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Posts Tagged ‘Wildcats’

Michigan hoops preview & Sam’s 3 thoughts: #12 Villanova

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014


UM-Villanova
Michigan (4-0) vs Villanova (4-0)
Tuesday, Nov. 25 | Brooklyn, N.Y. | 10:00 p.m. EST | ESPN2
Legends Classic Championship
Offense
77.5 Points/gm 76.8
(103-220) 46.8 Field Goal % 45.3 (106-234)
(33-74) 44.6 3-pt FG % 28.7 (27-94)
(71-92) 77.2 Free Throw % 71.6 (68-95)
17.8 FT Made/gm 17.0
34.5 Reb/gm 35.2
14.8 Assists/gm 15.5
7.8 Turnovers/gm 9.3
Defense (2013-14)
61.5 Points/gm 57.0
(92-218) 42.2 Field Goal % 43.7 (87-199)
(30-81) 37.0 3-pt FG % 27.4 (17-62)
30.8 Opp. Reb/gm 31.3
6.0 Steals/gm 10.5
3.5 Blocks/gm 4.0
Individual Leaders
Zak Irvin (20.3), Caris LeVert (16.3) Points/gm Dylan Ennis (12.5), Darrun Hilliard (11.0)
Caris LeVert (7.0), Derrick Walton Jr (5.5) Reb/gm Daniel Ochefu (9.3), JayVa Pinkston (6.0)

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It hasn’t always been pretty, and it hasn’t been particularly clean basketball yet, but the young Michigan Wolverines find themselves off to a 4-0 start after last night’s 70-63 Legends Classic semifinal win over a decimated Oregon squad. John Beilein’s freshmen still have a ways to go, and even the veterans have looked rushed at times, but there’s little reason to complain over an undefeated start. Tonight (10:00pm, ESPN2), the Wolverines face their toughest test thus far, however, in the Villanova Wildcats. Jay Wright has put together somewhat of a basketball powerhouse in Philadelphia, and the crowd at the Barclays Center won’t be as Maize and Blue dominated as it was last night. How can Michigan escape with another win and the preseason tournament title? Here are my three keys.

1. Play Poised: Villanova is considerably more experienced than Michigan, starting two seniors, two juniors, and a sophomore, and will look to control the pace right out of the gates. Last night, the Wolverines allowed Oregon to dictate flow far too often, and despite recording only eight turnovers total, Michigan often looked out of sorts and unimpressive offensively. If the Wildcats are able to dominate the fast break the same way the Ducks did, Beilein’s squad will be in for a long night and an even longer flight home. Villanova only coughed it up nine times against VCU’s aggressive defense in their 77-53 blowout, and their veteran, guard-dominated style will be hard to rattle. Michigan just needs to run their offense, minimize turnovers, and take advantage of fast break opportunities to control the pace.

2. Crash the Glass: I’m still not sure how the Wolverines never trailed last night despite letting Oregon rebound a whopping 45 percent of their own misses, but another miserable performance on the defensive glass is sure to equal a loss against Villanova. Michigan actually led the nation in defensive rebounding percentage before being beat up last night, and they have the size and athleticism to clean up, but the Wolverines need to stop ball-watching and put bodies on the opponent. The problem with last night wasn’t that Oregon was winning 50-50 rebounds consistently; the problem was that Oregon was too often the only team represented in the vicinity of their own misses. On four or five occasions, the Ducks grabbed uncontested offensive boards and laid (or slammed) them right back in. Those are the easy points Michigan cannot afford to give up against a much better team. Tonight, it’s all about positioning. It doesn’t matter if it’s Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton, Spike Albrecht, or Ricky Doyle grabbing defensive rebounds; all that matters is that Michigan is boxing Villanova out consistently on defense and competing on the glass.

