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Posts Tagged ‘Wildcats’

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)

___________________________________________________________________________________

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. 

The M&GB March Madness Five-Spot Challenge: Kentucky

Saturday, March 29th, 2014


M&GB March Madness Five-Spot Challenge banner

Michigan survived a late scare and beat Tennessee on Friday night to advance to the Elite Eight for the second straight season. That means the prize for the March Madness Five-Spot Challenge will go up to at least a $40 M Den gift card when the Wolverines face Kentucky on Sunday.

Bluwolf77 had the best score for the Tennessee game with a deviation of just 16. He correctly predicted that Michigan’s first three-pointer would come 124 seconds into the game, and that’s ultimately what got him the lowest deviation. HTTV134 maintains his lead for the overall prize, but it has narrowed to one over Maizenblu62. It’s still anyone’s game, especially if the Wolverines continue to advance.

Below are the results and updated standings. Remember, this is a cumulative contest that runs for as long as Michigan remains in the tournament.

March Madness Five-Spot Challenge Standings
Place Name Wofford Deviation (pts) Texas Deviation (pts) Tenn. Deviation (pts) Total
1 HTTV134 21 (10) 21 (9) 61 (8) 103 (27)
2 Maizenblu62 25 (9) 41 (4) 27 (13) 93 (26)
3 BigHouseBrandon 36 (5) 17 (10) 92 (5) 145 (20)
3 kfarmer16 37 (4) 41 (4) 29 (12) 107 (20)
3 bluwolf77 * 28 (6) 16 (14) 44* (20)
6 JustJeepGear.com 48 (1) 21 (9) 53 (9) 122 (19)
7 GregGoBlue * 26 (7) 36 (11) 62* (18)
8 Jim Mackiewicz 29 (7) 36 (5) 125 (2) 190 (14)
9 TexasWolverine 28 (8) 53 (1) 129 (1) 210 (10)
9 bigred * * 37 (10) 37* (10)
11 spooner_21 38 (3) 47 (2) 112 (3) 197 (8)
12 kashkaav * * 68 (7) 68* (7)
13 tooty_pops * * 73 (6) 73* (6)
13 Eisemant 31 (6) * * 31* (6)
15 Bhseelp * * 105 (4) 105* (4)
16 Matt Wiersum 46 (2) * * 46* (2)

If you missed the first three games, but still want to play for the Kentucky game and any subsequent games, here are the rules.

How to play: For starters, this isn’t a standard bracket challenge. This challenge will only focus on Michigan’s games. For each game, we will pose five questions, such as “What will be Michigan’s field goal percentage?” or “How many points will Jordan Morgan score?” If you predict Morgan to score 10 points and he only scores four, you get six points (the deviation). The results from all five questions will be totaled and the contestant with the lowest deviation from the actual is the winner.

Prizing: This will be a continual game that runs for as long as Michigan remains in the tournament. There will not be a prize for each game, but instead, an M Den gift card awarded to the overall winner in increments of $10 based on the number of games played. If Michigan loses its first game, it will be a $10 gift card. If the Wolverines advance to Round three, a $20 gift card; Sweet 16, $30; Elite 8, $40; Final Four, $50; and if Michigan makes it to the championship game, the prize will be a $60 gift card. So make sure to enter prior to each Michigan game throughout the tournament if you want to win.

Timing: Below are the questions for Michigan’s next game against Kentucky on Sunday. All entries must be received by tip-off (prior to 5:05 p.m. ET). If Michigan wins, the questions for the Final Four game will be posted on Monday and you will have until one minute before the start of that game on Saturday to enter, and so on for the rest of the tournament as long as Michigan advances. Results and updated standings will also be posted after each game. Good luck and may the odds be ever in your favor.

Here are the questions for the Kentucky game:

Inside the Numbers: Previewing the Midwest Regional — Louisville and Kentucky edition

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014


Pitino - Calipari(Britney McIntosh, UK)

Earlier today, “Inside the Numbers” provided Part One of its Midwest Regional Preview. Part One focused on the tough path Michigan faces to reach its second straight Final Four and presented an in-depth scouting report of Michigan’s Sweet Sixteen opponent, the No. 11-seed Tennessee Volunteers.

If the Wolverines beat the Volunteers, they will face either the No. 4-seed Louisville Cardinals or the No. 8-seed Kentucky Wildcats in the Elite Eight. Therefore, Part Two of the Midwest Regional Preview will provide an in-depth scouting report of each of the potential teams Michigan may see in the Elite Eight, so fans will know what to expect if U-M wins on Friday.

Louisville: 31-5 (15-3 AAC) | Seed: No. 4 | Pomeroy Rank: No. 3

Overview: On Selection Sunday, many analysts picked Louisville as one of their favorites to not only to emerge out of the Midwest Regional, but to win the national championship. These predictions were not baseless. Entering the NCAA Tournament, Louisville was streaking, having won 11 of its past 12 games. Further, the Cardinals did not just win these games. They demolished the competition, recording an average margin of victory of 27.2 points during this span. However, Louisville had a shaky first weekend in the NCAA Tournament, barely scraping by No. 13-seed Manhattan before winning a slop fest against No. 5-seed Saint Louis. Louisville advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, but it no longer appears to be the juggernaut everyone claimed it was.

Resume: 3-1 vs. Pomeroy Top 25; 7-5 vs. Pomeroy Top 50; 9-5 vs. Pomeroy Top 100; No losses vs. Pomeroy Sub-100

Louisville ran through most of its schedule without a hiccup. The Cardinals played 24 teams outside Pomeroy’s top 50 and 22 teams outside his top 100. Louisville thrashed most of them by at least 20 points. However, Louisville had only the 101st-toughest schedule in the nation according to Pomeroy. The reason is because the Cardinals played so few top 50 teams. And, on top of that, the Cardinals did not perform consistently against these upper-tier teams, losing five times in 12 games, albeit none by double digits. For this reason, it is unclear whether Louisville can string together enough wins against elite competition to contend for a national title.

Four Factors:

Louisville Four Factors

Offensive Profile: Louisville is extremely efficient offensively, ranking No. 15 in adjusted offensive efficiency. This is no surprise when the Cardinals racked up 1.160 points per possession in AAC play. Yet Louisville did not fare as well against stingy Manhattan and Saint Louis defenses, failing to exceed one point per possession in the NCAA Tournament. This has unearthed some cracks in the foundation.

The most evident crack is turnovers. This may seem odd because Louisville has been great about not coughing up the basketball, ranking No. 25 in offensive turnover rate. Nonetheless, Louisville’s offensive efficiency relies on maintaining a low offensive turnover rate. This can be a problem when Louisville’s point guard is Russ Smith.

Smith is the engine of Louisville’s offense. He has a usage rate of 30.9 percent, which is the 35th-highest rate in the nation. Despite this, Smith has actually been more efficient this season than in years past. He is shooting better than he ever has from both two and three, while recording his best assist rate to date. Smith also gets to the free-throw line frequently. In two NCAA Tournament games, Smith has made 21 trips to the charity stripe. Nonetheless, Smith is a wildcard. He has a reputation for forcing plays and taking bad shots. If Smith starts to think he can beat defenses one on five, he starts to take contested two-point jumpers and commit careless turnovers. It is no coincidence that in Louisville’s last two games, during which its offense stumbled for long stretches, Smith had 13 turnovers total.

