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Big Ten power rankings: Preseason

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014


Power Rankings_header

Three days from now we’ll be settling into our seats at the Big House or our favorite couch or chair getting ready to watch the Maize and Blue run out of the tunnel, leap up and touch the banner, and begin their quest toward a Big Ten championship. The bad news is that we all still have to make it through three more days. Welcome to our first Big Ten Power Rankings of the season, where we rank each team in the conference. Since no games have been played yet, this week’s power rankings are essentially predictions of where each team should be ranked. Beginning next week, and continuing throughout the season, the power rankings will be reflective of each team’s performance in the game(s) they have played.

As the dawn of college football season draws ever nearer, the Big Ten finds itself facing low expectations once again. Largely considered a three-team league, the Big Ten suffered a huge blow with the news that Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller would miss the entire 2014 campaign.

Now, teams on the brink of breaking through have to step up and help the Big Ten resurface as a power conference. Gone are the days when the automatic bid to the Rose Bowl would give the Big Ten a chance to shine on the national stage, because now the four-team playoff will act as the means by which conference strength is measured. Teams like Iowa, Nebraska and Michigan have to take that next step and give the conference the boost it needs to send a representative into that playoff.

If the Big Ten gets left out of the playoff this season, it will set the tone for a format that figures to rule the sport for the foreseeable future. At least six teams have a realistic shot at winning the Big Ten, and the conference needs each of them to perform in 2014.

East Division
1. Michigan State
Last Week: N/A This Week: Friday vs Jacksonville State, 7:30pm, BTN

The defending Big Ten champions became heavy favorites to repeat in 2014 after Ohio State’s Braxton Miller went down for the season. Michigan State lost plenty of talent to the NFL, but that defense still figures to be the best in the league.

2. Ohio State
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs Navy, 12pm, CBS Sports Network

Miller’s season-ending injury put a damper on Ohio State’s championship aspirations, but Urban Meyer’s team is still strong enough to compete for the first Big Ten East Division championship. The Nov. 8 game in East Lansing is the biggest speed bump on the Buckeyes’ road to Indianapolis.

3. Michigan
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs. Appalachian State, 12pm, ESPN2

If Michigan finishes outside the top three in the division, then things need to change in Ann Arbor. Four straight years of strong recruiting has left Brady Hoke with a talented enough roster to win nine or more games. An underrated defense should give Michigan a chance in all 12 games.

4. Penn State
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs UCF, 8:30am, ESPN2

The Nittany Lions still can’t play in a bowl game this season, but new head coach James Franklin managed to hang on to talented quarterback Christian Hackenberg and a team that won seven games last year. Penn State could make a big splash in the standings on Oct. 25 when Ohio State visits Happy Valley, one of the hardest places for visiting teams to win at night.

5. Indiana
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs Indiana State, 12pm, ESPNews

Much like they were last year, the Hoosiers are expected to be a group led by an elite offense. Unfortunately, the Big Ten is a difficult conference to win without a strong defense, and the Hoosiers gave up 38.8 points per game last season, good for 117th in college football.

6. Maryland
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs James Madison, 3:30pm, BTN

Maryland joins the Big Ten after a mediocre 7-6 record in the ACC last year. The Terrapins’ 85th-ranked offense will have a tough time scoring enough points in the Big Ten against defenses like that of Michigan State and Michigan, so don’t expect Maryland to compete for a division title in year one.

7. Rutgers
Last Week: N/A This Week: Thursday at Washington State, 10pm, FoxSports1

A 2-6 finish to the 2013 season will set the tone for Rutgers’ first season in the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights lost six games by double digits last year during an average year in the ACC, so the powerful Big Ten East could be a rude awakening in 2014.

West Division
1. Wisconsin
Last Week: This Week: Saturday vs LSU, 9pm, ESPN

With Ohio State moving over to the East Division, Wisconsin sits firmly in the driver’s seat to represent the West in Indy this year. Melvin Gordon became the top Heisman candidate in the Big Ten after Miller’s injury and should lead a prototypical Wisconsin running attack that will tear apart opposing defenses.

