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Posts Tagged ‘Duke’

Inside the Numbers: Best offense of the KenPom era

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014


Michigan huddle vs UK(MGoBlue.com)

In 2013, Michigan had the best offense in the nation. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. were the offensive engines, holding the two highest usage rates on the roster. Burke consumed a team-high 29 percent of U-M’s possessions, while Hardaway, Jr. used the second-most at a 22.3-percent rate. And neither wasted many possessions when they had the ball in their hands. They averaged a combined 33.1 points per game, accounting for 44 percent of Michigan’s points. Burke and Hardaway, Jr. were the main reasons why the Wolverines had the highest adjusted offensive efficiency in the country in 2013 (120.3).

It was no surprise then that Burke, the consensus national player of the year, and Hardaway, Jr., member of the coaches’ All-Big Ten first team, decided to forego their Michigan careers and declare for the 2013 NBA Draft. This left a huge void offensively for the Wolverines. How would Michigan overcome their departures offensively? Although Michigan had skilled, efficient players returning, none had before lifted the load the Burke and Hardaway, Jr. had just lifted. It was not preposterous to assume that their individual efficiency would suffer at the expense of a bigger workload. This is why most outside the Michigan locker room, myself included, expected the Wolverines to step back offensively in 2014.

Boy, were we wrong.

Despite the departures of Burke and Hardaway, Jr. and the lower-back injury that forced Mitch McGary to miss most of the season, Michigan led the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency for the second straight season. This is the third time that a school has achieved this feat two years in a row. The other two were Wake Forest (2004-05) and North Carolina (2008-09). However, unlike Michigan, the Demon Deacons and the Tar Heels did not lose their star players after the first year. Wake Forest had current NBA star Chris Paul for both years, and North Carolina kept their core nucleus of Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Danny Green, Wayne Ellington, and Deon Thompson intact. Michigan did not have such a luxury and still did it anyway.

In addition to having the best adjusted offensive efficiency for the second straight season, Michigan actually increased its rating in 2014 without Burke, Hardaway, Jr., and McGary. In 2013, Michigan would be expected to score 120.3 points in a 100-possession game against an average NCAA D-1 college basketball team. In 2014, Michigan would be expected to score 124.1 points in such a game. Not only is this a significant improvement, no team has ever posted a better adjusted offensive efficiency in the KenPom era. Therefore, Michigan’s offense this season was the most efficient in the nation since at least 2002.

Top 10 Kenpom era offenses

The 2014 season featured three of the six most-efficient offenses of the past 12 seasons. In addition to Michigan, Duke and Creighton had historically impressive offenses. In fact, for most of the season, the Blue Devils and the Bluejays, not the Wolverines, were dueling for the designation as the nation’s most-efficient offense. However, Michigan made a giant push in the NCAA Tournament for the top spot. After a lackluster showing against Wofford in the Round of 64, the Wolverines scored 1.379, 1.213, and 1.265 points per possession against three top-50-caliber defenses. These offensive explosions propelled Michigan past both Duke and Creighton for the title as the most-efficient offense not only in 2014, but also in the KenPom era.

These offensive explosions were common throughout the entire season, not just in the NCAA Tournament. It did not matter whether the opponent had one of the nation’s best defenses or one of the worst. Most defenses that challenged Michigan’s potent offense limped away whimpering. Ten of Michigan’s opponents—Coppin State, Houston Baptist, Arizona, Holy Cross, Ohio State, Michigan State, Indiana, Texas, Tennessee, and Kentucky—had their worst defensive performance, in terms of efficiency, against the Wolverines. An additional four opponents—South Carolina State, Long Beach State, Penn State, and Illinois—had their second-worst defensive performance against Michigan. Therefore, 14 of U-M’s 27 different opponents this season had either their worst or second-worst defensive performance against Michigan. And Michigan State’s two worst defensive performances were at the hands of the Wolverines.

So how did Michigan pull this off without Burke, Hardaway, Jr., and McGary? Well, for starters, Michigan had absolutely no weak links on offense. All eight of Michigan’s major contributors—Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, Glenn Robinson III, Derrick Walton, Jr., Jordan Morgan, Zak Irvin, Jon Horford, and Spike Albrecht—had an individual offensive rating higher than 110.0. Therefore, all eight Michigan regulars averaged more than 1.10 points per individual possession, which is extremely efficient.

Off efficiency & Usage rate

But, most importantly, the key to Michigan maintaining this offensive success was that five of U-Ms six returners upped their offensive efficiency in 2014. LeVert and Stauskas had the most significant improvements because they increased both their usage rate and offensive rating, which is a difficult task. LeVert’s improvement is eye-popping. He was the least efficient Wolverine last season and had a minor role accordingly. This season? LeVert’s usage rate was the second-highest on the team, and he increased his offensive rating by 18.3 points. A legitimate argument can be made that LeVert’s sophomore season (21.4-percent usage rate, 111.7 offensive rating) was more productive than Hardaway, Jr.’s junior season (22.3-percent usage rate, 106.7 offensive rating). Either way, it is clear that LeVert filled the void left by Hardaway, Jr.

Stauskas’ improvement is just as impressive as LeVert’s even though Stauskas’ offensive rating increased by only 1.3 points. Stauskas had little room to increase his efficiency after recording an offensive rating of 122.8 as a freshman, which was the 36th-best in the nation in 2013. Yet Stauskas did this despite increasing his usage rate from 16.2 to 23.9 percent and becoming Michigan’s offensive star. Generally, a go-to player may struggle with his efficiency because he receives the most attention from defenses and must shoot bad shots in late-shot-clock situations. But Stauskas still upped his offensive efficiency anyway. While he was not the playmaker that Burke was, Stauskas mitigated the loss of the consensus national player of the year as well as any player can.

Three Wolverines improved their offensive efficiency while either maintaining their usage rate or using fewer possessions than last season: Morgan, Horford, and Albrecht. Morgan saw the largest spike in his offensive rating not only among these three Wolverines, but everyone on the team. His offensive rating jumped 18.8 points, just surpassing the 18.3-point spike LeVert’s offensive rating experienced. As a result, Morgan’s offensive rating of 128.2 was the highest on the team and the 26th-best in the country. This is what happens when a player makes a school-record 70 percent of his field-goal attempts.

