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Men’s Basketball: Michigan Preview and Gamethread

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Game Info:

Where: Breslin Center, East Lansing, MI

When: 8:00pm (ET), March 9, 2019

TV/Radio: ESPN/Spartan Sports Network radio

Michigan 26-4 (15-4): #5 (Kenpom)

Depth Chart:

1 - Simpson (6’0” jr), DeJulius (6’0” fr)
2 - Poole (6’5” so), Brooks (6’1” so)
3 - Matthews (6’6” sr)
4 - Brazdeikis (6’7” fr), Livers (6’7” so)
5 - Teske (7’0” jr), Castelton (6’11” fr), Johns (6’8” fr)


Michigan is still a damn good team, especially defensively (#3 in Drtg per Kenpom). They contest shots (#8 in the country in defensive eFG%), rebound the defensive glass (#49 in the country in defensive Oreb rate per Kenpom), and don’t let teams get to the line (#5 in defensive FTA/FGA in the country).

The playing rotation has expanded a touch of late, especially with Matthews hobbled, but still they maintain their excellent defense through their length and activity. Simpson, especially, is tough, smart, active, aggressive, and fearless - excellent on the ball, and excellent off the ball as a help defender digging down, stripping the ball when bigs rebound it, and generally disrupting opposing teams’ actions. In the first match-up he had a very solid game offensively, although MSU’s defense did not let him create much for others and his defensive impact was noticably lessend from last year’s defensive performances against MSU.

Poole and Brazdeikis are hit and miss defenders - both can fit in seamlessly when they are on, but both can be attacked on and off the ball where they can be lazy with their initial footwork/hip placement (giving up straight-line drives away from their help) and can ball-watch (letting guys back-cut them, or replace-cut without effective trail-pursuit). MSU did a very good job attacking these two in the first match-up and I think they will be attacked again, maybe even more this time around. Teske and Winston are generally very good in PnR defense, but Winston’s brilliance overcame this obstacle (despite consistent “physical” play, especially from Teske).

Offensively Michigan is still a very hot and cold club (they scored 10 points in the final 50 seconds in the last match-up in Ann Arbor, and have serious explosive potential on offense - especially in Poole and Brazdeikis). They don’t shoot particularly well from 3 as a team, although all of their rotation players are capable of hitting and all need to be respected, especially when they are at home (this is more true than ever if Livers starts - he is their best shooter at nearly 44% from 3). Simpson has developed a pet hook shot to solve his general lack of explosion near the rim, but his greatest skill offensively is his ability to drive deep, maintain his dribble and find late cutters or spot-up shooters - this is all enabled because of Michigan’s generally excellent spacing and the strong competence of each of their main rotation guys in every aspect of offensive basketball (driving, shooting, passing).

Poole and Teske are their most dangerous offensive players: Poole because of his microwave capacity - can get super-hot and really create his own shot well (as evidenced in the final minute of the first match-up) - Teske because of his 3pt shooting (~38% in B1G play), and really strong rim-diving (he can pick and roll OR pop). In the first match-up Michigan was flummoxed, for some reason (it seemed like an obvious adjustment), with MSU’s immediate switching onto Teske, and consistently failed to get the big-man the ball in the post when he had mismatches; look for that to change if MSU plays the same coverage (which we didn’t even execute very well - just because UM didn’t react doesn’t mean we executed well even if the tactic was not a bad one to try; I won’t say we got lucky, but it worked out as well as it could despite our poor execution).

Brazdeikis has really bounced back in the last two games since Matthews went to the injury report. He is pretty outstanding handling the ball and creating offense for himself; he really doesn’t pass much though so he needs to be forced into contested shots - he loves a baseline clear-out, and beat Goins 2-3 times on such drives in the first match-up. If Matthews doesn’t play then Henry will get the primary assignment on Brazdeikis, which should bode well for MSU’s containing Brazdeikis off the drive.

