...says Denzel Valentine of Big Ten Tourney favorite MSU, which is 5-7 in its last 12 games. Cumong, man.
Primary computer is currently nonfunctional; operating at suboptimal levels while trying to convince a man that he needs to take my computer and fix it. Please bear with me.
3/14/2014 – Michigan 64, Illinois 63 – 24-7, 15-3 Big Ten, BTT semifinalist
The duality of man! [Dustin Johnston]
A good way to escape, I guess. The Illinois game existed in two phases: a man to man phase in which Michigan eventually ran out to a 13 point lead and a zone phase in which Michigan attempted zero(!) two point shots that just about cost them the game. Groce's inexplicable decision to return to a man to man phase on Michigan's last couple possessions was decisive.
It is difficult to overstate how completely Michigan failed to attack the Illinois zone. From the 14:47 mark to the Stauskas free throw against man D with 55 seconds left, Michigan attempted four free throws, zero two pointers, and 15 threes. Most of those were terrible contested looks, with occasional exceptions.
In the aftermath, a couple of people pinged me on twitter, saying that's why they didn't want Syracuse. (That was before Syracuse's yakety sax final possession against NC State.
I'd still take them.)
And, yeah, that was alarming. But the thing about the How To Shut Down Michigan book is that it works until it doesn't work. It was deny Stauskas on the wing until it wasn't possible, and then it was put a point guard on Stauskas until it wasn't. Michigan will work it out. A zone wake up call is a good thing to get right now, especially when you pull the game out anyway. Much better to get that out of the way before next week.
It looked to me like Illinois was overplaying the free throw line and was leaving corner threes open, but Michigan did not take advantage. There's only five guys and Michigan is really good at shooting; they'll work it out.
Meanwhile in that's over now. Stauskas was a FTA machine against their man coverage. He hit both his two point attempts and went 9/10 of the line, all on drives. Whenever Illinois attempted to put Abrams on Stauskas things went not well for them, and the instant Illinois went back to man, Stauskas got to the line an assisted on the decisive Jordan Morgan basket.
It's worth noting that Illinois's late season surge was based on superior man to man defense. In their 6-4 stretch at the end of the year they held all but one non-Michigan opponent under 1 PPP (Iowa got 1.1 in the season finale) and held a number way under. They had a four-game stretch in which opponents could not crest the 50-point mark, and those were all good teams: OSU, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Michigan State. They're up to 15th nationally on Kenpom.
As concerning as the zone ineptitude was, a second consecutive torching of a defense that has been giving the rest of the league fits was further proof that Michigan cannot be contained on offense.
Survive and advance. And if you were feeling kinda bad about what went down, last night provided a reassurance. Syracuse went down; Duke had a near-identical one-point escape against Clemson; St. Louis ate a last second three from St. Bonaventure; North Carolina got rebounded to death by Pitt. Conference tourneys are full of chaos.
Falling into place. With Kansas's loss to Iowa State, Michigan (probably) controls its own destiny in their attempt to lock down the final #1 seed. Beating OSU and Wisconsin/MSU would give them another pair of wins against tourney teams, and it seems like everyone currently putting Villanova on the #1 line is just waiting for someone to take it from them. Meanwhile, Duke and Louisville probably can't catch Michigan without an M loss—Lunardi already has Michigan the top two seed. '
Louisville keeps coming up in these discussions because they're annihilating folks in their conference tourney, but the Bracket Matrix has them a four—nowhere near the conversation.
About what the ideal is. Is it a big deal to get the last one seed instead of a non-Florida/Arizona #2 seed? Not at the hypothetical-regional-final-if-top-seeds-hold level, where you're probably facing down the same team you bumped. But, yeah, it is a big deal. The first, second, and third rounds all feature worse opponents, especially at the Sweet 16 level. There you're facing down a four seed 35% of the time and a five or worse the rest.
Big difference between a probable matchup against a near equal (current 3s: Iowa State, Virginia, Syracuse, Creighton) and a probable matchup against someone in the 5+ range. Current fives: OSU, UConn, Oklahoma, North Carolina.
What was that? Caris LeVert drew the primary defensive assignment on Tracy Abrams on the last play, which was drawn up with about four seconds left. LeVert got super aggressive on Abrams, got beat, and was fortunate not to watch his decision get Michigan beat.
