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Sam’s 3 thoughts: Kentucky

Sunday, March 30th, 2014


Michigan-Kentucky header_NCAAT_1

With one game between Michigan and a second straight Final Four, eyes are starting to turn toward the Wolverine program. Again, however, it will be Michigan’s opponents that are more hyped up by the media. After squeaking by a resurgent Tennessee team following a bevy of late uncharacteristic blunders, the Wolverines will now face John Calipari’s freshmen-laden Kentucky Wildcats at 5:05 on CBS in a game that looks remarkably similar to Friday’s on paper.

The Wildcats, who usually start four freshmen and a sophomore, will likely be without 7’0″ behemoth Willie Cauley-Stein down low after he suffered an ankle injury in a surprise win over Louisville, but still possess loads of talent on a shortened bench. Here are my three thoughts on how Michigan can advance to Dallas next weekend.

Mix it Up Defensively: For the past two games in the NCAA Tournament, Michigan has matched up with much bigger teams that make a living on the offensive glass. Both Texas and Tennessee ranked in the top 10 this season in offensive rebounding and were happy to bang with anyone down low and get points off easy put-backs, and each team had a fair amount of success in grabbing those offensive boards. But Michigan’s defense was just good enough to hold on to victories, and at this point in the season, any win is a celebratory one.

Much like the Longhorns and Volunteers, the Wildcats also struggle to shoot from three-point range, making just 32.6 percent from distance on the year, and Michigan will look to take advantage of that weakness by mixing in a healthy amount of 1-3-1 zone defense. Without Cauley-Stein’s size and rebounding prowess on the floor, Kentucky shouldn’t be as difficult to deal with on their own misses, and the Wolverines should be able to force some bad shots and a few turnovers against an undisciplined squad with that 1-3-1.

Julius Randle will be the third straight dominant big man Jordan Morgan has faced in the tournament (Chet White, UK Athletics)

Julius Randle will be the third straight dominant big man Jordan Morgan has faced in the tournament (Chet White, UK Athletics)

As soon as Kentucky’s freshman sensation, Julius Randle, starts getting some put-backs, however, it will be back to man-to-man, where Jordan Morgan will be asked to shine once again. Michigan’s senior, thriving off of widespread doubt, has been exceptional in the tournament with 40 points, 27 rebounds, four steals, four assists, and two blocks in three games. An equally productive game today should see Michigan on top at the end.

Battle Julius Randle: Julius Randle, just one star recruit in a line of freshmen head-turners to play for John Calipari, is easily the best of the baby Wildcat bunch this year. Measuring in at 6’9″ and 250 pounds, Randle has been a load for every team to handle this season, and with averages of 15.1 points and 10.7 rebounds, the Dallas native will be looking to play in front of a home crowd next weekend before likely going in the top three of this year’s NBA Draft.

Riding a wave of three straight double-doubles to add to his whopping 23 on the season (those three included), Randle is a joy to watch for the unbiased viewer but a nightmare for the opponent. Randle is one of those rare wide bodies that moves so effortlessly in the paint, and even with his size, he is incredibly gifted on his feet, possesses excellent hands, and takes on double teams with ease.

When battling one-on-one this evening with the freshman, senior Jordan Morgan may have a few tricks up his sleeve with his leg up in the experience department, but he will certainly be challenged. If Randle goes off for 20 points and 15 rebounds, Michigan will be hard-pressed to pull out a win, but if Morgan can hold Randle somewhat in check with some help from double teams and zone looks, the Wolverines’ magical run will continue.

Win the Turnover War: Michigan and Kentucky, besides their collective youth, are about as opposite as you can be on the basketball court. Michigan runs a smart, precise, and calculating offense designed to get open looks for its stable of shooters and easy lay-ups when defenses cheat while maximizing possessions without giving up fast break buckets. In a sentence, the Wolverines try to win by taking advantage of their strengths and minimizing mistakes.

Kentucky, on the other hand, runs Calipari’s vague “dribble-drive” offense that is akin to superstar NBA play. Calipari runs very few plays and relies on his ultra-talented squad to create, create, and then create some more. The Wildcats operate on the presumption that their skill and isolation style will trump most teams simply because they have better players, and their extremely low 45.1 assist rate (assists per 100 made field goals) reflects that. Michigan’s 56.0 assist rate, on the other hand, is the perfect contrast in style.

With these differences should also come an advantage for the Maize and Blue in the turnover department. John Beilein’s teams are famed for taking care of the ball while Calipari teams generally struggle in that department. This season, the Wolverines’ 14.9 turnover rate ranks 18th in the country while Kentucky’s 18.3 mark is merely pedestrian. In the tournament, Michigan has had some uncharacteristic turnovers woes, however, with four straight late giveaways against Tennessee and 11 total in a somewhat sloppy win over Wofford.

Today, Michigan needs to take special care of the ball and make Kentucky earn their points while running every time the Wildcats hand the ball over. Pay special attention to freshman point guard Andrew Harrison, who has been bipolar in dishing out some incredible assists while also coughing it up at a brutal 23.5 turnover rate.

Prediction: Kentucky’s athleticism and skill could pose some problems early on for a Michigan team that struggles to keep dynamic driving guards out of the lane, but I think Beilein will have the brains and the players on the court to weather any storm and shoot the Wildcats out of the gym. The 1-3-1 defense should see the floor often and Nik Stauskas will again the lead the way with his hot shooting. If Jordan Morgan and Glenn Robinson III play tough and produce, Michigan will dance to Dallas. In the end, I think they will, with a 78-72 win.

Michigan hoops preview: Kentucky

Sunday, March 30th, 2014


Michigan vs Kentucky banner
#7/8 (2-seed) Michigan (28-8, 15-3) vs (8-seed) Kentucky (27-10, 12-6)
Sunday, Mar. 30 | Indianapolis, Ind. | 5:05 p.m. EST | CBS
Offense
74.0 Points/gm 75.4
(918-1,925) 47.7 Field Goal % 45.1 (926-2,052)
(312-776) 40.2 3-pt FG % 32.6 (189-579)
(516-677) 76.2 Free Throw % 68.6 (748-1,090)
14.3 FT Made/gm 20.2
31.6 Reb/gm 40.8
14.3 Assists/gm 11.3
9.4 Turnovers/gm 12.2
Defense
64.8 Points/gm 66.5
(874-1,977) 44.2 Field Goal % 40.8 (861-2,111)
(194-621) 31.2 3-pt FG % 31.8 (201-632)
31.1 Opp. Reb/gm 31.0
5.2 Steals/gm 4.8
2.4 Blocks/gm 6.1
Individual Leaders
N. Stauskas (17.3), G. Robinson III (13.1) Points/gm Julius Randle (15.1), James Young (14.1)
Jordan Morgan (5.0), LeVert/Robinson (4.4) Reb/gm Julius Randle (10.7), W. Cauley-Stein (6.1)

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For the second straight season Michigan is one of just eight teams remaining, battling it out for the national title. The Wolverines built a big lead on Friday night and then survived a furious Tennessee comeback to top the Vols 73-71. Now, Michigan gets another SEC team, and one of the most storied programs in college basketball, the Kentucky Wildcats, for a trip to the Final Four.

Kentucky entered the season with expectations so high that a group of fans printed “40-0″ t-shirts. Hopes of an undefeated season lasted just three games as the Wildcats fell to Michigan State by four in the Champions Classic. They then lost to Baylor and North Carolina to enter conference play with a 10-3 record. 

Related
M&GB March Madness Five-Spot Challenge: Kentucky
Inside the Numbers: Previewing the Midwest Regional — Louisville/UK edition

But that’s where things got interesting. In January, Kentucky lost in overtime to Arkansas and then fell to LSU. Florida came into Rupp Arena and won by 10, and after a win over Ole Miss and an overtime victory over LSU, the Wildcats lost three of their next four — an overtime loss to Arkansas, at South Carolina, and  by 19 to Florida. Suddenly, the undefeated hopefuls were six games behind the Gators in the SEC. 

Kentucky topped LSU and Georgia in the first two rounds of the SEC Tournament and battled Florida for the championship, but fell by one. They were given a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament and a first round matchup with Kansas State. The Wildcats won by seven, but the reward was a showdown with unbeaten No. 1 seed Wichita State. In what was perhaps the best game of the tournament so far, Kentucky outlasted the Shockers 78-76 and moved on to the Sweet Sixteen for a rematch with rival Louisville. 

On Friday night, Louisville jumped out to a sizable lead and maintained it for most of the game, but Kentucky remained within striking distance. The Wildcats finally took their first lead of the game with just 1:27 to play and then held on to beat the Cardinals 74-69. 