Matthews, if he plays, is still a good slasher and cutter, is shooting well from 3 in B1G play (~36% in conference play), but his comfort zone is in turn-arounds and fade-aways from the elbow and short-corner - some of the least efficient shots in the game of basketball. It will be interesting to see if he goes, and, if he does, how much he plays. He did not perform well against Henry/Ahrens in the first match-up, and a hobbled Matthews is not going to help UM a ton, but if he can go, expect him play hard - the kid enjoys competing.

Livers is outstanding on offense. He can really shoot (~44% from 3 on the season, 39% from 3 in the B1G), and he can handle it. He has done well in the last two games since returning to his starting role from last year, providing double digit points, great spacing/gravity because of his shooting, and hitting 3 3pt shots in both games. Defensively he can get in foul-trouble though and isn’t super laterally on defense. I think he and Goins could neutralize each other unless KG can get to the paint and rebound the ball (in addition to knocking down his 3pt shots).

Michigan spaces the floor, runs a lot of PnR, and has everyone driving from the wing looking to get to the paint to score or kick; oh, and they don’t turn it all (#4 in offensive TO rate per Kenpom). Since the first match-up, UM has improved from the #33 offensive team in Kenpom to #20. But they still play at a glacial pace (#315 in pace - their pace has plummeted in the last 2 games), don’t rebound it offensively (#271 in Oreb rate - up a bit in the last 2 games), and don’t get to the line (#287 in FTA/FGA) - they shoot a lot of jump-shots. This team can have offensive droughts, and if MSU can find ways to score consistently, again, then we can win a B1G championship.


I STILL really like this match-up for MSU even without Ward, and potentially with a hobbled Ahrens.

Defensively, I still think we will be fine against them: we just need to stay solid on the drive (which is what opens up everything for them) - especially McQ on Poole, Henry on Matthews/Brazdeikis, and Goins on Brazdeikis/Livers. If we don’t give up easy drives to the paint and the rim, then UM’s offense has to come from their motion sets (mainly Poole, Brazdeikis, and Matthews coming off of curls, horns-sets, and pin-downs) - these should be straight-forward for our guys to defend: none of this is fancy and our guys have defended these kinds of actions really well all year (and did very well on them in the first match-up).

If we shut down UM’s iso-wing drives (which we did a solid, but not great job of in the first game), and their motion sets, their last resort is the Simpson-Teske PnR, which will likely decide the game: Tillman, Goins, and Kithier will all have to really read Teske well because Simpson wants to find him or penetrate into the paint, force help, and kick to a shooter (this is the Livers role, and we just cannot help off of him if possible).

If we force Simpson into tons of shots and he makes them, then I will live with that - my goal is for Simpson to take 10-15 shots for the game. I still think this is the core of the game plan - don’t let Simpson create for others, make him shoot from anywhere and everywhere outside of the paint. We did a great job of this in the first match-up making Simpson and the entire UM team into one-on-one players (they had only 6 assists all game ~26% assist rate, which is a bad pair of passing-related numbers). Hopefully Cash’s knee is feeling better because this will be another bear of a task for him.

I really don’t think that switching onto Teske as easily as we did in the first match-up is a sensible game-plan this time around, unless Henry/Winston/Brown are going to be tougher boxing him out and denying him easy post-position (something we really did NOT do in the first match-up leading to early foul trouble for Henry and 3 offensive rebounds for Teske in the first half). Here are a couple of those first-half switches, which I did not approve of:

Easy switch onto Teske #1 (Teske o-reb, and-1):

Before the drive Goins should switch in to Teske and bump Henry out to Brazdeikis in the corner, but given that doesn’t happen, Henry falls asleep on the box-out.

Teske switch #2:

Tillman and Winston need to fight back to get out of the cross-match, and if Simpson gets an open 3, then that is not the end of the world. Ahrens can help all of this by pressuring Livers a bit more and denying a “free” pass - make Livers drive against the pressure rather than allow an easy entry pass. Goins, especially needs to be communicating this to Ahrens, and McQ needs to be telling Tillman to switch-back, while stunting over to Simpson if the ball goes to him.