The Cardinals also like to get the ball to their best big man, Montrezl Harrell, in the post Harrell is an athletic freak who uses his natural abilities and strength to be productive around the rim and sky high for offensive rebounds. Harrell may have a nice tough on his jump shot, but do not expect many from him. Two-thirds of his shots are dunks, layups, and tips, of which he makes 72 percent. He is a load for defenses to hand in the interior.

Michigan fans are well aware of Luke Hancock from last year's championship game, but he's the fifth-best three-point shooter Louisville has (Jeff Reinking, UL Athletics)

Michigan fans are well aware of Luke Hancock from last year’s championship game, but he’s the fifth-best three-point shooter Louisville has (Jeff Reinking, UL Athletics)

On the perimeter, Louisville has an army of shooters. There are five Cardinals who have attempted at least 50 threes and made at least 34 percent. Luke Hancock—a name Michigan fans are all too familiar with—is the first person who comes to mind, but he has actually been worst of these five shooters, barely making 34 percent. Wayne Blackshear (40.2 pct.), Smith (39.7 pct.), Chris Jones (38.1 pct.), and Terry Rozier (37.1 pct.) have been much more lethal from downtown. Accordingly, Louisville punishes teams that try to play zone defense against it.

One thing to keep an eye on is Louisville’s free-throw shooting. Louisville does not need free throws to improve its offensive efficiency. But, by shooting only 66.3 percent from the charity stripe, the Cardinals may leave the door open for opponents trying to claw their way back into a game in the final minutes. If opponents are in a must-foul situation, Harrell, who makes less than 50 percent of his free throws, is the man they want to send to the line.

Defensive Profile: Louisville is even better defensively. Louisville is ranked No. 3 in adjusted defensive efficiency behind only Arizona and Florida. Louisville held AAC teams to 0.905 points per possession. The Cardinals have been even better in the NCAA Tournament, limiting Manhattan and Saint Louis to only 0.833 points per possession. It is on the defensive end where Louisville dominates games.

Pressure is the one word needed to summarize Louisville’s defense. Louisville attacks opponents defensively by running a variety of full-court and three-quarters-court presses. These presses cause opponents to panic and make mental mistakes, like throwing the ball away. This is why Louisville has the second-best defensive turnover rate, forcing opponents to commit a turnover 25 percent of the time, and the second-best defensive steal rate. Additionally, these presses help Louisville speed up the tempo of the game to a pace that best suits the Cardinals.

Without these turnovers, though, Louisville is not nearly as effective in getting stops. Louisville’s half-court defense allows too many offensive rebounds because the Cardinals’ wings are trying to get out in transition to ignite a fast break before their post players have hauled in the defensive rebound. Further, if Louisville does not force turnovers, the intense and hectic pressure that it applies causes referees to call fouls on the Cardinals, sending opponents to the free-throw line often. This is why teams that can break Louisville’s presses have the best chance to light up the scoreboard.

However, Louisville’s defense is not a one-trick pony. The Cardinals’ field-goal defense is top-notch. The Cardinals have the sixth-best defensive effective field-goal percentage (eFG%) in the nation. The Cardinals hold opponents to just 44.2 percent shooting on two-pointers, but are even better along the perimeter. Teams make only 28.6 percent of their threes against Louisville, which is the second-lowest percentage in the nation. But this is more likely good luck than anything else. Three-point defense is more about how much a defense limits three-point attempts. Although Louisville is decent at preventing three-point attempts, the Cardinals are by no means locking down the three-point line.

Michigan’s Key to Victory: If Michigan rematches the team it fell to in last year’s championship game, the turnover battle will be the key. Offensively for Michigan, the Wolverines will be dealing with Louisville’s pressure all game. The good news for the Wolverines is that they are one of the best at holding onto the basketball. Michigan always has multiple excellent ball handlers on the court, whether it is Derrick Walton, Jr., Spike Albrecht, Nik Stauskas, or Caris LeVert. Accordingly, U-M’s offensive turnover rate is only 14.7 percent, which is the 12th-best in the nation. If Michigan can routinely break Louisville’s pressure, it will be able to slow the pace to its liking and limit Louisville’s points off turnovers.

Defensively for Michigan, the Wolverines will have problems getting stops unless Smith decides to do it all by himself. If Smith tries hero ball, he likely will shut out his teammates and turn over the basketball frequently. However, Michigan does not pressure opposing offenses into turnovers. Therefore, if Smith is able to get into a groove and get his teammates involved, the Wolverines will have a very difficult time defending not only Harrell in the paint, but also all of Louisville’s snipers around the perimeter.

Kentucky: 26-10 (12-6 SEC) | Seed: No. 8 | Pomeroy Rank: No. 13

Overview: No team had more preseason hype than Kentucky. With what many scouts dubbed as the best recruiting class in the history of college basketball, even better than Michigan’s “Fab Five,” Kentucky was ranked No. 1 in the preseason Associated Press (AP) poll. Some even though that a perfect 40-0 season was realistic. Not exactly. The regular season was a rollercoaster ride for the youngest and most inexperienced team in the country. Kentucky appeared to be stumbling at the finish line, but a hard-fought, one-point loss to top-ranked Florida in the SEC Tournament reminded the Wildcats just how talented they really are. UK used this confidence boost to beat No. 9-seed Kansas State in the opening round before handing No. 1-seed Wichita State its first loss of the season in an all-time classic.

Resume: 3-5 vs. Pomeroy Top 25; 5-6 vs. Pomeroy Top 50; 16-9 vs. Pomeroy Top 100; One loss vs. Pomeroy Sub-100

Kentucky played one of the most difficult schedules in the country. Unlike many major-conference schools, the Wildcats scheduled a challenging non-conference slate. UK failed to win any of its first three marquee non-conference contests against Michigan State, Baylor, and North Carolina, but the Wildcats earned a signature win by upending in-state rival Louisville. In conference play, though, UK’s only quality wins was a home victory against Tennessee. It also did not help that UK was swept by Florida and Arkansas and suffered a bad road loss to South Carolina. But this did not prevent Kentucky from earning its best win of the year last Sunday when UK knocked off formerly undefeated Wichita State.

Four Factors:

Kentucky Four Factors

Offensive Profile: Kentucky is ranked No. 17 in adjusted offensive efficiency, but its offense has been faltering in the past few weeks. Through UK’s first 27 games, the Wildcats exceeded one point per possession in each game. In the nine games thereafter, though, Kentucky has managed to exceed that mark only four times. This is a sign of inconsistency, but the Wildcats did just post 1.258 points per possession against Wichita State, the most the Shockers allowed all season.

This inconsistency stems from poor shooting. Kentucky is ranked No. 158 in eFG%. Do not blame Kentucky’s interior offense, though. The Wildcats convert 50.1 of their two-pointers, which is 102nd-best in the nation. They do this by feeding freshman star Julius Randle on the block. Randle is a walking double-double. He averages 15.1 points and 10.6 rebounds per game and has double-doubles in both of his NCAA Tournament games. Randle scores often because he uses a team-high 26.5 percent of UK’s possessions and is very efficient around the rim. About half of Randle’s shots are at the rim, of which he converts 71 percent because of his array of post moves and strength to outmuscle opposing defenders. However, Randle likes to settle for jumpers from time to time, of which he makes only 33.7 percent. Teams will make Randle look average if he repeated takes seven- to 15-foot jumpers all game.