The only returning major contributor that did not see his offensive efficiency increase was Robinson III. Not only did his offensive rating drop, it plummeted by 14.7 points. But this is unfair. Last season, Robinson III had an offensive rating of 128.4, which was the 10th-best in the nation. Similar to Stauskas, Robinson III had little to no room to improve his offensive efficiency. He pretty much hit the ceiling as a freshman. It is no surprise that his offensive rating dropped to a still very good 113.7 while increasing his usage rate by six percentage points. This is normal. Stauskas is the exception, not the rule. So, although Robinson III was not as consistent or efficient offensively as he was as a freshman, he still was very reliable offensively for a player handling over 20 percent of his team’s possessions.

So what does this all mean? It means that Michigan just had the best offense of the past 12 seasons despite losing two NBA first-round draft picks. It means that John Beilein and this Michigan program is more than just one or two players. It means that Beilein is recruiting skilled players that fit and are developing quickly perfectly in his offensive system, which no other school has been able to match for the past two seasons. And it means that you should not make the mistake of assuming that Michigan’s offense will take a step back next year, even if Michigan loses another player or two to the NBA.

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.

Michigan earns highest ranking since Feb. 3

Monday, March 3rd, 2014


Michigan vs Minnesota 3-1-14(MGoBlue.com)

Michigan’s win over Minnesota on Saturday afternoon combined with Michigan State’s loss to Illinois clinched at least a share of the Big Ten title for the Wolverines for the second time in three years. With two games remaining — at Illinois on Tuesday and home against a surging Indiana squad on Saturday — Michigan needs just one win to secure its first outright Big Ten title since 1986.

Saturday also saw losses by the number four, five, seven, nine, 10, 11, 15, 17, and 24 teams in the nation (in addition to the 18th-ranked Spartans). On Sunday, No. 22 Ohio State became the 11th top 25 team to fall over the weekend. March madness has truly arrived, which makes for plenty of movement in this week’s polls.

Michigan moved up four spots to 12th in both polls, the highest the Wolverines have been since the first week in February when they stood 10th. Wisconsin is still the highest ranked Big Ten team despite needing two wins and two Michigan losses this week to earn a share of the conference title. The Badgers are ninth in the AP Poll and 11th in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Michigan State dropped to 22nd in both, while Iowa remained just inside at 24th and 25th, respectively. Ohio State fell out of both after losing both games last week.

As far as Michigan’s non-conference opponents, Arizona remained third in both polls, while Duke moved up to fourth in both. Iowa State continues to hover in the middle, this week at 16th and 17th.

Nebraska’s loss to Illinois last week dropped the Cornhuskers out of the RPI and Kenpom top 50, which takes away two of Michigan’s victories over top 50 teams. The Wolverines now have seven instead of nine. If the ‘Huskers can top Indiana and Wisconsin this week they’ll likely move back in for the final revision of the regular season.

As far as individuals are concerned, Nik Stauskas’ was edged out for Big Ten Player of the Week by Indiana’s Will Sheehey despite another big week with 15 points against Purdue and 21 against Minnesota. The senior Hoosier forward, who averaged just around 10 points per game, scored 30 points against Iowa and 19 against Ohio State. Illinois guard Kendrick Nunn earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors with 13 points against Nebraska and eight against Michigan State. This is notable because Michigan plays both of these players this week, Nunn on Tuesday and Sheehey on Saturday.

The full national rankings are below.

AP Poll Coaches Poll
Rank Team Rank Team
1 Florida (27-2) 1 Florida (27-2)
2 Wichita State (31-0) 2 Wichita State (31-0)
3 Arizona (27-2) 3 Arizona (27-2)
4 Duke (23-6) 4 Duke (23-6)
5 Virginia (25-5) 5 Virginia (25-5)
6 Villanova (26-3) 6 Villanova (26-3)
7 Syracuse (26-3) 7 Syracuse (26-3)
8 Kansas (22-7) 8 Kansas (22-7)
9 Wisconsin (24-5) 9 Louisville (24-5)
10 San Diego State (25-3) 10 San Diego State (25-3)
11 Louisville (24-5) 11 Wisconsin (24-5)
12 Michigan (21-7) 12 Michigan (21-7)
13 Creighton (23-5) 13 Creighton (23-5)
14 North Carolina (22-7) 14 North Carolina (22-7)
15 Cincinnati (24-5) 15 Cincinnati (24-5)
16 Iowa State (22-6) 16 Saint Louis (25-4)
17 Saint Louis (25-4) 17 Iowa State (22-6)
18 Southern Methodist (23-6) 18 Southern Methodist (23-6)
19 UConn (23-6) 19 UConn (23-6)
20 Memphis (22-7) 20 Memphis (22-7)
21 New Mexico (22-5) 21 New Mexico (22-5)
22 Michigan State (22-7) 22 Michigan State (22-7)
23 Oklahoma (21-8) 23 Oklahoma (21-8)
24 Iowa (20-9) 24 Kentucky (21-8)
25 Kentucky (21-8) 25 Iowa (20-9)

Michigan holds steady in national rankings

Monday, February 3rd, 2014


Michigan vs Purdue(MGoBlue.com)

Michigan split its games last week, topping Purdue 75-66 on Thursday night and falling at Indiana 63-52 on Sunday afternoon. While Indiana is struggling this season, a win at Assembly Hall never a given and that was reflected in Michigan’s standing in this week’s national rankings.

In the AP Poll, Michigan stayed at 10th, one spot behind Michigan State which lost a non-conference game to Georgetown on Saturday. In the USA Today Coaches Poll, Michigan dropped two spots to 16th, in between Saint Louis and non-conference opponent Iowa State.

Only two other Big Ten foes are still ranked in both polls. MSU is ninth and eighth, while Iowa 17th and 13th. Both Wisconsin and Ohio State dropped out of the AP Poll but are still holding on in the Coaches at 24th and 25th, respectively.

As far as non-conference opponents, Arizona suffered its first loss of the season on Saturday and dropped to second in the AP and third in the Coaches. Duke stands at 11th in both polls after an overtime loss to new No.1 Syracuse. Iowa State ranks 16th and 17th.

Michigan has a chance to get back in the win column on Wednesday when it hosts Nebraska, but the big game will be Saturday at Iowa in a game that will either knock the Hawkeyes out of the Big Ten title race or make Michigan State the frontrunner.

