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Michigan vs Kansas State preview/quick thoughts

Friday, November 23rd, 2012


After a hard-fought, grind-it-out victory over Pittsburgh two nights ago, Michigan returns to Madison Square Garden to take on Bruce Weber’s Kansas State Wildcats in the championship game of the NIT Season Tip-off. The Wolverines got a taste of the big stage on Wednesday night against a formidable opponent that should find its way into the Big Dance come March while Kansas State barely clawed its way to a 66-63 semifinal win over the Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens. Today’s final (4:30pm on ESPN) pits these two unbeaten teams against each other for all the marbles. The game may look one-sided on paper, but here are some things to pay attention to:

#4 Michigan v. Kansas State
Friday, Nov. 23
4:30pm ET
ESPN
4-0 Record 5-0
83.8 Points Per Game 78.2
56.2 Scoring Defense 50.2
124-for-230 (53.9%) Field Goal % 142-for-330 (43.0%)
87-for-237 (36.7%) Def. Field Goal % 93-for-274 (33.9%)
37-for-81 (45.7%) 3-point % 34-for-96 (35.4%)
28-for-88 (31.8%) Def. 3-point % 20-for-95 (21.1%)
50-for-69 (72.5%) Free Throw % 73-for-106 (68.9%)
12.5 FT Made/Game 14.6
41.5 Rebounds Per Game 47.2
27.0 Opp. Reb. Per Game 31.8
15.3 Assists Per Game 17.4
10.3 Turnovers Per Game 13.0
4.0 Steals Per Game 9.0
1.8 Blocks Per Game 3.8
G – Trey Burke (18.0)
G – Tim Hardaway (17.0)
Leading Scorer G – Angel Rodriguez (11.2)
G – Rodney McGruder (10.0)
G – Tim Hardaway (6.8)
F – Mitch McGary (6.5)
Leading Rebounder F – D.J. Johnson (6.6)
F – Thomas Gipson (6.4)

1. Preparation: There are a couple reasons for scheduling these so-called “preseason” tournaments at the beginning of the college basketball season. Obviously money, camaraderie, and national attention play a part in it, but teams are also looking for solid opponents early on to prepare for the conference season, fun match-ups on big-time stages, and, perhaps most importantly, preparation for what is to come in March. With less than two full days to prepare for the next game, a neutral floor, and an unfamiliar opponent, the NIT Season Tip-off really has the feel of the NCAA Tournament. For Michigan fans, this could come with a bit of angst, as coach John Beilein has never led his Wolverines to more than one victory in the Big Dance, but he is known as being one of the best Xs and Os coaches in the college game, which should give Michigan a slight advantage against Kansas State. Beilein’s unique offense is also often noted for being incredibly difficult to prepare for, especially with a short turn-around from a previous game, and if Beilein decides to try the 1-3-1 zone again today after using it effectively against Pitt, Bruce Weber is going to have fits. There is simply no way to prepare for both of these schemes in a 44-hour timeframe. One more preparation advantage that should go Michigan’s way: both coaches are familiar with each other after going head-to-head for five years in the Big Ten, but Weber is brand new at Kansas State, so his players are still adjusting to new sets and will have very little knowledge of Beilein’s offense or defense while Beilein has some veterans that have had time to grasp the system.

2. Balance: Kansas State’s star player is unanimous preseason All-Big 12 First Team selection Rodney McGruder, but he has struggled so far this season and is only averaging 10 points and four rebounds per game while shooting 2-of-15 (13.3%) from downtown. Weber’s approach thus far has seemed to stress a balanced attack that won’t rely on one or two dominant players but will ride the hot hand on any given night. So far, it has worked, as the Wildcats sit at 5-0 and have only had one close call. A whopping 11 Kansas State players average more than 10 minutes per game and nine of those 11 score more than five points per game. Obviously these numbers are a bit skewed due to the competition level so far (North Dakota, Lamar, Alabama-Huntsville, North Florida, and Delaware), but it is apparent that Michigan should see a variety of looks with a hectic substitution pace on the other bench. Knowing the scouting report and opposing player tendencies is always important when so many different players will be seeing the floor, so Michigan will have to pay special attention to Kansas State’s five shooters in Angel Rodriguez, McGruder, Will Spradling, Shane Southwell, and Martavious Irving while being aware of each players’ abilities. Michigan’s balanced attack has been solid so far as well, with four guys in double digits, but their scoring punch should be more predictable.