The Cats entered the season the clear-cut No. 1, suffered some growing pains throughout the season to the point they were almost written off, and now find themselves as perhaps the most dangerous team remaining in the tournament. That’s who Michigan gets to face on Sunday evening in Indianapolis. Let’s take a look at the Wildcats.

The Starters
Minutes Points FG% 3FG% FT% Reb Ast TO Blk Stl
Julius Randle (F) 30.8 15.1 50.1 16.7 70.8 10.7 1.4 2.6 0.8 0.5
James Young (G) 32.1 14.1 40.1 33.9 68.9 4.2 1.7 1.9 0.2 0.8
Aaron Harrison (G) 32.4 14.1 42.3 34.6 79.8 3.0 1.9 1.6 0.3 1.1
Andrew Harrison (G) 31.5 11.1 37.6 35.6 76.8 3.1 3.9 2.7 0.2 0.5
Dakari Johnson (C) 13.5 5.0 56.3 00.0 46.1 3.9 0.2 0.6 0.6 0.2
The Others
Minutes Points FG% 3FG% FT% Reb Ast TO Blk Stl
W. Cauley-Stein (F) 23.8 6.8 59.6 00.0 48.2 6.1 0.7 0.8 2.9 1.2
Alex Poythress (F) 18.1 5.8 47.9 25.8 64.9 4.5 0.4 1.0 0.8 0.3
Dominique Hawkins (G) 8.5 0.8 26.7 12.5 45.5 0.7 0.4 0.2 0.0 0.1

 For a detailed breakdown of Kentucky’s personnel and statistics read Drew’s Inside the Numbers: Previewing the Midwest Regional — Louisville and Kentucky post. 

The Schedule
Date Opponent Score
Nov. 8 UNC Asheville W 89-57
Nov. 10 Northern Kentucky W 93-63
Nov. 12 #2 Michigan State* L 74-78
Nov. 17 Robert Morris W 87-49
Nov. 19 Texas-Arlington W 105-76
Nov. 25 Cleveland State W 68-61
Nov. 27 Eastern Michigan W 81-63
Dec. 1 Providence# W 79-65
Dec. 6 #20 Baylor# L 62-67
Dec. 10 Boise State W 70-55
Dec. 14 at #18 North Carolina L 77-82
Dec. 21 Belmont W 93-80
Dec. 28 #6 Louisville W 73-66
Jan. 8 Mississippi State W 85-63
Jan. 11 at Vanderbilt W 71-62
Jan. 14 at Arkansas L 85-87 OT
Jan. 18 Tennessee W 74-66
Jan. 21 Texas A&M W 68-51
Jan. 25 Georgia W 79-54
Jan. 28 at LSU L 82-87
Feb. 1 at Missouri W 84-79
Feb. 4 Ole Miss W 80-64
Feb. 8 at Mississippi State W 69-59
Feb. 12 at Auburn W 64-56
Feb. 15 #3 Florida L 59-69
Feb. 18 at Ole Miss W 84-70
Feb. 22 LSU W 77-76 OT
Feb. 27 Arkansas L 67-71 OT
Mar. 1 at South Carolina L 67-72
Mar. 4 Alabama W 55-48
Mar. 8 at #1 Florida L 65-84
Mar. 14 LSU^ W 85-67
Mar. 15 Georgia^ W 70-58
Mar. 16 #1 Florida^ L 60-61
Mar. 21 (9) Kansas State+ W 56-49
Mar. 23 (1) Wichita State+ W 78-76
Mar. 28 (4) Louisville+ W 74-69
*Champions Classic, ^SEC Tournament, +NCAA Tournament

Kentucky 4 factors

The Series

Michigan is 2-4 all-time against Kentucky. The last time the two storied programs met was in the 1993 Final Four which Michigan won 81-78 in overtime. The only other NCAA Tournament meeting was in the 1996 Midwest Regional Final, which Kentucky won 84-77. Michigan won the first ever meeting on Dec. 20, 1924 by a score of 21-11 in Lexington, while Kentucky won 96-79 on Dec. 2, 1967 in Ann Arbor; 112-104 on Dec. 20, 1968 in Lexington; and 104-93 on Dec. 5, 1970 in Lexington. 

While Michigan has experience playing in Indianapolis, this will mark the second game Michigan has played at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Wolverines are 10-9 all-time in Indianapolis, but all 18 games prior to Friday night’s win over Tennessee, including three this season, were at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (formerly Conseco Fieldhouse) in the Big Ten Tournament. 

Michigan hoops preview: Tennessee

Friday, March 28th, 2014


Michigan vs Tennessee banner
#7/8 (2-seed) Michigan (27-8, 15-3) vs (11-seed) Tennessee (24-12, 11-7)
Friday, Mar. 28 | Indianapolis, Ind. | 7:15 p.m. EST | CBS
Offense
74.0 Points/gm 72.2
(891-1,876) 47.5 Field Goal % 45.1 (897-1,991)
(301-756) 39.8 3-pt FG % 32.6 (202-620)
(508-667) 76.2 Free Throw % 72.2 (605-838)
14.5 FT Made/gm 16.8
31.7 Reb/gm 38.8
14.3 Assists/gm 12.8
9.3 Turnovers/gm 10.6
Defense
64.6 Points/gm 61.4
(844-1,920) 44.0 Field Goal % 41.0 (796-1,942)
(191-610) 31.3 3-pt FG % 33.8 (181-536)
31.2 Opp. Reb/gm 30.1
5.2 Steals/gm 5.1
2.5 Blocks/gm 4.6
Individual Leaders
N. Stauskas (17.4), LeVert/Robinson (13.1) Points/gm Jordan McRae (18.6), Jarnell Stokes (15.2)
Jordan Morgan (5.0), Caris LeVert (4.5) Reb/gm Jarnell Stokes (10.7), Jeronne Maymon (8.3)

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In Michigan’s NCAA Tournament opener against Wofford, the Wolverines advanced despite a sluggish performance. They avoided a letdown in the second game against Texas, opening up a large lead thanks to hot first half shooting and then staving off a Longhorn run to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the second straight season. Now, Michigan faces a tougher test in a surging Tennessee squad.

Related
Sam’s 3 thoughts: Tennessee
Inside the Numbers: Previewing the Midwest Regional — Louisville/UK edition
Inside the Numbers: Previewing the Midwest Regional — Tennessee edition
Inside the Numbers: It sure is sweet
M&GB March Madness Five-Spot Challenge: Tennessee

Tennessee enters with a 24-12 overall record and went 11-7 in the nation’s seventh-best conference (according to conference RPI), the SEC. The Vols have an interesting resume with a 35-point win over Virginia, the No. 1 seed in the East Region, but also three losses — including one by 26 — to South Region No. 1 seed Florida. UT split a pair of non-conference games with Xavier and lost by 11 to Wichita State, but also lost twice to Texas A&M.

Coming into this matchup, Tennessee has won eight of nine, the lone blemish a seven point loss to Florida in the SEC Tournament semifinal. The late-season push got the Vols into the NCAA Tournament First Four where they held off a team Michigan is very familiar with, Iowa, in overtime. They then cruised past six-seed UMass and 14-seed Mercer by 19 and 20 points, respectively. 

The Starters
Minutes Points FG% 3FG% FT% Reb Ast TO Blk Stl
Jordan McRae (G) 32.0 18.6 43.3 35.9 80.1 3.4 2.5 2.1 0.9 0.7
Jarnell Stokes (F) 32.4 15.2 53.0 00.0 69.7 10.7 2.0 2.1 0.9 0.6
Josh Richardson (G) 30.1 10.1 46.6 33.7 79.3 2.9 1.5 1.0 0.8 0.7
Jeronne Maymon (F) 28.6 9.9 53.8 00.0 68.4 8.3 1.1 1.8 0.4 0.7
Antonio Barton (G) 25.4 7.7 37.2 33.8 68.9 2.3 2.1 0.9 0.1 0.6
The Others
Minutes Points FG% 3FG% FT% Reb Ast TO Blk Stl
Armani Moore (G) 12.7 3.0 46.2 28.0 58.6 2.1 0.6 0.3 0.6 0.4
Darius Thompson (G) 16.5 2.6 38.8 19.5 73.3 2.0 2.4 0.9 0.2 1.0
Derek Reese (G) 10.7 2.3 32.1 25.7 69.2 3.0 0.3 0.5 0.4 0.2
A.J. Davis (G/F) 9.4 1.3 40.0 37.5 22.2 1.6 0.2 0.4 0.2 0.2

 For a detailed breakdown of Tennessee’s personnel and statistics read Drew’s Inside the Numbers: Previewing the Midwest Regional — Tennessee post. 