The full national rankings are below.

AP Poll Coaches Poll
Rank Team Rank Team
1 Syracuse (21-0) 1 Syracuse (21-0)
2 Arizona (21-1) 2 Wichita State (23-0)
3 Florida (19-2) 3 Arizona (21-1)
4 Wichita State (23-0) 4 Florida (19-2)
5 San Diego State (19-1) 5 San Diego State (19-1)
6 Villanova (19-2) 6 Villanova (19-2)
7 Cincinnati (21-2) 7 Cincinnati (21-2)
8 Kansas (16-5) 8 Michigan State (19-3)
9 Michigan State (19-3) 9 Kansas (16-5)
10 Michigan (16-5) 10 Louisville (18-4)
11 Duke (17-5) 11 Duke (17-5)
12 Creighton (18-3) 12 Creighton (18-3)
13 Saint Louis (20-2) 13 Iowa (17-5)
14 Louisville (18-4) 14 Kentucky (16-5)
15 Texas (17-4) 15 Saint Louis (20-2)
16 Iowa State (16-4) 16 Michigan (16-5)
17 Iowa (17-5) 17 Iowa State (16-4)
18 Kentucky (16-5) 18 Texas (17-4)
19 Oklahoma State (16-5) 19 Oklahoma State (16-5)
20 Virginia (17-5) 20 Gonzaga (20-3)
21 Oklahoma (17-5) 21 Virginia (17-5)
22 Connecticut (17-4) 22 Pittsburgh (18-4)
23 Gonzaga (20-3) 23 Oklahoma (17-5)
24 Memphis (16-5) 24 Wisconsin (17-5)
25 Pittsburgh (18-4) 25 Ohio State (17-5)

Michigan ascends back into AP Top 10

Monday, January 27th, 2014


Michigan dance team vs Iowa(MGoBlue.com)

A week after re-entering the national rankings for the first time since the beginning of December, Michigan has ascended back into the top ten. An eight day span that included wins against three top ten teams – perhaps the best eight day span in program history – has put Michigan in control of the Big Ten title race and back in the national picture.

The Wolverines moved up 11 spots in each poll, from 21st to 10th in this week’s AP Poll and from 25th to 14th in the Coaches Poll. The team that Michigan beat on Saturday, Michigan State (18-2, 7-1), dropped from third in both polls to seventh in the AP and sixth in the Coaches. Iowa (16-4, 5-2) dropped to 15th and 12th, while Wisconsin (17-3, 4-3) fell out of the top ten to 14th and 13th. Ohio State (16-4, 3-4) had the Big Ten’s biggest free fall of the week, dropping to the bottom of the rankings at 24th and 23rd, respectively.

As far as Michigan’s non-conference opponents, Arizona (20-0) remains No.1 in both polls; Iowa State (15-3) stands at 16th and 18th; and Duke (16-4) is 17th and 16th.

In addition to shooting up the rankings, Michigan hauled in several weekly awards. Nik Stauskas was named Big Ten Player of the Week and also CBSSports.com’s Player of the Week after averaging 22.5 points 3.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and one steal per game. The Canadian sharpshooter shot 57.7 percent overall, 60 percent from three-point range (9-of-15), and made 6-of-7 free throws last week.

Freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week after a 19-point, six-rebound, four-assist performance against Michigan State. He made 4-of-8 shots from the field, 2-of-2 three-pointers, and 9-of-10 free throws to help Michigan seal its fifth win in the past seven against its instate rival.

Michigan returns to action this Thursday at home against Purdue (13-7, 3-4) at 9 p.m. on ESPN.

The full national rankings are below.

AP Poll Coaches Poll
Rank Team Rank Team
1 Arizona (20-0) 1 Arizona (20-0)
2 Syracuse (19-0) 2 Syracuse (19-0)
3 Florida (17-2) 3 Wichita State (21-0)
4 Wichita State (21-0) 4 Florida (17-2)
5 San Diego State (18-1) 5 San Diego State (18-1)
6 Kansas (15-4) 6 Michigan State (18-2)
7 Michigan State (18-2) 7 Louisville (17-3)
8 Oklahoma State (16-3) 8 Kansas (15-4)
9 Villanova (17-3) 9 Villanova (17-2)
10 Michigan (15-4) 10 Oklahoma State (16-3)
11 Kentucky (15-4) 11 Kentucky (15-4)
12 Louisville (17-3) 12 Iowa (16-4)
13 Cincinnati (19-2) 13 Wisconsin (17-3)
14 Wisconsin (17-3) 14 Michigan (15-4)
15 Iowa (16-4) 15 Cincinnati (19-2)
16 Iowa State (15-3) 16 Duke (16-4)
17 Duke (16-4) 17 Pittsburgh (18-2)
18 Pittsburgh (18-2) 18 Iowa State (15-3)
19 Saint Louis (18-2) 19 Massachusetts (17-2)
20 Creighton (17-3) 20 Creighton (17-3)
21 Massachusetts (17-2) 21 Saint Louis (18-2)
22 Memphis (15-4) 22 Memphis (15-4)
23 Oklahoma (16-4) 23 Ohio State (16-4)
24 Ohio State (16-4) 24 Gonzaga (18-3)
25 Texas (16-4) 25 Oklahoma (16-4)

Inside the Numbers: When records and polls lie

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013


(Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

Note: “Inside the Numbers” has returned. With only the bowl game remaining for Michigan football, this column will turn most of its attention to the Michigan men’s basketball team for the remainder of the athletic year. This is the first such installment. Enjoy!

Panic. Michigan is 6-4. This became Michigan’s record when Nik Stauskas’ three-quarters-court heave ricocheted harmlessly off the backboard as the buzzer echoed throughout the Crisler Center last Saturday. It signaled that Michigan had fallen to the top-ranked Arizona Wildcats by two points at home. The loss snapped the Wolverines’ home non-conference winning streak at 20 games.

Panic. Michigan is 6-4. The Wolverines suffered their fourth loss this season on December 14th. Last season, U-M did not lose its fourth game until February 12th, when U-M’s rival from East Lansing beat it by 23 points, handing the Maize and Blue its only double-digit loss of the season. That was 60 days later in the season than when this year’s squad earned its fourth loss.

