The D-League as petri dish for weird basketball concepts.
Previously here: Brian's turn to self-inflict carpal tunnel (aka the 'preview 2013' tag—if you haven't read through those by now, set aside a good ALL OF THE HOURS)
|WHAT||Michigan vs Central Michigan|
Ann Arbor, Michigan
|WHEN||3:30 pm Eastern, August 31, 2013|
|THE LINE||M -32|
|WEATHER||partly cloudy, around 80, 10% chance of rain|
Trollin' trollin' trollin'/Sparty LOL'in/This better not happen/To ussssssss
Run Offense vs Central Michigan
The good news for Central Michigan is they return four of their six starters up front (they run a 4-2-5 defense); the bad news is one of those starters is buried down at third on the depth chart at nose tackle—oh, and the Chips allowed 193 rushing yards per game last season, 93rd in the NCAA. Returning talent is good if it is talented; CMU's defense was not so talented in 2012.
The Chips return both linebackers, senior SLB Shamari Benton and junior MLB Justin Cherocci; the pair combined for 258(!) tackles last season, largely because the defensive line couldn't make plays—only two D-linemen cracked 40 tackles last season, and both have since graduated. Benton and Cherocci will be tasked with keeping five-yard gains from turning into big plays; their tackle numbers indicate they're pretty decent at doing so, though CMU's opponent rushing numbers (4.9 ypc before sacks removed) may tell a different story.
If Michigan can't get a traditional run game going against this team, it may be time to PANIC. Maize n Brew interviewed Hustle Belt blogger Ron Balaskovitz about the matchup, one that doesn't bode well for CMU given what their defense is designed to stop:
The problem for CMU when they face a team like Michigan, who wants to establish a power running game, is that CMU doesn't play a normal front seven. They play 4-2-5 defense that is designed to bend but don't break, and slow down the pass happy MAC offenses, so it leaves them vulnerable against power run teams. It doesn't typically blitz often, and relies on pressure from the front four, and lots of tackles by the linebackers. The linebackers are both back, and both had over 100 tackles last year, so the pressure rests squarely on the defensive line coming into this game.
Only one CMU defensive lineman, nose tackle Leterrius Walton, returns to his starting spot this year; last year's other starting DT, junior Jabari Dean, is now listed third on the nose tackle depth chart. CMU lists co-starters at both defensive end spots, and none of the four crack 250 pounds. Michigan should be able to control the game on the ground without breaking out much fancy stuff; if they struggle to do so, optimism for their chances against Notre Dame—and their beastly defensive line—drops several notches.
Key Matchup: Jack Miller and Graham Glasgow vs. The One Proven CMU Lineman. Actually, the non-proven ones, too. If Miller and/or Glasgow struggle to get a push against these guys, it does not bode well for the running game going fowards. I think I've made that rather clear.
[Hit THE JUMP for how do you give up that many passing yards to MSU? Also, a fearsome running back named Zurlon.]
JINX FEARERS: Look man if Michigan makes the national title game I don't want to have to write a preview that I can have done beforehand, because then I can write about the game they just played. This does not assume victory over Syracuse.
YES I AM DOING WICHITA GAWD
THE HYPOTHETICAL ESSENTIALS
Michigan vs Louisville
|WHEN||TBA (srs), Monday|
|LINE||I DON'T KNOW PANIC|
If you're having Hotline Miami flashbacks, you are not alone. [Via Card Chronicle.]
THE HYPOTHETICAL TEMPO-FREE
Four factors. Ranks are in parentheses and out of 347.
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||50.4 (94)||18.5 (90)||38.2 (16)||39.6 (77)|
|Defense||44.4 (24)||27.5 (2)||33.2 (236)||34.3 (131)|
Okay, so. Remember Piston Honda? VCU is Minor Circuit Piston Honda. Louisville is World Circuit Piston Honda.
left: VCU. Right: Louisville.
On defense Louisville is VCU… with Jeff Withey at center. As a team, anyway. While Gorgui Dieng isn't quite in Withey's stratosphere as a shotblocker, UL's defensive numbers are basically VCU plus near-elite eFG% defense and fewer free throws ceded. That latter isn't likely to be relevant against FT-averse Michigan, which acquired just 11 attempts against the Rams. The former most certainly is.