The Schedule
Date Opponent Score
Nov. 12 at Xavier L 63-67
Nov. 16 USC Upstate W 74-65
Nov. 18 Citadel W 86-60
Nov. 22 Tennessee State W 88-67
Nov. 28 UTEP* L 70-78
Nov. 29 Xavier* W 64-49
Nov. 30 Wake Forest W 82-63
Dec. 7 Tennessee Tech W 84-63
Dec. 14 at #12 Wichita State L 61-70
Dec. 18 N.C. State L 58-65
Dec. 23 Morehead State W 82-67
Dec. 30 Virginia W 87-52
Jan. 4 Tusculum W 98-51
Jan. 7 at LSU W 68-50
Jan. 11 Texas A&M L 56-57
Jan. 15 Auburn W 78-67
Jan. 18 #13 Kentucky L 66-74
Jan. 22 Arkansas W 81-74
Jan. 25 at #6 Florida L 41-67
Jan. 29 Ole Miss W 86-70
Feb. 1 at Alabama W 76-59
Feb. 5 at Vanderbilt L 60-64
Feb. 8 South Carolina W 72-53
Feb. 11 #3 Florida L 58-67
Feb. 15 at Missouri L 70-75
Feb. 18 Georgia W 67-48
Feb. 22 at Texas A&M L 65-68 OT
Feb. 26 Mississippi State W 75-68
Mar. 1 Vanderbilt W 76-38
Mar. 5 at Auburn W 82-54
Mar. 8 Missouri W 72-45
Mar. 14 South Carolina^ W 59-44
Mar. 15 #1 Florida^ L 49-56
Mar. 19 (11) Iowa# W 78-65 OT
Mar. 21 (6) UMass# W 86-67
Mar. 23 (14) Mercer# W 83-63
*Battle 4 Atlantis, ^SEC Tournament, #NCAA Tournament

Tennessee 4 factors

The Series

Michigan is 5-5 all-time against Tennessee with each team winning every matchup on the other’s home court and Michigan winning the only previous NCAA Tournament meeting. The last time the two met was in the 2011 NCAA Tournament Second Round when Michigan defeated the Volunteers 75-45. Michigan also beat Tennessee in Ann Arbor 87-52 on Dec. 2, 1985; 78-74 on Dec. 7, 1974; 71-63 on Dec. 1, 1965; and 70-60 on Dec. 19, 1959. The Wolverines lost to Tennessee in Knoxville 81-77 on Dec. 29, 1984; 82-81 on Dec. 6, 1975; 72-54 on Dec. 1, 1966; 75-64 on Dec. 3, 1960; and 80-66 on Dec. 6, 1958. 

While Michigan has experience playing in Indianapolis, this will mark the first time Michigan has played at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Wolverines are 9-9 all-time in Indianapolis, but all 18 games, including three this season, were at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (formerly Conseco Fieldhouse) in the Big Ten Tournament. 

Sam’s 3 thoughts: Tennessee

Friday, March 28th, 2014


Michigan-Tennessee header_NCAAT

This year’s Michigan basketball team has been called many things — too young, too soft, too small — and perhaps some of those issues will creep up before the end of the tournament. But right now, the Wolverines are something else — just plain good.

After cruising through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, however, Michigan is still not getting the attention that one might think it deserves — perhaps because of a lack of drama in their clinical victories — and I’m sure that is completely fine with John Beilein and his players. After all, they’ve gotten quite used to getting written off all season long. Yet tonight at 7:15 on CBS, the Wolverines will continue their quest for another Final Four against the upstart, quasi-Cinderalla 11th-seeded Tennessee Volunteers, the only team in the field with three tournament wins to date.

One more win, and Michigan will find itself in the Elite Eight for the second straight season. One more win, and the Maize and Blue can smell the end of the Road to Dallas. One more win, and perhaps one or two doubters will believe.

Here are my three thoughts on the showdown:

Fight on the Glass: It’s no secret that Michigan is far from a bruising inside team. Once Mitch McGary went down in December, any notion of a two-big style went out the window. The Wolverines win with other-worldly shooting and an all-around incredibly efficient offense. In most games, they simply out-score the competition while figuring that enough of their shots will fall that losing the rebounding battle won’t ruin their chances.

UT coach Cuonzo Martin played with Glenn Robinson's dad at Purdue (Grant Halverson, Getty Images)

UT coach Cuonzo Martin played with Glenn Robinson III’s dad at Purdue (Grant Halverson, Getty Images)

For now, that likely has Tennessee licking its chops. The Volunteers, under third-year head coach Cuonzo Martin, do one thing very well: rebound. Tennessee boasts a pair of 6’8″, 250-pound brutes in Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon that are, according to KenPom, both top-30 offensive rebounders in the country. Neither is a slouch on the defensive glass, but the Volunteers are at their best when the two big boys are feasting on misses and easy put-backs. Stokes is really the one that gets things going, and his three monster double-doubles in the Big Dance, totaling 61 points and 45 rebounds, are the reason Tennessee is still alive.

This evening, Michigan will have to at least limit the two beasts on the offensive glass, but they do not have to be world beaters. Against Texas, Michigan actually allowed the Longhorns to rebound more than half of their own misses but still ran away with a comfortable 14-point win.

Dare Them to Shoot: Michigan’s relative ineptitude defensively this season has been in allowing far too many uncontested drives and layups. In a few games, an opposing star player has really gone off from downtown, but the Wolverines have generally been solid against the three-pointer, only allowing opponents to make 31.3 percent from deep.

Against Tennessee, however, Michigan will be happy to sag off to protect the paint and dare the Volunteers to jack up shots. On the season, Tennessee is one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country, as they make less than 32 percent of their attempts beyond the arc, and it has gotten even worse in the tourney. In their three victories, all by at least 13 points (but one in OT), the Volunteers have made a miserable 22.8 percent (13-of-57) of their triple tries, yet they are still attempting almost 20 deep ones per night. Michigan, on the other hand, has made eight more threes in one fewer game than Tennessee while attempting 12 fewer shots (21-of-45, 46.7 percent).

The two Volunteers Michigan will have to keep an eye on outside the arc are senior Jordan McRae and junior Josh Richardson, who shoot 35.8 percent and 34.4 percent, respectively. A third player, senior Memphis transfer Antonio Barton, knocked down four of nine triples in a blowout win over Mercer last weekend, but is just shooting 32.6 percent from deep on the year. To give these stats some contrast, Tennessee’s best three-point shooter would be Michigan’s sixth-best.

Triple Double-Double Time?: Jordan Morgan does not want to go home. Michigan’s only senior, who said as much after the Wolverines dismantled Texas last Saturday, has shown that sentiment just as strongly on the court, where he has recorded two straight double-doubles and three in his last six games. Morgan, with a very quiet 25 points, 20 rebounds, four assists, and three steals in Milwaukee, has been one of the tournament’s most unsung heroes. If his stellar play continues, people will eventually take notice, but he has made it clear thus far that he’d rather simply prove people wrong.

Tonight’s primetime matchup, the first game of this year’s Sweet Sixteen, will provide Morgan with plenty of naysayers. Certainly Stokes’s rising star will fuel Morgan’s fire even more, and if the native Detroiter can outplay his counterpart on the way to a third straight double-double and second straight Elite Eight, there will be little ignoring his worth.

Prediction: To be completely honest, I think Michigan has been overlooked by many pundits so far in this tournament and Tennessee has been a bit over-hyped at the same time. Tennessee needed overtime to get by a crumbling Iowa team before rolling through overrated Massachusetts and 14th-seeded Mercer, and has yet to face a serious test. John Beilein’s offense could do serious damage against this 12-loss SEC squad. If Michigan continues to shoot the ball well, and there is little reason to believe they won’t, the Wolverines should win by double digits again. I like the Maize and Blue behind another monster performance from Nik Stauskas, 77-67.