3. Guard the Hot Hand: With Villanova’s bevy of guards comes a significant threat from deep. So far, the Wildcats have been ice cold from downtown, with a team mark of only 28.7 percent, and only two players are shooting better than 33 percent, but that won’t last all season. Junior Dylan Ennis, brother of former Syracuse star Tyler Ennis, is hitting at a 40% rate from downtown while freshman Phil Booth has made two of five attempts in limited minutes; but Michigan will also need to watch out for junior Ryan Arcidiacono, a high-volume sniper who can go off at any time despite his current 23.5 percent connection rate, and senior Darrun Hillard II, who shot 41% from distance last year but is shooting a lowly 19 percent so far this year. The young Wolverines should have the advantage from outside, but they’ll need to play smart defensively and stick to the shooters when the drive-and-kick is on.

Prediction: In my preseason preview, I penciled in a loss in tonight’s Legends Classic finale for Michigan, but I like the way the guards are playing and I was extremely surprised by Ricky Doyle’s strong emergence last night. Villanova was also quite unimpressive against Bucknell last week and has struggled mightily to put the ball in the hoop. Further, Michigan has also been playing some solid set defense despite some baffling freshman miscues on that end of the floor. I like Zak Irvin to have a big game tonight while Mark Donnal is the surprise big, helping Michigan to a 71-66 win.

Final Look: Northwestern

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014


Michigan-Northwestern(MGoBlue.com)

Michigan topped Northwestern last Saturday in one of the ugliest offensive games played this season by both teams. The Wolverines get a bye week this week to rest up and prepare for the final two games of the season, of which they must win at least one to gain bowl eligibility. But instead of taking a bye week myself, I decided to torture myself during the by week by diving deeper into the advanced stats from Michigan’s 10-9 win in Evanston. And you get to read it. Luck you.

Advanced Statistics
Michigan Stat (National Average) Northwestern
59 Total Plays 84
 42.2 Avg. Starting Field Position (29.9) 28.1
15 Possessions 14
7 Scoring Opportunities 3
 1.4 Points per Opportunity (4.69) 3.0
 67.2% Leverage Rate (68.2%) 65.1%
 39.7% Success Rate (41.9%) 41.0%
 21.0% Success Rate Passing Downs (30.6%) 24.1%
 48.7% Success Rate Standard Downs (47.1%) 50.0%
 33.3% Success Rate Passing (40.2%) 50.9%
44.1% Success Rate Rushing (43.5%) 21.4%
3 Turnovers 3
14.5 Equivalent Points 12.3
0.25 Equivalent Points Per Play 0.15

As I’ve said before, I’m working to expand this section in the future, and hoping to put in some work to go back and calculate the previous games this season as well as last season so I can draw comparisons between this year’s offense and last year’s. The stats and formulas used are from Football Outsiders and Football Study Hall.

Northwestern ran 25 more plays than Michigan but didn’t score until its final two possessions, which went for 19 plays and 14 plays. Michigan had a huge advantage in field position, but didn’t take advantage of it until Tony Jones fumbled a punt and Michigan took possession at the Northwestern 21 and scored two plays later. Michigan had seven scoring opportunities and only scored on two of them, while Northwestern had only three, but scored on two. Michigan had a slightly better leverage rage* but Northwestern had the better overall success rate** on everything except rushing.

*Leverage Rate: Standard downs/(Standard downs + passing downs)
**Success Rate: 50% of necessary yards on first down, 70% on second down, 100% on third or fourth down
***Passing Down is considered 2nd & 7 or more, 3rd & 5 or more, 4th & 5 or more

Let’s take a look at the Five Factors.

Five Factors
Michigan Stat Northwestern
4.4 Yards Per Play 3.2
 39.7% Success Rate 41.0%
42.2 Avg Starting Field Position 28.1
1.4 Points Per Opportunity 3.0
Even Turnover Margin Even

Michigan won two of the five factors, lost two, and tied one. Per Football Study Hall, here are the chances of winning based on each of these five factors:

Yards Per Play (weighted 35%)
• Michigan +1.2 = 86.2 percent chance of winning, with an average scoring margin of 13.2 (Michigan won by 1).