Angel Rodriguez will put pressure on Michigan's guards (Charlie Riedel, AP)

3. Possession: Every statistic in basketball ultimately filters down to one thing: possessions. No, the team with the most possessions isn’t necessarily the winning team every time, but the goal of just about every coach is to maximize the number and efficiency of possessions for their team and limit the number and efficiency of possessions for the opponent. Historically John Beilein has done this by cutting down on his own team’s turnovers and limiting fast-break opportunities for the opponent, thus maximizing his possessions and minimizing the effectiveness of the other teams’ possessions. This season, we have seen a slight philosophical change as Michigan continues to rebound well offensively while still limiting the opponents’ fast breaks and holding onto the ball. The Wolverines are able to do this because they have more size, speed, length, and athleticism than in past years. Kansas State’s biggest weakness so far has been on the offensive end, where they have struggled shooting the ball (43% from the field) and have coughed up the ball at an unacceptable rate (13 turnovers per game). If the Wildcats continue to shoot poorly and turn the ball over to Michigan tonight, it will not be a pretty sight for Weber. On the other hand, if Kansas State starts playing well early on, look for Beilein to give the 1-3-1 a shot to switch up the tempo and force some turnovers.

Prediction: On paper this game looks like it will be all Michigan, and even though paper and stats aren’t always right, I have a hard time seeing how Kansas State will keep up throughout. Michigan will get back on track from long range and dominate the turnover game on its way to a 71-58 championship victory.

Michigan 67 – Pitt 62: Rare 1-3-1 helps Michigan outlast Pitt

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012


Final 1st 2nd Total
#4 Michigan 29 38 67
Pittsburgh 33 29 62

Just a year or two ago, no one would have given Michigan much of a chance of coming back in last night’s game. With Jamie Dixon’s Panthers leading by four at the half and by seven early in the second stanza, it just seemed like it wasn’t Michigan’s night. Bounces were going the other way, shots weren’t falling, and Pitt was knocking down everything. But this team isn’t the old Michigan.

Right as things could have gotten out of control, John Beilein had the brilliant idea of trying out the 1-3-1 zone, the same zone that has both made him famous and led many pundits to believe that it’s Michigan’s primary defensive set. Contrary to this thought, however, the Wolverines haven’t operated this unique zone on defense for extended periods of time for at least two seasons. The number of possessions it was played last season couldn’t probably be tallied on two hands.

Perhaps that is the reason it was so effective. As soon as Beilein raised three fingers from the bench and yelled out “THREE!”, it was evident that Pittsburgh had not expected it. Dixon’s squad immediately went into shambles on the offensive end after burying the Wolverines in the first half with drive-and-kicks for made buckets with the shot clock winding down. Now, Pitt could hardly get a clean shot off without a Wolverine defender at least getting a hand on the ball at some point in the possession.

Tim Hardaway Jr was big in the second half despite shooting 1-of-7 from three (Kathy Willens, AP)

Around the same time in the second half, Michigan’s vaunted offense came alive after only managing 29 first-half points. It wasn’t a typical night for a Beilein team, as the Wolverines shot only 3-of-17 from downtown, but they still managed to get the job done with a balanced attack, key jumpers from two freshmen, and incredible finishes around the rim from their two superstars.

Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. played 38 minutes each, showing that in close games against top competition, Beilein is still going to rely on his proven talent to carry the team. Their combined 1-of-11 three-point shooting will make Michigan fans cringe, but without them, Pitt would have run away by double digits. Burke and Hardaway attacked the basket with no abandon in the second half and managed 17 and 16 points respectively while shooting 10-of-16 from inside the arc. They also combined for eight rebounds, seven assists, and only two turnovers. If there was ever any doubt about this team’s on-court leadership, last night’s comeback erased it.

