|Who: Elon (1-0) at Michigan (1-0)|
|Where: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI|
|When: 7:00 p.m., November 16th, 2015|
|Radio: 950 AM, 1050AM|
Three days after its Friday season opener, Michigan will be back in action against Elon this evening.
The Phoenix got off to a strong start last season, their first year in the CAA, but mid-season injuries plagued what was a promising start. Elon started 10-6 (2-1), but lost 12 of its final 17 games and finished the year with the worst defense in the CAA.
The Phoenix lost last year’s leading scorer and CAA Rookie of the Year, Elijah Bryant, to transfer (BYU), but still have plenty of talent. Elon opened the season on Friday with an impressive win at Charlotte where it led 53-26 at the half before coasting to a 85-74 win.
Elon likes to play fast — averaging 68.2 possessions per game, 29th nationally according to KenPom — but wasn’t very efficient last season. The Phoenix were outscored by .07 points per possession in CAA play and had the league’s third worst offense (1.00 PPP) and worst defense (1.07 PPP allowed).
Elon had fairly average shooting, turnover and offensive rebounding numbers last season — ranked 6th in the CAA in all three measures — but was more aggressive in getting to the line. The Phoenix attempted 41.1 free throws per 100 field goal attempts. Even in a blow out win at Charlotte, the Phoenix scored just 1.05 points per possession (85 points in 81 trips) and turned the ball over on 21% of their possessions.
This isn’t a great rebounding team — with national ranks of 278 on the offensive glass and 215 on the defensive glass — but there’s definitely some size on the roster compared to the teams that Michigan has faced. Two starters measure in at 6-foot-8 with a 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-11 big man available off the bench.
Elon’s defense appears to be designed to create turnovers and force the tempo. The Phoenix were ranked 48th nationally last season in forced turnover rate, creating turnovers on over a fifth of their opponents possessions, but non-turnover possessions generally ended up with easy baskets. Teams shot 51% on twos (274th nationally) and 35% on threes (207th) for a 51.3 eFG% (265th). If Michigan can value the ball and control the tempo, it shouldn’t have a problem finding easy looks.
Junior guard Luke Eddy mans the point guard position for Elon. He suffered a torn ACL nine games into the 2014-15 season, but had posted impressive assist, two-point (61%) and three-point (44%) numbers last season before the injury. Eddy dished eight assists and grabbed six rebounds in the season opener, but was just 2 of 9 from the floor.
Eddy is flanked on the wings by a pair of 6-foot-4 guards, senior Tanner Samson and sophomore Dmitri Thompson.
Samson is a three-point sniper with 92 games of experience over his four-year career. He scored 20 points or more in six different games last season, but he’s very much ‘just a shooter’ as 86% of his career field goal attempts have been threes.
Thompson is the opposite, an aggressive slasher on the wing with an inconsistent perimeter shot. He scored 21 points on 12 shots in the opener and grabbed eight rebounds and two steals. He shot just 18% on 17 three-point attempts last season, but did knock in a trey on Friday.
In the frontcourt, Elon has considerable depth. 6-foot-8, 225 pound freshman Tyler Seibring and 6-foot-8, 240 pound sophomore Brian Dawkins started the season opener. Seibring scored 11 points on 5 of 6 shooting, but didn’t grab a rebound, while Dawkins was whistled for four fouls in eight minutes.
Off the bench, 6-foot-7, 205 pound sophomore Christian Hairston scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds in 21 minutes. He’s recovering from a broken wrist suffered on Elon’s summer trip to Europe, but is known for his ability to finish around the basket and grab rebounds. 6-foot-8 Jack Anton also played 19 minutes off the bench and the 240 pound sophomore scored 9 points.
After facing two Division II teams that lacked any size, the Wolverines’ frontcourt will face a much more difficult test against the Phoenix on Monday.
- Avoid turnovers: Michigan gave the ball away on 18.8% of its possessions in the opener. By itself, that number isn’t bad, but its above what we’ve come to expect under John Beilein. First-game jitters now in the past, Michigan will have to value the ball against a high-tempo pressure defense in Elon.
- Know your personnel: This will be a good test for some of Michigan’s perimeter defenders — especially on the wing — to execute their scouting report defense. Samson is the shooter, Thompson is the driver — I’ll be watching carefully to see how the Wolverine wings defend both players.
- Rebounding: Elon isn’t a great rebounding team by any definition, but Michigan has to improve on the glass quickly with Xavier heading to Ann Arbor at the end of the week. This is a chance for U-M’s bigs, wings and guards to all get on the glass and clean up misses.
After a pair of games against Division II foes, Michigan’s schedule is about to get exponentially tougher. Elon isn’t the best team the Wolverines will play, but the Phoenix at re a step up in competition from what we’ve seen. Zak Irvin could be back at “any time now” according to John Beilein and he’s been practicing. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get at least some time on the floor tonight with Xavier coming to Ann Arbor on Friday.
This is a game that Michigan should win fairly comfortably — KenPom projects a 81-61 (96%) Michigan victory — but it should also provide a better measuring stick of just where this team is at through the first week of the season.