2. Iowa
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs Northern Iowa, 12pm, BTN

Iowa played good enough defense in 2013 to win the Big Ten and play in the Rose Bowl, but an inconsistent offense held the team to an 8-5 overall record. If the Hawkeyes post another top-10 defensive effort this season, they could find themselves matching up with Michigan State in Indianapolis in a low-scoring game.

3. Northwestern
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs Cal, 3:30pm, ABC

Every season Northwestern looks primed for a breakout, but this year their talent is nowhere near the level of teams like Wisconsin or Iowa. The Wildcats lost four games by one possession last season, so they were close to living up to the preseason hype. But the loss of Venric Mark and a tough conference schedule will make things tough on Northwestern this year.

4. Nebraska
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs Florida Atlantic, 3:30pm, BTN

The nation is expecting big things out of Nebraska after finishing a disappointing finish to the conference season last year. If this offense can rush for over 200 yards per game again this season, it has a chance to put the Cornhuskers in the hunt for the title.

5. Minnesota
Last Week: N/A This Week: Thursday vs Eastern Illinois, 7pm, BTN

Minnesota was one of the quietest surprises in the country last season, starting 8-2 before three hard-fought losses to end the year. This season will be a real test for the Gophers as they try to build off of what they started in 2013 and break a decade-long streak of irrelevance.

6. Illinois
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday at Youngstown State, 12:05pm, BTN

It could be another tough year for Illinois after finishing 4-8 with just one conference win last season. After a nonconference schedule that features three easy wins, the Fighting Illini will only be favored in one conference game: at home against the Purdue team they beat in 2013.

7. Purdue
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs Western Michigan, 12pm, ESPNU

2013 was an abomination for Purdue, as it went 1-11 with a six-point victory over a division 1-AA opponent. Illinois was the only team that Purdue was within 10 points of beating. It won’t get any easier for the Boilermakers in conference this year.

First Look: Appalachian State

Monday, August 25th, 2014


FirstLook-AppState

It’s finally here. The week we’ve all been both looking forward to and dreading for the past seven months. On one hand, it’s finally game week, which means there are just a few more days until Michigan football gets underway for the 135th time in school history. On the other hand, we have to endure a few days of highlights from that dreadful 2007 game that none of us wants to ever talk about again.

Since we have to talk about Appalachian State, we’ll just focus on this year’s version, which will be playing its first ever game as a member of the Sun Belt Conference and the Football Bowl Subdivision on Saturday. Do the Mountaineers have a shot to pull off the unthinkable once again? Or will Michigan take care of business, put the past behind them, and move on quickly to the final showdown with Notre Dame? Let’s take a look at how App State fared in 2013 and who they have returning this fall.

Appalachian State 2013 Statistics & Michigan Comparison
ASUMichigan Rank Opponent Rank
Points Per Game 23.6 | 32.2 N/A | 46 28.0| 26.8 N/A66
Rushing Yards 1,6561,634 2,643 | 1,822
Rush Avg. Per Game 138.0 | 125.7 N/A | T102 220.2 | 140.2 N/A | 29
Avg. Per Rush 3.9 | 3.3 4.9 | 3.8
Passing Yards 3,2613,221 2,163 | 3,007
Pass Avg. Per Game 271.8247.8 N/A | 51 180.2 | 231.3 N/A | 51
Total Offense 4,9174,855 4,806 | 4,829
Total Off Avg. Per Game 409.8 | 373.5 N/A | 86 400.5 | 371.5 N/A | 41
Kick Return Average 21.4 | 22.1 N/A | 49 23.5 | 23.3 N/A | 101
Punt Return Average 3.7 | 6.7 N/A | 89 6.4 | 6.4 N/A | 40
Avg. Time of Possession 29:22 | 31:17 N/A | 34
30:38 | 28:38
3rd Down Conversion Pct 43.0% | 39.0% N/A | 73
46.0% | 40.0% N/A | 65
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 20-150 | 36-270 N/A | 105
8-38 | 25-182 N/A | 66
Touchdowns Scored 35 | 52 44 | 40
Field Goals-Attempts 13-18 | 18-25 10-13 | 24-31
Red Zone Scores (32-40) 80% | 48-56 86% N/A | 43
(39-49) 80% | (39-45) 87% N/A | 94
Red Zone Touchdowns (24-40) 60% | 37-56 66% (31-49) 63% | (24-45) 53%

Comparing Michigan’s 2013 stats to Appalachian State’s is apples to oranges because the Mountaineers were in FCS last season, and thus, the competition was much different. But then again, App State was playing competition relative to itself, so let’s compare the stats just for the fun of it.