Freshmen Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas were again fundamental in the win, going for 13 and 15 points respectively in a combined 7-of-10 two-point shooting. On most nights Stauskas will do his damage from outside the three-point line, and it looked like that would be the case early on as a corner three with a defender in his face hit nothing but net to keep Michigan afloat. As the game went on and Stauskas’s outside shots weren’t falling, however, he showed everyone that he is no one-trick pony, flashing unforeseen quickness in attacking the basket and a mid-range jumper that may be smoother than his outside shot. Robinson III was again fairly quiet, but a talent like him simply cannot go unnoticed. There were no highlight-reel dunks, but there was an impressive block and a slew of rebounds that he got his hands on in addition to some nice cuts for lay-ups.

Looking at the box score, there are a couple items that stand out as being the difference in the game. Pittsburgh took three more shots (53 to 50) than Michigan and the two teams were within a percentage point in field goal shooting (Michigan 46% – Pitt 45.3%), a statistical wash. Three-point shooting, a typical strength for Beilein’s team (Michigan came in leading the nation in three-point shooting at around 53%), was a huge advantage to Pitt, as they made 40 percent of their 20 threes while Michigan was an awful 17.6 percent. Anyone who saw those numbers before the game would have undoubtedly put their life on the Panthers, and probably by a significant margin.

That would not be the case in New York last night though. Michigan’s aggressiveness was key in seeing them get to the line twice as often as their counterparts, and their 81.8 percent mark (18-of-22), led by Stauskas’s 6-of-6 free throw shooting, was huge in the comeback. Pitt got to the line just 11 times and made only six of their attempts, which proved to be more than enough to make up the point differential.

The rebounding game also gave Michigan a little bit of a leg up on the Panthers. After Dixon’s squad dominated the glass early on, Beilein switched to a two-big lineup for a minute to help mitigate the advantage, and it seemed to work before a smaller and quicker five held their own in the second half and got some better bounces. Michigan rebounded 82.1 percent of the available defensive rebounds and 33.3 percent of their offensive misses, impressive numbers for a Beilein team.

Many might look at the rankings and immediately think that this game should have been a gimme for the Maize and Blue, but make no mistake about it, Pittsburgh is a solid squad that should compete in the Big East and make the NCAA Tournament. The crowd was also on the Panthers’ side all night long, and under the bright lights of New York City against the first big-time opponent of the year, this was a quality win for Michigan, if nothing other than to prove the doubters wrong. Michigan’s bigs completed dominated top-10 freshman center Steven Adams, holding him to the tune of one rebound, zero points, and two fouls in just 10 minutes, and Michigan looked like the better team overall when all was said and done.

Two years ago, a Michigan team down at the half, trailing early in the second, and making only three threes all game would have been dead in the water. Last night, as the lights shone bright in the Big Apple, Michigan’s veteran stars shone brighter, and together with some young talent, proved that Michigan is back. No questions asked.

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
01 Glenn Robinson III* 5-8 1-2 2-4 3 2 5 2 13 1 1 1 1 33
52 Jordan Morgan* 2-4 0-0 0-0 4 4 8 1 4 0 2 0 0 29
03 Trey Burke* 5-16 0-4 7-8 0 4 4 3 17 6 1 0 1 38
10 Tim Hardaway Jr* 6-13 1-7 3-3 0 4 4 3 16 1 1 0 0 38
13 Matt Vogrich* 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 8
02 Spike Albrecht 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2
04 Mitch McGary 1-1 0-0 0-0 1 2 3 4 2 0 3 0 2 13
05 Eso Akunne 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2
11 Nik Stauskas 4-8 1-4 6-6 0 5 5 0 15 0 0 1 1 33
15 Jon Horford 0-0 0-0 1-1 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 0 4
Totals 23-50 3-17 18-22 10 27 37 15 67 8 9 2 5 200
Pittsburgh 24-53 8-20 6-11 6 20 26 21 62 15 10 0 5 200

Michigan vs Pittsburgh quick thoughts

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012


After rolling in the preliminary home rounds over IUPUI and Cleveland State by an average of 33.5 points, Michigan now makes the trip to the legendary Madison Square Garden in New York to compete for the NIT Season Tip-Off. The first semifinal pits Jamie Dixon’s Pittsburgh Panthers against John Beilein’s Wolverines, a matchup of two undefeated teams and the first matchup for either team against a high major opponent. Here are a few things to watch out for in the primetime battle (9:30pm on ESPN2).