Related
 Inside the Numbers: Previewing the Midwest Regional — Tennessee edition
Inside the Numbers: It sure is sweet
The M&GB March Madness Five-Spot Challenge: Tennessee

Kentucky also likes to get the ball to Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress on the block. They are not nearly as skilled as Randle or receive as many touches, but their size—Cauley Stein is 7’0” and Poythress is 6’8”—makes it difficult for defenders to guard them effectively. Similar to Randle, about half of their shots are around the rim. Cauley-Stein is more efficient there, making 76.2 percent, while Poythress converts 66.7 percent of his shots at the rim. Also, Cauley-Stein shoots 37.7 percent on his two-point jumpers, which means he can be effective away from the rim as well.

Kentucky’s shooting problems arise from inability to make the long ball. Kentucky drains only 32.7 percent of its threes, which is No. 239 in the nation. UK does not attempt many threes either. Only three Wildcats have attempted more than 50 threes. James Young and Aaron Harrison have attempted 222 and 155 three-pointers, respectively, both making an average 34.2 percent. Andrew Harrison is UK’s best three-point shooter, drilling 36.1 percent, but he attempted only 83 threes. And, if any other Wildcat lets one fly from behind the arc, opponents will be more than happy as no other major contributor shoots better than 30 percent from three-point territory.

Despite these shooting issues, Kentucky finds other ways to score. First, Kentucky grabs 42 percent of its missed shots, which is the second-best offensive rebounding rate in the nation. All four of Kentucky’s big men—all of whom are at least 6’8” and two are 7’0”—use their incredible size to hit the glass hard. With two post players on the hardwood at all times, Kentucky usually has a size advantage at the center and power forward positions. If teams do not box out these post players, Kentucky will generate lots of second-chance points as all four of Randle, Cauley-Stein, Poythress, and Dakari Johnson have at least 30 put backs each.

Second, Kentucky is very adept at getting to the free-throw line. Kentucky’s free-throw rate is 53.2 percent, which is the seventh-highest rate in the nation. There are three Wildcats that have an individual free-throw rate higher than 60 percent. They are Randle (77 pct.), which is the 35th-best individual rate in the country, Andrew Harrison (69.4 pct.), and Johnson (62.7 pct.). But this does not mean that Kentucky is a good free-throw shooting team. The Wildcats make only 68.4 percent of their free throws, which is No. 229 in the nation. Both Randle and Andrew Harrison make at least 70 percent of their free throws, but it is Cauley-Stein (48.2 pct.) and Johnson (45.9 pct.) that cause UK’s free-throw percentage to plummet.

Julius Randle averages 15.1 points and 10.6 rebounds and has recorded a double-double in both NCAA Tournament games so far (Chet White, UK Athletics)

Julius Randle averages 15.1 points and 10.6 rebounds and has recorded a double-double in both NCAA Tournament games so far (Chet White, UK Athletics)

Turnovers also have been a problem for Kentucky. The Wildcats commit a turnover during 18.3 percent of their possessions, which is No. 167 in the nation. This is no surprise when the Wildcats have a true freshman, Andrew Harrison, running the offense. His turnover rate is an alarming 23.8 percent. This is actually higher than his assist rate. This is not what teams want from their point guard who is supposed to get the team into its offense. Andrew Harrison is prone to making bad mistakes with the ball in his hands and coughing the ball up to opponents, which has hurt Kentucky’s offensive efficiency.

Defensive Profile: Kentucky is ranked No. 26 in adjusted defensive efficiency in the nation. Kentucky’s defense had been playing very well prior to facing Wichita State on Sunday. In UK’s first four postseason games, three in the SEC Tournament and one in the NCAA Tournament, UK’s opponents scored only 0.940 points per possession. However, against the Shockers, which are an elite offensive team, Kentucky allowed an alarming 1.226 points per possession.

Kentucky’s defense is at its best when it is able to set up in the half court. According to Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn, the Wildcats allow a superb 0.796 points per possession when playing half-court defense. This is one of the best half-court defensive efficiencies in the nation. This is no surprise given Kentucky’s incredible size. The heights of UK’s starting lineup are 6’6”, 6’6”, 6’6”, 6’9”, and 7’0”. Once Kentucky is set up in its half-court defense, its size and length prevents opponents from having clean looks at the rim.

Accordingly, Kentucky has a defensive eFG% of 45.4 percent, which is the 29th-best in the nation, and a defensive block rate of 15.4 percent, which is the 12th-best in the nation. The anchor to UK’s stingy half-court defense is Cauley-Stein, who has the 12th-highest individual defensive block rate in the country. Additionally, the Wildcats do a decent job with its defensive rebounding, which is No. 91 in the nation, and not sending opponents to the free-throw line, No. 111 in the nation. Kentucky’s half-court defense is one of the most difficult in the nation to solve.

However, Kentucky’s defense loses its edge when opponents try to attack it in transition. When opponents attack Kentucky in transition, they are able to score 1.159 points per possession. This is a 0.363 point-per-possession difference from Kentucky’s defensive efficiency in the half court. This is the second-biggest drop-off between half-court defensive efficiency and transition defensive efficiency in all of NCAA D-1 college basketball. This is what happens when Kentucky puts a lineup with that much size on the court. The big men struggle to run back on defense in time to contest opponents’ transition opportunities. It also does not help that Kentucky has such a young roster, as those players are more prone to making mental mistakes when transitioning back to defense.

Also, despite having such incredible length, Kentucky does not force lots of turnovers. Opponents commit a turnover during only 16.2 percent of their possessions against Kentucky. This means that UK’s defensive turnover rate is No. 300 in the nation. The only Wildcat that has a higher defensive steal rate is Cauley-Stein, who is UK’s best defensive player. He does a great job interfering with opponents’ passes inside. However, there is very little threat from UK’s guards and wings that they will be able to steal the ball for easy transition points.

Michigan’s Key to Victory: Michigan plays one of the slowest tempos in the nation, but the Wolverines likely would need to speed it up to defeat Kentucky. There is a vast difference in the strength of UK’s defense when set in the half court and when scrambling back in transition. Although the Wolverines do not attack on the fast break very often, they are very lethal when they do so. If Michigan pushes the ball enough and speeds up the tempo, Stauskas and LeVert likely will have lots of open looks from three-point line in transition, while Glenn Robinson III may be available for a couple easy ones around the rim.

Defensively, similar to Tennessee, Kentucky does not shoot well from the perimeter. The Wildcats’ bread-and-butter is to work the ball inside to Randle and have its guards penetrate. Therefore, Michigan should pack the paint and sag off of Kentucky’s perimeter players. This may tempt UK’s guards to chuck it from three-point range. This also will have Michigan’s defenders positioned closer to the rim, which will help mitigate UK’s propensity to crash the offensive boards. Additionally, given how much Kentucky turns over the basketball, Michigan’s 1-3-1 zone likely will be very effective against UK’s youth.

Which Team Does Michigan Fans Want to Win:

Kentucky, I think. Although Michigan may have a better matchup offensively against Louisville because U-M has the ball handlers to break UL’s presses, the matchup defensively against Kentucky is too favorable despite the size disadvantage. Louisville’s offense is extremely balanced, and defenses one hope is that Russ Smith commits lots of turnovers by trying to do everything himself. But Michigan does not force opponents to commit lots of turnovers. If Michigan cannot pressure Smith into making mistakes, U-M will struggle to cover UL’s snipers on the perimeter. And they will not miss.

