|Who: Arkansas (4-3) at No. 3 Michigan (8-0)|
|Where: Crisler Center (Ann Arbor, MI)|
|When: 12:00 p.m., Saturday, December 8th, 2012|
|Radio: MGoBlue, 950 AM, Sirius/XM: 91|
|More: Pick to Click|
Arkansas is a team of extremes. The Razorbacks bring their radical approach to a game and want to dictate tempo and style of play. They will press and run throughout the entire game and are explosive enough to bust out a quick double digit lead in the blink of an eye after one slip up by the opposition. Of course that all or nothing approach to changing the game has a fatal flaw. If Razorback opponents have to poise and discipline to withstand the aggressive pressure defense, easy opportunities will be available on the offensive end.
A year ago Michigan was blitzed at Bud Walton Arena. Coming off of an emotion win over Michigan State, the Wolverines traveled to Fayetteville and were down double digits before they were even acclimated to their new surroundings. The Wolverines fell behind 17-5 early and were left to play catch up for for 34 minutes. Michigan almost succeeded, as Trey Burke’s potential game winning buzzer beater rimmed in and out, but was never truly able to recover from its first half mental lapses.
Arkansas averages over 72 possessions per game, 12th fastest tempo in Division I, and will easily be the fastest team that Michigan, which averages under 63 possessions per game, will face this season. Despite playing at a frenetic pace, the Razorbacks value the basketball more than any team in the country and turn it over on less than 15 percent of their possessions. Arkansas not only pushes the tempo, it gets a shot just about every time down the floor. As one would expect given Arkansas’ fast pace, the Razorbacks do more damage attacking the basket and are most effective at getting to the free throw line, 42% FTA/FGA (74th), and shooting from two point range, 50% (87th). Less than 28 percent of Razorback field goal attempts come from behind the arc and they are connecting on under 29% of those long range efforts.
Defensively, its turnover or bust. If Arkansas doesn’t turn its opponents over, there’s a strong chance its opponents will score. The Razorbacks force turnovers on nearly 25% of opponent possessions (53rd) but rank 230th or worse in effective field goal percentage defense, defensive rebounding and free throw rate allowed. Opponents are shooting 51% on twos, 36% on threes, and rebound over one-third of their missed attempts. Beat the press and there will be plenty of opportunities for Michigan on the offensive end of the floor.
B.J. Young is a dynamic scorer and likely first round draft pick. He also provides a great personal challenge for Trey Burke – who probably lost the one-on-one battle last season. Young is averaging 20 points, four rebounds and four assists per game this season and he’s done it without his, once reliable, three point stroke. The sophomore guard uses over 30% of Arkansas’ possessions when he’s on the floor, doesn’t turn the ball over, draws fouls and connects on an efficient 53% of his twos. However, he’s made just 3-of-21 (14%) three point attempts this season compared to 50-of-121 (41%) as a freshman. He’s a dangerous and dynamic scorer and someone that Michigan’s entire defensive game-plan will have to be center around.
Mardracus Wade and Rashad Madden join Young in the backcourt. Wade is another perimeter shooter that’s apparently lost his touch, connecting on 32% this year after making nearly half of his threes a season ago. Madden is a low usage slasher that has made 78% of his twos this season.
Marshawn Powell is the other primary threat for the Razorback offense. Arkansas’ only other double digit scorer missed last season with a knee injury but is off to a hot start this year, averaging 16 points and six rebounds per contest. The 6-foot-7, 240 pound junior is making an impact on the glass but also converting inside (53%) and out (44%) while still getting to the free throw line. He’s joined down low by Coty Clarke another 6-foot-7 junior who stands out as the best offensive and defensive rebounder on the Razorback roster.
Michigan needs to dictate the tempo and the backboards. Arkansas is weak on the glass on both ends of the floor and the Wolverines should be able to take advantage. Michigan does a great job of valuing the basketball and is a great shooting team from anywhere on the floor, two statistics which not only negate a Razorback strength (turnovers) but exploit a weakness (field goal defense). Cleaning up the glass on both ends will dictate that this game is played on Michigan’s terms rather than Arkansas’ terms.
Arkansas is probably a hair better than its 4-3 record suggests with the three losses coming to decent teams (Syracuse (5), Wisconsin (9) and Arizona St. (144)) and coming off of its best win of the season, at home over Oklahoma. But this is a game that Michigan should be expected to win on its home floor. Ken Pomeroy projects an easy Michigan win in Ann Arbor, giving the Wolverines a 94% chance of victory with a 82-63 final in 67 possessions. As long as Michigan’s freshmen stay calm and are able to handle the Razorback full court press, this should be a game that Michigan wins fairly comfortably in the end, even if there are uneasy stretches early on.