Statistically, Michigan and Appalachian State were pretty similar on offense, although Michigan played one more game. App State finished the season with 22 more rushing yards than Michigan and 40 more passing yards, though the per-game averages are better with 12 games as opposed to 13. The main difference, however, was that Michigan scored 8.6 more points per game. It’s no secret that Michigan had no run game, but App State’s wasn’t much better, averaging 3.9 yards per rush. The Mountaineers converted third downs four percent better than Michigan did and allowed 20 sacks compared to Michigan’s 36. Basically, App State had a slightly better offense, but Michigan’s was more efficient.

Defensively, the two were opposites. Michigan’s rush defense ranked 29th nationally, allowing 140.2 yards per game, but the pass defense gave up 231.3. Conversely, Appalachian State’s rush defense allowed 220.2 rushing yards per game, but just 180.2 passing. Overall, Michigan allowed 23 more total yards in one more game and the Wolverines allowed 1.2 fewer points per game. App State only got to the quarterback eight times all season — less than once per game — while Michigan recorded 25 sacks. Additionally, the Mountaineers allowed opponents to convert third downs 46 percent of the time and score touchdowns 63 percent of the time in the red zone.

Obviously, looking at last season’s stats only tells a small part of the story and doesn’t weigh heavily into this season’s forecast, so let’s take a look at how much of that production is returning compared to how much was lost.

Passing Yards (QB only)
Returning Lost
Kameron Bryant 2,713 Jamal Londry-Jackson 548
2,713 548
83.2% 16.8%
Rushing (RB/QB only)
Returning Lost
Marcus Cox 1,250 Jamal Londry-Jackson (QB) 23
Ricky Ferguson 215 Rommel Andre 13
Kameron Bryant (QB) 158 Paul Magloire 9
Logan Hallock (QB) -3
1,620 45
97.3% 2.7%
Receiving
Returning Lost
Marcus Cox (RB) 559 Andrew Peacock 706
Malachi Jones 293 Tony Washington 939
Barrett Burns (TE) 205 Sean Price 237
Simms McElfresh 269 Jacob McCann (TE) 7
Ricky Ferguson (RB) 30
Bobo Beathard 28
Kameron Bryant (QB) -12
1,372 1,889
42.1% 57.9%
Scoring
Returning Lost
Marcus Cox (RB) 126 Drew Stewart (K) 71
Kameron Bryant (QB) 18 Tony Washington (WR) 24
Simms McElfresh (WR) 14 Andrew Peacock (WR) 12
Barrett Burns (TE) 6 Sean Price (WR) 6
Karl Anderson (LB) 6
164 119
58.0% 42.0%

The majority of the production from Appalachian State’s backfield is returning, most notably quarterback Kameron Bryant, who completed 71.2 percent of his passes for 2,713 yards, 14 touchdowns, and four interceptions, and running back Marcus Cox, who rushed for 1,250 yards and 15 touchdowns on 5.1 yards per carry. Those are good pieces to build around and the entire offensive line is back as well, bringing 130 career starts to the table. But like Michigan, more than half of last season’s receiving production is gone, including the top to receivers, Andrew Peacock and Tony Washington. In fact, the top returning pass-catcher is Cox, a running back.

Given that information, it appears that Michigan’s game plan will be to load the box to shut down the run game and force Bryant to try to test their secondary with a group of unproven and inexperienced receivers. That’s a pretty good opportunity for Jabrill Peppers to make his mark on his first career game.