The VCU comparison holds on offense, as well. The Cardinals have a decent eFG% offense propped up by defense-created fast breaks. (The next section attempts to quantify how much that ballhawking defense impacts their offense.) They're okay at turnovers. They crash the boards like whoah. They struggle behind the line, so they don't shoot many threes. The main difference is free throws, which VCU was poor at acquiring; UL is good at it mostly thanks to Russ Smith.
THE VCU THING
I SMELL YOUR FEAR
Michigan gets about 8% of their shots off of steal-generated fast breaks, which they convert at a lovely 71% eFG. Based on my ballparking of the various teams I've hoop-mathed this year, that's a pretty standard quantity. VCU was exceptional because they got 50% more of their shots in that extremely profitable situation.
Louisville is like that, only moreso: 14% of their shots are steal-generated fast breaks, a 75% bonus. What's more, VCU was a good bit less efficient than Michigan in those situations (63%). Louisville is at 68%.
If you've watched them in the tournament, you have felt this. Louisville doesn't look like anything too amazing until a three minute stretch in which Smith and Siva are going YOINK YOINK YOINK YOINK and the next time you look up Louisville is up 15 and the game is over. Duke and Syracuse, to name two teams kind of good at basketball, are all like "WHA HAPPEN" after Louisville transformed competitive games into laughers in the second half.
Meanwhile, Louisville does not run that much off misses, or at all effectively. The transition gap goes the other way: Michigan gets 19% of their shots in transition off misses, Louisville 14%. What's more, UL is hardly better than their halfcourt offense in that situation (52% versus around 45%). Michigan is at a crushing 65%.
Stage one of taking down the end boss is crippling their fast break points, bringing their iffy shooting into focus and fueling their own transition game. Michigan is better-prepared than any team in the country to do this.
THE HYPOTHETICAL THEM
Soon-to-be Kenpom Player of the Year Russ Smith shoulders a huge proportion of the UL offense—almost a third of UL shots are his. Here is a pile of waffles that represents Smith's importance to Louisville.
THAT'S A LOT OF WAFFLES I TELLYA
His efficiency is only decent, but given his sheer volume that's still impressive. His main asset is a ton of FTAs he hits at 82%. Shots from the floor are only eh—he hits 47/33. He converts at exactly the same rate 'Cuse's Michael Carter-Williams does on two point jumpers: 30%.
Smith's efficiency is dependent on going to the rim, and going to the rim, and going to the rim. Largely in transition. As of 22 games into the season, Smith was averaging 7.5(!!!) transition possessions per game, which is second only to Jimmer Fredette over the last four years:
Note that Smith's efficiency on these transition possessions is much higher than Fredette's. He was probably just launching threes with 30 seconds on the shot clock.
With Michigan a hugely foul- and turnover-averse team, this is an irresistible force versus immovable object matchup. Hypothetically.
On defense, Smith is an in-ur-base nightmare. Via Luke Winn:
Louisville is a nightmare in general, but if you're wondering who's going to hypothetically get Trey Burke it's Smith. If you want additional data, Smith had the same TO rate through nine games, almost all of which are out-and-out steals.
Point guard #3 Peyton Siva is a mini-Smith. He's not much of a shooter (48/30 with a 32% mark on two point jumpers); he gets to the rack; he has the exact same steal rate but doesn't appear to be quite the chaos machine overall; he is dead-eye on free throws but only gets there at half the rate Smith does. Since he's the point guard his assist rate is considerably higher, in fact only a hair lower than Burke's. He has a TO rate approaching 25, though. Burke is about half of that.
Siva is super-quick and can tear up defenses by getting past the first guy. In the Duke game he was 6/8 from inside the line and had a 4:0 A:TO ratio, but against the super-quick Dominic Artis Siva barely got a shot off. It'll be important for Trey to hypothetically stay in front of him.
SF #11 Luke Hancock is corner gunner du jour. With "just" 70% of his shots from three, he's a bit less extreme than some of the guys Michigan has run across recently. Helping the corner gunner diagnosis: only 15% of his shots are at the rim. If he's not taking a three, he's taking a two-point jumper. At 6'6" he can match Nik Stauskas inch for inch, but Not Just A Shooter Stauskas has a 45-37 edge on threes.
Louisville's power forward is #21 Chane Behanan. The good news for Michigan: he's 6'6", just like GRIII, and doesn't post up. Behanan's an OREB menace but not much else. He gets most of his looks at the rim, hits 52%, gets fouled a lot, hits 53%. He is another ballhawking UL defender, but assuming he gets GRIII, GRIII hardly even dribbles so whatever.
