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Ann Arbor is an H-O-R*: MSU-Michigan Preview

*Cuz they haven't been making many outside shots.  Get it?

7:00 P.M. (ET), TUESDAY
(Dave O'Brien, Steve Lavin [Beep! Beep!], and Erin Andrews)
ENEMY BLOGS: UMHoops, MGoBlog, MaizeNBrew

Wolverine bullets:
  • 7-5 nonconference record; 3-4 mark in Big Ten play.
  • Michigan has won only two games against KenPom top-100 opponents, but they were two pretty good wins: Ohio State (sans Evan Turner) and UConn (who has since toppled then-#1 Texas).  Only other two conference wins were against Penn State (away) and Indiana (home).
  • Rated #60 in the country and #6 in the Big Ten by KenPom.  Better on defense (#46) than on offense (#81) by the numbers.
  • Only 6 Wolverine players are averaging more than 10 minutes per game (see below).  After making some good contributions in nonconference play, Zack Gibson has yet to play double-digit minutes in a Big Ten game (although he did play 13 minutes against UConn).


Player Min/G ORtg Pos% FTR Pts/G 2pt% 3pt% FT% OR/G DR/G Ast/G TO/G Blk/G Stl/G
Manny Harris 35.7 111.0 30.0 45.8 19.2 .529 0.282 0.795 2.2 4.5 4.3 2.8 0.3 1.7
DeShawn Sims 32.1 112.9 30.3 24.2 17.4 .571 0.292 0.746 2.6 5.0 1.1 1.5 0.8 1.3
Zack Novak 32.4 106.2 13.6 17.3 7.6 .543 0.296 0.682 1.4 3.2 1.6 0.9 0.3 1.2
Stu Douglass 28.6 99.2 15.5 14.5 6.8 .344 0.313 0.789 0.3 1.8 2.8 1.2 0.0 1.1
Laval Lucas-Perry 24.8 99.4 15.8 29.8 6.3 .484 0.364 0.621 0.6 2.1 2.0 1.5 0.1 0.7
Darius Morris 22.4 82.9 16.2 28.9 4.1 .481 0.208 0.591 0.3 1.6 2.5 1.8 0.2 0.6


Despite the disappointing way the the season has gone for the Wolverines to date, they've actually improved on defense from last season.  Last season, they were good at forcing tough 3-point looks and avoiding putting their opponents on the line.  Michigan has take those two strengths and added a propensity for creating turnovers.

Michigan is forcing their opponents to turn the ball over on 22.8% of possessions.  They have a record of 7-2 when that number is at or above 24% compared to a record of 3-7 when it's below that threshold.  It's been a team effort, with only Manny Harris ranking in the top 500 nationally in steal%.  According to Dylan (via IM), the turnovers generally haven't been a function of the 1-3-1 zone, which John Beilein has used sparingly of late. So it won't just be a matter of designing a few set plays to beat the trapping defense.

On the negative side of the defensive ledger, Michigan's lack of size is reflected in their struggles to stop opponents from scoring inside (Opp 2pt% of 50.0) and crash the glass (Opp OffReb% of 34.3).  Expect to see some 2-3 zone from Michigan to try to stop Raymar Morgan, Draymond Green, and Delvon Roe from getting the ball near the basket.  In that event, hopefully MSU's stellar 3-point shooting in the Minnesota game (11-24) will carry into this one.

The Wolverines have held 4 of their last 6 opponents--including UConn and Wisconsin--to less than a point per possession.  The problem is that they themselves have only scored more than a point per possession in 2 of those games (Penn State and Indiana).  That's a continuation of season-long issues on offense.

Just glancing at the table above, you can see what the fundamental problem is.  Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims have been very productive, despite consuming man-sized portions of the offensive burden.  But, outside of those two players, no one else has stepped up.  Zack Novak has done yeoman's work playing an undersized (and non-offensively-assertive) power forward, and Zack Gibson was pretty effective before fading in Big Ten play.  Outside of those two guys, though, none of the supporting cast has posted an offensive rating above 101 (including handful-of-minute guys Anthony Wright and Matt Vogrich).

The biggest issue for the supporting cast has been doing the one thing that John Beilein teams are supposed to do on offense (other than taking care of the ball, which they've done well): making 3-pointers.  Outside of Laval Lucas-Perry, none of the regulars are shooting better than 31% from beyond the arc.  That's an issue when you shoot 3-pointers with a greater frequency than all but 11 other Division 1 teams.

So the focus will be on stopping Harris and Sims.  I'd guess that without the shut-down abilities of Travis Walton to rely on, Tom Izzo will rotate defenders frequently on Harris, letting Chris Allen, Durrell Summers, Kalin Lucas, and Raymar Morgan all have a shot at him.  That should allow each defender to play with a high level of energy and aggressiveness and ideally wear Harris down by the end of the game.  It's a cliché, but it's true: You can't hope to stop Manny Harris, you can only hope to contain him.  He's too good at too many things: scoring around the basket, getting to the free throw line, passing the ball, and grabbing rebounds.  And you can get he'll be plenty motivated coming off the one-game suspension.

Sims is playing as well as anyone in the Big Ten not named Evan Turner right now.  He leads the league in scoring during conference play at 20.9 points/game and has made a sizzling 62.1% of his 2-point attempts in Big Ten play.  With Sims manning the 5 spot, I think we'll see very little of Derrick Nix or Garrick Sherman in this game.  Delvon Roe and Draymond Green will be assigned to keep tabs on Sims and prevent him from getting open looks in the 6-10 foot range.  Even when Green's at the 5 and Morgan's at the 4, MSU will be the bigger team against what's effectively a 4-guard lineup for Michigan.

Reasons to be concerned:

  • Michigan is pretty clearly at the nothing-left-to-lose point in their season.  Making the NCAA Tournament would require a near-miraculous run through the rest of the Big Ten season--starting with a win against MSU.  And just making the NIT will be something of a struggle (KenPom projects them at 15-15 in the regular season).  I worry that the Michigan guards find their shooting rhythm for a night and knock down enough 3-pointers for Harris and Sims to lead them to the win.
  • The Wolverines can actually play some defense this year.  MSU is about due for another turnover implosion.  Can they adjust to the different defensive looks Beilein throws at them and make smart (but aggressive) decisions with the ball?

Reasons to be confident:

  • You have to like the momentum MSU brings into this game after the comeback win in Minneapolis.  If Kalin Lucas and Chris Allen can play with the confidence they displayed under duress in that game, that will go a long way to creating a couple MSU runs to build a lead and prevent Michigan from grabbing the momentum.
  • I don't see how Michigan guards Morgan, Green, and Roe--or stops them from scoring on offensive putbacks.  Zack Novak's a gutsy player, but he can't deal with the size and athleticism of Morgan and Green for 30+ minutes.  You'll recall that the Michigan game was Delvon Roe's breakout game last year.
  • Rebounding will hopefully be the great equalizer.  MSU has a positive rebounding percentage margin of 11.8; Michigan has a deficit of 4.0.  That could translate to an extra 6-8 shots for MSU.

KenPom predicts a 67-64 MSU win in a 65-possession game.  Believe it or not, it's now been 814 days since Michigan beat MSU in a football or men's basketball game (i.e., in one of the two sports this blogger cares about).  Any final scoreline that extends that streak would be entirely acceptable.