When you consider what kind of player Abrams is, that decision looks even more baffling. Abrams is bad at all kinds of attempts to put the ball in the basket but he's really, really bad at jumpers. He was just 30% on two point jumpers this year and 28% on threes. If you sag off him a bit and then come up to contest when he takes the shot you know he has to take, you're probably looking at Abrams putting up a 20% shot instead of a… well probably not 60% since Abrams is an impressively bad scorer, but way too good of a look.
|WHAT||Michigan (24-7, 15-3 B1G) vs. Ohio State (25-8, 10-8)|
|WHERE||Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana|
|WHEN||1:40 pm Eastern, Saturday|
|LINE||Michigan -1 (KenPom)|
PBP: Jim Nantz
Analysts: Greg Anthony, Steve Kerr
Right: The Nebraska game proved stressful for Thad Matta. (via)
A spot in the Big Ten title game, obviously. Also, with Villanova losing to Seton Hall yesterday, Michigan has a chance to grab the final one-seed in the NCAA Tournament. While the Wolverines are the third two-seed (behind Kansas and Wisconsin) in the most recent Bracket Matrix update, the gap is narrowing. If Michigan advances further than Wisconsin in the conference tourney, they've got a shot, especially if Kansas goes down against Iowa State in the Big 12 semifinal (7 pm Friday night on ESPNU/WatchESPN).
THE LAST MATCHUP
Michigan played Ohio State once this season, coming away with a 70-60 win in Columbus despite digging themselves an early hole. The Wolverines won the game thanks to remarkable offensive balance; Nik Stauskas had 15 points, Derrick Walton 13, Zak Irvin 10, Caris LeVert and Glenn Robinson 9 apiece, Jon Horford 8, and Jordan Morgan 6. Oh, and this happened:
He just wins games.
THE LINEUP CARD
Probable starters are in bold:
|G||4||Aaron Craft||Sr.||6'2, 195||85.4||18.6||104.6|
|Great (and aggressive) defender, good distributor, iffy shooter|
|G||32||Lenzelle Smith Jr.||Sr.||6'4, 210||71.4||20.0||114.2|
|Good shooter, not great around basket, #2 offensive option behind Ross.|
|F||12||Sam Thompson||Jr.||6'7, 200||60.8||16.6||102.2|
|Remarkably athletic, great finisher at rim, mediocre shooter, blocks some shots|
|F||10||LaQuinton Ross||Jr.||6'8, 220||71.0||27.8||108.1|
|Volume shooter with iffy selection, solid outside shot, decent rebounder|
|C||23||Amir Williams||Jr.||6'11, 250||58.0||19.1||110.1|
|Excellent rebounder and shot-blocker, lots of putbacks, terrible hands|
|G||3||Shannon Scott||Jr.||6'1, 185||66.3||19.0||100.0|
|Great (and aggressive) defender, good distributor, iffy shooter|
|G||33||Amadeo Della Valle||So.||6'5, 190||28.6||20.5||95.2|
|Mostly a spot-up shooter, 32% from three, ineffective inside arc|
|C||55||Trey McDonald||Jr.||6'8, 240||29.9||13.5||89.2|
|Good off. rebounder, poor def. rebounder, high FT rate, terrible FT shooter|
|F||2||Marc Loving||Fr.||6'7, 215||27.6||23.1||99.5|
|Has essentially fallen out of rotation for last month, surpassed by ADV|
Tim Miles could've prevented this if he knew the Golden Rule of KenPom: Never Question KenPom.
— Tim Miles (@CoachMiles) March 12, 2014
Despite tempting fate, it looked like the Huskers would cruise to a Big Ten quarterfinal victory; they led by as many as 18 points in the second half. Then came KenPom's revenge:
Ohio State outscored Nebraska 41-19 over the final 13:45.
— Kyle Rowland (@KyleRowland) March 14, 2014
That's a really tough way to learn that particular lesson, though at least Nebraska is still projected to make the NCAA Tournament.
Anyway, Ohio State. Like with the Illinois preview, this is a copy-paste job with a few updates (and corrected stats) from the last preview.
Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott are very similar players; great defenders with very aggressive styles—both rank in the top 12 in steal rate—and solid distributors who struggle with their shot. Craft gets to the rim more often but doesn't finish quite as well as Scott, likely a product of having to take more contested shots late in the clock; Scott has a better mid-range jumper, while Craft is more selective—and therefore more efficient—with his three-point attempts. (Efficient here is relative: Craft makes 30% of his threes, Scott 28%.) Expect both to see plenty of time guarding Stauskas.
Sam Thompson will start over Scott in an effort to get more scoring—and size—on the floor for the Buckeyes. He's a 33.3% three-point shooter and a great finisher at the rim; too often, however, he settles for two-point jumpers that he hits at just a 24.2% clip, per hoop-math. He's not the on-ball defensive terror that Craft and Scott present and his rebounding numbers surprisingly fall just below Scott's (read: not great); however, he does provide another shot-blocking threat on the floor.
LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith Jr. are the primary scoring options, with Ross taking over 30% of the team's shots when he's on the floor, a top-100 rate nationally. Ross is a good outside shooter (37.8% 3-pt) who finishes well around the basket, though his two-point percentage (47.6%) is dragged down by a healthy number of mid-range jumpers that aren't his specialty. Ross does a good job taking care of the basketball. He also rarely looks to pass, which helps keep the turnover rate low. As he goes, the Buckeye offense tends to go.
Smith, meanwhile, distributes his shots almost equally between two-pointers (52.1%) and three-pointers (34.5%); his turnover rate is even lower than Ross's despite the fact he's more willing to give the ball up. While Smith isn't a great athlete, he rebounds pretty well for a player his size on the defensive end.
Detroit native Amir Williams mans the center position; he's by far the team's best rebounder and one of the better rim protectors in the conference. His offensive game a still a work-in-progress, though his post game has improved; he finishes well off putbacks and open dumpoffs, which represent a good chunk of his attempts, but he doesn't have great hands—he'll drop an entry pass or two. He's backed up by Trey McDonald, who's a total offensive non-factor aside from solid offensive rebounding and terrible (33.3%) free-throw shooting on a high rate of attempts. Thad Matta often eschews playing McDonald in favor of going small with Ross at the five.
Other backups who could see significant time include one-time Michigan recruit Amadeo Della Valle, a spot-up shooting specialist hitting 32.4% of his threes. After had been 0-for-8 from the field since February 15th before dropping 12 points on 3/7 shooting during the comeback against Nebraska. Freshman forward Marc Loving has almost entirely dropped out of the rotation, playing a combined 31 minutes over the team's last six games.
After losing to Michigan, Ohio State defeated Illinois on the road and Northwestern, Minnesota, and Michigan State at home while losing at Penn State and Indiana to close out the regular season. The Buckeyes eked out a 62-60 win over Purdue in the opening round of the BTT.
The Buckeyes are first in the B1G in defensive efficiency despite ranking fifth in eFG% against and eighth in DReb%. The reasons: OSU is first in forcing turnovers by a wide margin, second in 3-pt% against, second in preventing three-point attempts, and third in keeping opponents off the free-throw line. Two-point defense is the Buckeyes's glaring weakness, especially when Williams isn't on the floor.
On offense, OSU is in the middle of the B1G pack in just about every category save offensive rebounding (ninth) and FTA/FGA (third). Don't expect many turnovers, as the Buckeyes take care of the ball well and Michigan doesn't force many anyway. The disparity in FTA/FGA will be key; a big part of the regular-season win was Michigan's 22-16 edge in free throw attempts (and 18-11 advantage in makes).
Free up Stauskas. While Michigan has pretty much killed the Little Dude vs. Stauskas strategy, Ohio State boasts two of the best defensive guards in college basketball, and they'll play their usual aggressive on- and off-ball man defense regardless. The Wolverines won the first game even though Stauskas went just 1/3 inside the arc. They'll need to get him going to the basket more—or get big performances from the supporting cast again—if they want to knock off the Buckeyes again.
Take care of the ball. Ohio State's defense relies on forcing turnovers. So does their offense—if the Buckeyes are stuck in a halfcourt battle, they don't have the shooters to keep up with Michigan. This is pretty simple: take care of the rock and a win is likely.
