Michigan entered this 2013-14 college basketball season as a consensus top-15 squad, but so far, they have not lived up to the lofty expectations. After making it all the way to the NCAA Championship game earlier this year, the Wolverines are clearly missing their star point guard from a year ago and have yet to record a noteworthy win on the season. Now with four losses already in the books, Michigan needs to start digging themselves out of the small hole they find themselves in. The first opportunity to start that journey is tonight, as the Wolverines travel to the Barclays Center for a clash with a quality 8-2 Stanford Cardinal team (8:30pm on Fox Sports 1). Here are my three thoughts on tonight’s match-up.
Contain Chasson: Much has been made recently of the struggles of this Michigan team in finding a reliable point guard. Freshman Derrick Walton has started every game of the regular season thus far, but his inability to facilitate strong offense in the half court has become increasingly apparent and his turnovers are also concerning. Spike Albrecht is the other option, and while the offense seems to run smoother with the native Indianan on the floor, Michigan becomes vulnerable to attacking guards with the sophomore running the show. John Beilein’s solution to the problem thus far has been to ride the hot hand, and we should see much of the same tonight. With Stanford’s size, however, a bigger lineup featuring Caris LeVert at point guard and two bigs could be deployed frequently this evening.
Stanford, on the other hand, has had no problems figuring out who their contributors are, and it all begins at the point guard spot. Sophomore Chasson Randle has been money all season, averaging 18.6 points per game while shooting 52.1 percent from the floor and 44.4 percent from downtown. At just 6’2″, Randle is Stanford’s shortest starter by four inches and would normally draw the opposing team’s point guard, but the answer tonight might be to put LeVert on him and hope to limit his shots. In Stanford’s blowout loss to Pittsburgh, Randle only mustered 10 points on eight shots, but in this week’s massive win over UConn, Randle poured in 22 on 16 shots. Three other Cardinal players, Anthony Brown, Dwight Powell, and Josh Heustis, are also consistently good scorers, but Randle is the one to get everything going. If Michigan can successfully limit Randle’s looks, the Wolverines should pull out a victory, as the Stanford star only tallies two assists per game.
Want it More: Sometimes a basketball game simply comes down to willpower. Tonight, Michigan finds itself in what most are calling a must-win game, and with a crowd that should favor the Wolverines, the Maize and Blue need to bring lots of energy. Mitch McGary has been the guy to bring that energy seemingly everyday, but with a recent spat of injuries, McGary will most likely not be 100 percent tonight. Michigan can ill afford to lose five games before Big Ten season even rolls around, and while three of Michigan’s losses so far have been to high-quality opponents, the time is now for Michigan to show that it can win a game from start to finish. The loose balls, hustle points, and free throws all need to be going Michigan’s way if this team is to compete in the long haul.
Shoot the Lights Out: In losses to Iowa State, Charlotte, and Duke, Michigan’s struggles can basically be boiled down to poor shooting, as the Wolverines never shot better than 27 percent from deep. Tonight, Nik Stauskas and company are going to need to let it fly from long range with confidence. On paper and on film, Michigan is the better team, but their road woes so far are cause for concern. Last season’s games at the Barclays Center saw Michigan shoot very well, but the Wolverines simply haven’t found their offensive groove away from Crisler. With Stanford turning the ball over 12 times per game, and 30 total times in their two losses, Michigan needs to create some havoc on defense, run the floor, and find easy fast break layups and threes.
Prediction: A loss tonight for Michigan could potentially spell doom for their postseason aspirations, but a win would give them a quality neutral court win that should give the Wolverines some confidence with just two weeks to go until conference play begins. I think Nik Stauskas scores 20-plus and Michigan plays two bigs with LeVert at the same time for extended periods of time. It should be a competitive game for a while, but Michigan pulls away midway through the second half for a 78-67 win.