Success Rate (25%)
 Northwestern +1.3% = 59.2 percent chance of winning, with an average scoring margin of 3.6 (Northwestern lost by 1).

Average Starting Field Position (15%)
 Michigan +14.1 = 86.7 percent chance of winning, with an average scoring margin of 19.9 (Michigan won by 1).

Points Per Opportunity (15%)
 Northwestern +1.6 = 74.7 percent chance of winning, with an average scoring margin of 11.4 (Northwestern lost by 1).
However, Michigan had more scoring opportunities (seven to three) and a worse scoring average, which equates to a winning percentage of 64.8.

Turnover Margin (10%)
 Even = 50 percent chance of winning, with an average scoring margin of 0 (Michigan won by 1).

Michigan won two — Yards per Play (35 percent) and Field Position (15 percent) — and tied turnover margin (5 percent). Added together, that equates to a 55 percent overall chance of winning, which they did by one point. Northwestern won two — Success Rate (25 percent) and PPO (15 percent) — and tied turnover margin (5 percent). Added together, that equates to a 45 percent chance of winning. They lost by one.

Sometimes the advanced stats show an outlier that can help explain the outcome of a game. But this game was about as even as it gets with neither team having much success offensively, and the advanced stats prove exactly that.

Drive Chart
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*Hover over team initials to see drive statistics, Dash indicates direction of drive, Green dash = scoring play, Grey = punt, Red = turnover, Pink = missed field goal, Black = end of half or turnover on downs, Shaded line = special teams or defensive touchdown

The numbers game

12: Michigan allowed a season-low 12 rushing yards

150: Michigan rushed for at least 150 yards in back-to-back games for the first time this season

45: Jake Ryan’s career tackles for loss, moving into a tie for sixth in Michigan’s record book with Glen Steele (1994-97)

121: De’Veon Smith rushed for a career-high 121 yards

2: Mario Ojemudia recorded the first two sacks of his career

6: Michigan has won six straight games at Northwestern

732: Devin Gardner passed Todd Collins (1991-94) and Tom Brady (1996-99) for fifth place in career passing attempts with 732

Just enough: Michigan 10 – Northwestern 9

Saturday, November 8th, 2014


UM-NU(MGoBlue.com)

Nobody expected an offensive shootout in Evanston, Ill. on Saturday afternoon, and Michigan and Northwestern, both of whom feature offenses in the 100s nationally, lived up to that expectation combining for 19 points and 13 punts in a 10-9 Michigan win.

Northwestern crossed midfield on the opening possession of the game, but a converted 3rd-and-1 with a 10-yards Justin Jackson run, got called back for illegal formation and the Wildcats punted.

Michigan got a quick first down on two Drake Johnson runs, but on 3rd-and-8 from the Michigan 43, Devin Funchess dropped a would-be first down. Michigan punted.

And so the game went, neither offense able to put together anything resembling a long drive. Jake Ryan picked off a Trevor Siemian pass at the Northwestern 47 and Michigan quickly moved into the Northwestern red zone. But De’Veon Smith was stopped on 4th-and-1 at the Wildcat 16.

UM-Northwestern-small-final-FINAL
Final Stats
Michigan Northwestern
Score 10 9
Record 5-5, 3-3 3-6, 2-4
Total Yards 256 264
Net Rushing Yards 147 -9
Net Passing Yards 109 273
First Downs 13 18
Turnovers 3 4
Penalties-Yards 5-50 3-10
Punts-Yards 7-267 6-209
Time of Possession 25:49 31:51
Third Down Conversions 1-of-12 10-of-20
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-1 0-of-2
Sacks By-Yards 6-59 0-0
Field Goals 1-for-2 1-for-2
PATs 1-for-1 0-for-0
Red Zone Scores-Chances 2-of-4 2-of-4
Full Box Score

Midway through the fourth quarter, Michigan took possession at the Northwestern 31 after a short punt and a nine-yard Amara Darboh return. Three plays later, Devin Gardner was intercepted by Matthew Harris. Northwestern gave it right back four plays later when Matt Godin intercepted Siemian at the Northwestern 35. But once again Michigan couldn’t convert. Matt Wile’s 44-yard field goal attempt was blocked and the teams went to halftime locked in a scoreless game, each offense barely over 100 total yards.