Pack the paint. The presence of Craft (and Scott, when he's in) should allow Michigan to sag into the paint and prevent Ohio State from getting to the hoop with the ease that Illinois did this afternoon. The only truly dangerous outside shooter is Ross, and he's exactly whom Michigan should focus their extra attention upon. If Ohio State tries to keep up with Michigan's offense via outside shots from Craft, Scott, Thompson, and Smith ... well, that's going to favor the good guys.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 1
Jordan Morgan's shot got the roll. Tracy Abrams didn't give his a chance, clanging his last-second floater off the front iron.
In an all-too-close game against Illinois, that ended up being the difference for Michigan, which narrowly avoided being bounced in their first Big Ten Tournament game despite playing ugly defense and seeing their offense grind to a halt when the Illini switched to a 2-3 zone in the second half.
In the early going, it looked like the Wolverines would win comfortably. Michigan jumped out to a 12-7 lead despite missing a few open three-point looks. After the Illini closed the gap, Michigan pushed it back up to five by halftime thanks to a spectacular breakaway dunk by Caris LeVert. At the break, Michigan was 7/12 from two and 6/13 from three. The defense wasn't playing very well, sure, but Illinois would inevitably have trouble keeping up. Right?
Wrong. John Groce called for the 2-3 zone for most of the second half, and suddenly the Wolverines couldn't generate anything inside the arc. Michigan only attempted five two-pointers in the second half. To make matters worse, the outside shots stopped falling: 4-for-17 on threes in the latter stanza. Nik Stauskas, despite leading the team with 19 points, had an unusually poor day from the field, shooting 2/2 inside the arc but just 2/10 beyond it; his saving grace was getting to the line, where he hit 9/10 attempts.
While Michigan went cold, Illinois kept carving up the Wolverine defense, and Rayvonte Rice gave the Illini a 63-61 lead on a layup with just 2:31 on the clock. For some reason, however, Groce decided that was the time to go back to man-to-man defense. Stauskas immediately took advantage, driving past his defender and drawing a foul; he'd split the pair of free throws to close the gap to one.
Jordan Morgan made the defensive play of the game on the next possession, teaming with Derrick Walton to hedge Tracy Abrams and pin him against the sideline; Abrams's had to chuck up an airball as the shot clock expired, giving Michigan a chance to retake the lead.
They'd do just that off a high ball screen for Stauskas, though not in the way they'd planned:
"Coming out of the timeout, Nik told me he was going to shoot it regardless." - Jordan Morgan
— Dylan Burkhardt (@umhoops) March 14, 2014
Two Illinois defenders made a shot near-impossible, so Stauskas rose above them and delivered a pinpoint feed to Morgan rolling towards the basket. Michigan's senior captain put it up soft, and the ball fell through after a couple bounces on the rim, giving the Wolverines a one-point edge with seven seconds left.
After a timeout with 3.9 seconds remaining, Abrams had one last chance to win the game for Illinois. As Illini guards had done for much of the afternoon, he blew right past the Michigan defense, then pulled up in the paint for a short floater. The shot came out short, however, and the Wolverines—partially out of joy, partially out of relief—ran celebrating to the Michigan bench.
It wasn't pretty. It was a win. Now Michigan awaits the winner of OSU/Nebraska, whom they'll play tomorrow at 1:40 on CBS in the conference semifinals.
Bah di-dah di-dah, bah di-dah di-dah, bah di-dah di-dah dah!
Bah di-dah di-dah, bah di-dah di-dah, dah-dah dah-dah-dah-dah [sax]
Michiganman14: It's time to unleash Stauskas.
B-Nut-GoBlue: It's time to seed B1G right.
:It's time for photoshopping and Tom Crean memes tonight!
Jonvalk: Imagine life with Horford, if Morgan chose to go?
Bah di-dah di-dah, bah di-dah di-dah, bah di-dah di-dah dah!
L'Carpetron Dookmariot: It's time lacrosse got started.
MGoBlueline: When will hockey get started?
[Jump: a board full of grouchy old hecklers]
When Doug Nussmeier was hired it became clear that multiple changes were on the horizon. One thing not changing: the offensinve coordinator will double as quarterbacks coach. Like his predecessor, Coach Nuss will work directly with the position group of which he used to be a member.
This also meant that the recruiting board would be reevaluated and adjusted to Coach Nussmeier’s liking. Some names have risen, some have fallen, some have been added, and some have been removed. As spring visits are starting to take place Michigan has offered four quarterbacks and there are five others who could be soon.