On the other hand, Kentucky is a poor shooting team that is prone to turnovers. Its offensive strengths are offensive rebounding and getting to the free-throw line, which Michigan has done a very good job at preventing opponents from doing all season. In this clash of strengths, Michigan will be able to hold up defensively as long as it packs the paint or runs its 1-3-1 zone for long periods of time. This will tempt the Wildcats’ perimeter players to shoot three-pointers, at which they are not very efficient, and make bad passes over the zone. Michigan has a much better chance against a poor shooting team because U-M is prone to allowing open looks.

Additionally, Kentucky may be the team that many fear because they have been playing their basketball as of late. However, they have been inconsistent all year. This is what happens when a team has the youngest roster in America, playing five freshmen and two sophomores the majority of its minutes. Michigan would much rather play a team that is prone to mistakes than a team full of upperclassmen that have appeared in the last two Final Fours and won the national championship last season.

Taming the Cats: Michigan 74 – Northwestern 51

Sunday, January 5th, 2014


(MGoBlue.com)

With a snow storm brewing outside the doors of the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, the Michigan Wolverines welcomed the Wildcats of Northwestern to town for each team’s second Big Ten contest of the 2013-14 basketball season.

For the first half or so, it seemed that the cold had rubbed off on both teams, but eventually the rout was on for Michigan as the Maize and Blue pulled away to win 74-51 and move to 2-0 in conference play.

All five of Michigan’s starters scored at least four points in a first half that saw the Wolverines take a 31-24 lead at the break, and Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, and Derrick Walton, Jr. all reached double figures – with 18, 12, and 11 points, respectively – by the afternoon’s end.

In a game that Michigan needed to win convincingly to prove they will be a factor in the Big Ten, the young team came together to dominate all aspects of the game. The Wolverines outshot Northwestern by nearly 15 percent from the floor, rebounded 87 percent of the Wildcats’ misses and 29 percent of their own misses, and finished with three more assists and three fewer turnovers than their counterparts.

Chris Collins, Northwestern’s first-year head man, noted after the game that his team has such a tough time scoring that they simply cannot afford to give up the 70-plus points they did today, and despite 17 points from star senior Drew Crawford, the Wildcats are having trouble supporting him.

Nik Stauskas led the way for Michigan with 18 points (MGoBlue.com)

“We all have to be better, we have to have some other guys step up and give us some scoring.”

Stauskas, with his game-high 18, himself struggled to keep up with Crawford early, but again let his offense do the talking, as he drove to the hoop countless times to rack up eight free throws and four assists. He hit 5-of-10 shots overall and 2-of-5 from downtown.

Also complementing the offense and team nicely was the big man platoon of Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford, who will continue to have be productive inside in Mitch McGary’s absence. Morgan got the start once again and chipped in eight first-half points on a perfect 3-of-3 from the field and 2-of-2 at the free throw line to go along with eight rebounds (two offensive) in 18 minutes; Horford did the majority of his damage after the break, finishing with seven points, eight rebounds (two offensive), and one block in 20 minutes.

Horford was happy with the production of Michigan’s five man today, but continues to stress the importance of team play over individual play.

“We know we need a post presence every game, but we’re in the business of winning. We don’t really care where it comes from, whether it be Jordan, myself, or Max, as long as that presence is there and we’re getting wins we’ll take them.”

While Michigan was in control for the majority of the game, Northwestern was able to stay relatively close throughout the first half and cut the lead to six early in the second half before missing a layup on a 2-on-1 fast break and letting the Wolverines bring the lead right back to double digits.

After the game, Collins felt that missed opportunity was the difference.

“It’s a six-point game, 39-33, we had a 2-on-1 and we miss a wide-open layup to cut the lead to four. I thought that was a real big play in the game.”

Ultimately, however, it was Michigan’s game to win all along and they took advantage.

With continued strong defense and team play on offense, the Maize and Blue should be able to stay in business the rest of the year.

Three Stars:

***Nik Stauskas***
18 points (5-of-10 FG, 2-of-5 3PT, 6-of-8 FT), four assists, four rebounds (one offensive), two turnovers in 34 minutes

**Drew Crawford**
17 points (6-of-14 FG, 2-of-8 3PT, 3-of-4 FT), three assists, two rebounds, two steals, one block, four turnovers in 37 minutes

*Derrick Walton, Jr.*
11 points (3-of-4 FG, 0-of-1 3PT, 5-of-6 FT), one assist, three rebounds, two turnovers in 25 minutes

Quick Hitters:

Glenn Robinson III started after apparently suffering a mild ankle sprain at Minnesota on Thursday night, scoring 12 points on 12 shots in 31 minutes. He showed no ill effects of the injury, and though Beilein mentioned he will be receiving treatment on his ankle for the remainder of the season, there did not seem to be any concern with his long-term health.

Caris LeVert continued to struggle offensively, managing only seven points on 1-of-5 shooting, but he did record two assists to zero turnovers in 30 minutes. Beilein said after that he is not concerned in the slightest about LeVert’s play and that he was just a couple baskets off from a really good game today. I don’t think his starting spot is in jeopardy by any means, but I do think LeVert could see a slight dip in minutes until he breaks his offensive funk.

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
01 Glenn Robinson III* 6-12 0-4 0-0 1 2 3 2 12 0 2 0 1 31
10 Derrick Walton Jr.* 3-4 0-1 5-6 0 3 3 1 11 1 2 0 0 25
11 Nik Stauskas* 5-10 2-5 6-8 1 3 4 1 18 4 2 0 0 34
52 Jordan Morgan* 3-3 0-0 2-2 2 6 8 2 8 1 3 0 1 13
23 Caris LeVert* 1-5 1-3 4-4 0 2 2 1 7 2 0 0 0 30
02 Spike Albrecht 1-1 1-1 0-0 0 2 2 3 3 4 0 0 1 19
05 Andrew Dakich 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2
14 Brad Anlauf 0-2 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
15 Jon Horford 3-6 0-0 1-2 2 6 8 3 7 1 0 1 1 20
20 Sean Lonergan 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 2
21 Zak Irvin 2-4 1-3 0-0 0 0 0 0 5 1 0 0 1 16
44 Max Bielfeldt 1-1 1-1 0-0 0 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 2
Totals 25-48 6-18 18-22 7 26 33 13 74 15 9 1 6 200
Northwestern 19-49 6-23 7-8 4 17 21 16 51 12 12 3 3 200
Full Stats

Sam’s 3 thoughts: Northwestern

Saturday, January 4th, 2014


Big Ten season is upon us again, and Michigan got off on the right foot with an outstanding win Thursday night in Minneapolis considering the circumstances – no Mitch McGary, almost no Glenn Robinson III in the second half, a quality team in their own gym, a bad performance from Caris LeVert, etc.

Tomorrow, the Wolverines will look to take advantage of as easy of a three-game stretch as this conference season will have to offer when Northwestern comes to town (12pm on BTN) after a thrashing at the hands of the Wisconsin Badgers in their own Big Ten opener. Here are my thoughts and my prediction for tomorrow afternoon’s matinee.

