2008-2009 Season

Game 24: Michigan at Connecticut Preview

: Michigan  (15-8) at Connecticut (21-1)
: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, CT
: Saturday, February 6th, 6 PM
: UConn by 17.5
Preview: Stat Sheet, U-M KenPom Profile, UConn KenPom Profile
: MGoBlue, WWJ-AM (950), WTKA-AM (1050)
Opposition Blog:
Matt’s UConn Blog (a lot of quality info)

Michigan is back on the road to take on the #1 UConn Huskies. Connecticut has been rolling through the Big East, after their opening loss to Georgetown the Huskies have rattled off 10 straight victories. Before citing Michigan’s earlier success against top 5 teams I think it is important to realize that Connecticut is a different breed of beast. The Huskies are a big strong team that dominates on both ends of the court and have one of the top big men in the country in Hasheem Thabeet.

UConn is a statistical monster; their defensive efficiency (85.8) is 7th in the country while their offensive efficiency (118.8) is 5th. There is really only one weakness across the board, forcing turnovers. UConn’s free throw rate of 48.4 ranks fourth in the country but their opponents average free throw rate is only 18.1, tops in the country.

The Huskies offense relies on two point shots and getting to the free throw line. UConn shoots only 22.7% of their shots from behind the arc, one of the lowest percentages in the country (338th). They shoot 52.5% on two point field goal attempts and 36.3 from three point range for a 52.9 eFG%. Connecticut also does a solid job holding onto the ball (17.7% TO) and a great job on the glass (40.4 OR%).

UConn has the #1 effective height rating by Ken Pomeroy (linked to description of the metric) of any team in the country. Most of this can be attributed to one man: Hasheem Thabeet. However the Huskies are long across the board, comparing starting lineups by height is scary for Wolverine fans (especially when you consider that Sims is more like 6-7 and Novak is more like 6-4):

C: 7-3, 6-9, 6-7, 6-4, 6-2
M: 6-8, 6-5, 6-5, 6-3, 5-11

Michigan’s effective height ranks 211th and they have struggled with big teams all year long. Sims and Novak are both giving up around half a foot in height to the man they are guarding while Manny Harris is stuck guarding a 6-foot-7, 240 pound machine who averages a double double.

UConn Personnel:

  • Hasheem Thabeet: 30.5 mpg, 13 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 4 bpg. The 7-foot-3 big man is a legit player of the year candidate and completely alters the game with his size.
  • Stanley Robinson: A mid season addition who served a suspension working in a junk yard before returning to the team. The 6-foot-9 wing man has struggled a bit since his return and only played 2 minutes at Louisville after picking up some quick foul trouble. UConn went with the three guard look and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a little of that Saturday.
  • Jeff Adrien: Adrien is another monster on the wing, the 6-foot-7 243 pound wing averages 14.3 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 1.6 apg, and 1 bpg while shooting 53.6% from the field. Adrien hasn’t made a three point bucket all year.
  • Jerome Dyson: Dyson averages 13.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg, and 3.3 apg but he only shoots 32.3% from long range.
  • AJ Price: Price is the main three point threat for the Huskies, averaging 12.2 ppg and 4.3 apg while shooting 42.3% from long range.
  • Kemba Walker: The backup point guard averages 9.2 ppg in 23.7 minutes and also shoots over 40 percent from long range.
  • Depth: UConn doesn’t have a deep rotation, the other two guys who get playing time are Craig Austrie and Gavin Edwards.

How do you beat UConn? Only the Hoyas have done it and the catalyst in their upset was turnovers. Georgetown forced UConn to turn the ball over on 27% of their possessions and rattled UConn from the start. You have to remember that Georgetown isn’t short on height either; Greg Monroe is another premiere big man that could match up with Thabeet.

The key for Michigan is going to be to spread the Huskies out and force Thabeet away from the basket. Luckily they have the right guy for the job in DeShawn Sims. If Sims can hit a few perimeter jump shots early on it will at least pull Thabeet out of the key a little bit. I don’t think that driving right at Thabeet and trying to get him in foul trouble is the answer because he is just too good of a shot blocker.

Defensively Michigan needs to bring the same kind of intensity they played with Thursday night. I’m sure Michigan will try some 1-3-1 zone to try and counteract UConn’s size but the zone hasn’t been very effective lately. It will be all hands on deck with CJ Lee, Jevohn Shepherd, and Zack Gibson probably getting a solid chunk of minutes.

The only positive is that this game will help Michigan’s RPI even if they lose. Michigan’s strength of schedule will continue to rise over the last month of the season and hopefully that helps them out on Selection Sunday. There are several key differences between this game and Michigan’s earlier upsets: it is on the road, there is no matchup advantage for Michigan to exploit, and UConn is huge. This is one of those games where Michigan needs to make a ridiculous number of three pointers to even stay in the game.

On a side note, for those of you wondering how this game ended up on the schedule, here is Beilein’s explanation:

“We wanted a second half game. We said that if we end up going to the Coaches vs. Cancer (finals), we are really crowded with exams (in the fall semester). We felt that second semester we have two bye weeks (in conference), let’s put it in there. Unfortunately, the Big Ten scheduled a Thursday game (against Penn State), it should have been a Tuesday or Wednesday game, but once it was scheduled we couldn’t change it.”

Thoughts, in-game discussion, and predictions are encouraged in the comments. A couple site notes too:

  • The server seems to be running much better. There were issues with Internet Explorer as well but I think I fixed them. E-mail me if you still have problems.
  • Plus/Minus is on break for the rest of the season if you didn’t figure it out yet. I just don’t have time to do it for every game, especially with so many conference games.
  • Next week is MSU week and there are a couple great features and posts on deck.

Pre-Game Reading:

    Manny makes the list
  • UConn Motivated To Stay On Top
    Fans are camping out…
  • Welcome to first place
    UConn moves into first place after USF knocks off Marquette. Beilein was 1-4 against UConn at WVU. Adrien on Michigan:
    “We’ve got to be prepared for back-door cuts and three-point shooting. They play four guards. I have to step up defensively and guard some perimeter dudes.”
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