Northwestern and Michigan Show in Instant Classic the Future Appears Bright

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 4th, 2015

Given all the talk about the Big Ten’s bubble teams, there wasn’t much hype for a game between two squads with losing conference records. But Michigan and Northwestern played a double-overtime classic in Evanston on Tuesday night, exhibiting that both programs are clearly trending upward with young rosters and an eye on 2015-16. Here are some quick observations from last night’s game that echo the larger point.

Tre Demps is one of the best late-game shooters in the B1G. (Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports)

Tre Demps is one of the best late-game shooters in the Big Ten. (Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports)

  • Alex Olah could be one of the most improved players in the league, as he has become a solid low post threat for the Wildcats. Other than Frank Kaminsky, he might have the best footwork in the conference. He is fundamentally sound with the ball, keeping it high when he makes the catch after establishing his position in the lane. Olah murdered Michigan on the low blocks last night and also displayed an ability to knock down an open 15-footer as well. He went for 25 points and 12 rebounds, his seventh double-double of the season.
  • Tre Demps has evolved into a much more complete player this season. Mainly just a bench option last season, he’s become a much better all-around offensive threat. He’s still a bit streaky, but he has the mentality to take and make big shots in late-clock situations. In Northwestern’s last six games, Demps has averaged 15.5 points along with 3.8 assists per contest. His ability to get into the lane makes the Wildcats’ offense much more diverse, as he’s shown that he can either finish at the rim or kick the ball out without turning it over.

  • Northwestern’s freshmen are starting to get it. Bryant McIntosh has been offensively solid  all year even if his defense leaves something to be desired. The other members of the class have taken a little longer to get up to speed, but that’s changing as Vic Law and Scottie Lindsey are showing that they could become really solid future contributors. Law has the recruiting pedigree and has exhibited that he can rebound well for his position at a high level. Lindsey came in with the reputation as a shooter, but he’s also shown upper-level athleticism — two highlight-reel blocks from last night’s game show that he can do more than just shoot. Gavin Skelly didn’t play much against Michigan but he made several big plays in Northwestern’s recent win against Iowa.With more talented freshmen arriving to bolster the upperclassmen that will still be around with Olah and Demps, this team could push for that elusive first-ever NCAA Tournament berth as early as next season.
  • Zak Irvin is starting to round into a fine all-around player. Known as just a shooter on last year’s Elite Eight team, Caris LeVert’s midseason injury has force Irvin to do much more. He’s taking the ball to the rim much better, making up for the fact that he’s shooting the ball a bit less effectively from deep as a result. Michigan lost last night’s game in Evanston, but it wasn’t because of the failures of Irvin. The sophomore scored 28 points and snared 10 rebounds in 49 minutes of action. Getting all this extra attention when he has the ball will only make him a better player in the long run.
  • Spike Albrecht has done an admirable job filling in for Derrick Walton Jr, acting as the team’s primary ball-handler and doing his best to keep Michigan afloat. Since missing the first Northwestern game with an injury, he has logged a 2.8:1 assist-to-turnover rate. He’s not the most fleet of foot on his drives, but he has an uncanny ability to get shots in the lane over taller defenders that somehow find their way in the hoop. He doesn’t miss free throws (91%) and could team with Walton Jr. next season in an extremely efficient backcourt that doesn’t turn the ball over.
  • Even if LeVert decides to enter the NBA Draft a year early, his injury has allowed Aubrey Dawkins and Muhammed Ali Abdur-Rahkman an earlier-than-expected chance to develop. It’s amazing that these two are just the latest in a long line of Michigan wing players to improve so much under John Beilein’s direction. Dawkins might have the higher ceiling of the two but both should continue to make great strides in their development. Dawkins could stand to be a bit more assertive (15.8 percent usage), while Rahkman needs to cut down on his turnovers (22.9 percent turnover rate). That said, they’ve played much better overall than their high school rankings suggested, alleviating some of the disappointment at the slower development of higher-ranked classmates Kam Chatman and redshirt freshman Marc Donnal.
Brendan Brody (307 Posts)

Brendan Brody is in his fourth season covering the Big Ten for RTC. Email him at, or follow him on twitter @berndon4.

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