Tuesday, November 29, 2011
game preview: Michigan
Date/Time: Tuesday, November 29; 7:00
History against the Wolverines: 1-2
Last matchup: U-M 102, UVA 65; 3/25/89; Lexington, KY (NCAA Elite 8)
Last game: UVA 68, UWGB 42 (11/25); U-M 79, UCLA 63 (11/23)
Line: UVA by 3
Opposing blogs: MGoBlog, UMHoops, Maize'n'Brew, myriad others - when it comes to blogs and such, Michigan is easily the best-covered school in the universe.
UVA: 61.3 (#340)
U-M: 63.0 (#328)
UVA: 102.1 (#126)
U-M: 110.7 (#24)
UVA: 87.6 (#8)
U-M: 94.0 (#54)
Pythagorean win %:
UVA: .8273 (#37)
U-M: .8434 (#33)
(Explanation of KenPom stats: "Tempo" number is number of offensive possessions per game. "Offense" and "Defense" numbers are points scored/allowed per 100 possessions. All numbers are adjusted, using the magic KenPom formula; therefore they are not actual, but projections of predicted results against an average team on a neutral court.)
Projected starting lineups:
PG: Jontel Evans (6.0 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 2.5 apg)
SG: Joe Harris (11.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.2 apg)
SF: KT Harrell (7.7 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 1.7 apg)
PF: Mike Scott (14.8 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 1.3 apg)
C: Assane Sene (6.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 0.2 apg)
PG: Trey Burke (11.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 4.2 apg)
SG: Tim Hardaway, Jr. (17.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.0 apg)
SF: Zack Novak (9.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.3 apg)
PF: Evan Smotrycz (8.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.3 apg)
C: Jordan Morgan (6.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 0.0 apg)
Sometimes you gotta hand it to the suits. UVA fans have (rightfully, I think) complained about always being stuck with Northwestern in the ACC/B1G Challenge, and if not Northwestern (3 times) then Minnesota (4 times.) 12 games (including one cancellation) for UVA in this event and seven of them against the same two teams.
But this is a matchup I can get behind. Even were I not a fan of one of these teams or the other, it would carry just a ton of intrigue. For UVA, it means a chance to finally test our mettle against a ranked team with staying power. (Minnesota was ranked #13 last year when we beat them at their place, but had injuries to deal with and turned out to be a paper tiger - they went 6-12 in the Big Ten and failed to make any kind of postseason.) Michigan is coming off a strong performance in Maui and is playing not for a tournament berth, but for seeding. Michigan will be looking for a similar result to last year, when they went on the road to Clemson and won, launching a tournament season. These two teams haven't met since the 1989 NCAA tournament - Bryant Stith vs. Glen Rice, in which UVA got in the way of a steamroller that was on the way to an NCAA championship. Prior to that? 1980 and 1951. That seems wrong, but the suits fixed it for this year, and this should be a good one - one which UVA needs, by the way, to bolster any tournament hopes.
-- UVA on offense
Let's clear up one misconception here: Michigan, under John Beilein, is not primarily a 1-3-1 team. Michigan mostly plays a pretty straight-up man-to-man defense, about two-thirds to three-quarters of the time. However, they are in fact one of the few teams in the country that will break out the 1-3-1 zone defense, and occasionally drop into a 2-3 as well.
That said, it's vital that UVA attack the 1-3-1 effectively, because Beilein likes to break it out when he senses the opposition is going on a run that needs to be stopped. The idea is simple: one man at the top of the key defending the ball, two on the wings at the free-throw line extended, and one down low guarding the post. The man in the middle is there to shut off any drives into the lane from any direction. The wing players will come above the free-throw line to harass the ball up high, or below it to defend the corner three, which is the biggest weakness of the 1-3-1. UVA can take Michigan out of this defense with good quick ball movement and good shooting from the corner. The other way: isolate Mike Scott on the post against the post defender, usually Jordan Morgan or 6'10" Jon Horford, and use Scott's quickness to get a bucket before help comes. In any case, crisp ball movement and decisiveness is the key. Michigan gets a ton of turnovers out of the 1-3-1 when opponents pause to think, which is the entire goal of the thing.