PROTIP: Don't let him do this.
At 253—basically Mitch McGary weight—Behanan is a load to box out. GRIII is going to have his rebounding challenged. He has been better lately at this sort of thing. he D-ed up a 6'10" Euro-style forward in the Florida game in the last game and did help Michigan blow out Kansas on the boards the game before even if he got shredded on D.
That shredding doesn't seem too likely to repeat:
While Behanan finds most of his offense around the basket, less than 20% of his shots come out of traditional post up situations. Behanan does an excellent job of carving out space and holding his position while showing solid hands reigning in errant passes. He struggles with his footwork, as he really only has a handful of consistent moves, a running jump hook with his right hand or a fadeaway jumper. Improving here, given his lack of ideal size, is obviously very important.
That was his freshman year but from my observations of the Cardinals it doesn't seem like a whole lot has changed. Two-thirds of his makes are assisted, and most of the rest are putbacks. Mission one for GRIII: keep Behanan off the boards. Mission two: get his putback game on against Louisville's weak DREB. Hypothetically.
Center #10 Gorgui Dieng is projected in the first round of the NBA draft because he's nearly seven feet tall and can jump really high. Bad news, man:
At 6'11 and 245 pounds with a 7'4 wingspan, Dieng has prototypical size for an NBA center. He's long and explosive enough to play above the rim, strong enough to hold his ground on the block and quick enough to move his feet and defend in space. Generally, even the best collegiate centers will be lacking in one of those categories.
Hypothetical Mitch McGary matchup does sound a little bit better than these dudes, at least:
On Sunday, Dieng was matched up with the 6'10, 235-pound Mason Plumlee, a stringbean with a high center of gravity who lacks the raw strength to be a high-level starting center at the next level. In the Sweet 16, it was Oregon's Tony Woods, an explosive 6'11, 245-pound center without the fluidity or feel for the game to play in the NBA. In the Round of 32, it was Colorado State's Colton Iverson, a 6'10, 260-pound rebounding specialist who can't play above the rim.
McGary is heavier than Plumlee, more skilled than Woods, and more athletic than Iverson. Because his last four games are his entire career. Shut up, Chad Ford thinks so. I don't see why I can't.
The whole enormous-jumping-guy thing results in top 100 rates in OREB, DREB, and blocks on Kenpom. He gets to the line a fair bit, shooting 65% there; he is an eh 53% from the floor. He does have range—40% of his shots are away from the rim and he hits almost 40%. In the Duke game, Dieng knocked down a number of open jumpers as Duke picked that poison when Louisville went pick and roll. Michigan might actually want to let the guards shoot in those situations. One thing Dieng isn't going to do much is post up—while Michigan is by far the least post-oriented team in the country, Louisville is in or around the bottom ten.
THE BENCH: EXTANT
Unlike, uh, the rest of the Final Four, Louisville does have a bench. It's shorter now; you are of course aware that Kevin Ware suffered the most horrific injury on a basketball court in basically forever. He was playing almost 20 minutes a game down the stretch. While he wasn't much of a factor on offense—lowest ORTG on the team—he was an important component of the defense, both directly (an almost 4% steal rate, the second-best TO generator on the team in the tourney) and in allowing Smith and Siva to rest enough to keep up their defensive intensity. Siva is the only Cardinal to crack the top 500 players in minutes played, and that's barely.
In his absence, walk-on Tim Henderson got seven minutes. It's unclear whether that would happen in a closer game. It appears all but one of his minutes came towards the end of the game with Louisville up 18. He has 20 FGA on the year, 17 of them threes. He's hit four. I doubt he plays this weekend unless things get out of hand.
Even without Ware's contributions Louisville goes eight deep. Wing #20 Wayne Blackshear gets about half of UL minutes. He has corner gunner tendencies—incredibly low TO rate, not many OREBs or FTs—but does shoot effectively inside the line (55%) and not so much outside of it (32%). Despite that a slight majority of his shots are from three.
Freshman post #24 Montrezl Harrell is a fairly generic backup bug who blocks a fair number of shots, rebounds, and shoots twos at a 56% clip. He doesn't turn the ball over, like, at all, and is a significant downgrade on Dieng on the defensive boards. Junior Stephan Van Treese has a McGary-level OREB rate and essentially only shoots putbacks, with just 40 attempts on the year in about 10 minutes a game.