Blake Barnett – Santiago High School – Corona, CA
Barnett committed to Notre Dame way back in November and the Wolverines offered him on January 20, about two weeks after Coach Nussmeier was hired. Barnett doesn’t appear to be wavering on his commitment to the Irish. He’s not a possibility for Michigan.
Josh Rosen – St. John Bosco – Bellflower, CA
Rosen once told me that Michigan was “too f***ing cold.” and really had zero interest in the Wolverines. That sentiment seems to have changed and I believe Michigan is actually third on his list behind the home-state Bruins of UCLA and Cal. He’s partial to Stanford as well but doesn’t hold an offer from the Cardinal. He is making his decision on March 20th and Michigan may not be out of it just yet....
David Sills – Eastern Christian Academy – Elkton, MD
Sills rose to fame as the 8th grade phenom who committed to USC a few years ago. Today he’s still committed to USC but he will visit Michigan in a few days after being talked into it by current Wolverines and former teammates, Brandon Watson and Freddy Canteen. I asked Sills if a flip to Michigan was something he’d thought about and if they were option #2 behind USC at the moment and he responded in a politically correct fashion. “I’m keeping my options fairly open. Michigan is in the running.” His upcoming visit could be instrumental in securing a flip/commitment from him if that’s what the coaches prefer.
Jarret Stidham – Stephenville High School – Stephenville, TX
Stidham is the most athletic quarterbacks of the offered group and is a true dual-threat kind of talent. He was actually offered the same day that Blake Barnett was and when I originally spoke with him he seemed to like the idea of playing for a coach like Nussmeier. After that day though, his interest in Michigan seemed mild at best and Friday he committed to Texas Tech.
Nick Johns – Gonzaga Preparatory – Washington, DC
Nick Johns is a name that has been hanging around since Borges was still running the offense and Coach Nussmeier decided to keep him on the board. Johns speaks with Nussmeier two to three times a week and maintains high interest in the Wolverines. Coach Nussmeier plans to check Johns out in person some time in the next two weeks to watch him throw. Typically it is protocol for Nussmeier to see a quarterback throw in person before an offer is extended.
Kyle Kearns – Foothill High School – Pleasanton, CA
Kearns is another name that remains from the Borges board and he also continues regular contact with Nussmeier and feels like he is firmly in the mix when it comes to picking up an offer. Kearns told me that Nussmeier is giving the offered guys some time to make up their minds before the next wave of offers go out.
Alex Malzone – Brother Rice High School – Bloomfield Hills, MI
The only local product from the entire list, Alex Malzone has put in the effort to make sure the coaches know he’s around. He has visited multiple times, most recently last week, and stays in close contact with the staff. He says since the hiring of Nussmeier the coaches are showing a lot of interest and plan on watching him throw in person after the dead period.
Travis Waller – Servite High School – Anaheim, CA
A relatively new name on this board, Waller is the best athlete of the group. He’s listed as a dual-threat quarterback but also possesses good size at 6’3” and 190 lbs. and a very clean, natural throwing motion. He lit up when I asked him to give me an overview of what’s going on with Michigan.
I’ve been talking to them once a week. I’m building a pretty good relationship with Coach Nuss! He’s a great guy and I can relate to him a lot. Hopefully I get a chance to visit. They are coming down during our spring ball so I’m looking forward to that. What stands out to me was that he plans on doing some spread and pro-style offenses. It shocked me because most schools I have talked to are all spread. I like being under center a lot actually, which most schools don’t know about me. At Michigan I think I could really get prepared for playing QB at the next level.
Waller currently holds four offers from western universities (Arizona, BYU, Colorado, Washington) but says that Michigan is very high on his list. Waller also mentioned that Coach Nuss has to see him throw in person before an offer will be extended.
Coach Nuss said that they won’t offer a quarterback until they’ve seen them throw in person. He actually said he would offer me right now but he needs to see me in person first, which I respect 100%. I’m really looking forward to him coming out to see me throw!
Brandon Wimbush – St. Peters Prep – Jersey City, NJ
Wimbush is another name that has been off and on throughout the Borges regime and into the Nussmeier era. He was once thought to be a Buckeye lock, but the hiring of James Franklin at Penn State has put the Nittany Lions squarely in the mix. His relationship with Coach Nuss has also blossomed and Michigan may be right up there with their Big Ten brethren.
