Michigan and Northwestern have been two of the biggest surprises in the Big Ten this year -- but for opposite reasons as they prepare to play each other Thursday night in Evanston, Illinois.
Entering the season, Michigan was a ranked team and was predicted to finish third in the league. However, the Wolverines enter the Big Ten tilt at Northwestern with an 11-10 record overall and 5-5 record in conference play.
While Michigan has been a disappointment, Northwestern has been a pleasant surprise.
Picked to finish 13th in the league before the season, the Wildcats enter 15-6 overall and are tied for third in Big Ten play with a 6-4 record.
Michigan enters the game in desperate need of a Quad 1 win as it hopes to build a resume for the NCAA Tournament over the last month of the regular season.
The Wolverines have lost two straight, the last one being an embarrassing 83-61 loss at Penn State on Sunday.
"You always try and stay as positive as you can," Michigan coach Juwan Howard said.
The only good news for Michigan against Penn State was that freshman guard Jett Howard, the team's second-leading scorer, returned to the lineup and scored 21 points after missing last Thursday's game against Purdue with a sprained ankle.
The Wolverines won the first meeting against Northwestern 85-78 on Jan. 15 in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Northwestern won't have much preparation or recovery time, given it played at Iowa on Tuesday night in a game rescheduled from Jan. 18 due to COVID-related issues in the Northwestern program.
The Wildcats saw a three-game winning streak snapped in an 86-70 loss.
The game will feature a matchup of two teams that take care of the ball well. Michigan is fifth in the nation in fewest turnovers a game at 9.8, while Northwestern is tied for 13th at 10.3 turnovers per game.
"We've always had a goal of trying to be under 10 (a game)," Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. "For the most part over the last 10 years, that's been a staple of our program."
--Field Level Media