh Ryan Arena should be a much easier opponent for the Wolverines than Ohio State at Value City Arena. But this is still the Big Ten, and it’s still away from home. In a game sandwiched between a statement win over the Buckeyes and competitive home games against Minnesota and Michigan State next week, the Wolverines’ minds could be wandering.
Both teams are heading in complete opposite directions as they prepare to butt heads in Evanston tomorrow. Michigan (3-0, 10-6) is still flying high, with confidence at a premium. The Wolverines haven’t been 3-0 in the Big Ten since 1993-94, when Michigan rattled off nine consecutive conference victories. The last time the Wolverines won 11 straight games was 1992-93, when the team went 12 straight without losing.
So what must Michigan do to keep the ball rolling and come back home with the winning streak intact?
The first thing is to stay out of foul trouble. This was the one area in which the Wolverines got into trouble in Columbus, and early on it seemed that it was going to cost them the win.
Michigan can’t afford to sit leading scorer LaVell Blanchard less than two minutes into the game because of foul trouble anymore. The Wolverines managed to get away with it Wednesday night, but it won’t work every night.
“It was very difficult,” said Blanchard of having to sit down so early. “I don’t know how much I played then, but the guys really stepped up in my absence, and that really speaks for the family atmosphere we have – that I could go out with foul trouble and they can pick it up and do fine.”
Poise and self-control on defense should correct Michigan’s first-half troubles. But the Wolverines must maintain the intensity that allowed them to pull away from the Buckeyes late in the game.
Michigan coach Tommy Amaker’s strategy of wiping the slate clean after the 0-6 start has sparked an incredible run, and he must maintain his fire on the bench to keep his players motivated for tomorrow.
“I think Coach Amaker has shown a lot of enthusiasm in practice and for the team in the games,” Blanchard said. “Every aspect of the team and the family atmosphere that has grown has been important for us.”
Nortwestern coach Bill Carmody has a completely different situation on his hands. He must figure out how to dig the Wildcats out of their conference slump before it’s too late.
Freshman point guard T.J. Parker, who is averaging 12.9 points per game, has been one of the lone bright spots for the Wildcats so far this season. Senior Winston Blake, who played an instrumental role in Northwestern’s win over the Wolverines last year at Crisler Arena, hasn’t lived up to his billing.
Blake is averaging just under eight points in 30 minutes of playing time per game.
The last time these teams met, the Wolverines soundly defeated the Wildcats in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, 72-51.