In the second half it was Northwestern’s turn to squander a great opportunity. A Michigan fumbled snap on its first possession gave the Wildcats possession a the Michigan 27. But three plays later, kicker Jack Mitchell pulled a 36-yard field goal to the left.

Michigan finally broke through midway through the third quarter thanks to another Northwestern mistake. Tony Jones fumbled a Will Hagerup punt and Michigan recovered at the Northwestern 21. Gardner connected with Funchess for 18 yards and Smith carried it into the end zone on the next play, putting Michigan ahead 7-0.

After forcing a Wildcat punt, Michigan’s offense looked to add more to the tally, but Gardner was picked off by safety Ibraheim Campbell at the Northwestern six. Campbell rumbled 79 yards to the Michigan 15. But yet again Northwestern’s offense imploded. Frank Clark stopped Jones for a five-yard loss on the first play, then back-to-back sacks by Brennen Beyer pushed the Wildcats out of field goal range. On 4th-and-38, Pat Fitzgeraldn had no choice but to punt.

At the beginning of the fourth quarter, after forcing a Michigan punt, Northwestern put together its best drive of the game, marching 95 yards on 19 plays, but had to settle for a 21-yard field goal to pull within four at 7-3.

Michigan rode Smith and a 16-yard completion to Jake Butt down the field and Wile kicked a 37-yard field goal to put the Wolverines ahead by a touchdown once again with 3:03 remaining.

But Northwestern wasn’t finished, methodically marching down the field with a series of short passes. On 2nd-and-10 from the Michigan 22, Raymon Taylor was flagged for pass interference giving Northwestern a 1st-and-goal at the seven with less than a minute to play. After back-to-back runs by Jackson failed to reach the end zone, Siemian found Jones for a touchdown with three seconds left. Rather than kick the extra point and go to overtime for the third straight season, Fitzgerald elected to go for the win. On the two-point conversation attempt, Siemian rolled out to his right, but Clark was right there waiting for him. Siemian lost his footing and fell to the ground sealing the Michigan win.

After the game, Michigan coaches and players alike said they were prepared for the two-point conversion play. Hoke credited the coaches in the booth for seeing it and the players credited their preparation during the week.

“I knew it was going to be a sprint out once I saw the double motion, and that’s how I went about it,” said Clark.

Ryan agreed, saying, “”We planned for it all week. We knew what they were doing.”

Michigan finished the game with 256 total yards, 147 of which on the ground. Gardner completed 11-of-24 passes for 109 yards and two interceptions, while Smith led the way with 121 rushing yards on 18 carries (6.7 yards per carry). Darboh led Michigan with four receptions for 41 yards.

Northwestern outgained Michigan with 264 total yards, but the Michigan defense held the Wildcats to minus-nine yards rushing thanks to six sacks. Siemian completed 32-of-49 passes for 273 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. After averaging 123 yards per game in his last four, Jackson was held to just 35 yards on 17 carries (2.1 yards per carry). Kyle Prater was the leading receiver with eight catches for 86 yards.

Ryan finished with 11 tackles, half of a tackle for loss, and one pick. Clark tallied seven tackles, two for loss, and one sack, but was a disruptive force for most of the game. Beyer and Mario Ojemudia each recorded a pair of sacks, while Willie Henry added one.