A relatively weak nonconference schedule is highlighted by wins over Missouri and Memphis; Louisville also beat NIT one-seed Kentucky and lost narrowly to Duke. The Cardinals went 14-4 in the Big East. Three of their four losses were consecutive in late January; the fourth was the nutso 5OT game they dropped to ND a couple weeks later.
Louisville hasn't lost since that game. Only a March 2nd matchup against the Orange was even close. Other than that five-point win, they've blown out opponents. Their S16 matchup against Oregon is the closest game they've played in that stretch, and that was 8 points.
Their last outing was a 22-point win over Duke, which rightfully should have been the one seed in Gonzaga's region. Yipes.
Don't turn it over! For the love of God, don't turn it over! Sweet hot pickles, don't turn it over. Easier said than done against the #2 turnover-generating defense in the country, but Michigan came out of a matchup with #1 with 12 turnovers, almost none of which led to fast-break points. They are currently #1 at avoiding turnovers, and have had that tested.
With Burke running the show and guy-with-ball-magnet-in-hand Spike Albrecht poised to get 15 pressure-relieving minutes (hypothetically), Michigan has a shot of turning off the transition spigot that pushes the UL offense from bleah to fifth nationally.
Try to keep Siva out of the lane. I'm not sure if Michigan's been actively giving up routes into the lane for opposing guards in an attempt to shut off the efficient three-point shooting of their tourney opponents or if they just can't stay in front of dudes. If it's the former, it seems like the strategy in this game is similar to the one they would hypothetically deploy against Syracuse: lay off the guards for the most part until one of them gets hot.
I can't confirm or deny my impressions with those stat things but from watching UL play it seems like Siva's eh two point shooting conceals a lot of Kobe assists as Dieng and Behanan cram home misses they've rebounded.
Meanwhile, Siva and Smith have a total of 19 unassisted three-pointers between them on the year. (Trey Burke has 36 by himself.) If you go under a screen, they're not inclined to rise up in response.
Zone backup plan? Yes this again. It's not too hard to see the above bullet going poorly. In that case this is a team in which you can maybe zone up effectively. The Cards will rip you on the boards when you go to that, but I look at Louisville versus Syracuse and I see:
- 70-68 home loss in which UL shoots 44/35 despite 16 Cuse TOs
- 58-53 road win in which UL shoots 37/35 despite 16 Cuse TOs
- 78-61 neutral win in which UL shoots 45/32 and gets 20 Cuse TOs.
Louisville was propped up in all those games by a ton of foul shots. Michigan's no Syracuse when it comes to length, but they're also no Syracuse when it comes to FTs allowed or TOs suffered. It's a backup plan Michigan's already working on what with the Syracuse game pending.
Again with the Minnesota assertion. If you have a shot, take it. Louisville is another high-TO, good-eFG%, bad-rebounding team. Don't turn down open threes and for the love of pants don't take that infuriating dribble inside the line off your shoulda-been-catch-and-shoot.
I have no idea if transition is good or bad. Normally this is about Michigan being secretly inclined to up-tempo offense and absolutely lethal at it. Against Louisville, things get a bit more difficult, because they're just as deadly in the open court. Trying to check Siva and Smith without a structured defense around you—forget it. On the other hand, transition is good and this is the #1 defense in the country.
Michigan's going to push when they think they have an advantage, and if they do screw up they will get it in their face on the other end. I guess you have to dance with who brung ya. They should…
Control transition. Effective UL transition is dependent on Michigan turning it over in the open court. Effective Michigan transition is dependent on UL missing shots. Make-it-take-it aspects are in play, but Michigan is in a much better position to shut UL off than vice-versa.
Burke versus Craft (Not That Craft, The One Who Plays For Louisville And Is Named Smith). This is a matchup in which Michigan has to get a win from their Player of the Year against Louisville's Player Of The Year. Michigan survived seven Burke TOs against VCU because the rest of the team combined for five. Not likely that repeats, and anyway Burke made up for his TOs by facilitating the press break that broke the Rams.
Michigan won't survive a crappy Burke Versus Craft output; they can get by with a good one.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
segfault divide by zero error
but they could totally hypothetically do this
|WHAT||Michigan vs Syracuse|
|WHEN||8:50 PM Eastern, Saturday|
Four factors. Ranks are in parentheses and out of 347.