Michigan hoops preview: Texas

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014


Michigan vs Texas banner
#7/8 (2-seed) Michigan (26-8, 15-3) vs (7-seed) Texas (24-10, 11-7)
Saturday, Mar. 22 | Milwaukee, Wis. | 5:15 p.m. EST | CBS
Offense
73.9 Points/gm 74.5
(867-1,822) 47.6 Field Goal % 43.4 (882,2,033)
(287-728) 39.4 3-pt FG % 32.6 (174-533)
(491-646) 76.0 Free Throw % 66.6 (595-893)
14.4 FT Made/gm 17.5
31.8 Reb/gm 41.4
14.2 Assists/gm 12.9
9.4 Turnovers/gm 12.3
Defense
64.6 Points/gm 70.5
(821-1,858) 44.2 Field Goal % 40.1 (795-1,985)
(187-599) 31.2 3-pt FG % 34.7 (245-707)
30.9 Opp. Reb/gm 34.5
5.2 Steals/gm 5.8
2.5 Blocks/gm 6.0
Individual Leaders
N. Stauskas (17.4), Caris LeVert (13.1) Points/gm J. Holmes (12.9), Isaiah Taylor (12.4)
Jordan Morgan (4.8), Caris LeVert (4.5) Reb/gm Cameron Ridley (8.2), J. Holmes (7.1)

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Michigan didn’t look sharp in beating Wofford in the NCAA Tournament opener on Thursday night, but the Wolverines did what they needed to do: win and move on. Now, they turn their attention to the Texas Longhorns, overtime winners over Arizona State int he Milwaukee nightcap. 

Related
Drew’s 3 thoughts: Texas
The M&GB March Madness Five-Spot Challenge: Texas
Inside the Numbers: Will defense keep Michigan from Sweet Sixteen?

Texas holds a 24-10 overall record and went 11-7 in the Big 12. The Longhorns average a half point more per game than Michigan and allow about six points more per game. They’re not a very good shooting team, converting at 43.4 percent overall and 32.6 percent from three-point range. In fact, Texas has attempted 211 more shots than Michigan has this season — an average of six per game — but made just 15 more. They don’t shoot a lot of threes, however, averaging fewer than 16 per game and have attempted 195 fewer than Michigan. 

Defensively, Texas holds opponents to just 40.1 percent shooting overall, although they do give up over seven threes per game. That’s good news for Michigan if the Wolverines can knock down their shots since the Wolverines run a perimeter-oriented offense. The issue is when Michigan goes inside as Texas averages six blocks per game. 

Can Michigan get revenge for the 1996 NCAA Tournament when 10-seed Texas sent the seven-seed Wolverines home early? Or will history rear its ugly head and repeat itself? Let’s take a look at the matchup.

The Starters
Minutes Points FG% 3FG% FT% Reb Ast TO Blk Stl
Jonathan Holmes (F) 24.0 12.9 50.7 34.1 74.8 7.1 0.9 1.6 1.2 0.6
Isaiah Taylor (G) 29.9 12.4 39.3 26.3 74.0 3.3 4.0 2.3 0.1 1.1
Javan Fellix (G) 26.4 11.8 36.0 33.7 76.0 1.8 2.8 1.4 0.0 0.9
Cameron Ridley (C) 25.4 11.4 54.8 00.0 62.2 8.2 0.4 1.6 2.2 0.5
Demarcus Holland (G) 29.8 7.3 41.8 29.2 57.0 4.7 2.4 1.9 0.1 1.2
The Others
Minutes Points FG% 3FG% FT% Reb Ast TO Blk Stl
Connor Lammert (F) 20.7 5.8 48.8 34.6 63.9 5.2 0.9 0.7 0.5 0.3
Martez Walker (G) 12.3 4.4 39.3 34.9 77.8 2.1 0.4 0.7 0.0 0.5
Prince Ibeh (C) 13.9 3.6 50.5 00.0 51.7 3.5 0.1 0.7 1.8 0.3
Kendal Yancy (G) 12.4 3.5 41.3 35.3 55.9 2.2 0.9 0.5 0.1 0.4

Junior forward Jonathan Holmes (6’8″, 240) leads Texas in scoring with 12.9 points per game and ranks second with 7.1 rebounds per game. He has struggled so far in postseason play, scoring below his average in three of the last four games. In the Big 12 Tournament loss to Baylor, Holmes shot juts 3-of-12 and managed just six points. He scored 11 on 4-of-10 shooting on Thursday night. He does, however, have five 20-plus-point performances on the season including 23 in a win over then-No. 8 Iowa State and 22 in a win over then-No. 6 Kansas. He shoots over 50 percent from the field and is a capable three-point shooter. 

Freshman guard Isaiah Taylor (6’1″, 170) is right behind Holmes in scoring average with 12.4 points per game. He leads the Longhorns with four assists per contest, but also turns it over more than two times per game. Despite being a 6’1″ guard, he rarely shoots threes — he has only attempted 19 all season and made five — but rather likes to beat his man off the dribble and then shoot floaters from inside the arc. He’s a high-usage guy who has taken at least 10 shots in 12 of the last 15 games and has been feast or famine. In losses to Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech in the final two weeks of the regular season, he went a combined 4-of-32 from the field. When he’s taking and missing a lot of shots, it usually results in a loss.

Expect to see a lot of this from Isaiah Taylor (Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images)

Expect to see a lot of this from Isaiah Taylor (Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images)

Taylor’s backcourt mate, sophomore Javan Felix (5’11″, 195), scores 11.8 points per game and has a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He’s the only player on the team with more than 100 three-point attempts and he makes them at just a 33.7 percent clip. He hit 2-of-4 against Arizona State on Thursday night and that was a virtual vacation compared to what he normally shoots. In fact, he had two straight games in which he chucked 10 or more threes, one of which was 15. He made 8-of-25 combined. His best games of the season, however, have come when his threes are kept to a normal rate. He scored 28 against Oklahoma (2-of-7 three-point), 27 against Oklahoma State (6-of-8), and 23 against Kansas State (2-of-6). 

The fourth player averaging double-figures is center Cameron Ridley (6’9″, 285). The massive sophomore averages 11.4 points and 8.2 rebounds per game while leading the team with 54.8 percent shooting. He’s a monster on the glass with 111 offensive rebounds — an average of over three per game — and averages more than two blocks per game. Ridley recorded a double-double in 10 of his 34 games this season, including a 17-point, 12-rebound performance on Thursday night.

The fifth starter is sophomore guard Demarcus Holland (6’2″, 185). He scores 7.3 points per game, shoots just 29.2 percent from three-point range, and turns the ball over nearly as many times (1.9) as he assists (2.4). The 14 points Holland scored against Arizona State on Thursday night were his most since Dec. 18 and the first time he has reached double digits since Feb. 15. He’s the guy you want shooting the ball.

The main man off the bench is sophomore forward Connor Lammert (6’9″, 235). With no starters averaging more than 30 minutes a game (Michigan has three), Lammert eats up many of those, playing more than half the game. He scores 5.8 points and pulls down 5.2 boards per contest and might be the team’s best all-around shooter. He shoots 48.8 percent overall and 34.6 percent from downtown.

The other three players that see considerable minutes are freshman guards Martez Walker (6’4″, 185) and Kendal Yancy (6’3″, 200) and sophomore center Prince Ibeh (6’10″, 250). Walker and Yancy combine to average eight points and four rebounds per game. Walker played his best game of the season on Thursday night, scoring 15 points thanks to hitting 9-of-10 free throws. He’s capable of hitting the open three (22-of-63) and the team’s best free throw shooter (77.8 percent). Ibeh will be a test for Michigan’s bigs and may see more minutes than usual because of the size advantage, but the majority of his contributions will be defensively (1.8 blocks per game) and on the glass (3.5 rebounds per game).

The Schedule
Date Opponent Score
Nov. 8 Mercer W 76-73
Nov. 12 South Alabama W 84-77
Nov. 15 Stephen F. Austin W 72-62
Nov. 18 Houston Baptist W 89-61
Nov. 25 BYU* L 82-86
Nov. 26 DePaul* W 77-59
Nov. 29 Texas-Arlington W 72-69
Dec. 2 Vanderbilt W 70-64
Dec. 7 at Temple W 81-80 OT
Dec. 14 Texas State W 85-53
Dec. 18 at #14 North Carolina W 86-83
Dec. 21 #5 Michigan State L 78-92
Dec. 30 Rice W 66-44
Jan. 4 Oklahoma L 85-88
Jan. 8 at #11 Oklahoma State L 74-87
Jan. 11 Texas Tech W 67-64
Jan. 13 at West Virginia W 80-69
Jan. 18 #8 Iowa State W 86-76
Jan. 21 #22 Kansas State W 67-64
Jan. 25 at #24 Baylor W 74-60
Feb. 1 #6 Kansas W 81-69
Feb. 4 at TCU W 59-54
Feb. 8 at Kansas State L 57-74
Feb. 11 Oklahoma State W 87-68
Feb. 15 West Virginia W 88-71
Feb. 18 at #17 Iowa State L 76-85
Feb. 22 at #8 Kansas L 54-85
Feb. 26 Baylor W 74-69
Mar. 1 at Oklahoma L 65-77
Mar. 5 TCU W 66-54
Mar. 8 at Texas Tech L 53-59
Mar. 13 West Virginia^ W 66-49
Mar. 14 Baylor^ L 69-86
Mar. 20 Arizona State W 87-85
*CBE Classic, ^Big 12 Tournament

Texas has an interesting resume with Big 12 conference wins over Iowa State, Kansas State, Baylor, and Kansas, as well as non-conference wins over North Carolina, Mercer, and Stephen F. Austin, all three of which advanced to the Round of 32. However, the Longhorns closed the season with losses in five of their last eight and six of their last 11 prior to Thursday night’s win over Arizona State. During that span, their average margin of defeat was 15 points, including a 31-point drubbing at Kansas. 