Defensively, Appalachian State returns a good amount of experience, but does have to replace their leading tackler, linebacker Karl Anderson, whose 113 tackles were 40 more than the next-best. The two returning linebackers, John Law and Kennan Gilchrist, were true freshmen last season and combined for 130 tackles, 6.5 for loss, one sack, three interceptions, and a fumble recovery. The line also returns most of its production except for end Adam Scott, who led the team with 8.5 tackles for loss. The secondary lost its top tackler, free safety Alex Gray, but returns three other starters.

Like the offense, App State’s defense was very young last season and will benefit from a year of experience. But the rush defense was so bad last year that considerable improvement will need to be made, and that’s a lot to ask in the season opener. In fact, only nine teams in all of FCS had fewer passes attempted against them, which is why ASU’s pass defense looked so good on paper.

As we saw with Central Michigan in last year’s opener, the success Michigan has against an inferior opponent has little to do with the rest of the season. But App State’s poor rush defense will allow Michigan’s offensive line to tune up and try to make a statement with the running game. Like the game in general, if it works, there will be nothing more than a pat on the back and move on to Notre Dame. If Michigan’s running game struggles, however, there will be plenty of cause for concern about the rest of the season.

Stay tuned for further game coverage as the week goes on, including our full game preview on Friday.

Big Ten Media Days primer

Sunday, July 27th, 2014


B1G Media Days(@B1GFootball)

Big Ten Media Days are upon us, which means two days of speeches, interviews, roundtables, predictions, and more, and Maize and Go Blue will be there to cover it first hand. For those watching at home — or tuning in from work — we’ve got you covered with a full rundown of what to expect.

Overview

This year marks the 43rd year of Big Ten Media Days. The event will be held at the Hilton Chicago on Monday and Tuesday. In attendance will be 42 players — three from each team — and all 14 coaches, in addition to Big Ten personnel and other special guests. The two-day event will conclude with the annual Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon, which will feature an autograph session for all fans in attendance as well as more interviews and speeches. ESPN’s Rece Davis will emcee the Luncheon and Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah will deliver the keynote speech.

Big Ten Network and ESPNU will air coverage of the event. Beginning at 9:30 a.m. CT, BTN will air the opening media sessions with coaches (schedule below), as well as BTN president Mark Silverman, College Football Playoff COO Michael Kelly, and Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany. Gerry DiNardo and Rick Pizzo will anchor the network’s coverage, which will also re-air at 6 p.m. CT. BTN will also air a Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon special at 6 p.m. CT on Wednesday.

ESPNU will air the 14 head coaches’ press conferences between noon and 3 p.m. on both Monday and Tuesday, as well as those by Kelly and Delany. Some Big Ten coaches will also appear on other ESPN shows, such as SportsCenter and College Football Live, throughout the day.

