After another dominant performance in last night’s NIT Preseason opener over IUPUI, Michigan will face a Cleveland State team tonight (8pm on ESPN2) that has made a name for itself as a mid-major that no one wants to play in the non-conference season. The Vikings lost four starters and looked pretty shaky in an overtime win over Bowling Green, but they will certainly play their hearts out as they face the No. 5 team in the country. Here are a few things to mull as the game approaches:
- Turnovers: Everyone knows by now that John Beilein stresses an approach that maximizes possessions by limiting turnovers, thus giving his team more chances to put points on the board. In last night’s blowout of the Jaguars, Michigan again seemed a little bit anxious and turned the ball over 13 times while putting up only 55 shots. Beilein will generally tell people that a single-digit turnover number is acceptable, but anything over 10 is dangerous when playing a quality opponent. Not only should Cleveland State be a decent opponent tonight, though – they also pride themselves on wreaking havoc on the opposing offense by pressuring the ball and using active hands in passing lands to create turnovers and limit the other team’s opportunities. In two games so far, the Vikings have forced 31 turnovers, a tremendous number, and while those opponents were Grambling State and Bowling Green, Michigan has yet to prove that they will value the rock like a top-five team. Trey Burke has already turned the ball over eight times in two games and backup Spike Albrecht looked hesitant at times in last night’s game when he faced three-quarter court pressure. Burke’s problems have come more in forcing passes and moving too fast than in his ball-handling, so I don’t expect major problems with him in the turnover department tonight, but Albrecht lacks the quickness and the first speed that Burke can use at will to get by his defender. Trey may see himself playing 35-plus minutes tonight if Beilein senses problems early.
- Taking Advantage of Aggressiveness: We now know that Cleveland State will do all it can to limit Michigan’s shot attempts by pressuring the ball, but how can the Wolverines take advantage of that? The answer is easy – play smart, fundamental basketball. A team that pressures the ball will frequently give up open passing lanes and driving lanes to the hoop by being too aggressive, and when Burke is able to get into an open lane, there is not a team in the country that will be able to stop one of his drives or a kick-outs to the plethora of good shooters this Michigan team looks to have. In last night’s narrow win over the Falcons, Cleveland State gave up alley-oops on three straight possessions late in the game, partially because of their aggressiveness. And while A’uston Calhoun looked very good for Bowling Green, he certainly does not have the hops of a Glenn Robinson III or Tim Hardaway, Jr., who have both sent home some powerful dunks already in this young season. Burke should come close to tying his career-high nine assists for a second straight night and Nik Stauskas, Matt Vogrich, and the rest of the shooters should see plenty of open shots on the wings.
- Balance: One more thing Michigan and Beilein will have to prepare for tonight is defending a balanced attack. It’s pretty easy to game plan against teams that have one or two star players taking the majority of shots on offense, but it’s very difficult to stop a team that can look to five or six different players to make shots. All five of Cleveland State’s starters have been in double digits in their first two games of the season, both wins, and freshman Bryn Forbes (Lansing Sexton) came off the bench in the first game to score 14 points. Seventh-year head coach Gary Waters will again look for his whole team to contribute tonight in an effort to take down the Wolverines, and though Michigan has the strength and depth to have a balanced offense as well, Beilein will focus on the defensive end of the court in stopping Cleveland State. Forward Tim Kamczyc has been hot so far from downtown, shooting a combined 7-of-12 from downtown in two games, but he appeared a little streaky last night. The rest of the team won’t take a ton of deep looks, so Michigan’s interior defense will be critical to their success.
Prediction: Matt Vogrich will be the team’s leading three-point shooter tonight and Michigan will again run away in the first half from an inexperienced and overwhelmed Viking team on their way to Madison Square Garden. Cleveland State should hang tough for a half or so, but the Wolverines’ firepower will prove to be too much in the end. Hardaway, Jr. will lead the team in scoring as Michigan rolls, 86-61.