Keep Them Down: Despite Northwestern’s poor 7-7 start that has included losses to DePaul and Illinois State, the Wildcats do have some veteran talent that is capable of knocking off a quality opponent. Redshirt senior Drew Crawford, junior Dave Sobolewski, and junior JerShon Cobb have been around a long time and can all score in bunches, but the transition to new coach Chris Collins has clearly thrown the team into a loop of sorts.

The trio is still pouring in nearly 36 points per game, but their shooting has been dreadful, with respective marks of 42.2 percent, 40.2 percent, and 27.2 percent from the field. In Northwestern’s two most recent games, losses to Wisconsin and DePaul, Crawford, Sobolewski, and Cobb have combined to average just 23 points while making a putrid 27.3 percent (15-of-55) of their shots, and just 23.8 percent (5-of-21) of their threes.

Tomorrow, Michigan cannot simply assume that Northwestern’s cold streak will continue, however; the Wolverines need to make sure they close out on shooters and don’t let any of the Wildcats’ dangerous scorers get going early.

Drew Crawford has been at Northwestern since Michigan had DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris (NUSports.com)

Don’t Tire Out: With Glenn Robinson III going down early in the second half against Minnesota, Michigan is down to eight scholarship players, and while the injury did not look terribly serious, John Beilein gave no indication in his teleconference today as to whether or not Robinson III would be available for tomorrow’s game. If I had to guess, I think GRIII will sit out against the weaker opponent and continue to rehab while eyeing a return when Michigan travels to Nebraska on Thursday night, but anything could happen. Beilein would not comment on whether there was any swelling in Robinson’s ankle either and said he did not know if the injury could be a long-term issue.

Regardless of what happens, however, Michigan needs to make sure they stay fresh tomorrow. If Robinson plays, there should be no concerns, but without the starting wing, Beilein will only have eight scholarship players to rotate on the floor. The silver lining tomorrow will be in the fact that Collins has also shown a propensity for keeping a short bench, as Northwestern will only give seven or eight different players major playing time.

Where Art Though Caris?: Caris LeVert, hyped up earlier this season as perhaps one of the most improved players in the country, has been on a roller coaster ride of a season so far, posting very respectable averages of 12.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game, but struggling mightily in big games against Iowa State, Florida State, Stanford, and Minnesota. In those four games, Michigan has managed a 3-1 record while LeVert has scored just 15 points and recorded 10 turnovers.

Other times, like against Duke and Arizona, LeVert has been one of the best players on the floor, marvelously weaving his way through the lane, finishing tough shots over defenders, and getting other players open looks. Whatever the issue is, LeVert needs to identify it soon and attack it. With an already decimated roster, Michigan can ill afford one of their starters going incognito every other game.

Tomorrow, look for Beilein to draw up some nice looks for LeVert to get him some early confidence and pay attention to when LeVert is handling some point guard duties; if the sophomore from Columbus is dribbling the air out of the ball and continuously driving into and pulling out of no man’s land, Beilein will have a short leash, but if LeVert hits a couple first-half shots and puts up a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio, Michigan will be in good shape.

Prediction: At this early point in the conference season, Northwestern looks to be a bottom-dweller, but things can certainly change. If Glenn Robinson III can’t go tomorrow and Michigan is down two once-projected lottery picks, the Wildcats will probably be able to stick with the Wolverines longer than fans are expecting, but I still see Michigan pulling away in the second half against a team that has been shooting very poorly. I like the Maize and Blue, 71-55.

Michigan hoops preview: Northwestern

Saturday, January 4th, 2014


#NR/NR Michigan (9-4, 1-0) vs #NR/NR Northwestern (7-7, 0-1) – Ann Arbor, Mich. – 12pm EST – BTN
Offense
77.8 Points/gm 65.4
(349-744) 46.9 Field Goal % 40.9 (303-740)
(116-299) 38.8 3-pt FG % 32.1 (96-299)
(198-268) 73.9 Free Throw % 71.3 (214-300)
15.2 FT Made/gm 15.3
35.2 Reb/gm 35.8
15.8 Assists/gm 12.9
9.2 Turnovers/gm 11.2
Defense
63.2 Points/gm 64.1
(306-729) 42.0 Field Goal % 41.6 (318-764)
(73-217) 33.6 3-pt FG % 30.3 (63-208)
32.5 Opp. Reb/gm 36.4
6.2 Steals/gm 6.0
3.1 Blocks/gm 4.6
Individual Leaders
Nik Stauskas (17.8), Glenn Robinson III (13.5) Points/gm Drew Crawford (15.9), JerShon Cobb (12.2)
Mitch McGary (8.3), Jon Horford (5.0) Reb/gm Drew Crawford (7.7), Alex Olah (5.4)

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Michigan began conference play with a big win at Minnesota on Thursday night. It’s always tough to win on the road in the Big Ten, regardless of the venue, but The Barn is particularly tough. However, Michigan has had a lot of success there as of late, and that continued on Thursday with a 63-60 win. In order to compete for the Big Ten title, holding serve at home and stealing wins on the road are paramount.

Now, the Wolverines return home for their second conference game of the season. A 7-7 Northwestern squad comes to town and Michigan has a great chance to get off to a 2-0 start. But could the Wildcats pose a threat and pull off an upset in Crisler Center? Let’s take a look:

The Starters
Minutes Points FG% 3FG% FT% Reb Ast TO Blk Stl
Drew Crawford 33.5 15.9 42.2 38.5 81.0 7.7 2.1 1.5 0.8 0.5
JerShon Cobb 31.4 12.2 40.2 36.6 78.7 4.1 2.6 2.0 0.4 0.8
Alex Olah 25.4 9.1 56.2 20.0 70.3 5.4 1.1 1.2 1.8 0.3
Dave Sobolewski 28.3 7.6 27.2 18.6 72.7 2.6 3.2 2.5 0.3 0.9
Sanjay Lumpkin 25.6 4.6 48.9 33.3 60.9 5.4 1.6 1.4 0.1 0.9
The Others
Minutes Points FG% 3FG% FT% Reb Ast TO Blk Stl
Tre Demps 23.5 10.5 40.7 38.0 72.0 1.9 1.3 0.9 0.0 0.1
Kale Abrahamson 11.7 3.8 41.9 37.5 50.0 1.6 0.5 0.4 0.1 0.1
Nathan Taphorn 13.7 3.5 34.0 32.4 55.6 1.5 0.4 0.9 0.0 0.3
The Schedule
Date Opponent Score
Nov. 9 Eastern Illinois W 72-55
Nov. 14 at Stanford L 58-71
Nov. 17 Illinois State L 64-68
Nov. 20 at UIC W 93-58
Nov. 22 IUPUI W 63-61
Nov. 25 Gardner-Webb W 72-59
Nov. 28 Missouri* L 67-78
Nov. 29 #19 UCLA* L 79-95
Dec. 4 at NC State L 48-69
Dec. 7 Western Michigan W 51-35
Dec. 16 Mississippi Valley State W 86-64
Dec. 22 Brown W 58-52
Dec. 27 DePaul L 56-57
Jan. 2 #4 Wisconsin L 49-76
*Las Vegas Invitational

At 7-7, Northwestern hasn’t beaten anybody of note and has lost to every good team it has played. After opening with a win over Eastern Illinois, the Wildcats traveled to Stanford – which Michigan beat – and fell by 13. In the Las Vegas Invitational, Northwestern lost to Missouri by 11 and then 19th-ranked UCLA by 16. They followed that up with a 21 point loss at NC State in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. On Thursday night, the Wildcats opened Big Ten play with a 27-point home loss to Wisconsin.