Rick Barnes’ squad played two common opponents as Michigan. They beat Houston Baptist 86-61 (Michigan beat HBU 107-53) and lost to Michigan State 92-78 (Michigan won two of three against the Spartans). 

Texas is truly a team that is capable of beating or losing to anyone on any given night. 

Texas 4 factors

The Series

Michigan is 1-2 all-time against Texas. This will be the third straight meeting taking place in the NCAA Tournament. Michigan beat the Longhorns 84-79 in the Second Round on March 19, 1994 and Texas beat Michigan 80-76 in the Second Round in 1996. 

Drew’s 3 thoughts: Texas

Friday, March 21st, 2014


Michigan-Texas header_NCAAT(Dustin Johnson, UMHoops | Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images)

Holding its highest seed since 1993, No. 2-seed Michigan kicked off the 2014 NCAA Tournament with a sloppy 57-40 victory against an overwhelmed No. 15 seed in the Wofford Terriers. Even though Michigan won by what would appear to be a comfortable 17-point margin, it was a somewhat concerning performance by the Wolverines.

Michigan’s offense had its fifth-least-efficient game of the season thanks in part to eight first-half turnovers and 33.3 percent shooting in the second half. Thankfully, for the Wolverines, Wofford could not capitalize, making only 34 percent of its field goals and 1-of-19 three-pointers. However, the Terriers’ horrendous shooting display was more about their offensive ineptitude than Michigan’s defensive prowess.

If this performance is repeated, the Wolverines likely will be sent home by their next opponent, the No. 7-seed Texas Longhorns. Texas advanced to the Round of 32 with a thrilling 87-85 victory against No. 10-seed Arizona State. The Longhorns blew a 14-point lead in the final 12 minutes and seemed destined for overtime. But UT center Cameron Ridley had other plans. With one tick left on the clock, in a tied game, Ridley corralled a missed Texas three-pointer and flipped it up and in for the game-winning bucket as the buzzer sounded.

So, on Saturday evening, No. 2-seed Michigan will face No. 7-seed Texas in the Round of 32 with a spot in the Sweet Sixteen at stake. Will the Wolverines advance to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year? Or will the Longhorns make a return appearance for the first time since 2008? Here are my three thoughts for tomorrow’s matchup:

Cameron Ridley will pose an intimidating presence for Michigan underneath (Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images)

Cameron Ridley will pose an intimidating presence for Michigan underneath (Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images)

Box Out Texas’ Trees

Texas is a team full of bricklayers. And that is putting it nicely. The Longhorns are ranked No. 252 in effective-field-goal percentage (eFG%) in the nation, recording a lackluster 47.6 eFG%. It does not matter where Texas shoots either. UT is ranked No. 231 in two-point percentage (47.2 percent) and No. 251 in three-point percentage (32.6 percent). Chances are that, when Texas throws up its initial shot from any spot on the floor outside three feet from the rim, the basketball will draw iron. Or air.

Yet Texas still has the 61st-best offense in terms of adjusted efficiency because it crashes the offensive glass as well as any team in the nation. UT grabs 39.2 percent of its misses, which is the seventh-highest rate. This effort is led by Ridley, Jonathan Holmes, and Connor Lammert, all of whom are six-foot-eight or taller. When these big men start tracking down the Longhorns’ misses, putbacks and extra possessions ensue frequently. Last night, the Longhorns accumulated 10 offensive rebounds against ASU, leading to a critical 15 second-chance points including the game-winner by Ridley at the end.

Michigan has received an unfair reputation for being a poor rebounding team under head coach John Beilein. Yes, the Wolverines always have four perimeter players on the court, but they still have been a solid defensive rebounding team. Michigan’s opponents have boarded only 28.7 percent of their misses. Texas will be Michigan’s biggest challenge on the boards yet this season, though. Nonetheless, if Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford, and Glenn Robinson III can keep Texas away from the offensive glass, the Longhorns will struggle to generate points.

Triples, Triples, Triples

Michigan has the third-most-efficient offense in the nation. One of the reasons for this is U-M’s ability to thrive from consistently made two- and three-pointers. This season, Michigan has made 53 percent of its two-point field goals, which is the 22nd-best, and has been blocked less frequently than most teams this season. This likely will not be the case on Saturday evening, though.

Despite the allowance of 85 points and 1.21 points per possession to ASU, Texas has a legitimate defense. The catalyst is UT’s ability to intimidate opponents inside the paint. Texas has held opponents to 43 percent shooting on their two-pointers, which is the 16th-best, and has the eighth-best block rate. Its interior defense is keyed by Ridley and Holmes, as well Prince Ibeh—who has a better block rate than the other two, but plays a minor role off the bench.

On the other hand, Texas struggles to guard the perimeter. The Longhorns not only allow opponents to shoot a high percentage of three-pointers, but they also allow those opponents to make a significant amount of them. Opponents have made 34.7 percent of their threes against Texas, which is below the nation’s average.

Texas likes to push the tempo, so Michigan will need to control their fast break opportunities (Jeffrey Phelps, AP)

Texas likes to push the tempo, so Michigan will need to control their fast break opportunities (Jeffrey Phelps, AP)

Michigan will need to take advantage on the perimeter. The Wolverines will have little room inside with Ridley patrolling the paint, but will have open looks all day on the three-point line. Michigan is the 11th-best three-point shooting team in America, with five players converting at least 39 percent of them. U-M should have very little trouble draining these shots and may be able to bury as many as 10 against Texas. If not, though, Michigan may be forced to enter the belly of the beast, which likely would mean trouble.

Slow Down and Be Patient

The team that controls the pace of this game likely will be victorious. Michigan and Texas like to play at very different speeds when they are on the hardwood. The Wolverines like to slow it down and take their time. Their adjusted tempo is a slow 62.7 possessions per game, which is the 328th-fastest in the nation. On the other hand, the Longhorns want this game to be more of a track meet. Their adjusted tempo is 68.1 possessions per game, which is the 86th-fastest.

The pace of this game will be critical because the Longhorns stumble frequently in their half-court offense. Texas posts a paltry 45.9 eFG% when shooting in non-transition situations. On the other hand, Texas has a 51.7 eFG% when in transition. This is why more than 30 percent of UT’s initial shots are taken in transition, which is in the top 50 in the nation. This would be a poor matchup for a Michigan squad whose transition defense has been subpar all year.

Although Michigan has players with the skill set to thrive in a track meet, Michigan is special offensively because it has one of the best half-court offenses. Very few teams, if any, run better half-court sets than the Wolverines. To start trying to push the ball in transition against Texas would give UT a significant offensive boost while ridding Michigan of one of its biggest advantages.

Given that the Wolverines have not played more than 65 possessions in regulation of their last 14 games, including six sub-60-possession games, Michigan likely will be able to force Texas to play its game and advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the second straight year as a result.

