|Who: Central Arkansas (1-8) at Michigan (7-3)|
|Where: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI|
|When: 9:00 p.m., December 13th, 2016|
Michigan survived its six non-conference games against high-major opponents with a .500 record, now it needs to buckle down and handle business during final exams and wrap up the non-conference season with three guarantee games before Christmas.
That stretch starts with a late Tuesday night bout against Central Arkansas (1-8). The Wolverines are facing something of a short turnaround after watching the women’s team face UCLA on Sunday and chartering back from Los Angeles, but they’ll also be facing the lowest ranked KenPom team on the schedule to date.
The Bears beat Army on November 20th, but have fallen short in their other eight games, several of which were against impressive opponents (Wisconsin, Oklahoma State and Butler) but also included a 17 point loss to Western Michigan, a 24 point loss to Southeast Missouri State, and a pair of losses to Little Rock.
Central Arkansas likes to play fast because it’s half court offense has been so inept. The Bears are averaging 71.6 possessions per game (72nd nationally) and 21.2% of their offensive possessions come in transition, per Synergy. They grade out in the 68th percentile in transition offensive efficiency compared to just the 5th percentile in the half court.
Central Arkansas shoots 37.9% from three-point range, but with only two legitimate shooting threats it attempts just 28.3% of its field goal attempts from the perimeter. Overall, the Bears tout a 46.4 eFG% (290th), shoot 42.2% on twos and turn the ball over on 21.9% of their possessions (300th).
The Bears utilize a match-up zone defense that they run on 82.3% of their defensive possessions. They’ll also apply occasional full court pressure (17.6% of possessions) in an attempt to speed up the game. But overall, the defensive results have been ugly. Central Arkansas opponents are scoring an adjusted 1.11 points per possession (327th) and have a 55 eFG% (296th). The Bears only force turnovers on 17.3% of opponent possessions (272nd) and are a below-average defensive rebounding team.
Only one team (Army) has failed to score a point per possession against Central Arkansas and all three high-major teams that the Bears have faced have scored over 1.2 points per trip.
The one area of the game where the Bears excel has been free throws. They get to the line (36.9% FTA/FGA) and prevent their opponents from doing so (30.9% FTA/FGA allowed) and do a good job of knocking in their freebies.
5-foot-11 junior Jordan Howard leads the Bears in scoring at 17.2 points per game. He’s a scorer not a distributor and he does most of his scoring from behind the arc. Howard is shooting just 33% (19-of-58) inside the arc and 43% from distance (26-of-61).
Not far behind Howard in scoring column is 6-foot-6 senior Derreck Brooks at 15.8 points per game. Brooks is also Central Arkansas’ leading rebounder at 6.5 per game and also a capable perimeter shooter. Brooks is 17-of-40 from three-point range, making him the only other Bear to make more than 4 three-pointers this season.
6-foot-5 junior Mathieu Kamba is a slasher who averages double-figures. He’s shooting 49% inside the arc, but he’s just a 61% free throw shooter.
6-foot-2 senior Jeff Lowery is the best setup man on the roster and while he does a good job of getting to the free throw line, he’s a poor shooter. He makes just 39% of his two-point attempts and is just 2-of-7 from three-point range.
The Bears lack much size in the middle with 6-foot-8, 220 pound sophomore Tanner Schmit starting at the five spot. Schmit is an average shot blocker and rebounder, but he makes 50% of his twos.
- Transition defense: Preventing transition opportunities is the first step toward shutting down Central Arkansas. The Bears are anemic in the half court and and some of their worst offensive games have been in slower tempo match-ups. Michigan did a good job of controlling tempo against UCLA, it just couldn’t stop the Bruins in the half court, but that shouldn’t be nearly as significant of a problem against Central Arkansas.
- Freshmen minutes: The next three games are the last great chances to get Xavier Simpson, Ibi Watson and Jon Teske some significant minutes in slightly lower leverage situations. Simpson needs to show more off the ball defensively while Watson is still searching for his first made three of the season (0-of-10).
- Handle the match-up zone: Every year it feels like Michigan faces an array of these switching zone defenses that looks like a zone but sometimes seems to drift into switching man-to-man principles. They can take time to adjust to and have given Michigan at least a bit of pause in the past, but the good news is that Michigan has already faced a few similar defenses and should be well prepared.
Michigan should get a much-needed tune up tonight against an over-matched opponent. KenPom projects an 80-57 Wolverine victory, giving the the Bears a 2% chance at the road upset.