Combo guard Drew Crawford (6’5″, 215) is the go-to guy, averaging 15.9 points per game and 7.7 rebounds, while redshirt junior guard JerShon Cobb (6’5″, 205) adds 12.2 points. Big man Alex Olah (7’0″, 265) shoots a team high 56.2 percent from the field while scoring nine points per game. Guard Dave Sobolewski (6’1″, 180), a career 35.3 percent three-point shooter entering this season, is shooting just 18.6 from long range so far this season. However, he does lead the team with 3.2 assists per game.

Crawford and Cobb will get their points, but there’s nothing to suggest Northwestern will be able to hang with Michigan in Ann Arbor on Sunday afternoon.

The Series

Michigan holds a 107-56 all-time lead in the series and have won the last five. At the Crisler Center, Michigan leads 61-20 and has won its last three. Northwestern is one of Michigan’s single-plays this season, so the Wolverines won’t have a return trip to Evanston.

Notes

• Michigan will honor the 40th anniversary of the 1973-74 team and the 50th anniversary of the 1963-64 team during the game.

• Jon Horford scored a career high 14 points in Thursday’s win over Minnesota.

• Zak Irvin has made 50 percent of his three-point attempts (11-of-22) over the last three games.

Mercifully over: Kansas State 31 – Michigan 14

Sunday, December 29th, 2013


(MGoBlue.com)

If season’s end had come on Nov. 30 Michigan would have entered the offseason with at least some semblance of hope. No, the Wolverines didn’t beat Ohio State and no, there are no moral victories, but their inspired performance left reason for hope. Instead, the season officially, mercifully, came to a close on Saturday with a game it didn’t want to be in and a lackluster performance that did nothing but erase any goodwill earned in the game prior.

Michigan and Kansas State entered with identical 7-5 records, but it was painfully obvious that not all 7-5s are equal. One team played like it was there to take care of business while the other like it had already mailed it in.

Final Stats
Michigan Kansas State
Score 14 31
Record 7-6 8-5
Total Yards 261 420
Net Rushing Yards 65 149
Net Passing Yards 196 271
First Downs 15 21
Turnovers 1 1
Penalties-Yards 6-39 6-64
Punts-Yards 5-204 1-45
Time of Possession 24:56 34:00
Third Down Conversions 4-of-11 7-of-11
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-0 0-of-0
Sacks By-Yards 2-11 1-2
Field Goals 2-for-2 1-for-2
PATs 0-for-0 4-for-4
Red Zone Scores-Chances 3-of-3 4-of-4
Full Box Score

By late fourth quarter, Michigan fans were reduced to simply hoping the Wolverines would get the ball back one more time to allow Jeremy Gallon to break Michigan’s single-season receiving record. But even that felt hollow in the face of an underachieving season.

Gallon and Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield finished their careers surrounded on offense by kids as Devin Gardner looked on from the sidelines, supported by crutches.

Shane Morris, making his first career start – just the sixth true freshman quarterback to do so in Michigan history – looked poised and showed off a strong arm. Sometimes he was a second late, sometimes his throws were a little off, but many times he went through his progressions, stepped up into the pocket, and delivered a strike in a way that looked more like a seasoned veteran than a kid less than a year removed from high school.

That was one of few bright spots. There was no running game. Michigan’s running backs combined for 13 yards on eight carries. Morris finished as the Wolverines’ leading rusher with 43 yards, 40 of which coming on a long run late in the fourth. It was Michigan’s longest run of the season.

The defense gave up touchdown drives of 14 plays, 75 yards; five plays, 60 yards; and four plays, 59 yards in the first half. All culminated in touchdown passes from Jake Waters to Tyler Lockett, who routinely burnt Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor en route to 116 yards on 10 receptions. John Hubert had wide open holes up the middle all night long, just like Carlos Hyde did a month ago, finishing with 80 yards on 16 carries. Waters had all day to throw, calmly completing 21-of-27 for 271 yards and three touchdowns, and when things broke down, he picked up yards – and first downs – with his legs.

When all was said and done, Michigan ended its season with a thoroughly disappointing 7-6 record, continuing the decline through Hoke’s first three seasons from 11-2 to 8-5 to 7-6. Michigan finished the season with the eighth highest point total in program history, but while it averaged nearly 48 points per game in its top six scoring games, it averaged a meager 19 in its other seven. Defensively, Michigan started the season with just seven touchdowns allowed through five games, but gave up 30 in the final eight, resulting in the second most points allowed in program history.

Aside from individual accolades like Gallon’s receiving record and Lewan’s Rimington-Pace award, the season was a failure by every measure. The good news is that aside from Gallon and Lewan, the vast majority of Michigan’s key players return next season. The bad news is the schedule sends the Wolverines to South Bend, East Lansing, and Columbus and Michigan hosts a Utah squad that knocked off Stanford this season.

Hoke will have some big decisions to make in the offseason, likely choosing between moving in another direction at offensive coordinator with hopes of saving his own job or sticking with Al Borges for better or worse. And three years removed from the Rich Rodriguez era, that’s not a good place to be. But at least, mercifully, this season is over.

M&GB staff predictions: Kansas State

Friday, December 27th, 2013


On Thursday morning, the Phoenix Zoo set out two boxes with equal amounts of ground beef in each one in the Sumatran tiger habitat. On one box was the Michigan logo and on the other was the Kansas State logo. With a large crowd looking on, the tiger went straight to the K-State box and devoured the beef. Last year, she was 2-0 with his picks, so if her prediction prowess holds true, K-State should win. Let’s just hope Shane Morris isn’t as easily devoured by the Wildcat defensive line. Let’s take a look at our predictions:

Justin: Shane Morris makes his first career start against one of the nation’s best defensive ends, Ryan Mueller, who ranks in the top ten nationally in both sacks and tackles for loss. It will be up to Taylor Lewan, making his 48th and final start, to neutralize Mueller, and the rest of Michigan’s much-maligned offensive line to do the rest. Unfortunately, Kansas State’s defense is solid and that’s not good for a true freshman signal caller.

Defensively, Michigan will need to force turnovers and hold the Wildcats below their season average of 33 points. In five losses, K-State was held to an average of just 25 points. That’s about what it will take for Michigan to have a chance. But the Wildcats have a good running back, John Hubert, and a very good receiver, Tyler Lockett, as well as a two-headed monster at quarterback, both of which are capable runners. That’s enough to keep Michigan’s defense off balance.

Expect a close game, but K-State will be too much down the stretch.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Kansas State
Justin 27 33
Chris 21 30
Josh 38 24
Sam 17 31
Derick 21 28
Katie 21 31
Drew 17 27
M&GB Average 23 29

Kansas State 33 – Michigan 27

Chris: Kansas State 30 – Michigan 21

Josh: Please see yesterday’s Friend vs Foe for my full breakdown.

Michigan 38 – Kansas State 24

Sam: With the recent news that Devin Gardner broke his foot playing against Ohio State and will not play against Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, it’s becoming more and more apparent that Michigan will be the underdog once again come Saturday night.