Prediction: Michigan 69 - Texas 62

Michigan hoops preview: Wofford

Thursday, March 20th, 2014


Michigan vs Wofford banner
#7/8 (2-seed) Michigan (25-8, 15-3) vs (15-seed) Wofford (20-12, 11-5)
Thursday, Mar. 20 | Milwaukee, Wis. | 7:10 p.m. EST | CBS
Offense
74.4 Points/gm 67.7
(845-1,776) 47.6 Field Goal % 45.1 (790-1,751)
(280-711) 39.4 3-pt FG % 37.1 (195-525)
(485-637) 76.1 Free Throw % 66.3 (390-588)
14.7 FT Made/gm 12.2
31.8 Reb/gm 33.3
14.2 Assists/gm 12.9
9.4 Turnovers/gm 10.7
Defense
65.4 Points/gm 62.4
(803-1,805) 44.5 Field Goal % 44.2 (705-1,596)
(186-580) 32.1 3-pt FG % 31.7 (146-461)
31.0 Opp. Reb/gm 31.7
5.1 Steals/gm 6.3
2.5 Blocks/gm 1.7
Individual Leaders
N. Stauskas (17.5), Caris LeVert (13.3) Points/gm Karl Cochran (15.7), Spencer Collins (12.8)
Jordan Morgan (4.7), Caris LeVert (4.5) Reb/gm Lee Skinner (8.6), Karl Cochran (5.0)

___________________________________________________________________________________

Michigan opens its NCAA Tournament run tonight against 15-seed Wofford, a team that finished third in the Southern Conference behind Davidson and Chattanooga, but won the SoCon Tournament to earn the automatic bid. 

The Terriers, from Spartanburg, S.C., feature a dynamic three-point shooter, a solid defense, and very little in the way of height. They come in riding a three-game winning streak, but having won 13 of their last 15 since Jan. 20. 

In the past, two-seeds were pretty much locks to advance to the round of 32, but the past couple of seasons have changed that. Last year, Florida Gulf Coast knocked off Georgetown. In 2012, Lehigh shocked Duke and Norfolk State took down Missouri. That’s three of the last eight 15-seeds that have knocked off two-seeds. Before that, it hadn’t happened since 2001. Michigan hopes to avoid becoming the next. Let’s take a look at the matchup.

The Starters
Minutes Points FG% 3FG% FT% Reb Ast TO Blk Stl
Karl Cochran (G) 30.5 15.7 41.7 39.7 67.5 5.0 3.0 1.9 0.6 1.7
Spencer Collins (G) 30.1 12.8 44.3 30.3 77.6 3.1 1.3 1.4 0.2 0.6
Lee Skinner (F) 31.6 11.2 47.8 20.0 67.2 8.6 2.1 2.0 0.2 0.9
Eric Garcia (G) 26.5 7.4 44.5 47.3 68.0 1.8 2.6 0.9 0.0 0.7
C.J. Neumann (F) 19.6 4.6 59.1 33.3 50.0 3.2 0.4 0.5 0.2 0.4
The Others
Minutes Points FG% 3FG% FT% Reb Ast TO Blk Stl
Justin Gordon (F) 18.0 5.4 50.0 00.0 44.8 3.4 0.8 1.2 0.2 0.6
Jaylen Allen (G) 13.5 5.3 44.1 40.0 67.7 1.5 0.6 0.9 0.0 0.8
John Swinton (G) 11.4 1.8 44.7 35.3 73.7 1.1 1.0 0.4 0.1 0.4

The Terriers are led by junior guard Karl Cochran (6’1″, 175), who averages 15.7 points and five rebounds per game while shooting 41.7 percent from the field and 39.7 percent from three-point range. He was an All-SoCon first team selection. He’s their main three-point shooter, having taken more than twice as many as anyone else on the team (194) and made 77. By comparison, Nik Stauskas has also made 77, but on 173 attempts. Cochran has a season-high of 29 points against Georgia Southern on Feb. 6 when he shot 12-of-22 from the field. In the conference championship game, he hit 5-of-10 threes en route to a 23-point performance. It was the fifth time this season he has hit five or more threes in a game.

Lee Skinner averages a near double-double for Wofford (Adam Jennings, AP)

Lee Skinner averages a near double-double for Wofford (Adam Jennings, AP)

Fellow guard, 6’4″ sophomore Spencer Collins (6’4″, 195), averages 12.8 points, and while he’s not the three-point shooter Cochran is, he shoots better overall at 44.3 percent. He has two 20-point games on the season, 23 against Iona on Nov. 16 and 20 against Furman on Jan. 26. He’s also been held to single digits seven times.

The third player that averages double figures is forward Lee Skinner (6’6″, 220). The junior from Lombard, Ill. averages 11.2 points and leads the Terriers with 8.6 rebounds per contest. He earned All-SoCon third team honors and has a season-high of 28 points against The Citadel on Jan. 9. He also has nine double-doubles on the season and is an adept free throw shooter, having made 13-of-15 in a game against Elon a couple weeks ago.

After those three, the scoring averages drop off considerably. Freshman Eric Garcia (5’11″, 170) averages 7.4 points, but is the team’s best three-point shooter in terms of average at 47.3 percent. The guard has taken fewer than half as many threes as Cochran (91), but has made 43 of them. Derrick Walton Jr. is Michigan’s closest comparison in terms of attempts (88) and makes (35). Garcia scored in double figures just nine times with a high of 19 in the conference tournament opener and was named to the SoCon all-freshman team.

Sophomore forward Justin Gordon (6’6″, 205) scores 5.4 points and grabs 3.4 rebounds per game while shooting 50 percent from the field. He doesn’t step outside the arc, however, despite being just 6’6?. He has had one double-figure scoring game all season, an 18-point performance against Hiwassee College on Feb. 10, a school of just 386 students that competes in the National Christian College Athletic Association.

C.J. Neumann (6’7″, 230) is the tallest player that plays considerable minutes. The sophomore forward averages 4.6 points and 3.2 boards in 19.8 minutes of action. He’s the team’s leading shooter at 59.1 percent, and while he has just two double-digit games all season they have come in the last eight games.

The Schedule
Date Opponent Score
Nov. 8 at Georgia L 52-72
Nov. 11 Emory & Henry W 83-58
Nov. 16 at Iona L 55-76
Nov. 21 at Minnesota L 57-79
Nov. 24 at High Point L 56-66
Nov. 30 Johnson & Wales W 90-48
Dec. 4 at Gardner-Webb W 65-62
Dec. 7 William & Mary L 60-63
Dec. 14 at Saint Louis L 52-66
Dec. 17 at VCU L 57-72
Dec. 21 at Winthrop W 62-56
Dec. 30 High Point W 81-53
Jan. 2 at Samford W 71-61
Jan. 4 Davidson L 63-78
Jan. 9 The Citadel W 79-75 OT
Jan. 11 at Chattanooga L 69-70
Jan. 18 Chattanooga L 57-71
Jan. 20 Western Carolina W 71-60
Jan. 23 Georgia Southern W 74-64
Jan. 25 at Furman W 76-52
Feb. 1 Samford W 77-58
Feb. 6 at Georgia Southern W 74-61
Feb. 8 at The Citadel W 77-56
Feb. 10 Hiawatha W 95-60
Feb. 15 at Appalachian State W 64-58
Feb. 20 Furman W 70-50
Feb. 22 at Davidson L 49-59
Feb. 27 at Elon W 63-59
Mar. 1 UNC Greensboro L 71-73
Mar. 8 The Citadel* W 68-51
Mar. 9 Georgia Southern* W 71-57
Mar. 10 Western Carolina* W 56-53
*SoCon Tournament

As mentioned above, Wofford has won 13 of its last 15 games including a run through the SoCon Tournament to play its way into the Big Dance in place of regular season champion — and NCAA Tournament usual — Davidson. But the Terriers’ record is a bit misleading. Three of their 20 wins came against non-Division 1 schools, Emory & Henry, Johnson & Wales, and Hiawatha College, which is the same number of RPI top 50 foes they faced all season.

Wofford lost at current RPI No. 50 Minnesota 79-57, No. 26 Saint Louis 66-52, and No. 12 VCU 72-57. Their strength of schedule ranks 252nd nationally, so when all of those data points are added together, there’s not much that can be gleaned from a 20-12 record.

Wofford 4 factors

The Series

Michigan has faced Wofford just one time in program history, winning 83-49 on Dec. 2, 2006 in Ann Arbor. In that game, senior Dion Harris recorded a double-double with 14 points and 10 assists. Courtney Sims led the Wolverines with 19 points and added seven rebounds and three blocks, while freshman DeShawn Sims scored nine points. 

Examining Michigan’s path through the Midwest Region

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014


Michigan team(MGoBlue.com)

March started with a bang for the Michigan Wolverines, as they clinched an outright Big Ten championship during the first week and stormed to the finals in the conference tournament. With an opportunity to enter the Big Dance on an eight-game winning streak, Michigan’s momentum came to a screeching halt when Michigan State took the title with a 14-point win on Sunday.

The Wolverines, who figured to earn a No. 1 seed in the East with a victory, dropped to the sixth overall seed, No. 2 in the Indianapolis region. Michigan’s road to the Final Four looks just as difficult this year as it did during the National Championship game run in 2013.