The schedule - Monday, July 28

Opening media session with coaches
Time Name School
9:30 a.m. – 9:45 a.m. Pat Fitzgerald Northwestern
9:45 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. Darrell Hazell Purdue
10:00 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. Gary Andersen Wisconsin
10:15 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. Tim Beckman Illinois
10:30 a.m. – 10:45 a.m. Brady Hoke Michigan
11:00 a.m. – 11:15 a.m. Kyle Flood Rutgers
11:15 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Jerry Kill Minnesota
11:30 a.m. – 11:45 a.m. Mark Dantonio Michigan State
12:00 p.m. – 12:15 p.m. Bo Pelini Nebraska
12:15 p.m. – 12:30 p.m. Randy Edsall Maryland
12:30 p.m. – 12:45 p.m. Urban Meyer Ohio State
1:00 p.m. – 1:15 p.m. James Franklin Penn State
1:15 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. Kevin Wilson Indiana
1:30 p.m. – 1:45 p.m. Kirk Ferentz Iowa
Media session for BTN, College Football Playoff, and Big Ten
Time Name Affiliation
1:45 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. Mark Silverman BTN President
2:00 p.m. – 2:15 p.m. Michael Kelly College Football Playoff
2:15 p.m. – 2:45 p.m. Jim Delany Big Ten Commissioner
One-on-one podium interviews
Time Name School
10:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. Pat Fitzgerald, Ibraheim Campbell, Collin Ellis, Trevor Siemian Northwestern
10:15 a.m. – 10:45 a.m. Darrell Hazell, Raheem Mostert, Sean Robinson, Ryan Russell Purdue
10:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. Gary Andersen, Melvin Gordon, Rob Havenstein, Warren Herring Wisconsin
10:45 a.m. – 11:15 a.m. Tim Beckman, Simon Cvijanovic, Jon Davis, Austin Teitsma Illinois
11:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Brady Hoke, Devin Gardner, Jake Ryan, Frank Clark Michigan
11:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Kyle Flood, Michael Burton, Darius Hamilton, Lorenzo Waters Rutgers
11:45 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Jerry Kill, David Cobb, Mitch Leidner, Cedric Thompson Minnesota
12:00 p.m. – 12:30 p.m. Mark Dantonio, Shilique Calhoun, Connor Cook, Kurtis Drummond Michigan State
12:30 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. Bo Pelini, Ameer Abdullah, Kenny Bell, Corey Cooper Nebraska
12:45 p.m. – 1:15 p.m. Randy Edsall, C.J. Brown, Stefon Diggs, Jeremiah Johnson Maryland
1:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. Urban Meyer, Braxton Miller, Michael Bennett, Jeff Heuermann Ohio State
1:30 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. James Franklin, Bill Belton, Sam Ficken, Mike Hull Penn State
1:45 p.m. – 2:15 p.m. Kevin Wilson, David Cooper, Nate Sudfeld, Shane Wynn Indiana
2:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. Kirk Ferentz, Carl Davis, Brandon Scherff, Mark Weisman Iowa

As you can see, the Michigan coach and player interviews will happen between 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. and we will have news and reactions from this sessions afterward. You can watch Hoke’s session live at 10:30 on BTN.

The schedule - Tuesday, July 29

One-on-One Round Table Interviews
8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. All coaches and players available
Autograph session
10:00 a.m. – 10:50 a.m. Coaches and former players sign autographs with fans attending the Luncheon
43rd Annual Kickoff Luncheon
11:30 a.m. Interviews and keynote speech, emceed by ESPN’s Rece Davis

Follow @maizeandgoblue on Twitter for live Michigan-related updates throughout the day and check back here for more coverage. You can also follow @B1GFootball for updates about every team in the conference and other happenings.

Michigan’s 2014 NBA Draft preview

Thursday, June 26th, 2014


Stauskas-McGary-GRIII

While last year’s college basketball season seems to have ended just days ago, the NBA draft has already arrived to snatch up many of our beloved players from campuses across the nation. Both fortunately and unfortunately for Michigan, the NBA will not pass over Ann Arbor without taking some loot. Tonight, three former Wolverines will take the next step in their basketball playing careers after being drafted up to the professional level and joining the ranks of millionaire University of Michigan alumni — all in the span of a couple hours.

With that, let’s take a look at what the experts are saying about Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, and Mitch McGary.

Nik Stauskas, Sophomore SG – 6’6″, 205 lbs
Mock Drafts:
DraftExpress.com: 1st Round, Pick 11 (Denver Nuggets)
NBADraft.net: 1st Round, Pick 13 (Minnesota Timberwolves)
RidiculousUpside.com (SB Nation): 1st Round, Pick 14 (Phoenix Suns)
Gary Parrish, CBSSports.com: 1st Round, Pick 10 (Philadelphia 76ers)
BasketballInsiders.com: Alex Kennedy: 1st Round, Pick 11 (Denver Nuggets)
Joel Brigham: 1st Round, Pick 10 (Philadelphia 76ers)
Steve Kyler: 1st Round, Pick 11 (Denver Nuggets)
Yannis Koutroupis: 1st Round, Pick 14 (Phoenix Suns)
Chad Ford, ESPN: 1st Round, Pick 10 (Philadelphia 76ers)
Jeff Goodman, ESPN: 1st Round, Pick 10 (Philadelphia 76ers)

Why Teams Want Him: There’s no doubt about it – Nik Stauskas is the best shooter available in this year’s draft. NBA teams right now are drooling over his scoring potential and his ability to stretch defenses. Obviously anyone who thinks of Stauskas as “just a shooter” has been debunked by now, as the Canadian’s versatility was on full display for an impressive Michigan squad all of last season, but ultimately Stauskas’s biggest draw to NBA teams off the bat will be from beyond the arc. The sophomore was called upon to score early and often in college this year and should be a very valuable secondary scoring threat for many years at the next level. His ability to catch-and-shoot, pull up, or play the pick-and-roll paired with his plus athleticism and work ethic should see him enjoy a long career.