Otherwise, Michigan will play a pretty straightforward man-to-man defense. Scott against Morgan is an important battle, because Morgan is the only Michigan player with the strength to guard him. UVA will have the advantage down low, because Sene will be the tallest player on the court and Scott the strongest. UVA needs to pound, pound, pound down low and minimize the effect of U-M's guards, where the Wolverines have the advantage. And of course, Joe Harris and KT Harrell must have good days shooting the ball; Harrell, who is somewhat turnover-prone, must beware of the quick hands of Zack Novak, who goes after loose balls like a Rottweiler on crystal meth.
-- UVA on defense
The high point of the season without a doubt, UVA is starting to establish a national reputation for defense. Tony Bennett has got to be awfully happy about this; UVA has yet to allow 60 points in a game and is 8th in the country in KenPom's metrics.
At times in this game, though, UVA and its fans will just be left to shake their heads about Tim Hardaway, who's every bit as talented as his old man. The conventional wisdom, I think, is that Hardaway will get his, and I think the conventional wisdom is right. Harrell, who is the superior defender to Harris, will likely be assigned Hardaway, and the battle there will be a good one, with both players at some point having the upper hand. Jontel Evans will also have his hands full with Trey Burke, who is mature beyond his freshman years.
Like UVA, Michigan is a slow-paced, deliberate team. They love the three-pointer; the main difference between UVA and Michigan on offense is that Michigan is encouraged to occasionally lift an early three, if the shot is there, and especially if Michigan is feeling a little momentum. Nearly everyone except the true bigs on the roster has been brought in partly because they can shoot threes, even 6'9" power forward Evan Smotrycz. In fact, Smotrycz is such a three-point shooter that Beilein has had to try and better develop his low-post game to make him more of a matchup problem. Make no mistake, when he's in the game, he will be; Mike Scott will have a different kind of defensive assignment on him, and it may be that if Smotrycz happens to get hot, the more athletic Akil Mitchell may have to step in. Michigan is the kind of team that takes you out of your preferred lineups this way.
Novak also loves to fire away from three and he's exceptional at it; he'll be a major test for UVA's pack-line, which has had problems in the past at defending the three. Now in the third year of the system, UVA's players are much more comfortable and able to step out to defend it, but Novak is a test because he's quick and runs hard through screens (or sets hard ones) and he'll be a big problem for Harris.
As on the other end of the court, UVA will have the advantage down low, and should be able to outrebound Michigan. The main thing to watch out for is that Beilein's system is designed to lure defenders into forgetting about Jordan Morgan, and their point guards are exceedingly good at finding him all alone on the baseline. I think the pack-line is a good hedge against this, being that it clogs the lane with bodies and active hands, but the one caveat is that post defenders front their man in the pack-line and so must not allow them to slip out behind.
Despite the TCU problem, UVA is coming along nicely and finds itself in a good place to be competitive against a ranked team with thoughts of tournament success. This is a highly interesting matchup: two unorthodox defenses, one team (UVA) with an advantage in the frontcourt but the other with a very big edge in the backcourt. Michigan's guards are quite a bit more talented than UVA's, and more experienced overall as well. (Despite the fact that they start a sophomore and a freshman, Novak and 6th man Stu Douglass are seniors, and that gives them an edge over our one upperclassman and smattering of sophs and freshmen.)
Home court should be an edge for the Hoos, as the shooting background can give visiting teams trouble in the second half when they're looking at the pergola. Especially a 3-point dependent team like Michigan. But I think the KenPom numbers are a little deceiving; the teams are considered very close to one another but Michigan has a resume behind it already, with an excellent showing in Maui - a win over Memphis and a competitive loss to Duke.
Expect a low-scoring game, of course - both teams are perfectly content to let the pace of the game take care of itself rather than push the tempo. It'll be the kind of game that commentators call a "defensive struggle" regardless of shooting percentage. Despite the lack of up-and-down shooting and bombing and running, I expect an entertaining one; the coaching chess match will be fascinating to watch.
I've always said if Michigan and Virginia ever play in anything I care about, I'd pick sides based on who needs the win more. That's UVA - Michigan just needs to take care of basic business to get to the tourney, while UVA needs to find a way to get some kind of a resume-enhancer. Nevertheless, I expect to be "disappointed" in the end - if you can call it that when your other favorite team gets a quality ACC road win to burnish its case for a 4-seed or higher. Mike Scott and Tim Hardaway will get theirs, and UVA can win if its guards improve their shooting over their performance so far. But in the end I think U-M's guards will overwhelm UVA's and carry them to the win.
-- Final score: U-M 67, UVA 60