What will it take for John Beilein’s surprise Big Ten champions to end up in Arlington next month?

Second Round

Wofford logo (15) Wofford | 20-12 (11-5 Southern Conference)
RPI Rank vs. RPI Top 25 vs. RPI 26-50 vs. RPI 51-100 SOS Last 12
156 0-1 0-2 0-2 252 10-2

Michigan’s first test comes against a Wofford team making just its third NCAA Tournament appearance in school history. The Terriers played just one RPI top 25 opponent during the 2013-14 season, a 72-57 loss to VCU on Dec. 17.

Wofford received an NCAA Tournament bid after a surprise run in the Southern Conference tournament. The third-seeded Terriers benefitted from some early upsets, and beat last-seeded The Citadel, seventh-seeded Georgia Southern, and fifth-seeded Western Carolina en route to the title. Wofford’s best win came on Dec. 21, when it beat RPI No. 168 Winthrop.

On paper, Michigan should have no trouble with Wofford. But No. 15 seeds thrived in the past two tournaments. In 2012, Duke and Missouri were upset as No. 2 seeds by Lehigh and Norfolk State, respectively. Then, in 2013, Florida Gulf Coast not only shocked the Georgetown Hoyas, but went on to beat seventh-seeded San Diego State to reach the Sweet 16.

Wofford’s 153 RPI closely mirrors that of Charlotte (151), which handed Michigan its worst loss of the season during the Puerto Rico Classic. Anything can happen in March, so the Wolverines can’t take this major underdog lightly.

Third Round

Texas logo (7) Texas | 23-10 (11-7 Big 12)
RPI Rank vs. RPI Top 25 vs. RPI 26-50 vs. RPI 51-100 SOS Last 12
37 3-3 3-5 6-1 65 6-6

If the Wolverines advance to the round of 32, they’ll see either seven-seed Texas or 10-seed Arizona State. After climbing as high as 15th in the AP Poll, the Longhorns limped into the field of 68, losing five of their last eight games. In January, Texas beat four straight top-25 teams, and it ranks as the fourth-best rebounding team in the country, but six losses in the final two months of the regular season took some of the wind out of coach Rick Barnes’s sails.

Arizona Stae logo (10) Arizona State | 21-11 (10-8 Pac-12)
RPI Rank vs. RPI Top 25 vs. RPI Top 50 vs. RPI Top 100 SOS Last 12
44 1-3 3-4 4-1 58 6-6

Arizona State struggled even worse than Texas down the stretch, losing three straight games including a 21-point waxing at the hands of Stanford in the first round of the Pac 12 Tournament. The Sun Devils did defeat in-state rival Arizona in double overtime on Valentine’s Day, but proceeded to lose five of seven afterwards.

A Michigan team that won seven of its last eight games holds an enormous advantage in a matchup that will feature a struggling opponent. Only a major upset stands between the Wolverines and a return to Indianapolis for the Sweet 16.

Regional Semifinals (Sweet Sixteen)

Duke logo (3) Duke | 26-8 (13-5 ACC)
RPI Rank vs. RPI Top 25 vs. RPI 26-50 vs. RPI 51-100 SOS Last 12
7 5-5 1-0 6-1 6 9-3

With two victories in the opening weekend, Michigan will likely earn a rematch with the Duke Blue Devils that won the previous matchup by 10 in Durham during the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.

These two teams have a way of finding each other throughout the course of every season. Duke survived a two-point upset bid from the eighth-seeded Wolverines in the 2011 tournament and defeated Beilein’s team the following season in the Maui Invitational. Michigan’s last win over Duke came on Dec. 6, 2008 in Crisler Arena, just 15 days after losing to the Blue Devils in the 2K Sports Classic championship.

Duke finished tied for third in the ACC this season and lost to Virginia in the conference championship game. The Blue Devils may represent the toughest obstacle for the Wolverines in the Midwest region, as the battle-tested group went 6-4 against RPI top-25 teams.

If Duke falters during the first weekend, Michigan would likely play Massachusetts, Iowa, or Tennessee.

IowaLogo (12) Iowa| 20-12 (9-9 Big Ten)
RPI Rank vs. RPI Top 25 vs. RPI 26-50 vs. RPI 51-100 SOS Last 12
55 2-8 3-1 2-2 44 4-8

Iowa completely fell apart late in the season, losing six of its last seven, but beat Michigan by 18 points in Iowa City in the middle of Big Ten play. At their best, the Hawkeyes played like a top-10 team, but that group completely evaporated and just barely squeaked into the NCAA Tournament.

Tennessee logo (12) Tennessee | 21-12 (11-7 SEC)
RPI Rank vs. RPI Top 25 vs. RPI 26-50 vs. RPI 51-100 SOS Last 12
40 1-5 2-2 4-2 11 7-5

Tennessee, on the other hand, used a five-game winning streak to cement its spot in the tournament before losing a tough battle to Florida in the SEC semifinals. The Volunteers beat just two NCAA Tournament teams this season (Xavier and Virginia) while Michigan won nine of those games. The last meeting came in the first round of the 2011 tournament, when Michigan ran former coach Bruce Pearl out of town with a 30-point drubbing.

UMass logo (6) UMass | 24-8 (10-6 Atlantic 10)
RPI Rank vs. RPI Top 25 vs. RPI 26-50 vs. RPI 51-100 SOS Last 12
21 2-0 5-4 6-3 48 7-5

UMass remains more of a mystery after finishing in fifth place in the difficult-to-understand Atlantic 10. Though the league received six bids to the NCAA Tournament, the Minutemen beat just two ranked opponents throughout the season and lost to 12th-place George Mason during conference play.

Should Michigan play against one of these three teams, the Elite Eight would be well within reach.

Regional Finals (Elite Eight)

Wichita State logo (1) Wichita State | 34-0 (18-0 Missouri Valley Conference)
RPI Rank vs. RPI Top 25 vs. RPI Top 50 vs. RPI Top 100 SOS Last 12
4 0-0 3-0 7-0 111 12-0

The final test for the Wolverines in their quest for the Final Four could come in many different forms. Wichita State, the only undefeated team in college basketball, looks to return to the Final Four after falling to Louisville in Atlanta last season. The Shockers won all but six of their 34 games this season by double figures, but played just one team seeded better than 10th in the tournament.

Louisville logo (4) Louisville | 29-5 (15-3 AAC)
RPI Rank vs. RPI Top 25 vs. RPI 26-50 vs. RPI 51-100 SOS Last 12
19 4-3 1-2 4-0 96 11-1

Louisville emerged as a popular pick to reach the Final Four from the Midwest region just one year after winning the national championship. The AAC Champions impressed by winning 12 of their last 13 games and finishing with a 29-5 record.

But the Cardinals didn’t drop to a No. 4 seed for nothing. Louisville played just nine games against RPI top-40 opponents all season and went just 4-5 in those games. In fact, the defending champs may have received a much lower seed if it weren’t for three victories over Connecticut.

Kentucky logo (8) Kentucky | 24-10 (12-6 SEC)
RPI Rank vs. RPI Top 25 vs. RPI 26-50 vs. RPI 51-100 SOS Last 12
16 1-5 3-1 10-3 2 7-5

There’s a chance Michigan could also see preseason No. 1 Kentucky in the Elite Eight. The young Wildcats lost five of their last 10 games, beat just one top-25 opponent (Louisville), and dropped to a No. 8 seed matched up against Kansas State.

Saint Louis logo (5) Saint Louis | 26-6 (13-3 Atlantic 10)
RPI Rank vs. RPI Top 25 vs. RPI 26-50 vs. RPI 51-100 SOS Last 12
26 2-3 3-1 4-1 68 8-4

A final potential matchup would have Michigan and Saint Louis battling for a Final Four trip. The Billikens started the season 25-2 before dropping four of their last five. Saint Louis played two ranked opponents all season, a six-point loss to then-No. 10 Wisconsin on Nov. 26 and a five-point loss to Wichita State on Dec. 1.

No matter which matchups the Wolverines face, the road to Arlington won’t be easy. In what potentially stands as the most difficult bracket in the tournament, Michigan will compete with the only undefeated group in the country, the preseason No. 1 team, the defending national champion and the best coach in college basketball history.

But for a Michigan team that started 6-4 and lost a preseason All-American only to win the Big Ten outright, the Midwest region represents just another step towards the goal of a National Championship.