At 5-5 overall and 3-3 in the Big Ten, Michigan heads into its final bye week of the season. The Wolverines host Maryland (6-3, 3-2) on Nov. 22. The Terrapins were off this week and host Michigan State next Saturday. A Michigan win over Maryland would make the Wolverines bowl eligible heading into the season-ending trip to Columbus.

M&GB staff predictions: Northwestern

Friday, November 7th, 2014


StaffPicks_banner

Michigan heads to Northwestern tomorrow, the site of their most exciting finish of the season a year ago. The last two meetings between the teams have been controlled by Northwestern, but stolen by Michigan in the closing seconds and overtime. Can Michigan top the Wildcats in regulation this time? Or will Northwestern finally get the best of the Wolverines? Here are our picks.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Northwestern
Justin 20 17
Sam 21 20
Derick 28 13
Josh 20 24
Joe 28 24
M&GB Average 23 20

Justin: Neither team features a good offense and the forecast in Evanston tomorrow afternoon calls for high 30s and wind 15-20 miles per hour. This game has all the makings of an ugly, low-scoring affair similar to last year’s meeting that closed regulation tied 9-9.

Both teams will look to the ground, Michigan hoping the combination of De’Veon Smith’s power and Drake Johnson’s speed can get something going. Northwestern will hope true freshman Justin Jackson can carry the momentum from his last four games in which he averaged 123 yards against four solid defenses. In reality, neither team will string together many long scoring drives and whichever team limits the turnovers will likely win this one.

Two years ago, Michigan needed a Roy Roundtree circus catch on a bomb from Devin Gardner to get into field position for the game-tying touchdown and then won in overtime. Last season, Michigan needed a fire drill 44-yard field goal at the last second by Brendan Gibbons to force overtime and then won in triple overtime. This year it will probably be a Will Hagerup 100-yard fake punt scramble out of his own end zone for a game-tying touchdown and then Michigan wins in quadruple overtime.

Michigan 20 – Northwestern 17

Sam: Michigan is on a roll, having won two of their last three games. Or, you can also view it as a free fall, with the Wolverines having lost four of their last six.

I tend to take the latter with a little more weight.

Last week, after Athletic Director Dave Brandon was shown the door by President Mark Schlissel, the Maize and Blue showed some life against the miserable Indiana Hoosiers, putting them away comfortably.

But the road has not been kind, and that’s exactly where Michigan will be this Saturday.

Michigan travels to Northwestern for an afternoon game outside of Chicago looking to inch within one game of bowl eligibility, and the Wildcats are struggling mightily as well, coming off three straight losses – two of which weren’t close – and showcasing a quarterback who simply can’t throw.

It should be another hard-to-watch battle, but give me Michigan.

Michigan 21- Northwestern 20

Derick:  A scheduling reshuffle hands Northwestern a chance to get even for kick-gate on their home turf Saturday with the triple-overtime loss on its mind. The Wildcats’ shocking upset over Wisconsin given way to three straight losses, and Michigan is perking up in recent weeks. The Wolverines have to win the next two games to earn an invitation to a bowl game, and I think the relief that came from the end of the Dave Brandon era has them playing with less on their minds. Michigan will top this offensively-challenged Northwestern squad.

Michigan 28 – Northwestern 13

Josh: I said before the season I felt this was a potential loss. Not because I thought Northwestern would be any good or that Michigan would be so bad but simply because of luck. Michigan has had some incredibly lucky games against Northwestern and they’ve all gone the way of the Maize & Blue. Numerous dropped interceptions by the Wildcats, miracle catches (Roundtree) and sliding field goal holds at the last second are just plain dumb luck. With the way our season has gone so far I think that run ends this year, basically eliminating Michigan from bowl eligibility. Which I think is a good thing; we cannot wait until end of December to fire Hoke and begin a new coaching search for someone not named Jim Harbaugh (no, I don’t think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell he leaves the NFL, sorry).