Why Teams are Wary: Stauskas is tremendous offensively but lacks somewhat when it comes to defensive effort. In my opinion, players care very little about defense in the NBA, so this should not affect Stauskas’s stock much, but people always seem to want to talk about defense equally. Regardless, there is very little to critique in Stauskas’s overall body of work besides defense and, at times, lackluster effort. When solely relied upon to carry Michigan, Stauskas struggled a few times this past season to get going after being boxed in by the defense.

Prediction: Stauskas will almost certainly fall within the lottery of the draft, but the latest buzz suggests that he will make it all the way to the top 10.

Glenn Robinson III, Sophomore SF – 6’6″, 220 lbs
Mock Drafts:
DraftExpress.com: 2nd Round, Pick 34 (Dallas Mavericks)
NBADraft.net: 1st Round, Pick 24 (Charlotte Hornets)
Gary Parrish, CBSSports.com: 2nd Round, Pick 39 (Philadelphia 76ers)
BasketballInsiders.com: Alex Kennedy: 2nd Round, Pick 38 (Detroit Pistons)
Joel Brigham: 2nd Round, Pick 34 (Dallas Mavericks)
Steve Kyler: 2nd Round, Pick 35 (Utah Jazz)
Yannis Koutroupis: 2nd Round, Pick 35 (Utah Jazz)
Chad Ford, ESPN: 2nd Round, Pick 31 (Milwaukee Bucks)
Jeff Goodman, ESPN: 1st Round, Pick 28 (Los Angeles Clippers)

Why Teams Want Him: Robinson III flashed periods of brilliance throughout his short college career and his ability to jump over just about anyone at any time will certainly be enticing to his NBA suitors. His finishing ability around the basket is near the top of this class. When the son of the former first overall pick played aggressive basketball, he was nearly unstoppable, and his highlight dunk reel will live on in Michigan fan lore for many years to come. If Robinson III can maintain high confidence and shoot the ball well from long range at the next level, he has the potential to be a star player for many years.

Why Teams are Wary: Glenn Robinson III was a star at times for Michigan and unnoticeable at other times. That inconsistency could scare NBA teams away from taking him in the late first round despite his incredible athleticism, and any confidence issues will be drastically enhanced professionally. Of Michigan’s three prospects, Robinson III’s future is easily the hardest to forecast.

Prediction: No one is certain where Glenn Robinson III’s name will be called tonight, as evidenced by the wide, inconsistent range of predictions in mock drafts. The only certainty is that Robinson III would have been drafted higher had he left Michigan last season, but there’s no telling whether a team will reach for him at 24 or teams will let him fall all the way to 39. Overall, I think the sophomore’s incredible athleticism and outstanding pedigree, combined with his NBA-ready body, will see him get taken at the tail end of the first round.

Mitch McGary, Sophomore PF/C – 6’10″, 255 lbs
Mock Drafts:
DraftExpress.com: 2nd Round, Pick 31 (Milwaukee Bucks)
NBADraft.net: 2nd Round, Pick 40 (Minnesota Timberwolves)
Gary Parrish, CBSSports.com: 2nd Round, Pick 34 (Dallas Mavericks)
BasketballInsiders.com: Alex Kennedy: 1st Round, Pick 28 (Los Angeles Clippers)
Joel Brigham: 1st Round, Pick 28 (Los Angeles Clippers)
Steve Kyler: 1st Round, Pick 24 (Charlotte Hornets)
Yannis Koutroupis: 1st Round, Pick 30 (San Antonio Spurs)
Chad Ford, ESPN: 1st Round, Pick 26 (Miami Heat)
Jeff Goodman, ESPN: 1st Round, Pick 27 (Phoenix Suns)

