Just 48 hours after finally figuring out North Florida’s extended zone defense, Michigan will attempt to solve an entirely different puzzle against Central Michigan (7:00 p.m., BTN).
The Chippewas were one of the most exciting teams in college basketball last season, they just didn’t win many games. They lost their final eight games of the year, but there was no shortage of points. 5-foot-9 guards Marcus Keene, the NCAA’s leading scorer, and Braylon Rayson combined to average 51.2 points per game. Central Michigan played at breakneck pace, 75.3 possessions per game (3rd nationally), but had the 7th worst per possession defense in Division I, per KenPom.
Keene and Rayson are gone this season, but head coach Keno Davis might have a more balanced team. The Chips return three starters and several rotation players, but will have to figure out how to replace the offensive firepower they lose from last year’s dynamic duo.
Similar to North Florida, it is tough to project what the Central Michigan offense will look like after it loses two high-usage guards in Keene and Rayson, but the Central Michigan program under Davis does have some consistent traits.
The Chips have finished in the top-ten nationally in both offensive turnover rate and 3PA/FGA for three seasons running and might be one of the only teams in the country that turns the ball over less and shoots more threes than Michigan. Central Michigan is a poor offensive rebounding program, finishing 250th or worse in offensive rebounding rate over the last four years and doesn’t get to the line often.
Tempo will be the most interesting thing to watch this year for Davis’ team. His team played extraordinarily fast last year, as did his old teams at Providence, but other recent seasons at Central Michigan were fairly average in tempo. Will this year’s team play at the same sort of run-and-gun pace without the dynamic two guards? An 83 possession win over Siena Heights is all we have to go off of, but signs point to yes.
The defensive numbers from last year’s team are ugly, but the hope will be that replacing the two 5-foot-9 guards could benefit the defense. The Chippewas didn’t force turnovers, didn’t clean up the defensive glass and allowed opponents to shoot 53.9 percent on two-point attempts. About the only thing that Central Michigan did better than an average Division I team was avoid fouling.
David DiLeo came off the bench last year, but is Central Michigan’s top returning scorer. He averaged 8.5 points and 5 rebounds per game and the 6-foot-7 wing is primarily a three-point threat. 38 percent from three-point range. 77 percent of his shot attempts were from deep and he connected at a 38 percent clip.
6-foot-6, 210 junior Cecil Williams declared for the NBA Draft last year to receive feedback, but is back for another year. He’s an aggressive player who excels on the offensive glass and getting to the free throw line (64 FTA per 100 FGA). He shot just 49% on twos and is accurate from three (45%) on limited attempts (29).
6-foot-10, 220 pound senior Luke Meyer is a four-year starter who is capable of stretching the floor just a bit. He was the best shot blocker in the MAC last season and is active on both backboards. He made 18-of-51 three-point attempt, but also shot 58% inside the arc.
Redshirt senior wing Josh Kozinski used to play AAU ball with Derrick Walton on the Michigan Mustangs. He’s a volume three-point threat and is a 35% three-point shooter with over 600 attempts in his career.
Central Michigan bolstered the guard spot via the transfer market. Missouri State transfer guard Shawn Roundtree started the opener at point guard and comes to CMU after a year in junior college. Graduate transfer Gavin Peppers bounced around junior colleges before ending up at Cleveland State where he didn’t see game action last year, now he has two years to play at Central. He got to the foul line 9 times in 18 minutes in the opener. While both players appear to be solid additions, they also aren’t Marcus Keene.
Sophomore wing Kevin McKay played limited minutes last year, but scored 22 points off the bench in the season opener. DaRohn Scott, a 6-foot-9, 230 pound senior from Grand Rapids Christian, played heavy post minutes down the stretch last season, but didn’t play in Central Michigan’s opener.
- Point guard battle rages on: What point guard excels against CMU’s uptempo style? We know that Jaaron Simmons has in the past, he had 30 points, 9 assists and 9 rebounds in a loss to the Chippewas last year (video below). He’s clearly not in that role at this point in his Michigan career, but maybe playing a familiar opponent will be a welcome change. At this point, it’s tough to project what to expect from the point guard spot in any given game and that will be a key until Michigan can figure it out.
- Control the tempo: The average Central Michigan game last year featured 75 possessions. Michigan’s fastest game in 2016-17 checked in at 73 possessions. It’s not that the Wolverines can’t play fast — they were efficient in transition last year and turned Saturday night’s game thanks to a transition spark — but it is important to control the tempo of the game, speeding up or down at the right times. That is easier said than done with so much uncertainty at the point guard position. Expect Central Michigan to press on a significant number of possessions in an attempt to speed up the game as well.
- Finally, some ball screens? Michigan’s pick and roll offense has been a staple over the last few years, but it was left in the garage on Saturday night against North Florida’s zone. Central Michigan was one of the worst ball screen defenses in the country last season, grading out in just the 2nd percentile nationally on over 17 possessions per game. This could be an opportunity for us to see the point guards, Charles Matthews, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman or anyone else get involved in the ball screen game.
KenPom likes Michigan in what his numbers project as a comfortable 90-68 Michigan victory. Saturday’s opener proved that even 20 point wins can be uncomfortable for long stretches, but Monday’s game looks like it could be an uptempo shootout rather than a game where the Wolverines struggle to score.