Not much is really new with Michigan, I’ve just been staying in touch with Coach Nuss, we talk about two or three times a week over Twitter. I hope that offer comes man, hopefully sometime in the spring it will. I have to meet Coach Nuss in person first. I’m sure that will go a long way towards an offer. I’m going to try my best to visit sometime this spring. Coach Manning also will be up to watch me throw soon too.
I asked Brandon about the Buckeyes and any other school that is standing out to him and he played it close to the vest saying he has no leader, just all top schools right now. Ohio State did offer him early, but now that a lot of other schools are showing heavy interest he has definitely slowed down and evened out a bit.
Of the quarterbacks that already hold offers Sills and Rosen are both possibilities for a commitment at this point and one of them is technically committed elsewhere. Sills' verbal pledge to USC is viewed as soft at best and Ricky Town is now also a member of the Trojan recruiting class making Sills’s decommitment seem inevitable. His upcoming visit to Ann Arbor looms large as an integral cog in his recruitment.
Each of the unoffered targets all seem to be offer-worthy according to the coaches based on the effort being put forth to stay in contact with them, visit them, and set up throwing sessions for each of them. With each prospect being in regular contact and all showing similar interest it really is difficult to say who the lead dog is right now for a potential offer. The way things have heated up so quickly with Waller and Wimbush leads me to believe that Nussmeier favors them, but he’s made it a point to remain in close contact and keep the other three on the board as well. The Sills visit is the first domino in the series of events involving quarterback recruiting for the 2015 class.
|WHAT||#1 Michigan (23-7, 15-3 B1G) vs. #9 Illinois (19-13, 8-11)|
|WHERE||Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana|
|WHEN||Noon Eastern, Friday|
|LINE||Michigan -5 (KenPom)|
|TV||ESPN/WatchESPN (PBP: Mike Tirico; Analyst: Dan Dakich)|
Right: BAIL. [Fuller]
THE PREVIOUS MATCHUP
Michigan and Illinois played once in the regular season: last Tuesday, when the Wolverines eviscerated the Illini for an 84-53 victory in Champaign. This clinched the outright Big Ten regular-season title for Michigan.
A repeat of this would be more than welcome.
THE LINEUP CARD
Projected starters are in bold:
|G||13||Tracy Abrams||Jr.||6'2, 190||74.3||25.0||96.1|
|~3:2 assist-to-TO ratio, takes second-most shots on ILL, 39.0 eFG% (woof)|
|G||25||Kendrick Nunn||Fr.||6'3, 180||46.9||18.1||107.5|
|40% 3-pt shooter, improving as season goes on and workload increases|
|G||24||Rayvonte Rice||Jr.||6'4, 235||81.6||26.3||107.0|
|Volume shooter, best at rim, middling jumper, good rebounder, top-200 steal rate|
|G||21||Malcolm Hill||Fr.||6'6, 210||33.4||20.4||96.1|
|Decent rebounder, gets to FT line well, 78% FT shooter, jumper work-in-progress|
|C||32||Nnanna Egwu||Jr.||6'11, 250||73.2||16.3||97.1|
|Top-60 block rate, excellent off. rebounder, low def. rebound #s, not a scorer|
|F||33||Jon Ekey||Sr.||6'7, 225||65.9||14.1||118.3|
|3-pt specialist hitting 36% beyond arc, good off. rebounder, tiny usage & TO rate|
|G||2||Joseph Bertrand||Sr.||6'6, 200||63.4||20.5||99.4|
|Illini's run has coincided directly with decrease in Bertrand's minutes, production|
|F||22||Maverick Morgan||Fr.||6'10, 250||18.8||13.5||104.4|
|Gets spot minutes, solid finisher, good off. rebounder, gets to line, commits a ton of fouls|
Illinois knocked off Indiana 64-54 in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament today, giving the Illini their fifth win in six games. In those five wins, they've held their opponents—Minnesota, Nebraska, MSU, Iowa, and IU —to 0.89 points per possession. That lone loss came to Michigan, of course, when the Wolverines scored 1.33 points per trip.
The rest of this is updated from the preview of the first game because very little has changed:
While the Illini defense has been solid throughout the season, they have the worst-shooting offense in the conference on the other end, and a look through their lineup brings forth some awful numbers, like these: point guard Tracy Abrams, a decent passer and solid on-ball defender, takes nearly 24% of the team's shots when he's on the floor—he's shooting 38% from two and 28% from three.