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||49.1 (139)||18.9 (119)||39.0 (8)||37.6 (136)|
|Defense||42.5 (4)||23.6(19)||34.3 (278)||35.4 (156)|
Syracuse is mediocre at everything on offense save rebounding. They crush the boards in large part because they are huge, starting three guys in the 6'8"-6'9" range and bringing up to three more off the bench depending on the health of freshman DaJuan Coleman. Their guards are 6'4", minimum; point guard Michael Carter-Williams is 6'6".
The size plays into their defensive strengths. Despite not having a single dominant shotblocker like Jeff Withey, Syracuse is #1 in block percentage. Their zone confounds opponents into shooting a ton of bad threes: 40% of opponent shots are from behind the line. That's in the bottom 20 nationally. Normally that's a bad thing, but not when opponents are shooting 28% on them. Syracuse induces bad threes QED: in their Elite Eight matchup against Marquette they got a team that was 304th in threes launched because they were 323rd in making them. Almost half of Marquettes shots were threes; they made 3 of 25. They did not clear 40 points.
For what it's worth, Pomeroy ran the numbers and suggests that even in the random realm of three-point shooting Syracuse's 2-3 zone has a real, negative impact on opponents, but one that may be masked by Syracuse's typically… er… unchallenging nonconference schedule and the Big East's usual shooter deficit. The Orangemen were just 8th (of 16) in defensive 3P% in Big East play.
The zone's drawback is the usual: rebounding. Despite running out a fee-fi-fo-fum lineup, the Orangemen allow opponents to rebound more than a third of their misses.
Syracuse's offense starts with their guards. Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche are the highest-usage players on the team, though 6'8" wing James Southerland gets off more shots. Neither guard is particularly efficient, largely because of shooting issues. Collectively they've launched 280 threes that they hit at 29%. Both also have TO rates over 20.
MCW makes opponent point guards go bug-eyed at the size matchup
PG #1 Michael Carter-Williams makes up for those deficiencies with a massive assist rate (he assists on 41% of Syracuse makes), a lot of free throws, and a steal rate that's near the top ten. He's just not a shooter, though: on the 70% of his shots that aren't at the rim he hits under 30%. If you want a comparable, Darius Morris is a close one. Both are huge, poor-shooting point guards who use their length to exploit passing angles smaller guards can't.
Defensively, Carter-Williams is a load. He doesn't have to D-up opposing point guards one-on-one too often because of the zone, so whatever deficiency in quickness his size provides is covered. Meanwhile, that length makes it difficult for guard-sized guards to shoot over him. He affects passing angles much like a huge team would disrupt passing lanes in the 1-3-1. You probably know this, but six-foot-ish Indiana guards Yogi Ferrell and Jordan Hulls combined for zero points in the Hoosiers's S16 loss to the Orange.
Brandon Triche is a couple inches shorter than Carter-Williams and a vaguely better shooter. He's still 35% on two point jumpers and 29% on threes. Triche is the only Syracuse player other than MCW who racks up an appreciable number of assists. Wing CJ Fair has a fair number of unassisted baskets, but other than that basically all of Syracuse's shots are generated by their starting guards.
Triche may or may not be affected with a sore back on Saturday. The "recurring, nagging" injury has been bothering him since February and may have something to do with his weak shooting numbers.
Speaking of CJ Fair, he is much more of a post-oriented offensive player than his fellow 6'8" wing-type guy. Despite hitting 48% from three he's only taken 60 attempts from that distance all year, and that's not a playing time thing: guy is on the court 35 minutes a game. He takes a huge number of twos, which he converts at 47%. Unusually for… well, anyone, a majority of his shots are two point jumpers. He's pretty good on them, and unusually crappy at the rim. Michigan should be able to check him with GRIII without getting pounded inside.
Once-suspended James Southerland is Syracuse's most efficient offensive player by some distance. He's their only serious three-point threat, hitting 40% on over 200 attempts. He's also the only Orangeman other than the centers to crack 50% on attempted twos.
His hoop-math profile is pretty weird. Only 13% of his shots are at the rim—this is tiny, Spike Albrecht is at 27%—but they appear to be 90% dunks because he hits 90% of them. His jumpers are frequent and meh. Transition? Guys closing out and getting Game Blouses dunks on their face? I don't know man. Syracuse guys say he "can't dribble and his bball IQ isn't the highest," so it appears that the only time Southerland gets to the rim is in transition or when provided an alley oop or whatever from one of the guards.
The recipe here is for hrrrd closeouts. If the guy wants to step inside the three point line and put up a jumper, Michigan will take that.