GRIII and Mitch McGary have played well so far, but can they do it on the big stage? (Paul Sancyz, AP)

  1. Big Stage Jitters: As mentioned before, both teams are playing a BCS-level opponent for the first time this season and both will be playing under the bright lights in New York City with the nation watching. The NCAA Tournament is more than four months away, and not a single conference game has been played yet, but this semifinal has the feel of March for both sides. A Michigan win would keep them in the top five in the country and set the stage for them to win a solid preseason tournament while a Pitt win would almost certainly see them jump into the top 20 and give them a high-quality win on the resume. Dixon’s squad missed the Big Dance for the first time since 2001 last season, and they will certainly be hungry to get back where they belong. A victory tomorrow would be huge, so Michigan needs to play hard and calm to prevent a semi-upset from happening. Both teams have veteran leaders in Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. for Michigan and Tray Woodall and J.J. Moore for Pitt, but freshmen will need to step up in key roles for each side as well. An unfamiliar backdrop and court could also affect both teams early on, but the team that comes out calm and confident should have an early leg up.
  1. Strong Start: Michigan has had no problem dispatching of lesser teams by the midway point through the first half, but it has been a bit of a struggle for Pittsburgh in the early goings. The Panthers found themselves down by 14 points at halftime and by as many as 18 in the second half last Saturday before making a huge comeback and taking Oakland down by 10 points in overtime. Before that, Pitt led by only five points over Lehigh at the half despite limiting All American C.J. McCollum’s effectiveness throughout. Beilein has certainly noticed this in his film study and will urge his team to come out strong on both ends to jump out to an early lead. So far this season Michigan’s coaches have stressed getting three straight stops to start the game; an early six- or seven-point lead for the Maize and Blue could be devastating to Pittsburgh. And unlike Oakland and Lehigh, Michigan has the depth and firepower to maintain and stretch early leads. Dixon knows his team can ill afford another poor start, so pay close attention to the score at around the 10-minute mark tonight.

    Jordan Morgan will need to play big on the inside (Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

  1. Size and Rebounding: In recent years, Pittsburgh would likely focus on winning the rebounding battle as the key to putting Michigan away, but with the added size and depth down low for the Wolverines in the form of Mitch McGary, Jordan Morgan, and Jon Horford, Michigan will need to hang tough and stick with the aggressive Panthers on the glass. Pitt has simply dominated their opponents so far in the rebounding department, particularly on the offensive end, so look for Beilein to perhaps deploy his two-big offense more often than we’ve seen so far. Freshman big man Steven Adams has been solid thus far for Dixon but he hasn’t been the force many projected early on. The battle between him and McGary should be very interesting and will be something to keep an eye on to see whose freshmen are best prepared. Glenn Robinson III and Hardaway, Jr.’s rebounding should help to at least neutralize Pittsburgh’s perceived rebounding advantage; in the end, though, it will likely come down to who is shooting better and holding onto the ball.

Prediction: Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway will be Michigan’s cogs once again on offense and Tray Woodall and Talib Zanna should put up good numbers for Michigan, but the X-factor will be the second and third tier of players for both teams. If one-time Michigan recruit Trey Zeigler shines for Pitt and catches fire, the Panthers will have a balanced attack that will be hard to stop, but if Tre Robinson and Nik Stauskas continue their impressive college debuts, the Wolverines will be hard to stop. I think the rebounding numbers will be pretty even, Michigan will win the turnover battle, and Beilein’s freshmen will make the difference as the Wolverines advance to the NIT Preseason final, 77-65. Hardaway, Jr. and Burke lead the way with 38 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists combined.