Why Teams Want Him: Much like best friend Glenn Robinson III, McGary has fully displayed his ability to take over a game – and on the biggest stage. For six games in the 2013 NCAA Final Four, McGary was America’s darling big man, hustling all over the court to save possessions, running the floor for monster dunks, and simply out-working everyone. The old sophomore is a terror on the boards, a capable finisher, an ideally sized body, and by all accounts the ultimate team player. Mitch McGary has the potential to be a Tim Duncan-type leader for any number of NBA teams and should be a productive big man with the potential to develop into a star for 10 years.

Why Teams are Wary: Unfortunately for Mitch McGary, injuries and an off-court issue have significantly limited his time on the court in a college uniform, and thus give NBA executives a very small body of work to judge him on. When on the court, McGary was generally terrific, but his lower back injury is undoubtedly going to make many GMs think twice before spending a first round pick on the former blue chip recruit. McGary’s positive test for marijuana is not going to do him any favors, but it ultimately should not affect his draft stock too much.

Prediction: There is still a bit of debate as to where McGary will end up and how long he will wait before being taken this evening, but Chad Ford from ESPN is reporting that McGary has received a promise from one or multiple teams with late first round picks that the big man will not drop beyond pick 30 after working out just once, with a likely destination of Charlotte in mind. Still, McGary’s stock seems a bit in flux and should be an interesting one to watch. I will trust Ford on this one and say that McGary will go within the first 25 picks.

Tonight is a massive night for three former Michigan players, all part of an incredibly successful 2012 recruiting class (one that also still includes Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht), and while Michigan fans will certainly pain to see three well-liked players become pros at the call of their names, the name recognition Michigan will get should go a ways toward helping out in the recruiting department. A night in which all three of Stauskas, Robinson III, and McGary get taken in the first round, and receive guaranteed multi-year NBA deals, would be tremendously successful. And that is looking increasingly more likely by the hour.

Big Ten baseball tournament begins today

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014


Michigan baseball(MGoBlue.com)

The Big Ten baseball tournament gets underway today at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. Fifth-seed Michigan (28-27-1, 13-11) opens with fourth-seed Minnesota (27-22, 13-11) at 10 p.m. EST in the final game of the day. It will be televised on Big Ten Network.

Despite finishing the regular season just over .500, Michigan has won 10 of its last 13 games, including a series split with 22nd-ranked Kansas last weekend and a 2-1 series win over Ohio State two weeks ago. Michigan and Minnesota met in Ann Arbor the first weekend in April with the Gophers taking two of three. Minnesota won the first game, 9-6 in 11 innings, then Michigan took the second, 8-1, before Minnesota won the rubber match, 3-1. The Gophers have won just five of their last 11 games to close the season.

Michigan is making its 23rd appearance in the Big Ten Tournament and has a 43-32 all-time record, having won the tournament eight times, most recently in 2008. Minnesota has won the tournament a conference-leading nine times.

The probable starter for Michigan is junior Trent Szkutnik, who went 1-6 this season, but led all Wolverine pitchers who started 10 or more games with an earned run average of 3.35. He ranks second on the team with 54 strikeouts through 75.1 innings pitched. Szkutnik pitched the third game of the Minnesota series last month, allowing three runs (two earned) on seven hits while striking out five.

Yesterday, the Big Ten announced its all-conference teams, with junior outfielder Jackson Glines earning second team honors and sophomore shortstop Travis Maezes third team. A pair of freshmen, designated hitter Carmen Benedetti and pitcher Brett Adcock, were named to the All-Freshman team. Minnesota had just two players on the All-Big Ten team, pitcher Alec Crawford, who was a third team selection, and catcher Austin Athmann, who was named to the All-Freshman team.

If Michigan beats Minnesota it will face the winner of one-seed Indiana and eight-seed Iowa on Thursday. A loss would send Michigan to the loser’s bracket of the double-elimination tournament to face the loser of that game.

Big Ten Baseball Tournament bracket

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)

___________________________________________________________________________________

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.