Syracuse splits their five spot about down the middle between Rakeem Christmas, a 6'9" leaper with a huge wingspan, and Baye Keita, a 6'10" leaper with a huge wingspan. Both block a ton of shots and rebound decently. Christmas is an elite shotblocker; Keita very good. Keita is a very good offensive rebounder; Christmas is okay. Both have an offensive game almost entirely restricted to putbacks and here-is-a-free-dunk-from-your-point-guard. Christmas will put up a jumper slightly more than once a game, Keita even more rarely than that. They shoot decently when they get something off, which is not often. Both are 60% FT shooters.
I suggest boxing Christmas out.
Syracuse brings two guys off the bench for their other four spots. At least they used to before the tournament. Now that it's crunch time, Syracuse is rolling its non-center starters out 35+ minutes a game each. Carter-Williams and Triche have been on the bench for a combined 17 minutes in the three vaguely competitive games 'Cuse has played in the tourney.
Here are the guys you'll see for maybe four minutes:
- Guard Trevor Cooney mostly shoots threes at a 26% clip. Yeah… okay guy. He'll come in to D-up in the zone when Boeheim wants to snatch a little rest for his starters. Chance of trillion: high.
- Wing-type-guy Jerami Grant is pretty nondescript statistically, mostly an inefficient two-point shooter with mediocre rebounding numbers. He does block a lot of shots.
- Center DaJaun Coleman is available, but except for the Montana laugher he hasn't played more than a handful of minutes since January. He's a high-rebound, high-usage, low-efficiency guy if he does end up seeing the court. Again, the only way that'll happen is if Christmas and Keita get in extreme foul trouble.
If any bench player other than Keita plays a significant role, Michigan is feeling good about that.
Syracuse didn't do much in the nonconference schedule other than knock off future seven seed SDSU in the season opener. That was on an aircraft carrier; SDSU was 1 of 18 from three. Since that was outdoors that may not be a particularly meaningful game.
U-S-A! U-S-awwww we have to cancel this probably
Syracuse's other KP100 nonconference wins came against Princeton, Detroit, and Arkansas (at home, by nine). They lost to Temple at MSG. Their nonconference record against future tourney teams, then: 1-1, with a win over a #7 and a loss to a #9.
In Big East play they were kind of meh. They went 11-7; they finished fifth in the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Their prime scalp is a two point win at Louisville, which yeah okay nice win. They also won home games against Villanova, Cincinnati, and Notre Dame.
Their losses were numerous but at least they were all understandable. The worst loss was probably at Connecticut or a 22 point bombing Georgetown put on them at the end of the regular season. The Orange then made a run to the Big East final, downing Pitt and the Georgetown team that had just hammered them before getting thumped by Louisville in the final. Syracuse actually led that game 48-43 with 11 minutes left before the Cardinals finished the game on a 35-13 run. Yeah, 35 points in 11 minutes. But that's another game preview.
In the tourney Syracuse took it to the proverbial Next Level, demolishing Montana by a women's scoreline, easing by Cal in a game that was nowhere near a close as the final score makes it appear ('Cuse led by 13 with 2 minutes left), confusing Indiana into one billion Cody Zeller blocked shots, and strangling Marquette by 16. No one has put up more than 60 on Cuse in the tournament and that was Cal inflating their point total in a futile attempt to extend the game: they had 45 points 38 minutes in.
If you can manage to get someone other than a Syracuse center in foul trouble, that would be great. If Michigan sees a lot of Trevor Cooney, things get a lot easier for them. The Orangemen are incredibly thin. They essentially cannot replace lost offensive production from any of their starters not named Rakeem Christmas. I'm not really sure Michigan putting them in foul trouble is possible, though: Michigan doesn't draw any fouls and only Southerland averages more than 3 fouls per 40.
It's hard to focus your attention on any particular player in a zone, meanwhile. Best bet might be trying to draw a charge on one of the guards if they pick up an early foul.
Beast up, Mitch. Michigan isn't going to turn it over much and Syracuse is vulnerable on the offensive boards. Mitch McGary is one of the country's best offensive rebound vacuums, and that's not just based on his recent run. He's top ten in OREB rate over the course of the season.
Meanwhile he's pumping in those putbacks at an incredible rate, finishing easily with both hands. A double double beckons if McGary can stay on the court, and he likely will since he won't be picking up a ton of fouls against 'Cuse's low-usage bigs and the play against Syracuse is to keep them away from the rim and see what happens.
