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January 3, 2013The Northwestern basketball team will bring a light bench into Thursday game against No. 2 Michigan, with stars Drew Crawford and Reggie Hearn missing the game due to injury.
But the Wildcats - even without those two playmakers - can give an unprepared team fits. And the Wolverines are working hard to make sure their not trapped in confusion by the unique Princeton-style offense they will see at Ryan Arena.
"Their offense is great, with all the cuts they do and how all their players can shoot," senior guard Eso Akunne said. "It's really tough to scout for. It's really tough to mirror. That's what we have been trying to do the last couple days, just mirroring them perfectly. I think we're doing a good job, but it's going to be faster in the game. The most important thing is to just move on from your mistakes. You can't stop and say, 'Oh, shoot.' You have to just move on, because it's going to happen."
Although players like Akunne, sophomore Trey Burke and other veterans are well-versed in the Northwestern offense, the youth on the roster will be seeing it for the first time.
Freshmen Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert and redshirt freshman Max Bielfeldt will need to pick up on it quickly.
"The freshmen are doing a great job, and today is another good day of prep," Akunne said. "So far, they're doing a good job of listening, because we kind of have to scrap what we've been doing.
"Once you know you can do a scout like Northwestern, it's going to be easier to scout other teams. It's going to give you confidence."
Michigan is 6-4 against Northwestern during coach John Beilein's tenure.
"It's pretty tough to guard," Stauskas said. "The scout team has been running through it a lot. There are a lot of different actions and motions. As long as we think about it and prepare ourselves the right way, I think we'll be fine."
The Wolverines, who are 13-0 for the first time since 1986, are playing their first Big Ten contest of the year. And although the nonconference slate gave Michigan its fair share of exciting moments - including a Preseason NIT Championship and a win over North Carolina State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge - the team is ready to test itself against the conference.
"The nonconference is great, but the thing that everyone remembers the most is what happens during Big Ten season," Akunne said. "We try to stress that to them, that this is the most intensity they'll see during their college basketball experience.
"It's new every time. Every year has its own flavor to it, in the conference. This year especially, with all the teams being as highly ranked as they are.
"We talked about it yesterday. Coach was asking our opinion of it, and everyone was saying how competitive the games were and how tough it is to win on the road. That is what we expect when we go to Northwestern."
There are six Big Ten teams in the latest AP Top 25 (No. 2 Michigan, No. 5 Indiana, No. 8 Ohio State, No. 9 Minnesota, No. 11 Illinois and No. 18 Michigan State).
Even though the road will be tough, the Wolverines have their eyes set on the big prize.
"Obviously, everyone came here to win, and winning a Big Ten Championship is a big part of our overall goal," Stauskas said. "We just want to take it one game at a time, and it starts at Northwestern."
Note: Stauskas confident in his shot
The question was simple, but loaded: do you think you're the best shooter in the country?
"Yeah, I think so," Stauskas said, without hesitation.
And although he's just a freshman, Stauskas has certainly backed up that claim in his first 13 games.
Stauskas currently ranks first nationally in three-point percentage, hitting an incredible 56.5 percent of his shots (39 of 69 attempts).
"That's great. Obviously, winning games is more important than that, but it's something I take pride in," Stauskas said. I have worked a really long time at it, and obviously it's paying off.
"Normally, I like to shoot around 60 percent from three. The last two years of high school, I was right around that area. But I'll take whatever I have right now."