Michigan’s run game, which has struggled mightily for large portions of this season, will be the focus of a Kansas State defense that gives up just 23.7 points per game, and if the Wolverines are to have any chance, true freshman quarterback and first-time starter Shane Morris will need to live up to his recruiting projections quickly. I think running back Derrick Green will be able to find some holes to run behind after Michigan has had nearly a month to prepare for their Big 12 foe, but his increased production will probably be evened out by a less dynamic passing attack.

As in most bowl games, expect to see some trickery thrown in. Michigan will continue to run play action often, especially in this game, but they should also be playing without fear and trying plenty of new stuff. Kansas State could run away with it, but turnovers could also be a calling card for the Maize and Blue. A plus-two turnover margin or better and the Wolverines should find a way to stay in it til the very end.

Either way, I simply think Michigan’s inexperience at the quarterback position will prove too much to overcome. I’ll take the Wildcats.

Kansas State 31 – Michigan 17

Derick: With Shane Morris at the helm of the Michigan offense, who knows how the team will look. Morris has sat out basically two years of football after missing most of his high school senior season with mono. His return will be on the biggest stage of his life.

Michigan is also headed in the opposite direction as Kansas State, who finished the year winning five of six while the Wolverines dropped five of seven.

The outstanding effort against Ohio State has put Michigan fans back in a hopeful frame of mind, but beating a hot team with a true freshman quarterback is a tall order.

For better or worse, Michigan fans will get their first real look at Shane Morris (MGoBlue.com)

Kansas State 28 – Michigan 21

Katie: Call me crazy, but I’m looking forward to watching Shane Morris at the helm of the Michigan offense. Devin Gardner played so well against Ohio State, it’s true. But that does not erase the mistakes and fumbling around that was most of the season (and I do realize that the O-line was a terrible liability, and made Gardner’s job much more difficult). Morris had little to no playing time this season because the Wolverines couldn’t close out a game with enough time to put in a backup. Well, he’s got his chance now.

As for how he’ll do. I’m hopeful. Am I expecting a win? No. And after coming so close to beating the Buckeyes a win at the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl isn’t all that appealing. Yes, I want to win. However, I would rather give the kid a shot and have a more seasoned backup for next year.

All in all, if Michigan can play a game like the last one, they’ll come away with a win. If Morris looks like a deer in the headlights, it’s likely that the Maize and Blue will end up a disappointing 7-6. The only question is what team will show up? The one that played OSU to within a point, or the one that nearly lost to Akron.

Kansas State 31 – Michigan 21

Drew: The main headline entering tomorrow’s Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is that starting quarterback Devin Gardner will be unable to play with a broken left foot. This is absolutely devastating news for the Wolverines. Gardner has been the target of many U-M fans’ criticism this season—some of it deserved, most of it not. Those fans would be foolish not to realize that he has been the catalyst for the Wolverines’ offense.

Gardner had one of the best statistical seasons in program history. His 3,443 total yards are the second-most by a Wolverine, trailing only Denard Robinson’s 4,272 in 2010. His 2,960 passing yards also are the second-best, trailing only John Navarre’s 3,331 in 2003. Gardner also accounted for 32 total touchdowns and 21 passing touchdowns, tied for second-most and sixth-most in school history, respectively. Very few backups, if any, can replace the production U-M will miss with Gardner’s absence.

Enter: true freshman Shane Morris. Morris will be the sixth true freshman to start at quarterback in Michigan history. Morris may be inexperienced, attempting only nine passes this season, but he has the potential to be a star. Recruiting services considered Morris a Top 100 recruit in the 2013 class. The question will be if Morris can show that promise tomorrow.

The good news for Morris is precedent. Michigan is 4-1 when one of its true freshmen makes his first career start at quarterback, 3-0 in such situations since 2004. Further, in the past decade, not only did U-M win those games, those three true freshmen played very well, throwing for a total of 411 yards, eight touchdowns, and only one interception.

The bad news for Morris is that he likely will have little help, which the previous three true freshman starters had. Michigan’s rushing offense is ranked #100 out of 123 NCAA FBS teams, averaging only 130.8 yards per game. And that includes the 40.2 rushing yards that Gardner averaged each game. Also, U-M’s offensive line has allowed more tackles-for-loss than any other FBS team. A poor rushing attack and a leaky offensive line? Not the situation a head coach wants to throw his true freshman quarterback into.

Ultimately, to win tomorrow against a Kansas State squad that has won five of its past six games, Michigan will need Morris to carry most of the load by himself. Morris will show flashes of the potential that made him an elite high-school recruit. But it will not be enough. Michigan’s defense will keep it competitive throughout before the Wildcats put it away with a late fourth-quarter touchdown, dropping U-M’s bowl record to 20-23.

Kansas State 27 – Michigan 17

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Links:

For more coverage of this week’s game, see: Michigan-Kansas State game preview; a First Look at Kansas State; the Kansas State edition of Friend vs Foe with John Morse of the K-State blog Bring on the Cats; and this week’s Five-Spot Challenge. Drew (@DrewCHallett) detailed Michigan’s custom of January bowl games and why the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is rare territory for the Wolverines.

Also check out game previews from MGoBlogMaize n BrewMaize n Blue Nation, and Maize and Blue Nation.

From the other side, game preview from Bring on the Cats, as well as their staff predictions.

Finally, I did a story for BTN Live B1G on the clothing company run by former Michigan basketball player David Merritt and the good cause it is helping fund. Check it out and consider purchasing some merchandise to help support underserved youth.

Michigan vs Kansas State game preview

Friday, December 27th, 2013


Nearly a month removed from a near upset of rival Ohio State, that 42-41 loss still stings in the minds of many Michigan faithful as it was the best performance of the season and the Wolverines were one play away from pulling off the thrilling upset. Instead, it sunk the Maize and Blue to a 7-5 regular season finish and left many wondering where that kind of performance had been all season.

Time heals most wounds, but losses to the Buckeyes always hurt. The one thing that can start the healing process is finishing the season with a win to head into the offseason on a high note, and the Wolverines will have a chance to do just that tomorrow.

Quick Facts
Sun Devil Stadium – 10:15pm EST – ESPN
Kansas State Head Coach: Bill Snyder (22nd season)*
Coaching Record: 177-90-1 (all at KSU)
Offensive Coordinator: Del Miller (17th season)
Defensive Coordinator: Tom Hayes (3rd season)
Last Season: 11-2 (8-1, Big 12 Champion)
Last Meeting: First meeting
All-Time Series: First meeting
KSU Bowl Record: 6-10
Last Bowl Game: 2013 Fiesta Bowl (L to Oregon)
U-M Bowl Record: 20-22
Last Bowl Game: 2013 Outback Bowl (L to S. Car.)
*Did not coach from 2006-08

While the last game was full of tradition, when Michigan takes the field on Saturday night it will partake in a couple of firsts. In 134 seasons of football, the Wolverines have never played Kansas State, and since it became a bowl game in 1989, Michigan has never played in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (formerly the Copper Bowl).

The Wolverines have played in 10 different bowl games in 42 all-time appearances prior to Saturday, but none of them have been the BWW Bowl. Thirty-three different teams have played in the game since ’89, including five Big Ten schools, and the conference has a 4-5 all-time record in the bowl. Kansas State, meanwhile, has played in the b0wl twice before, beating Wyoming 52-17 in 1993 and falling to Syracuse 26-3 in 2001.