Bombs away. Syracuse forces a lot of threes. Michigan's inclined to take them, albeit not quite as much as the usual Beilein team. Where and when Michigan gets the copious threes they'll be putting up is important. If they're coming off Burke stopping at the free throw line and facilitating this is ideal. Kenpom points out that once you focus on Syracuse's Big East schedule their intimidating three-point defense tends to drop away. Even in this year of crubberating defense the Orange were only 8th in 3P% D in Big East play. IE: average.
Michigan has long shooters and a OREB beast; they're playing a D that turns you over a lot and blocks you a ton but gives up a ton of offensive rebounds. When in doubt they should pretend they are Minnesota. Have a shot? Take it. If you miss there's a 40% chance it's going back up anyway.
You: stay away from the rim. If Michigan keeps Syracuse away from the rim, the Orangemen will either be having an out of body experience on jumpers or be idling a good distance under a PPP. The gameplan should be similar that against VCU, except with less respect paid to threes: sag off guys, try to stay in front of them, don't go for low-probability blocked shots. Let them put it up, and let's have a shooting contest.
Southerland is the only exception. Michigan needs to identify him at all times and live in his jock. He is Just A Shooter.
As per usual, go get it in transition. Michigan's been climbing up the tempo charts and is now almost average. Most relevantly for Michigan, Syracuse turns the ball over quite a bit for a top outfit. They're especially vulnerable to steals.
Burke's trademark pickpocket might spot them a 2 or 4 point lead; Mitch might have an opportunity to get some of those perimeter steals against lazy passes, especially since if he misses the opposing big isn't likely to take two dribbles and cram it down Michigan's throat.
Like games against Kansas and Florida, the best way to avoid a clamp-down defensive outfit is to not let it get set up.
Trey Burke: maintain efficiency. If you're looking for a better sample size for that whole "Syracuse destroys small guards" meme, Peyton Siva's consistently miserable outings are worrying. The 6'0" Louisville PG doesn't have great numbers, but that may be because he's had to play Syracuse three times this year. In those matchups he's a stunning 1/20 from three and 3/6 from two. Siva shot 35% from three in games not against Syracuse this year.
Similarly diminutive Russ Smith had better luck, FWIW, with 25, 18, and 10 points at acceptable efficiency rates. What with the Big East being light on Burke-level guards this year we have little data other than those Louisville games and the Indiana demolition.
It goes without saying that Michigan's path to victory gets pretty hazy if Burke is turning in Siva numbers.
Win the high post. Michigan has three avenues into the high post area that is the traditionally-declared weakness of the 2-3 zone: pass to Hardaway, pass to McGary, or screen Trey in there. Hardaway's main weapon is a FT line jumper that he can vary. McGary can take the elbow jumper or drive if the big comes up. The question there is can he maintain an acceptably low TO rate when put in a difficult, decision-demanding situation?
Meanwhile, Burke is an excellent option anywhere on the court but getting him to the spot is tough. He might have to press a bit and risk some turnovers.
In any case, a key metric to look for is GRIII dunks in the half court as he plunges down the baseline.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by one.
|WHAT||Michigan vs Florida|
|WHEN||2:20 PM Eastern, Sunday|
|LINE||Florida -5 (Kenpom)|
The Gators' mascot in its natural habitat, a horse track, drinking the blood of its only prey: bourbon.
Four factors. Ranks are in parentheses and out of 347.
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||55.6 (6)||17.7 (47)||34.4 (83)||31.1 (294)|
|Defense||42.9 (6)||22.6 (41)||28.5 (53)||30.2 (54)|
Florida is at least good at everything except getting to the line, which they don't do much largely because they bomb away from three (40% of their shots). This is not a disadvantage since they hit 38% from deep. They are great at both eFG offense and eFG defense.
Add the above up and that's the #5 offense, #2 defense, and runaway Kenpom #1 team.
Florida is powerful because they get contributions from every spot on the roster. No Gator has a usage rate higher than 23, and they go seven deep in guys with 18+ (20 is average). At one point in the year three or four Gators—I forget exactly how many—were in the Kenpom Player of the Year top ten. They were all at the bottom of the top ten and there is a team adjustment in there, but holy hot damn all the same.
ha ha wisconsin
If there is a go-to guy it's senior post Erik Murphy, who shoots 78/61/46. That 46 is no fluke—his shots are evenly split between twos and threes. Part of what makes Florida brutal to defend is Murphy pulling opponent posts to the perimeter and letting the 250-pound Patric Young make roaring noises on the interior. But anyway: Murphy. A 6'10" guy shooting threes has a top ten TS%. He doesn't turn it over much and his rebound rates are pretty good for a guy who's often on the perimeter on offense. His weakness, such as it is, is a slight predilection for foul trouble.