Northwestern 24 – Michigan 20

Joe: And down the stretch they come!!! One thing is for sure. These guys will play hard for their coach, even if it is only for a few more weeks. The goal should be simple. Win two more games and go bowling. I want to believe they have it in ‘em to put another solid performance together and get that fifth win, but doing so two straight weeks might be asking a bit much. I think the offense will continue to feed Johnson the ball and see if they can control the clock early. Devin will manage things well throwing the occasional deep ball but will not be able to pull away. This one will be ugly on both sides of the ball and may be tough to watch. Northwestern will slow things down like they did last week and mix in some up tempo every once and a great while. Look for a close game with Michigan pulling it out late.

Michigan 28 – Northwestern 24

First Look: Northwestern

Monday, November 3rd, 2014


FirstLook-Northwestern

Michigan got back in the win column on Saturday with a 34-10 win over Indiana and now has to win two of its last three to become bowl eligible and avoid a losing season. For the second season in a row Michigan has to travel to Northwestern, but of all the road venues in the conference Kyle Field has been the most hospitable with a large Michigan alumni presence in Chicago. Let’s take a look at how Michigan and Northwestern compare through the first two thirds of the season.

Northwestern Statistics & Michigan Comparison
Northwestern | Michigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 19.1 | 21.9 113 | 105
23.9 | 21.7 46 | 29
Rushing Yards 998 | 1,394 1,329 | 1,041
Rush Avg. Per Game 124.8 | 154.9 105 | 71
166.1 | 115.7 65 | 16
Avg. Per Rush 3.2 | 4.5
4.1 | 3.1
Passing Yards 1,642 | 1,576 1,778 | 1,703
Pass Avg. Per Game 205.2 | 175.1 88 | 110 222.2 | 189.2 53 | 18
Total Offense 2,640 | 2,970 3,107 | 2,744
Total Off Avg. Per Game 330.0 | 330.0 114 | 114 388.4 | 304.9 60 | 9
Kick Return Average 19.1 | 19.3 100 | 96 22.5 | 21.3 96 | 80
Punt Return Average 12.8 | 6.2 21 | 88 8.1 | 11.9 66 | 112
Avg. Time of Possession 29:12 | 30:28 82 | 53
30:48 | 29:32
3rd Down Conversion Pct 38.0% | 41.0% 76 | 57
40.0% | 36.0% 75 | 40
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 23-192 | 18-111
105 | T66
14-89 | 21-172
T87 | T54
Touchdowns Scored 19 | 22
24 | 22
Field Goals-Attempts 7-8 | 11-15
8-13 | 14-17
Red Zone Scores (22-26)85%|(23-25)92% T52 | 9
(25-30)83%|(25-29)86% 66 | 89
Red Zone Touchdowns (15-26)58%|(18-25)72% (19-30)63%|(15-29)52%
Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) .082 | -.218
50 | 91
-.066 | -.196 59 | 44

It has been a strange season for Northwestern after entering with hopes of making a push for the Big Ten West Division. The Wildcats opened with losses to California and Northern Illinois before reeling off three straight wins, including a dominant 29-6 victory at Penn State and a 20-14 win over 17th-ranked Wisconsin.

Just when it looked like Northwestern had turned things around, the Wildcats went on a three-game losing streak, falling by a touchdown at Minnesota and then getting blown out by Nebraska and Iowa.

Schedule
Date Opponent Result
Aug. 30 California L 24-31
Sept. 6 Northern Illinois L 15-23
Sept. 20 Western Illinois W 24-7
Sept. 27 at Penn State W 29-6
Oct. 4 #17 Wisconsin W 20-14
Oct. 11 at Minnesota L 17-24
Oct. 18 #19 Nebraska L 17-38
Nov. 1 at Iowa L 7-48
Nov. 8 Michigan
Nov. 15 at #10 Notre Dame
Nov. 22 at Purdue
Nov. 29 Illinois

The problem has been offense. Northwestern has yet to score 30 points in a game this season and has scored 20 or more in just four of eight games. Only 12 teams in the nation average fewer points per game. Unlike Indiana’s offense last week, Northwestern doesn’t have one part of the offense that does really well. The passing game ranks 105th nationally, averaging 124.8 yards per game and the rushing game ranks 88th, averaging 205.2 yards per game.

