The Wolverines are playing arguably their best basketball right now and the Wildcats have lost their momentum from a hot start. If NU can pull out a win, it would boost its confidence moving forward and boost its NCAA Tournament chances, as well.
NU and Michigan split their series last season, with the Cats winning 74-60 in Evanston and the Wolverines winning 75-66.
KEY PLAYER FOR THE WILDCATS: Drew Crawford
Michigan may have the best set of young guards in the conference, with Burke and Hardaway Jr. leading the way for the Wolverines. Burke, a strong candidate for freshman-of-the-year in the Big Ten, averaging 13.8 points per game, including a 27-point performance against Minnesota.
Hardaway Jr. leads the team with 15.9 points per game, and had 19 points in the win against Wisconsin and 15 points in the close loss to Indiana.
Drew Crawford may be present the best chance for NU to slow down Michigan's top scoring duo, and he will need to put together another big night for the Cats to keep up in what figures to be a fairly high-scoring game.
KEY FOR THE WOLVERINES: Get rolling inside early
NU has struggled inside this season, offensively and defensively. While Michigan's strength is clearly its backcourt, the frontcourt is solid, as well.
If Smotrycz is able to score inside early, he can open up shots for Burke and Hardaway Jr. outside. If those shots start falling early, especially beyond the arc, this game could get ugly quick.
Conversely, if the Wolverines shut down NU center Luka Mirkovic early on, the Cats won't be able to find open shots.
If Michigan is able to pull ahead early, it should be able to coast to victory.
KEY FOR A WILDCAT VICTORY: Shoot lights out
After shooting very well early in the season, NU has been in a slump recently. For the Cats to come away from Ann Arbor with a victory they will have to shoot better, especially against such a good outside-shooting team.
Crawford and John Shurna have both shown the ability to explode with huge shooting performances in big game and one of them must have one of those nights against the Wolverines.
NU and Michigan will both come out slow, with the Cats stuck in a slump and the Wolverines riding high coming off the big win against Wisconsin.
However, both teams will settle down and start shooting better midway through the first half.
This should be a tight game most of the way through, but Hardaway Jr. will hit some big shots down the stretch to ultimately lift the Wolverines over the Cats, who will be too one-dimensional without an inside presence.
SCORE PREDICTION: Michigan 83, Northwestern 72