Who: Michigan (13-13, 7-7) vs. Illinois (17-10, 9-5)
It’s back to the grind for Michigan. Dealing with bad losses should be commonplace at this point. Michigan has done a surprisingly good job of putting past disappointments behind them and taking things one game at a time. After a loss to Indiana they rebounded and beat Ohio State. After the collapse versus Northwestern, they responded with two wins in a row including Connecticut.
Now, one the heels of a loss to the last place Nittany Lions, they welcome Illinois to Crisler Arena. Illinois is certainly talented but they haven’t necessarily been consistent themselves. The Illini have a smattering of quality wins including including Vanderbilt, Clemson, Michigan St., and Wisconsin. But they also have some head scratching losses like Utah and Bradley.
Illinois has a number of good players but the man to watch is junior point guard Demetri McCamey. McCamey is one of the most overlooked players in the Big Ten’s vaunted junior class but not for lack of production. McCamey is averaging 15.2 points per game and shooting 38% from behind the arc. In his last seven games, McCamey is averaging 9.6 assists per contest. McCamey’s astronomical assist numbers are marred slightly by his tendency to turn the ball over, he’s averaging 3.2 turnovers per game in Big Ten play.
Despite McCamey’s set-up game, Michigan really needs to worry about Illinois’ size down low. The duo of Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale has been a thorn in Michigan’s side for sometime. In Champaign, Tisdale scored 24 points on 10-12 shooting but in Indianapolis it was Davis who scored 22 points on 11 of 19 shooting. Davis and Tisdale are both proficient midrange jump shooters who have significant height advantages of the men guarding them (Novak, Sims). Davis has struggled for portions of this year but an anonymous phone call seems to have him back on the right track.
The difference between this Illini team and last year’s squad is the addition of two freshmen wings: Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson. Richardson appears to be the more complete player of the pair at this point. He’s averaging 10.8 points per game and shooting 41.5% from three point range.
Looking at the latest scatter plots from the Big Ten Geeks, the Illini are in an almost identical position to Michigan. Offensively, Illinois focuses on 2 point jump shots (71.8% of FGA are 2PA) and they hit them at a respectable 50.6% clip. Because the Illini are some sort of weird POT-hybrid 2 point jump shooting team, that takes twos instead of threes, they don’t shoot a lot of free throws (FTA/FGA=29.2%) or get a lot of offensive rebounds (32.5 OR%). But they do take care of the ball (17.9 TO%) and get almost no shots blocked (4.6% of their attempts are blocked, the best in the country).
Defensively, the Illini are solid across the board. They are a good defensive rebounding team (69.8 DR%) and keep opponents off the line (31.5% FTR). Most of all they are good at defending the three point shot, holding opponents to only 31.3% from downtown (but 31.3% is still above Michigan’s average, gotta think positive right?). The one thing they don’t do on the defensive side of the ball is create turnovers, their opponents turn the ball over on less than 19% of their possessions.
Pomeroy’s predictions have Michigan by one and Vegas likes Michigan by three (but that is moving toward Illinois). Watching disappointing performances like Saturday’s Penn State game, it’s tough to make yourself believe that this team will ever win another game, but they’ve still got to play them. Consistency has been the biggest problem for Michigan so it’s really up for grabs which Michigan team we’ll see on any given night.
Michigan is playing for pride and this will be the seniors last game in front of the whole Maize Rage. Illinois is playing for an NCAA tournament berth and a loss would be detrimental to their bubble chances. If you were wondering what Illini fans think, they have this one penciled in as a win. Let’s hear your thoughts, predictions, and anything else in the comments.
Other links & notes.
- John Beilein was in Grand Ledge last night, checking out Jon Horford. The senior big man scored 22 points in a revenge win over #3 Lansing Eastern.
- Michigan fans are apparently very in tune to tempo-free-stats according to the esteemed John Gasaway. I salute you all.
- The NCAA has posted every Sweet 16, Elite 8, and Final Four game over the last decade. This sounds cool on the surface but it’s also a cold reminder that Michigan hasn’t played in the second weekend of the NCAA tournament in the last decade.
- The Michigan Basketball Postseason Celebration is set for April 12th, tickets are on-sale now.