A first look at Michigan’s first opponent: Wofford

Monday, March 17th, 2014


Wofford SoCon champs(Adam Jennings, AP)

Gone are the days when Michigan sweated out Selection Sunday, hoping to sneak into the NCAA Tournament with an at-large bid. Michigan had a chance to lock in a one-seed with a win over Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament championship game on Sunday afternoon, but it wasn’t to be as Michigan fell 69-55 just minutes before the start of the selection show. Instead, the selection committee dropped the Wolverines to a two-seed in place of Virginia, which beat Duke to win the ACC Tournament. What a difference a couple of years makes.

As the first region — the South — was announced, it appeared as if Michigan had been left out of the so-called “group of death”. Florida, Kansas, and Syracuse were announced as the top three seeds in the region. But two regions later, Michigan was placed into the Midwest along with top-seed Wichita State, three-seed Duke, and four-seed Louisville. All but Duke were members of last season’s Final Four. Throw in eight-seed Kentucky and the Midwest just might be the toughest region.

Michigan opens with 15th-seed Wofford on Thursday night in Milwaukee. The Terriers from Spartanburg, S.C., are 20-12 overall and went 11-5 in the Southern Conference regular season. But after starting the season just 7-10, Wofford has won 13 of 15 including a 56-53 victory over Western Carolina in the SoCon Tournament championship game.

The Terriers wear black and gold and are currently ranked 184th by Kenpom and 156th in the RPI. The only opponent Wofford played that Michigan also faced was Minnesota and the Terriers lost to the Golden Gophers 76-55 in Minneapolis on Nov. 21. Michigan played Minnesota twice, winning 63-60 in Minneapolis on Jan.2 and 66-56 in Ann Arbor on Mar. 1. Wofford also faced two RPI top 50 foes, Saint Louis and VCU, and dropped both by an average of 14.5 points.

Karl Cochran has made as many threes as Nik Stauskas this season (Tony Tribble, AP)

Karl Cochran has made as many threes as Nik Stauskas this season (Tony Tribble, AP)

As a team, Wofford scores 67.7 points per game (263rd nationally) and allows 62.4 (22nd). They shoot 45.1 percent from the field (127th), 37.1 percent from three-point range (68th), and 66.3 percent from the free throw line (284th) and average 1.06 points per possession (153rd). Opponents shoot 44.2 percent overall (199th), 31.7 percent from downtown (53rd), and average 0.98 points per possession (44th).

Roster-wise, Wofford has no one taller than 6’8″, so Michigan won’t have the inside troubles they did against Michigan State or Ohio State.

The Terriers are led by 6’1″ junior guard Karl Cochran, who averages 15.7 points and five rebounds per game while shooting 41.7 percent from the field and 39.7 percent from three-point range. He was an All-SoCon first team selection. He’s their main three-point shooter, having taken more than twice as many as anyone else on the team (194) and made 77. By comparison, Nik Stauskas has also made 77, but on 173 attempts. Cochran has a season-high of 29 points against Georgia Southern on Feb. 6 when he shot 12-of-22 from the field. In the conference championship game, he hit 5-of-10 threes en route to a 23-point performance. It was the fifth time this season he has hit five or more threes in a game.

Fellow guard, 6’4″ sophomore Spencer Collins, averages 12.8 points, and while he’s not the three-point shooter Cochran is, he shoots better overall at 44.3 percent. He has two 20-point games on the season, 23 against Iona on Nov. 16 and 20 against Furman on Jan. 26. He’s also been held to single digits seven times.

The third player that averages double figures is 6’6″ forward Lee Skinner. The junior from Lombard, Ill. averages 11.2 points and leads the Terriers with 8.6 rebounds per contest. He earned All-SoCon third team honors and has a season-high of 28 points against The Citadel on Jan. 9. He also has nine double-doubles on the season and is an adept free throw shooter, having made 13-of-15 in a game against Elon a couple weeks ago.

After those three, the scoring averages drop off considerably. Freshman Eric Garcia averages 7.4 points, but is the team’s best three-point shooter in terms of average at 47.3 percent. The 5’11″ guard has taken fewer than half as many threes as Cochran (91), but has made 43 of them. Derrick Walton Jr. is Michigan’s closest comparison in terms of attempts (88) and makes (35). Garcia scored in double figures just nine times with a high of 19 in the conference tournament opener and was named to the SoCon all-freshman team.

Sophomore forward Justin Gordon scores 5.4 points and grabs 3.4 rebounds per game while shooting 50 percent from the field. He doesn’t step outside the arc, however, despite being just 6’6″. He has had one double-figure scoring game all season, an 18-point performance against Hiwassee College on Feb. 10, a school of just 386 students that competes in the National Christian College Athletic Association.

C.J. Neumann is the tallest player that plays considerable minutes. The 6’7″ sophomore forward averages 4.6 points and 3.2 boards in 19.8 minutes of action. He’s the team’s leading shooter at 59.1 percent, and while he has just two double-digit games all season they have come in the last eight games.

As you can see, Michigan shouldn’t have any trouble with Wofford’s size, and as long as the Wolverines can contain Cochran’s three-point shooting, should have no problem running away with this one. Stay tuned for more on the matchup leading up to Thursday’s game.

Justin’s 3 thoughts: Michigan State

Sunday, March 16th, 2014


Michigan-Michigan State header_BTT

Michigan staved off an Ohio State comeback on Saturday afternoon to beat the Buckeyes for the first time in seven tries in Big Ten Tournament play and advance to its first championship game since 1998. Michigan State, meanwhile, held off Wisconsin to reach its fourth championship game and first since winning it in 2012. Thus, it set up a third meeting between the two intrastate rivals, but just the first ever meeting in Big Ten Tournament play.

In the Jan. 25 meeting in East Lansing, Michigan State was without the services of both Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson and Michigan capitalized with a 80-75 victory. In the return meeting on Feb. 23, the Spartans had Payne back but were still without Dawson and Michigan once again pulled out the win, 79-70. This time around, with the championship on the line, Tom Izzo’s squad is healthy and out of excuses.

Can Michigan beat MSU for the third time in less than two weeks and become the seventh Big Ten team to win both the outright regular season title and the tournament championship in the same season? Or will the Spartans exact revenge for the first two matchups and steal the tournament trophy? Here are my three keys to the game:

Branden Dawson is eager to face Michigan for the first time this season and try to shut down Stauskas (Michael Conroy, AP)

Branden Dawson is eager to face Michigan for the first time this season and try to shut down Stauskas (Michael Conroy, AP)

Get off to a hot start

Michigan State is sure acting confident in the lead up to this winner-take-all battle. Izzo likened it to ‘Fourth of July on Christmas,’ whatever that means, and Gary Harris reportedly texted Zak Irvin earlier in the week, saying ‘see you on Sunday.’ The reality is they’ve lost six of the last eight meetings, so the pressure is on them.

Michigan was able to survive a big Spartan lead at the beginning of the game in Ann Arbor and come back to win, but a big Michigan State lead on Sunday will only give them more confidence. Conversely, if Michigan is able to jump out to a big lead early on it will cause the Spartans to force their play and doubts will start creeping in.

The game won’t be won or lost in the first ten minutes, but — aside from Saturday’s hot start — Michigan has had a propensity for slow starts over the last month. They can’t afford to do so on Sunday and give Michigan State the confidence it needs to take control of the game.

Make sure Stauskas gets his shots

In the first two meetings Stauskas scored a combined 44 points on 16-of-25 shooting and 8-of-11 three-point shooting. With Dawson out, Stauskas was able to get off good looks over the smaller Keith Appling. But now the 6’6″ Dawson is back and has the ability to guard Stauskas on the perimeter or make it tough for him to get open looks.

This adds a new dynamic for Michigan than the first two meetings, so expect John Beilein to have something ready to free up Stauskas or use the Canadian sharpshooter as a decoy to get open looks for others. No, Beilein doesn’t have a week to prepare for this one, but he’s shown time and again that he’s able to design effective offensive schemes.

In the first meeting Michigan State was guarding the perimeter hard and coming over the top of ball screens. In the second meeting, Beilein had the offense look for back cuts and was able to get some easy buckets. Expect something similar on Sunday.

Make free throws

It sounds like a lame key to the game, but this one is going to come down to the wire and every point will be crucial. Michigan was the Big Ten’s best free throw shooting team all season, making 76.3 percent. In the first two meetings, Michigan went a combined 42-of-55 — an identical 76.3 percent.

In Saturday’s win over Ohio State, however, Michigan wasn’t able to capitalize on its trips to the charity stripe, making just 10-of-19. Fortunately, it didn’t cost them the game, but rest assured if there’s a repeat performance on Sunday Michigan won’t win.

Prediction: Michigan 73 – Michigan State 71