Panic. Michigan is 6-4. Last season, Michigan was one of three teams that never fell out of the Top 10 in the Associated Press Poll, with the other two being Indiana and Duke. This year, the AP ranked U-M at #7 in the preseason. Now, just seven weeks later, the Wolverines received only three measly votes in the AP Poll.

Panic. Michigan is 6-4. This is the third time in John Beilein’s seven years at Michigan that the Wolverines have been defeated at least four times before New Year’s Day. The first two times it happened were in 2007-08 and 2009-10. Those are the only two U-M teams under Beilein that did not appear in the NCAA Tournament. Further, both of those teams finished with sub-.500 records.

Panic. Michigan is 6-4. Since 2003, only one team that appeared in the national championship game has opened the following season with a worse record. That distinction belongs to the 2011-12 Butler Bulldogs, a team that started its season 4-6 before accepting an invitation to play its post-season basketball in the College Basketball Invitational—two tiers below the NCAA Tournament.

Michigan is KenPom's eighth unluckiest team in the nation (MGoBlue.com)

Panic. Michigan is 6-4. Except Michigan’s record is a lie because U-M currently is playing as a Top 25-caliber and Big Ten-championship-contending squad.

Each year, a debate ensues about the validity of advanced statistics in basketball. Basketball traditionalists do not invest much faith in them, relying on team records, polls, and RPI to evaluate a basketball team. Others rely on advanced statistics, which look past wins and losses and, instead, evaluate a basketball team by how it performs on a per-possession basis. A per-possession evaluation accounts for variables in basketball, such as margin of victory, strength of schedule, and tempo, that a win-loss record cannot embody.

Ken Pomeroy is one of the biggest proponents of advanced statistics in college basketball. Pomeroy owns and operates a website, KenPom.com, which provides and analyzes these statistics. To analyze them, he created an algorithm that evaluates all 351 NCAA D-1 basketball teams on a per-possession basis and then ranks them accordingly. Pomeroy’s algorithm is complex, but there is a simple way to describe how it works. First, the algorithm calculates how much a team would outscore an average NCAA D-1 team in 100 possessions. Second, the algorithm ranks each team based on that margin of victory or defeat in descending order. Therefore, for example, if Team A would outscore an average NCAA D-1 team by 25 points in a 100-possession game, then the algorithm would rank it higher than Team B if Team B would outscore an average NCAA D-1 team by only 10 points in a 100-possession game.

As warned earlier, this is a very basic explanation about how advanced statistics work in basketball. Advanced statistics have much more depth to them. Basketball fans should learn how advanced statistics work if they have not already because these statistics will broaden their knowledge of the game. But the above explanation will provide a sufficient foundation to help Michigan fans understand why they need not panic about the Wolverines’ 6-4 record.

As of yesterday, despite Michigan’s 6-4 record, Pomeroy’s algorithm ranked the Wolverines #23 in the nation. Even though U-M has suffered four losses before New Year’s Day, the algorithm projected that only 22 other schools would outscore an average NCAA D-1 team in a 100-possession game by more than the margin Michigan would. Not only does Pomeroy’s algorithm view Michigan as a Top 25-caliber team, it believes that this year’s squad is better than the one that won Michigan’s first Big Ten regular-season championship since 1986 in 2011-12.

Then why does Michigan have a 6-4 record? Because the Wolverines have experienced more bad luck to open the season than almost every other team in the country.

One must remember that Pomeroy’s algorithm evaluates a team on a per-possession basis, not by its record. Accordingly, if Team A would beat an average NCAA D-1 team by only one point in a 100-possession game, and Team B would lose to an average NCAA D-1 team by only one point in a 100-possession game, the algorithm would view Team A and Team B as being nearly equal because there would be only a two-point difference between Team A and Team B.

Yet, if Team A played an average NCAA D-1 team in a 100-possession game 10 times and won each time by one point, and Team B played an average NCAA D-1 team in a 100-possession game 10 times and lost each time by one point, Team A would be 10-0 and Team B would be 0-10 despite being essentially equal teams. Pomeroy quantifies this effect as “Luck.” To explain “Luck” to his readers, Pomeroy wrote, “Essentially, a team involved in a lot of close games should not win (or lose) all of them. Those that do will be viewed as lucky (or unlucky).”

So why is Michigan 6-4, rather than 9-1 or 8-2? Because Michigan has won most of its games in convincing fashion and lost all of its games in the final few possessions. Accordingly, as of yesterday, Pomeroy’s algorithm ranked the Wolverines 344th out of 351 NCAA D-1 teams in his “Luck” category. His algorithm believes that Michigan is the eighth unluckiest team in the country.

This is why Michigan’s record is so poor through its first 10 games, not because U-M is that much worse than the squad that played for a national championship last season. For example, if the Wolverines prevent Charlotte’s Terrence Williams from tipping in his own air ball with 0.4 seconds left in the game to beat U-M, 63-61, they likely beat the 49ers in OT.

The best example is Michigan’s loss to Arizona on Saturday. First, if Caris LeVert or Mitch McGary corral the rebound from T.J. McConnell’s missed jumper with less than a minute left, U-M maintains its one-point lead and likely wins. Second, after McConnell rebounded his own miss, if the officials do not whistle McGary for a ticky-tacky blocking foul that sent Nick Johnson to the free-throw line and allowed the Wildcats to take the lead, U-M likely wins. Finally, if Stauskas’ jumper falls rather than rattling in and out with 18 seconds left, U-M regains the lead and is one stop away from a win.

Despite the disappointing start, Michigan is still considered a top team (MGoBlue.com)

Flip those two games, and Michigan is 8-2 with a home win against #1 Arizona and two road losses to Iowa State and Duke—both of which are ranked and have a combined 16-2 record. Not only would Michigan fans not be panicking, they would be contemplating a Big Ten regular-season championship, especially because U-M likely still would be ranked in the Top 15 of the AP Poll.

It is amazing how one or two plays can affect the perception of a team. And this is why records and polls lie. Flip the Charlotte and Arizona games, give Michigan an 8-2 record and a Top 15 ranking, and this still would be the same Michigan basketball team. The Wolverines would be only slightly better than they are now, if at all, if they had won those two games. Pomeroy’s algorithm recognizes this, even if Michigan’s record and the polls do not.

