Northern Michigan University Wildcats men’s basketball team face big challenges this week
MARQUETTE — The GLIAC-leading Northern Michigan University men’s basketball team has as big a road trip as the Wildcats could have at this time of the season this week.
NMU leads a trio of teams by one game in the standings and travel to visit two of those second-place squads over the next three days.
Northern is 15-4 overall and 7-2 in the GLIAC as Lake Superior State, Ferris State and Wisconsin-Parkside are all at 6-3.
The Wildcats travel to Sault Ste. Marie to take on LSSU (7-10 overall) at 7:30 p.m. today, then head south to Big Rapids to square off against Ferris (15-5) at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Last week, NMU had its eight-game win streak snapped on Thursday with an 82-77 home loss to Grand Valley State, even as Northern redshirt freshman Dylan Kuehl had 25 points and true freshman Max Weisbrod added 10 assists.
Both teams shot right around 50%, but the Wildcats had foul trouble as GLIAC leading scorer Max Bjorklund along with teammate Sam Schultz fouled out. Bjorklund finished with 13 points.
That was the game that the Lakers’ and Marquette Senior High School graduate Marius Grazulis scored 14 points and pulled down 11 rebounds en route to him winning GLIAC Player of the Week.
Two days later on Saturday, NMU bounced back with an 89-74 win over Davenport as Bjorklund pumped in 33 points while Kuehl had 21 points and nine rebounds and Weisbrod 11 assists.
Northern shot nearly 50% from the field both overall and at the 3-point line, in the latter category making 15 of 31.
The Wildcats are second in the GLIAC scoring 83.5 points per game while holding opponents to 71.7 ppg, which ranks fifth.
Despite their youth, NMU averages a league-best 10.0 turnovers per game, more than one full turnover better than every other conference squad and ranked seventh in all of NCAA Division II.
NMU also averages just under seven more rebounds than its opponents, ranked No. 2 in the conference in rebounds made and No. 1 in opposition rebounds.
Bjorklund, the GLIAC Preseason Player of the Year, continues to lead the league in scoring by 0.8 of a point at 20.6 ppg. Teammate Brian Parzych is second on the team at 14.8 ppg, while Kuehl is at 13.6 ppg and a team-leading 6.1 rebounds per contest as Weisbrod is at 10.8 ppg.
In addition, Kuehl is second in the GLIAC with his 63% field goal shooting and 11th nationally.
In the latest Division 2 Sports Information Directors Association Midwest regional poll, Northern is fourth behind Missouri-St. Louis (16-3), Hillsdale (17-2) and Indianapolis (16-2).
Though LSSU is just 1-7 in its nonconference games, the Lakers are in the thick of the GLIAC race and 4-1 at home. Lake State averages 71.1 ppg with Caden Ebeling at 15.3 ppg, Kernon Bassett at 13.4 ppg and Xander Okerlund at 10.1 ppg.
On Dec. 11 in Marquette, NMU downed the Lakers 87-72 as Bjorklund scored 23 points and had five assists, while Weisbrod added 16 points and six rebounds.
Off the bench, Najashi Tolefree had 13 points and a team-high seven rebounds, while Parzych contributed 11 points, seven assists and five steals.
Ferris, working on a four-game winning streak, leads the GLIAC at 88.8 ppg, more than five points ahead of No. 2 NMU, and allows 69.6 ppg, third best in the conference.
FSU is also just behind Northern in the D2SIDA Midwest poll in fifth as Solomon Oraegbu leads the Bulldogs in scoring at 15.2 ppg, with Ben Davidson at 14.3 ppg and Ethan Erickson at 13.5 ppg.
Ferris also has former NMU player Dolapo Olayinka and Marius Grazulis’ older brother, Vejas Grazulis, also an MSHS grad. Olayinka averages 9.2 ppg and a team-leading 6.1 rebounds per game, while Grazulis is at 7.8 ppg and 5.0 rebounds.
On Dec. 9 in Marquette, NMU prevailed over Ferris 89-77 as Parzych led NMU with 17 points and 10 assists to go with six rebounds and three steals. Bjorklund and Kuehl each had 18 points.
This week’s games will be broadcast on WUPT 100.3 FM The Point.
Fans can follow this team @NMUMensBBALL and @NMU_Wildcats on Twitter for continuous updates throughout the week.
Visit the Wildcats’ athletics website at nmuwildcats.com under the women’s basketball schedule to watch the game or for audio, live statistics, a game preview and history of their series.
Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is email@example.com.