|Who: Kansas (14-0) at Michigan (11-4)|
|Where: Crisler Arena, Ann Arbor, MI|
|When: January 9th, 2011, 4:30PM|
|Radio: MGoBlue / WTKA 1050 AM/Sirius Ch. 113|
Simply put, Michigan hasn’t been playing great basketball recently. The defensive tenacity that defined the majority of non-conference play has disappeared over the last four games as Michigan’s defense has been picked apart by the likes of Bryant, Purdue, Penn State, and Wisconsin. Michigan has been outscored by .18 points per possession through three games of Big Ten play, a mark that ranks second to last in the conference. Hosting the nation’s number three team isn’t necessarily the easiest way to get on track.
As you would expect from one of the country’s last undefeated teams, the Jayhawks don’t have many weaknesses on either side of the ball. Offensively they shoot the lights out with a 60% effective field goal percentage – 59.8% on twos, 40.2% on threes – and crash the offensive glass. Perhaps their only weakness offensively is making free throws, as they shoot a pedestrian 67% from the charity stripe.
Kansas is even better defensively, ranking first in Pomeroy’s defensive ratings. The Jayhawk defense starts by limiting opponents’ shooting percentages inside (43% on twos) and outside (26% on threes) but it’s strong across the board. Kansas turns opponents over on 24% of their possessions, rebounds over 70% of opponents’ misses, and does a good job limiting opposition free throws. There aren’t many, if any, defensive weaknesses for this Kansas squad.
Kansas’ roster features a rash of five star, top 100, and McDonalds All American recruits and another was just inserted into the rotation five games ago, Josh Selby. Selby was a consensus top five recruit and has lived up to his hype early on, averaging 15 points, four rebounds, and four assists per game. A majority of Selby’s offensive production has been from the perimeter where he’s shooting 55% compared to just 30% from two point range.
The Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, anchor the middle. Marcus averages 15 points and 6 rebounds per game and shoots a remarkable 66% on two point field goal attempts, he’s also a threat from three point range where he’s connected on 14 of 31 attempts. Markieff is the stronger rebounder of the duo as he averages 13 points and 9 rebounds per game. It was Marcus Morris that killed Michigan last year, scoring 23 points on 7 of 10 shooting with 10 rebounds.
After those three, there are plenty of other talented players. Point guard Tyshawn Taylor averages 10 points and 6 assists per game. 6-foot-9 Thomas Robinson comes off the bench and averages 10 points and 7 rebounds. 6-foot-3 guards Tyrell Reed and Brady Morningstar don’t look for their offense often but are capable of hitting open shots. Bill Self calls 6-foot-5 Travis Releford the Jayhawks’ “utility player” as he can play inside or out at basically any position. Despite loaded recruiting classes year in and year out, Kansas’ roster is very experienced and hasn’t necessarily been decimated by one and done players. They only play one freshman, Josh Selby, and the majority of the Kansas rotation consists of juniors and seniors.
On paper, there aren’t many individual match-ups that favor Michigan in this one. Having two strong and physical post players to deal with will be a problem for Michigan defensively. However it’s worth noting that the Wolverines actually did a great job on the defensive glass last year at Kansas. The difference in that game was that Michigan just couldn’t defend the Jayhawks and allowed them to live at the free throw line and knock down a majority of their shots. Kansas hasn’t been without their close calls this season, most notably home wins over Southern Cal and UCLA by less than a basket. The Jayhawks have also only played one true road game, a 78-63 win at California.
Michigan will obviously have to hit some threes, which is probably a perquisite for any game it wins this season, but tempo will also be important. Michigan averages 64 possessions per game (319th) compared to Kansas’ 71 possessions per game (41st), so you can bet that the Jayhawks will want to run. Michigan doesn’t have the athletes to keep up in a track meet and should have a much better chance in a slower game that forces Kansas to be more disciplined on every possession – of course Kansas’ memorable NCAA tournament upset last season was in a 61 possession game versus Northern Iowa as well.
Pomeroy’s projections have Kansas winning 72-60 in a 66 possession game and he gives Michigan an 11% chance at victory. Upsets happen but it’s tough to pick this Michigan team which hasn’t been able to play 40 minutes of good basketball in quite some time. The Wolverines might stick around early but it’s just a matter of time before the Jayhawks pull away. Here are three predictions:
- Kansas posts an effective field goal percentage over 55%.
- Defensive rebounding and free throws will be critical. Michigan needs to rebound about 70% of Kansas’ missed shots and attempt more free throws to have a chance down the stretch.
- Stu Douglass leads Michigan in scoring.