I would much rather see us double off the PnR (push Simpson away from the arc, try to make him pick-up his dribble, and then recover), or, preferably ICE-and-recover - again this will make Simpson into a shooter. We have to be diligent in not helping off of their 3pt shooters. Make Simpson beat us by making 25 contested 2-pt sky-hooks.

If Michigan wins they will likely have to hit a number of contested 3’s (say about 8-10), and will have to get a relatively high number free throws or transition points, mostly off of MSU turnovers, which brings us to MSU’s offensive game-plan...

No Ward means our low-post offense will still be diminished, Simpson will be all up in Winston’s grill (hand-checking him all day, if the refs call 1-2 of those fouls the game totally changes, assume that they won’t) as will Teske (hopefully the refs actually call those hand-checks and body bumps).

Poole will be back on McQ which I thought was a mistake by Michigan in the first match-up; McQuaid would have been more-bothered by Matthews’ length. Instead, with Poole on him, McQ had a big offensive impact going for 13 points witha 120 Ortg. McQ will need to stay aggressive, and will need to at least play Poole even, which I think he can and will.

Henry had a rough first half in the first match-up because of foul trouble (generated by easy switches onto Teske, again, please don’t do this again). But if Henry can stay out of foul-trouble (and this goes for Brown and Ahrens, if he is healthy and plays, too), then he can get at Brazdeikis. I think Henry will have multiple slashing opportunities off of hand-offs and kick outs, and he needs to get all the way to the paint and to draw contact or finish strong at the rim (I predicted a career high for Henry for the first match-up, which didn’t happen, but I think he could easily hit double-digits this go-around - same for Brown who took and missed a lot of really good shots vs Nebraska - he seems primed for a break-out game).

MSU’s offense will still be seriously dependent on 4 factors: McQ vs. Poole, Henry/Brown/Goins vs Brazdeikis/Livers, offensive rebounds, and turnovers.

If MSU can limit turnovers to under 15, rebound 30% of available offensive rebounds (again, Goins and Henry are essential here - we got just under 30% of our o-reb opportunities in the first match-up), and if McQ, Henry, and Goins can score against Poole, Brazdeikis, and Livers, then MSU should win the game.

To score against these three UM defenders, McQ and Henry will need to continue to drive aggressively from the wing, get to the paint, finish around the rim, and take and make open 3’s when their man helps off of them. Goins and Tillman will need to be the primary PnR men for Winston again (I would try to get Livers as involved as possible in PnR). If Goins can get switched onto Simpson he can crash the glass, and if Livers isn’t seamless in his hedge-and-recover, then Goins should have plenty of looks from the 3 or multiple chances to drive and drop-off or kick - KG’s decision-making will be huge.

One last game-plan point: MSU did a great job, especially in the second half of the first UM game, of running our Spain PnR (screening the help guy to generate a 3rd rotation) and I think that could be huge again in this one; UM had no interest in defending that action competently, and I don’t think they can given how help-happy and switch-happy they are.

For anyone interested in an NBA-centric detailed discussion of the Spain PnR, check out this BBall Breakdown video:

I am predicting Goins hits at least 4 3pt shots, and that Henry and Brown combine for over 15 points and 4+ offensive rebounds. Winston owned the first match-up, if he does that again, then MSU likely wins no matter what else happens, but if Winston isn’t quite as dominant, then these other factors may play a significant role. Finally, MSU got basically ZERO running opportunities/transition points in the first match-up, if that changes - if we are better on the defensive glass, if balls bounce our way a bit, and if we can catch UM sleeping a bit - then the win condition becomes that much more readily-achievable.

I cannot imagine another domination of UM that MSU had last time, and I would be surprised if UM turned it over nearly as often as they did in Ann Arbor, but I think UM’s lack of depth will hurt them even more in this one (unless MSU allows DeJulius, or Johns, or Brooks, or Castelton to go for a stupid number of points - eg 8 or something). Don’t get too up or too down, play our game, knock down our open shots, and get some guys to step up.



MSU 75 Michigan 70

Make Gamethread go now!!!