However, the Maize and Blue still need to have a sense of urgency because, unfortunately, the NCAA Tournament selection committee does not use Pomeroy’s algorithm or rankings as part of its criteria. Instead, it looks at the two criteria that most hurt Michigan’s resume right now: win-loss record and RPI. Therefore, Michigan cannot wait any longer to prove to basketball traditionalists that it is a Top 25-caliber team.

The Wolverines’ current level of play suggests that the wins should start to come if it maintains that level, but U-M cannot afford to lose many more close games. U-M needs those wins, especially against high-caliber opponents. If the Wolverines start to earn those wins, the NCAA Tournament selection committee will believe that the Wolverines are deserving of a high seed. Otherwise, U-M will receive a low at-large seed, hindering its odds to make another run in the NCAA Tournament, or risk not making the tournament at all.

Thus, it cannot be emphasized enough how important it is that Michigan beat Stanford at the Barclays Center this Saturday. First, Michigan will be a slight favorite over the Cardinal. A win against the school from Palo Alto would be U-M’s second quality win of the season thus far, with Florida State being the first. Second, the NCAA Tournament selection committee generally will offer an at-large bid to a Big Ten school that finishes the regular season with 20 wins and a .500 conference record. If Michigan loses to Stanford, it likely will have a 7-5 non-conference record, needing a 13-5 record in the nation’s best conference to hit the 20-win mark. This is not a situation in which the Wolverines want to find themselves.

Nevertheless, this year’s Michigan hoops team has still been very, very good. If it sustains this level of play, in time, it will reappear in the AP Top 25 and be a strong contender for a Big Ten championship. Although Michigan is by no means flawless and still has weaknesses it needs to remedy, the team will be just as good as many of you expected it to be prior to the season.

Panic. Michigan fans need not do it. At least not yet.

Three Notes You Should Know Before Michigan-Stanford

  1. • Michigan has had a 20-point scorer in nine straight games—the longest such streak at Michigan during John Beilein’s tenure. Nik Stauskas has been the most vital player to this streak, scoring at least 20 points in six times during this span. The other players who have helped maintain it are Caris LeVert, who has topped 20 points three times, Zak Irvin, and Glenn Robinson III.
  1. • The Wolverines are shooting 39.2 percent on three-pointers this season. This is a higher percentage than any prior Michigan team under Beilein could muster. Look for U-M to take advantage of this against Stanford, which is ranked #241 in three-point defense and allows opponents to make 36.1 percent of their three-pointers.
  1. • New York City treated Michigan very well last season. The Wolverines played three games there—two at Madison Square Garden and one at the Barclays Center—and beat three major-conference opponents—Pittsburgh, Kansas State, and West Virginia—by an average margin of 11.1 points. The Maize and Blue will travel back this Saturday to play the Stanford Cardinal at the Barclays Center.

You can follow Drew on Twitter: @DrewCHallett

Home Cooked: Duke 79 – Michigan 69

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013


(MGoBlue.com)

Last night, as Michigan took to the road to play against a tough opponent in their own arena for the second time this season, it was the offense again that let the Wolverines down. Much like in the Iowa State game earlier this year, and in a later loss to Charlotte, Michigan was simply unable to find any sort of offensive rhythm in a 79-69 loss to Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Despite having John Beilein’s preferred starting lineup on the court, including the recently-injured Nik Stauskas, the Wolverines came out completely flat against the Blue Devils and couldn’t take advantage of a size and strength advantage inside. Duke seemed to want every loose ball more, and an appalling missed shot clock violation on an early Tyler Thornton three-pointer was a pretty clear sign that Michigan would need to play its best game of this young season.

Instead, the Maize and Blue dropped their third game so far, and with Arizona looming in two weekends, Michigan fans are starting to panic. The talent is certainly there for Michigan, but the execution is lacking.

Time and again last night, Michigan’s perimeter players passed the ball around the three-point line, rarely looking inside for Mitch McGary and almost never giving a full-hearted drive to the bucket, against a Duke team that was being overly aggressive. Mike Krzyzewski’s game plan worked to near perfection, as a still clearly hampered Nik Stauskas, Michigan’s leading scorer and best creator, was face-guarded all game long and held to four points – all on free throws – on just two shot attempts.

Mitch McGary recorded a double-double, but didn't get the ball nearly enough down low (MGoBlue.com)

Early on, it appeared as if Michigan would be run out of the gym. Duke, along with Michigan, was slow out of the gates, but started to pick it up behind eight points from Rodney Hood in the first 13 minutes. Michigan, on the other hand, never got going in the first stanza and didn’t even manage to break double digits until five minutes were left before halftime, at which point the Wolverines had only managed three made field goals.

Somehow, however, Michigan’s defense kept them in the game, as Beilein found himself down by only 10 points at the break after another buzzer-beating three by Thornton closed out the half.

With a clean slate and a golden opportunity with 20 minutes of game time remaining, Michigan started strong in the second half and cut the lead to just six points on a fast break layup by Derrick Walton, Jr. three minutes into the second half.

But as was the case all night, Duke was quick to answer. Jabari Parker, Quinn Cook, and Marshall Plumlee all converted layups before Michigan knew what him them, and within two minutes, the Wolverines’ deficit was back to 12.

For the remainder of the game, Michigan tried to battle their way back into the game on the shoulders of sophomore Caris LeVert, but the closest they would eventually come was a 46-40 hole with nine minutes remaining.

Following a mini five-point spurt from Zak Irvin and LeVert midway through the second half, it seemed as if Michigan was poised to make one final push after trailing by eight to 12 points throughout the evening, but a quick Duke substitution quelled any remaining hopes of a comeback when Andre Dawkins, who had played just three first-half minutes without recording a stat, drained two deep balls on defensive mistakes by LeVert.

From there, the game was all but over. The Wolverines started to look like a well-oiled machine late in the game, but the 19 stat-padding, meaningless points scored in the final two minutes will only be recognized by those reading the box score.

Ultimately, this loss is not a terrible one to take at this point in the season, but with a bad defeat at the hands of Charlotte already on the record, Michigan is in dire need of some quality wins throughout the next couple months.

Michigan certainly is still a Tournament team in my book, and a fully healthy Nik Stauskas will be crucial as Big Ten season kicks off in a month’s time, but a couple more losses in the near future could spell major trouble if this offense doesn’t start to click.