Michigan hoops preview: Pittsburgh

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012


#4 Michigan v. Pittsburgh
Wednesday, Nov. 21
9:30pm ET
ESPN2
3-0 Record 4-0
89.3 Points Per Game 79.0
54.3 Scoring Defense 53.5
101-for-180 (56.1%) Field Goal % 122-for-232 (52.6%)
63-for-184 (34.2%) Def. Field Goal % 70-for-176 (39.8%)
34-for-64 (53.1%) 3-point % 19-for-63 (30.2%)
20-for-68 (29.4%) Def. 3-point % 26-for-70 (37.1%)
32-for-47 (68.1%) Free Throw % 53-for-79 (67.1%)
10.7 FT Made/Game 13.3
43.0 Rebounds Per Game 35.8
27.3 Opp. Reb. Per Game 23.0
17.7 Assists Per Game 19.3
10.7 Turnovers Per Game 9.0
3.7 Steals Per Game 8.8
1.7 Blocks Per Game 4.0
G – Trey Burke (18.3)
G – Tim Hardaway (17.3)
Leading Scorer F – Talib Zanna (14.0)
G – Tray Woodall (13.8)
G – Tim Hardaway (7.7)
F – Mitch McGary (7.7)
Leading Rebounder F – Dante Taylor (7.5)
C – Steven Adams (5.5)

After three cupcakes to open the season, Michigan finally has a chance to show what it’s truly made of against a quality opponent on the big stage. The Wolverines face Pittsburgh tonight in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off in Madison Square Garden.

The Panthers are 4-0 with wins over Mount St. Mary’s (80-48), Fordham (86-51), Lehigh (78-53), and Oakland (72-62 OT). While the first three results were expected just like Michigan’s first three, the overtime win over Okland was not. The Golden Grizzlies are a traditionally solid mid-major, but are just 2-3 so far this season.

In the game, Oakland built a 14-point halftime lead and pushed it to 18 at one point in the second half. But Pitt flexed its big boy muscles and came roaring back, using a 7-0 run in the final minute to force overtime. In the extra stanza, the Panthers continued that hot end-of-game run by scoring 11 of the first 13 points to put the game away.

Pitt is led by a trio of scorers, redshirt junior forward Talib Zanna, senior guard Tray Woodall, and junior forward J.J. Moore. Zanna is currently the team’s leading scorer, averaging 14 points per game. The 6’9″ Nigerian has scored 20 points each in two games and eight points each in the other two. In the two that he scored 20, he shot a combined 18-of-21 from the field.

Woodall is the man who runs the show, averaging 13.8 points and 7.3 assists per game so far. He scored 23 against Lehigh, but struggled against Oakland, shooting 2-of-14 overall and 2-of-10 from three-point range, scoring just six points.

Moore scored 20 against Fordham and recorded a double-double against Oakland with 16 points and 10 rebounds while coming off the bench.

Along with Zanna and Woodall, the other starters are freshman guard James Robinson (seven points per game), redshirt junior wing Lamar Patterson (2.5 points), and freshman center Steven Adams (7.8 points and 5.5 rebounds).

Another interesting player to watch for is former Michigan target Trey Zeigler. The junior transfered to Pitt from Central Michigan when his father, who was CMU’s head coach, was fired in March. He received a special waiver from the NCAA to play right away and is averaging 6.5 points in just over 18 minutes per game.

Last season, Pitt went 22-17 overall, but just 4-12 in the Big East. They didn’t receive a bid for the NCAA Tournament or the NIT, but instead played in the College Basketball Invitational and won it over Washington State.

Pitt certainly won’t be the best team Michigan faces all season, but the Panthers do present a solid early season test. Michigan’s freshmen that play a big role this season will be playing outside the comforts of the Crisler Center for the first time and against a major college opponent. The winner will face the winner of Kansas State and Delaware on Friday afternoon.