The team's best offensive player is Rayvonte Rice, a bulldog of a guard—6'4", 235 pounds—who takes over a third of his shots at the rim, hitting them at a 63% clip, per hoop-math. He also gets to the line at a high rate, hits 72% of his free throws, and boasts an impressively low 11.5% TORate for a player that relies so much on creating off the dribble. He's not much of a shooter, however, making 30% of his two-point jumpers and 31% of his three-pointers. Rice is statistically the team's best defensive rebounder, which is impressive for him and much less so for the team.
Coach John Groce replaced two seniors, Joseph Bertrand and Jon Ekey, with freshmen Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill in the starting lineup nine games ago; in that span, Illinois is 6-3, and the lineup is slated to remain the same tomorrow. Nunn takes nearly as many threes as twos and connects at a 40% rate from beyond the arc. Hill is holding his own as an undersized four, doing a decent job on the glass while making up for poor shooting from the field by getting to the charity stripe at a 52% rate and hitting 78% of his free throws. Ekey falls into the "just a shooter" category, which isn't too good when hitting just 36% from three, though he's hit some huge shots of late. Bertrand is a worse-rebounding, better-shooting version of Hill, and he gets to the line less often.
The starting center is 6'11" enigma Nnnanna Egwu, who still hasn't put it all together in his junior season. He's a great shot-blocker and solid offensive rebounder, but his 14.3 defensive rebounding percentage is alarmingly low for a center of his size. He boasts a solid mid-range jumper, but his post offense is so poor he's shooting just 43% on two-pointers. For some reason, he's attempted 23 three-pointers, of which he's hit five.
For better or worse, Illinois is stuck with Egwu at the five. Freshman backups Maverick Morgan and Austin Colbert play spot minutes, and while their finishing at the basket is well ahead of Egwu's, both players commit a lot of fouls while failing to provide Egwu's shot-blocking. Also, both are somehow worse on the defensive boards.
Colbert's 7.2 DR% is the worst among any qualifying Illinois player—that's 1.1% lower than Spike Albrecht's rate. (EDIT: Colbert no longer plays enough minutes to qualify for KenPom's page, but according to Statsheet his 8.1 DR% is now equal to Spike's.)
Since the last matchup, Illinois knocked off Iowa by three on the road to cap the regular season, then won today against Indiana.
This section from the first preview proved prescient:
Relying on forcing turnovers, especially in the low-error Big Ten, tends to produce results of high variance; Illinois has been very good defensively in the last four games, but they've also been lit up by the likes of Wisconsin (1.34 ppp in Kohl), MSU (1.18 at Ill.), Iowa (1.14 at Ill.), and Wisconsin again (1.21 at Ill.)—aside from last weekend's game in East Lansing, Illinois has had a difficult time shutting down the conference's best offenses.
Illinois forces the second-most turnovers in the Big Ten; they have the third-worst eFG% against. One of these things held up against Michigan.
Offensively, they're not good: Illinois is dead last in the Big Ten in two-point shooting (42.1%) and tenth in three-point shooting (30.4%) while getting to the line at the league's worst rate. Scoring points is the goal of basketball, and it's rather difficult to do without putting the ball in the hoop. Not helping matters is their below-average rebounding. Add it all up and the only Big Ten team with a worse offense is Northwestern.
Play in control. Turnovers sparked the Illinois turnaround of late. Michigan boasts the league's second-lowest turnover rate. Taking care of the ball as the Wolverines usually do will go a long way towards winning this game; even though Illinois isn't great in transition, they still score more effectively on the break than they do in the halfcourt.
Exploit perimeter matchups. Illinois is going to have to defend either Nik Stauskas or Caris LeVert (probably the latter) with a player three inches shorter. Expect a healthy dose of high screens for whomever gets this matchup, especially given how willing John Beilein has been to let his stars rise and fire over shorter defenders whenever they get an opening.
Get out on shooters. Should Michigan come remotely close to a repeat of their first offensive performance against Illinois, the only way the Illini can keep up is by getting unusually hot from beyond the arc. While they're not great from the outside as a team, they've got a few players capable of stringing a few shots together: Ekey, Bertrand, and Nunn, especially.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 5