It’s clear at this point in the season that McGary and Glenn Robinson III desperately miss Trey Burke’s ability to get past a defender, stall in the lane, and find them for easy finishes, and it’s going to take a continued team effort to replace the Player of the Year. Derrick Walton, Jr. is rounding into solid form and LeVert has shown flashes of brilliance, but the consistency is lacking in a big way.

When the buckets are hard to come by for this team, there is no Trey Burke to calmly sink the 15-footer that he was so adept in doing, and as this year nears its end, Michigan needs to find a new beginning.

Three Stars:

***Quinn Cook*** – 24 points (6-of-11 FG, 2-of-7 3pt., 10-of-10 FT), 9 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 turnovers in 37 minutes

**Jabari Parker** - 15 points (7-of-14 FG, 1-of-2 FT), 6 rebounds in 33 minutes

*Caris LeVert* – 24 points (8-of-18 FG, 1-of-3 3pt., 7-of-7 FT), 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 turnover in 36 minutes

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
01 Glenn Robinson III* 4-9 0-2 0-0 1 2 3 4 8 2 2 0 0 34
10 Derrick Walton Jr.* 3-6 0-2 1-1 0 2 2 1 7 1 3 0 0 26
11 Nik Stauskas* 0-2 0-1 4-6 0 3 3 3 4 4 3 0 1 34
04 Mitch McGary* 6-10 0-0 3-4 5 9 14 2 15 1 1 0 0 27
23 Caris LeVert* 8-18 1-3 7-7 0 4 4 1 24 2 1 0 0 36
02 Spike Albrecht 1-3 1-2 0-0 0 1 1 1 3 1 1 0 0 13
10 Jon Horford 0-1 0-0 0-0 1 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 6
21 Zak Irvin 2-5 1-3 0-0 0 1 1 2 5 1 0 0 0 14
52 Jordan Morgan 1-2 0-0 1-1 0 0 0 2 3 0 0 0 0 10
Totals 25-56 3-13 16-19 8 23 31 17 69 12 12 0 1 200
Duke 28-56 8-23 15-18 7 25 32 18 79 15 7 3 4 200
Full Stats

Sam’s 3 thoughts: Duke

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013


Tonight marks the opening of the much-celebrated Big Ten/ACC Challenge in which every Big Ten team faces off with an ACC team projected to be as close to equal as possible. For the first 10 years, the ACC was dominant, but lately the Big Ten has become the preeminent power conference in the country, going 3-0-1 over the past three seasons in this contest.

Michigan, coming off a national championship appearance, drew perhaps the toughest game of the Challenge this year as they take on the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium tonight (9:20pm on ESPN).

Boasting a freshman phenom and the transfer of the year, Duke will look to continue its streak of 106 consecutive home non-conference wins, but does Michigan have what it takes to slay the giant? Here are my thoughts:

Make the Studs Work: By this point in the season, everyone has heard of Jabari Parker, the fundamentally-sound, well-built 6’8″ freshman out of Chicago’s Simeon Career Academy who is averaging 23 points and eight rebounds per night while shooting 50 percent from downtown. But many people are still asking “who?” when sophomore Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood’s name comes up. That’s a mistake. Hood, a lengthier and lankier 6’8″ himself, is perhaps Mike Krzyzewski’s best player, and is averaging 20 points and five rebounds a night while shooting a mind-bending 59.1 percent from downtown and 62.2 percent from the field.

Teaming with Jabari Parker to average over 40 points per game, Rodney Hood has been tremendous for Duke this season (Lance King)

If Michigan is to have any chance tonight, the Wolverines will at least have to slow down these two phenomenal players. And yes, it’s a task much easier said than done, but the welcome news for Michigan fans is that two teams have already provided the recipe for accomplishing this monumental feat.

Just last week, Arizona pulled off a 72-66 win over the Blue Devils by limiting Parker and Hood’s three-point attempts and by forcing them into difficult shots inside the arc all night. The duo still combined to score 40 points, but those 40 points took 35 shot attempts between the pair. Similarly, in an earlier loss to Kansas, Parker and Hood scored 39 but only got off nine threes and shot just 41 percent on two-point attempts.

I think the most logical matchups for Michigan will be to put Glenn Robinson III on Parker and Caris LeVert on Hood and hope that the two wings can limit the outside shots and make their counterparts work inside and force up difficult mid-range jumpers, which both are prone to doing.

White Thunder Domination: Mitch McGary has been fairly quiet this season as he continues to work himself back into shape after a back injury forced him to miss weeks of practice in the fall. If there is ever a time for him to showcase what made him a potential lottery pick last year, however, it is tonight. There will undoubtedly be NBA scouts lining the walls of tiny Cameron and drooling as four potential lottery picks take to the floor, none of whom have a better opportunity to dominate than McGary.

Duke’s biggest weakness all season has been inside play, and it’s not even close. Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood have simply been brilliant, but they do a lot of their work from outside. Amile Jefferson, Duke’s biggest starter, stands just 6’9″ and weighs a measly 210 pounds; he also only plays 15 minutes per game and is not a great rebounder.

McGary, on the other hand, is an athletic 6’10″, 255 pounds and lives to rebound. Michigan needs McGary to dominate on the defensive glass, which both Arizona and Kansas were able to do in their wins, while getting some easy put-backs and being more assertive on offense.

Too often this season, it seems that Michigan is waiting for Trey Burke to run out of the tunnel and create some easy inside offense for McGary and Robinson III, but that will only happen in our dreams. Tonight, look for McGary to really call for the ball down low, which will draw the defense inside and open up the outside shot, be aggressive, and draw some fouls. At some point, Duke may be forced to throw Parker on McGary, and if McGary can wreak havoc inside, good things will happen for Michigan. Free throws will also be critical, and if McGary’s recent 4-of-4 stretch from the stripe holds true, Michigan will be in it until the end.

Paging Nik Stauskas: There is no question that John Beilein will need to draw up a beautiful plan to keep the Wolverines in the game tonight in front of a raucous crowd, but even if everything goes accordingly, I think Michigan still needs a healthy Nik Stauskas to have a chance. Stauskas has been outstanding all season long in shooting lights out from downtown, finding the open man, and throwing down a few monster slams, but he injured his ankle in the loss to Charlotte and is questionable to return to the court tonight.