The Wildcats enter the matchup with an identical 7-5 overall record, but had a winning record (5-4) in the Big 12 Conference. The other loss came in the season opener against defending FCS national champion North Dakota State. K-State blog Bring on the Cats sees a lot of similarities to this year’s KSU team and Michigan circa 2007.

But Kansas State is a much different team now than the one that started off the season with a loss to an FCS school. In fact, the Wildcats either lead or were within one score of Texas, Oklahoma State, Baylor, and Oklahoma in the fourth quarter. All four resulted in losses, but that’s how close K-State was to a much better season. Let’s take a closer look at the Wildcats.

Michigan defense vs Kansas State offense: When Kansas State has the ball

K-State averages 33.4 points per game, about half a point fewer than Michigan, but is much more balanced offensively with a solid running game (53rd nationally) and a decent passing game (73rd).

The star of the offense is junior receiver Tyler Lockett. He ranks 17th nationally with 1,146 receiving yards and averages just three yards per game fewer than Jeremy Gallon. At 5’11″, 175 pounds he basically is K-State’s version of Gallon. He had two monster games – 13 receptions for 237 yards at Texas and 12 receptions for 278 yards and three touchdowns against Oklahoma – but also had two games in which he was held to a combined 3 catches for 14 yards.

No other receiver on the team has half as many yards as Lockett. Senior Tramaine Thompson has 495 yards and five touchdowns on just 28 receptions, while junior Curry Sexton has 409 yards on 36 receptions, but has yet to find the end zone. Freshman fullback Glenn Gronkowski, the younger brother of Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, has the third-most receiving touchdowns on the team with three on just four receptions.

The man throwing them the ball is quarterback Jake Waters. The junior transferred from Iowa Western Community College where he was named the 2012 NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year last season. This season he has completed 59.2 percent of his passes for 2,198 yards, 15 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. The 6’1″, 210-pound signal caller had a big game against Oklahoma, completing 17-of-29 for 348 yards and three touchdowns. But he also had five games in which he completed less than 10 passes, three of which resulted in less than 100 yards.

Taylor Lewan will have his hands full protecting his freshman quarterback from Ryan Mueller (Mark J. Rebilas, USA Today Sports)

Waters has split time with sophomore Daniel Sams, who is much more of a running quarterback. Sams has thrown just 52 passes all season, completing 38 of them for 452 yards, four touchdowns and four picks, but has averaged 5.3 yards per carry and leads the team with 11 rushing touchdowns. He had three 100-yard rushing games against Oklahoma Sate (118 yards), Baylor (199) and TCU (109), however, was limited to just five rushes for zero yards in the last two games against Oklahoma and Kansas.

Running back John Hubert picked up the slack against Kansas, carrying the ball 30 times for 220 yards and a score. The 5’7″, 190-pound senior is 32 yards shy of 1,000 on the season while averaging 5.3 yards per carry. He has four 100-yard games including the big one against KU, but if there’s one thing that stands out it’s his performances against better teams. Against the four best rush defenses on the schedule – TCU (21st), Oklahoma State (23rd), Baylor (25th), and Oklahoma (27th) – Hubert carried the ball six fewer times per game for about half as many yards per game while averaging a yard less per carry. Michigan’s run defense ranks 28th.

Michigan offense vs Kansas State defense: When Michigan has the ball

The Kansas State defense allows about a field goal less per game than Michigan. The Wildcats held Baylor to its third lowest scoring output of the season (35 points) and gave up over 40 points just once (41 to Oklahoma). K-State held four opponents to 12 or fewer. Like the offense, KSU’s defense is pretty balanced, ranking 38th nationally against the run and 46th against the pass.

There’s no question that the leader of the defense is junior end Ryan Mueller. The former walk-on ranks in the top 10 nationally in both sacks (seventh with 11) and tackles for loss (10th with 18.5). He ranks fifth on the team with 61 total tackles and also has four forced fumbles, one recovery, and six pass breakups. The rest of the line, however, is a bit underwhelming. The other end, sophomore Marquel Bryant, has just two sacks and three tackles for loss. The tackles, sophomore Travis Britz and Chaquil Reed, have a combined 66 tackles, five sacks and 10 tackles for loss. By comparison, Willie Henry and Jabreel Black have combined for 55 tackles, three sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss.

At linebacker, the Wildcats have a lot of experience led by senior middle linebacker Blake Slaughter. Despite standing just 5’10″, he leads the team with 103 tackles and also has three sacks, six tackles for loss, an interception and a fumble recovery. The team’s second leading tackler is weakside linebacker Jonathan Truman. Also small at 5’11″, 193, the junior has 85 tackles, four for loss and two forced fumbles. At strongside is senior Tre Walker who doesn’t feature the numbers as the other two, but is a good run stopper.

The secondary gets a boost from the return of Ty Zimmerman. The senior free safety missed the final two games of the regular season after injuring his leg against TCU, but is set to play tomorrow. He ranks third on the team with 69 tackles and is tied for the team lead with three interceptions. The other safety is sophomore Dante Barnett, who also has three picks to go along with 67 tackles and two fumble recoveries. The corners are all upperclassmen, junior Randall Evans and senior Dorrian Roberts. Evans has 59 tackles, two interceptions, and leads the team with 10 pass breakups and 12 passes defended. Roberts had three picks, eight pass breakups and 11 passes defended.

The other third: Special teams

Sophomore kicker Jack Cantele made 11-of-13 field goals with a long of 44, although an injury may keep him out for the game. If he can’t go, redshirt freshman Ian Patterson, who made 2-of-3 with a long of 31, will be relied on. Senior punter Mark Krause averages 41.3 yards per punt with 17 of 47 downed inside the 20. Lockett handles the kick return duties and averages 25.5 yards per return, while Thompson is the main punt returner with an average of 20.2 yards per return.

Prediction

Michigan will be without its quarterback that could have set most single season passing records had he played the bowl game. In his place is true freshman Shane Morris who, while a five-star recruit, has thrown just nine career passes, all in mop-up duty late in games this season. The lefty certainly has the tools to be a great quarterback for the maize and blue, but is he ready yet? The good news is he has received all of the first team reps for the last month, so he will be prepared. But he will be just the sixth true freshman quarterback to start a game in Michigan history. Of the other five, four won their first start.

Michigan’s line, which has struggled to protect Devin Gardner all season, has to face Mueller, but Taylor Lewan will surely draw that matchup. If he can neutralize Meuller, the line should be able to keep Morris clean. Unfortunately, the Wildcat defense was good enough to hold Baylor’s Bryce Petty to one of his most pedestrian performances of the season.

I mentioned above that Michigan’s run defense ranked 28th nationally, but that number is somewhat misleading. Carlos Hyde shredded it and Iowa’s Mark Weisman did too. Expect similar results from Hubert.

The combination of he and Lockett as well as the run threat from Waters and Sams will keep Michigan’s defense off balance like Ohio State and Indiana did and the offense will need a great performance from Morris in order to keep up. Michigan will hang around because Morris will distribute the ball to his playmakers in a simplified scheme, but K-State will be a bit more complete on both sides.

Kansas State 33 – Michigan 27