Ann Arbor — Entering last year's matchup against Northwestern, Michigan was 10-4 and riding high, four games into a 10-game winning streak that helped catapult the Wolverines to an outright Big Ten title.
Things have changed since then. Michigan lost three starters to the NBA and its lone senior to graduation.
This year's team is 10-7 (3-2 Big Ten) and coming off a 19-point loss at Ohio State on Tuesday. And it faces plenty of questions heading into tonight's matchup against Northwestern at Crisler Center.
"It really is a work in progress," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "We're still struggling to get a guy open then get the right passer delivering it to him — that's been an issue.
"There's games where you just don't have it. We've had them. ... You put it away, you learn from it and watch the video and try to grow from it."
While the Wolverines have scored more than 70 points in two of five conference games, they'll have to contend with freshman guard Bryant McIntosh, who leads the Wildcats in scoring (12.4) and assists (4.5)
"(McIntosh) has really had a great year," Beilein said. "He's running the team, played more off the ball and they still have (senior Dave) Sobolewski giving them 10 quality minutes as a backup."
Northwestern had a five-game winning streak to start the season and a four-game streak late in December, but has struggled since, losing three straight.
Beilein is trying to get his shooters, such as Zak Irvin and Caris LeVert, to not just take shots, but take high-percentage shots.
The offense has shot better than 50 percent twice in conference games.
"Rebounding and shooting are going to take time with everybody," Beilein said. "Our bodies have to develop. Taking good shots takes some time. ... We have some guys who can really shoot it — except when they're moving.
"It's not going to happen overnight. We're not going to become a monster defensive team and a monster shooting team just because of their attitude or their coaching — that's going to take time."
Wilson's status unchanged
Unless there's a rash of injuries, Michigan looks like it's set with its current frontcourt. D.J. Wilson, a 6-foot-9 freshman forward, has missed the last 12 games because of a sprained knee and his return could provide some depth and size in the frontcourt.
Coach John Beilein said Wilson returned to practice on Thursday after missing six weeks but was limited to halfcourt drills. As his recovery time increased — and Ricky Doyle moved into the starting lineup — Wilson became a more likely candidate for a medical redshirt than additional playing time.
"We're not going to change his status now. We'd have to have catastrophic injuries to change that with (half the season over)," Beilein said Friday. "It just doesn't seem to make sense. He's going to make great strides. We hope next week he is full court and he'll enhance the ability of the scout team."
Wilson last played against Villanova on Nov. 25 and totaled only two points and six rebounds in five games as a reserve this season. Having played in only five games, he is eligible for a regular redshirt but because of the knee injury, could qualify for a medical redshirt as well.
He was one of the two big men in a six-man freshman class that has struggled to find a consistent groove this season to complement just four returning veterans.
Although Beilein conceded that Wilson, from Sacramento, Calif., was still a bit raw, his size and athleticism in the paint could help the Wolverines, whose only experienced big man is senior Max Bielfeldt. But with more than half of the regular season gone, considering burning Wilson's potential redshirt on trying to help this season is a risky proposition.
"We'd have to have like a couple of major injuries," Beilein reiterated. "The only way I would play him right now is if I can look him in the eye and say you're going to play 15-20 minutes a game. That's what's fair to him right now."
Beilein said that Wilson has been working with strength and conditioning coach Jon Sanderson and is preparing to have four full seasons of eligibility remaining, beginning next year. In the meantime, he can work on his strength and weight and helping out as a member of the scout team.
"He's embraced this because he wants to do it," Beilein said. "He's not begging me to get in there; he knows he's got more to do with his body and his balance."
Michigan vs. Northwestern
Tip-off: 8:15 p.m. Saturday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
Outlook: UM has won the last six games in the series, including the only meeting last season. Freshman guard Bryant McIntosh (12.4 points and 4.5 assists) leads the Wildcats and junior Tre Demps adds 12.2 points. Northwestern has lost three straight since winning its conference opener.