After Michigan’s blowout victory over Coppin State, Beilein said that Stauskas was unable to get any lift off his ankle, and his status is questionable for tonight. I fully expect Stauskas to give it a go this evening – he’s too big a competitor to sit it out – but he needs to be himself to make a difference. If Stauskas knocks down a couple threes early on and shows signs of the dribble-drive game that have some calling him the most improved player in the country, I like Michigan’s upset chances, but if his gimpy ankle is causing defensive breakdowns left and right, Stauskas will be forced to watch from the bench as Zak Irvin will look to prove himself again in an environment that is difficult for any freshman.

Prediction: Michigan undoubtedly needs to play its best game of this season to win tonight’s showdown. A healthy Nik Stauskas would do wonders, but I think the game ultimately comes down to Derrick Walton, Jr. and Caris LeVert. Both of these young Wolverines have shown promise early on, but neither has had a coming out party on the road against a big-name team like Duke. Ultimately, I think Rodney Hood and Quinn Cook prove to be the difference as the Blue Devils pull away late, 84-74.

Hoops opponent preview: Duke

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013


#22/21 Michigan (5-2) vs #10/8 Duke (6-2) – Durham, NC – 9:15pm EST – ESPN
Offense
78.1 Points/gm 87.0
(190-429) 44.3 Field Goal % 52.1 (235-451)
(66-181) 36.5 3-pt FG % 43.2 (67-155)
(101-140) 72.1 Free Throw % 72.9 (159-218)
14.4 FT Made/gm 19.9
39.6 Reb/gm 32.6
15.7 Assists/gm 16.3
9.3 Turnovers/gm 10.8
Defense
61.0 Points/gm 73.8
(160-391) 40.9 Field Goal % 45.0 (206-458)
(38-115) 33.0 3-pt FG % 27.0 (30-111)
32.9 Opp. Reb/gm 33.4
7.0 Steals/gm 6.9
2.9 Blocks/gm 3.3
Individual Leaders
Nik Stauskas (20.3), Caris LeVert (13.9) Points/gm Jabari Parker (23.0), Rodney Hood (20.0)
Mitch McGary (7.8), Jon Horford (5.7) Reb/gm Jabari Parker (8.0), Rodney Hood (5.0)

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Michigan rebounded from its Puerto Rico Tip-Off Championship loss to Charlotte with a dominant 87-45 thumping of Coppin State on Friday night. Tonight, the Wolverines look to win their second in a row, but standing in the way is the toughest opponent they have faced to date, the Duke Blue Devils. It’s Michigan’s matchup in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Let’s take a look at Duke:

The Starters
Minutes Points FG% 3FG% FT% Reb Ast TO Blk Stl
Jabari Parker (F) 30.9 23.0 55.4 50.0 73.5 8.0 2.0 3.1 1.8 1.2
Rodney Hood (F) 32.6 20.0 62.2 59.1 81.8 5.0 1.9 2.1 0.4 1.1
Quinn Cook (G) 34.8 13.4 48.8 38.2 84.2 2.6 6.0 1.8 0.1 0.5
Amile Jefferson (F) 15.4 5.8 70.4 00.0 33.3 4.0 0.5 0.6 0.1 0.5
Tyler Thornton (G) 21.6 2.9 46.7 44.4 1.000 2.3 2.5 0.6 0.1 1.4

Jabari Parker (6’8″, 235) is obviously the main man in Durham right now. The freshman from Chicago scored at least 20 points in each of the first seven games of his career. In the eighth, he scored 19 against fourth-ranked Arizona. He can do it inside and outside, shooting over 50 percent from both, and leads the Blue Devils in rebounding and blocked shots. In short, he should be in the NBA right now.

Rodney Hood (6’8″, 215) is a transfer from Mississippi State who sat out last season and has actually been more efficient than Parker in the early part of 2013. He hasn’t been as consistent (only eight points against Alabama but 30 against East Carolina), but is shooting over 60 percent from the field and has made 13 of 22 three-point attempts.

The other member of the frontcourt that gets the majority of the starts is Amile Jefferson (6’9″, 210). The sophomore is rail thin, although he has added 15 pounds since he got to Duke, and has the ability to pour it in on any given night. Against Kansas he scored 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting, but he has a total of just two points in the last three games.

In the backcourt, Quinn Cook (6’2″, 180) is the main floor general. He’s the only other player averaging in double figures (13.4 points per game) and has an assist-to-turnover ratio of over 3-to-1. He has hit at least two three-pointers in five of the eight games and scored 21 points in the season opener against Davidson.

He is joined by Tyler Thornton (6’2″, 190), who has started four of the eight games, and while he isn’t counted on to score, he has done a nice job of taking care of the ball and feeding the scorers.

The Others
Minutes Points FG% 3FG% FT% Reb Ast TO Blk Stl
Andre Dawkins (G) 11.7 7.3 47.1 44.4 87.5 1.0 0.5 0.4 0.0 0.2
Rasheed Sulaimon (G) 22.5 7.1 36.2 31.3 75.0 2.5 1.5 0.8 0.0 0.9
Matt Jones (G) 8.0 3.5 38.9 25.0 70.6 0.8 0.2 0.2 0.0 0.6
Josh Hairston (F) 12.8 2.3 45.5 00.0 80.0 1.9 0.6 0.4 0.1 0.1

Rasheed Sulaimon (6’4″, 190) could very well be the starter instead of Thornton as he has started four of eight games and plays more than half the minutes. He’s the team’s fifth-leading scorer at 7.1, but started the season with games of 20 points and 13 points against Davidson and Kansas, respectively.

Andre Dawkins (6’5″, 215) started 14 games in the 2011-12 season but took a redshirt year last season He’s a proven three-point shooter, shooting 44.4 percent so far this season and finished fifth in the ACC in 2011-12. In a two game stretch against Florida Atlantic and UNC Asheville, he hit 8-of-14 from downtown.

The Schedule
Date Opponent Score
Nov. 8 Davidson W 111-77
Nov. 12 #5 Kansas L 83-94
Nov. 15 Florida Atlantic W 97-64
Nov. 18 UNC Asheville W 91-55
Nov. 19 East Carolina W 83-74
Nov. 24 Vermont W 91-90
Nov. 27 Alabama W 74-64
Nov. 29 #4 Arizona L 66-72

Duke hasn’t played a true road game yet, although the Kansas matchup was in Chicago and the Alabama and Arizona games were in New York as part of the Preseason NIT. None of the opponents that have come into Cameron Indoor Stadium have been quality opponents, and it shows as Duke has won by an average of 95-72.