Senior quarterback Trevor Siemian has taken a step back from last season. He’s completing just 56.2 percent of his passes for 195.5 yards per game and has thrown just four touchdown passes compared to six interceptions. In other words, he’s averaging a touchdown every two games.

One small positive for the Wildcats has been the emergence of freshman running back Justin Jackson, who is averaging 123 yards per game over the last four. He has surpassed 100 yards in three of those four and just missed last week against Iowa with 96 yards. After getting just 14 carries per game in the first four games, he has seen his workload increase to 25 carries per game the last four.

Altogether, Northwestern passes for 30 fewer yards than Michigan but rushes for 30 yards more. Both teams average exactly 330 yards of offense per game, which ranks 114th nationally.

Defensively, Northwestern is about a middle of the road team, ranking 46th nationally in scoring defense, 65th against the run, and 53rd against the pass. After holding three of the first four opponents under 200 yards rushing, three of the last four have eclipsed 200 yards on the ground. Those four have rushed for 11 touchdowns against the Wildcats. Those same three — Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Iowa — have each totaled more than 400 yards of offense as well. In fact, the last two — Nebraska and Iowa — have averaged 477 yards.

In total, Northwestern gives up 84 more yards than Michigan per game, 51 more rushing and 33 more passing. The Wildcats also rank 75th nationally in third down defense, allowing opponents to convert 40 percent of the time, and have only recorded 14 sacks through eight games.

Special teams is also middle of the road with the exception of punt returns. Northwestern ranks 21st nationally with an average of 12.8 yards per punt return, but they’ve only had six. Sophomore kicker Jack Mitchell has made 7-of-8 field goal attempts, but his long is 29. The only field goal he has attempted over that was a missed 44-yarder against Penn State.

As you can see, there’s nothing statistically that says Michigan shouldn’t have a good chance to win in Evanston, but the Wildcats have beaten Wisconsin and thumped Penn State on the road. Additionally, they have played Michigan tough the past two years with both going to overtime.

Key Players
Passing Comp-Att Yards TD INT Average/Game
Trevor Siemian 159-283 1,564 4 6 195.5
Rushing Attempts Yards TD Long Average/Carry
Justin Jackson 158 726 5 27 4.6
Treyvon Green 46 158 0 25 3.4
Warren Long 26 116 0 21 4.5
Solomon Vault 20 81 2 16 4.1
Receiving Receptions Yards TD Long Average/Game
Kyle Prater 29 286 1 22 35.8
Dan Vitale (SB) 26 282 1 28 35.3
Myles Shuler 23 190 0 22 23.8
Tony Jones 18 179 0 35 22.4
Cameron Dickerson 11 171 1 54 21.4
Defense Solo Assisted Total Tackles TFL-Yds Sacks-Yds
Chi Chi Ariguzo (LB) 43 29 72 4.0-15 1.0-7
Traveon Henry (S) 31 26 57 2.0-6 0-0
Nick VanHoose (CB) 44 11 55 3.0-9 0-0 (2 INT, 11 PD)
Godwin Igwebuike (S) 20 16 36 1.0-3 0.0 (3 INT, 5 PD)
Dean Lowry (DL) 14 11 25 5.0-16 3.5-14
Kicking FG Made FG Att Long XP Made XP Att
Jack Mitchell 7 8 29 16 18
Punting Punts Yds Avg. In-20 50+
Chris Gradone 53 2,001 37.8 16 3
Full Stats

Stay tuned for more on Northwestern in the coming days.

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