|Who: Alabama A&M (2-3) at No. 18 Michigan (8-2)|
|Where: Crisler Arena, Ann Arbor, MI|
|When: 12:00 p.m. ET, December 17th, 2011|
|Radio: MGoBlue / WWJ 950AM, WWWW 102.9 FM, Sirius 85, XM 85|
|Pick to Click|
The 10 teams in the Southwestern Athletic Conference have combined to beat five Division I opponents this season. Alabama A&M has not added to that tally. Ken Pomeroy’s computers actually rank the Bulldogs a couple slots below Michigan’s previous opponent, Arkansas Pine Bluff. A&M returns less than half of its production from a season ago and is projected to finish square in the middle of the SWAC thanks to the return of last season’s leading scorer, Casey Cantey.
To their credit, the Bulldogs did at least a couple things well last season. First on last year’s list of positives: defense. Alabama A&M touted the SWAC’s best defense last year thanks to stingy field goal defense and frequent blocked shots. Field goal defense is still this team’s greatest strength and the Bulldogs also return their top shot blocker, 6-foot-5 Demarquelle Tabb. However, A&M has struggled in the other three facets of defense this season: failing to force turnovers, clean up the defensive glass and keep opponents off of the free throw line. While the Bulldogs’ strong three-point defense (29 3p% allowed) could cause some concern for Michigan on first glance, two of the three Division I opponents to face the Bulldogs have made under 30% of their threes on the season.
Offensively, Alabama A&M’s credo is that more shots are better than good shots. A&M loves to push the ball, averaging 70 possessions per game, but is the second worst shooting team in Divsion 1. The Bulldogs make just 37% of their twos and 22% of their threes for a 36% effective field goal percentage. A&M is well below average in each of the other three factors, turning the ball over, rarely grabbing offensive rebounds and getting to the free throw line at just a moderate rate. This is an offense that scored under .70 points per trip over its last two games and doesn’t appear likely to break out of its slump in Ann Arbor.
The aforementioned Cantey (pictured) and Tabb are joined by 5-foot-8 point guard Jeremy Crutcher as regulars in the Bulldog lineup. Cantey is the primary shot taker and leading scorer while Tabb is a great rebounder on both ends with the ability to get to the free throw line. Crutcher leads the team in minutes and assists but his minute size affects his two point shooting – 37% on twos for the season. The final two spots on the floor are filled by a hodgepodge of different Bulldogs with 11 other players averaging somewhere between 7 and 16 minutes per game. Who will we see on Saturday afternoon? Your guess is as good as mine.
Michigan has looked its worst against the worst teams on the schedule this year. There haven’t been any Savannah State style scares but there hasn’t been much of anything to get excited about either. Unfortunately, welcoming another struggling SWAC opponent to Crisler for a Saturday matinée doesn’t sound like the proper recipe to wake this team up out of its mid-December slumber. The good news is that Michigan won’t face another SWAC opponent and real challenges are on the near horizon with Big Ten play beginning in less than two weeks.