However, the last home game Duke played almost ended in an enormous upset. Vermont overcame a 15-point deficit to tie the game with 10 seconds remaining, but Rodney Hood split a pair of free throws and the Catamounts were unable to get a shot off, falling by one. That Vermont, 3-6, was able to come into Cameron Indoor and nearly beat the Blue Devils shows that it is possible, especially for a Michigan squad that is light years better than Vermont.

Kansas and Arizona both beat Duke on neutral courts, and if Michigan wants to show it can hang with the big boys this season, stealing a win in Durham would certainly send a strong message.

The Series

Michigan and Duke have met 29 times and Michigan has won just eight of them, the last being an 81-73 victory in Ann Arbor on Dec. 6, 2008. Duke has won the last two, 82-75 in the 2011 Maui Invitational, and 73-71 in the second round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament. Michigan is 3-9 all-time at Cameron Indoor Stadium with the last win being a 62-61 victory on Dec. 8, 1996.

The Big Ten/ACC Challenge

Michigan owns a 5-7 all-time record in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, while Duke has the best Challenge record of all teams at 12-2. Michigan’s last victory was a 79-72 win over NC State last season. The Wolverines are 1-4 in road games in the Challenge with the only victory being a 69-61 win at Clemson on Nov. 30, 2010. This will be the first meeting between Michigan and Duke as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Big Ten has won the last four Challenges.

Can Michigan overtake Duke for top spot?

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012


Michigan’s continued dominance coupled with Indiana’s overtime loss to Butler on Saturday afternoon allowed the Wolverines to move up yet another spot in the national rankings. Michigan began the season fifth, but has steadily climbed to second while those above them have faltered. All except Duke, which remains the only team ranked ahead of them.

The last time Michigan reached second in the rankings was the second year of the Fab Five, the 1992-93 season that remains marred by scandal and erased from the record books. Most current college students have never seen Michigan ranked as high as it is now.

So how far can the Wolverines keep going? Can they supplant the Blue Devils for the top spot? How long will Michigan remain unbeaten? Let’s take a look at Michigan’s upcoming schedule as well as those of Duke and the other remaining unbeatens.

Next 10 games
#1 Duke (9-0) #2 Michigan (11-0) #3 Syracuse (9-0) #4 Arizona (8-0)
Dec. 19 vs Cornell Dec. 20 vs EMU Dec. 22 vs Temple Dec. 18 vs Oral Roberts
Dec. 20 vs Elon Dec. 29 vs CMU Dec. 29 vs Alcorn State Dec. 22 vs ETSU
Dec. 29 vs Santa Clara Jan. 3 @ NW Dec. 31 vs C. Con. State Jan. 3 vs Colorado
Jan. 2 vs Davidson Jan. 6 vs Iowa Jan. 2 vs Rutgers Jan. 5 vs Utah
Jan. 5 vs Wake Forest Jan. 9 vs Nebraska Jan. 6 @ USF Jan. 10 @ Oregon
Jan. 8 vs Clemson Jan. 13 @ #7 Ohio State Jan. 9 @ Providence Jan. 12 @ Oregon State
Jan. 12 @ #25 NC State Jan. 17 @ #13 Minnesota Jan. 12 vs Villanova Jan. 19 vs Arizona State
Jan. 17 vs Georgia Tech Jan. 24 vs Purdue Jan. 19 @ #5 Louisville Jan. 24 vs UCLA
Jan. 23 @ Miami Jan. 27 @ #10 Illinois Jan. 21 vs #11 Cincinnati Jan. 26 vs USC
Jan. 26 vs Maryland Jan. 30 vs NW Jan. 26 @ Villanova Jan. 31 @ Washington

Right off the bat, the main thing that’s apparent is that Michigan faces the toughest schedule in the next month. Eastern and Central Michigan will close out the non-conference slate and the calendar year, while Northwestern, Iowa, and Nebraska should also be victories, leaving Michigan 16-0 heading into the Jan. 13 matchup at Ohio State. That would match the longest streak since the 1985-86 team started 16-0. If the Wolverines come out of Columbus unbeaten, they then head to Minneapolis four days later for another tough matchup. Survive that and Michigan hosts Purdue and then visits currently unbeaten and 10th-ranked Illinois.

Trey Burke's 18ppg and 7-2 assist-to-turnover average have Michigan flying high (Tony Ding, AP)

Duke still hasn’t played a true road game this season, having played Kentucky, Minnesota, Louisville, and Temple on neutral sites. The Blue Devils won’t play their first road game until Jan. 12 at N.C. State and may not face a realistic threat until Feb. 13 against North Carolina. In fact, Duke, N.C. State, and North Carolina are the only ranked teams in the ACC, so the Blue Devils certainly have an easier remaining road to retaining the No.1 spot than Michigan does.

Syracuse is right on Michigan’s heels in the rankings, but hasn’t beaten a ranked team yet this season. Last night, the Orange nearly lost to Detroit. An 8-1 Temple squad could present an interesting matchup on Saturday, but after that Syracuse should cruise into a Jan. 19 matchup at fifth-ranked Louisville undefeated. If they can survive that one, they host currently unbeaten Cincinnati two days later.

Arizona got by No.5 Florida on Saturday and now doesn’t have a currently ranked team left on its schedule. The 9-1 Oregon Ducks could be the team to trip up the Wildcats on Jan. 10 in Eugene. If not, it’s hard to see Arizona losing before Michigan, given the comparative schedules.

Of course, going undefeated is nearly impossible in today’s college basketball, and losing some games and facing adversity may even be preferable before the NCAA Tournament beings. No one expects Michigan to go unbeaten, but it would be fun to see the Wolverines grab the top spot. But even if it doesn’t happen, Michigan has proven over the first few weeks of the season that they’re a force to be reckoned with and can match up with anyone.

Michigan should make it at least three more weeks at No.2, but likely won’t pass Duke unless the Blue Devils stumble big time. Once Jan. 13 hits, Michigan will face big-time opponents pretty much every other game the rest of the season. It will be tough to earn a No.1 seed in the Big Dance, but even with a few Big Ten losses, Michigan should be good enough to earn a 2-seed. But there’s still a lot of basketball left to play.