The aforementioned Patric Young—Murphy stole his K—is a slab of angry muscle who boards on both ends and has a post game to go with his assorted posterizings of opponents. That game consists of an assortment of baby hooks around the basket—he's not a shooter. But if you're sick of blocks coming from nowhere, don't watch this game.
Young shoots 59% from the floor; his prime weakness is 49% FT shooting. Possibly as a result he gets to the line a ton. In most cases if you have the option to foul Young as he's shooting, you should take the opportunity.
You can see the problem, I imagine. No matter who Michigan puts GRIII on it's a mismatch. He's 20 or 30 pounds lighter than either guy, a few inches shorter, and a few years younger. If I'm picking my poison I would go with Murphy, who seems like less of an OREB monster and will have to abandon his 46% three point shooting to exploit the matchup. I'm not happy about it either way.
The men who are not large are all kind of the same. They're upperclassmen around 6'2" who are about evenly split between twos and split the usage fairly evenly. They shoot a bit over 50% from two and around 35% from three; they don't get to the line much. Point guard #5 Scottie Wilbekin has a higher assist rate and a higher TO rate than the other two guys; he's only an okay FT shooter (71%) instead of very good like the other two. Senior #1 Kenny Boyton is the most three-heavy (218) attempts but has fallen off considerably from the 40% rate he hit last year. He's now idling at 32%. Senior #3 Mike Rosario has the best 3PT% at 38%.
what's with the tongue casey
Florida is another bench-shy team. They go eight deep. You may remember #24 Casey Prather from Michigan's unsuccessful attempt to recruit him; he's Florida's designated shutdown wing defender. As the only guy on the roster with the size and quicks to take on Stauskas and Hardaway, he might get more than his 15 or so minutes in this one. On offense he's a high-flier who throws down a ton and has an outlandish 80% eFG on shots at the rim. He's not bad from range, either. He's hitting 65% of his shots, has a double-digit OREB rate, and fills up the stat sheet with steals and blocks. He fouls a bit too much and can't shoot free throws but he's a quality option. This time Beilein's eye for talent isn't helping.
6'7" Will Yeguette is the main post backup; don't be fooled by the height. He checks in at a burly 240 pounds and has an extremely good 12/22 rebound rate, plus plenty of steals. He is another defensive ace off the bench:
When he was healthy, he was making immense contributions to the Gators' defense -- as a long-armed trapper/interceptor in the press (with a team-high 3.3 steal percentage); a great backline defender in the 2-3 zone; and the team's best defensive rebounder (with a 22.9 percent DReb rate). As coach Billy Donovan told the Orlando Sentinel, "Any time you lose a guy like Will Yeguete your defense is going to be different. Will adds a different dimension down there in terms of covering up a lot of things."
He's one of those long-armed, bouncy not-quite-a-fours who can plausibly guard four positions.
Shooting guard #20 Michael Frazier is a corner gunner. 80% of his attempts are from three; he hits at 47%. He turns the ball over a lot for a corner gunner and has a weirdly huge DREB rate, but mostly he's just that guy who nails open threes.
You know something weird? This is a John Beilein team.
The good: Florida is not clutch, having lost all six games they've played in which the winning margin was in single digits. The bad: clutch probably doesn't exist and the Gators are 29-7, meaning they've won 29 blowouts this season and lost one. Scoring lots of points and not allowing your opponents to score any is a good way to find yourself at the top of tempo-free leaderboards.
However, it's hard to get a grip on just how good Florida is for the same reasons it was hard to figure out Pitt, which was rampant against any bad team and middling at best against the rest. That added up to a top-ten Kenpom ranking, an eight seed, and a not particularly competitive first round exit against Wichita State. Wichita State is in the Final Four now, but still.
In the nonconference section of Florida's schedule they laid waste to the state of Wisconsin, winning by 18 against the Badgers and 33(!) against the Golden Eagles. They blew out tourney at-large Middle Tennessee State, too. On the down side of the ledger: a one-point loss at Arizona and six-point loss to Kansas State at the Phone Company Center in Kansas City (so pretty much an away game).
Once SEC play hit, Florida busted out its flamethrower and looked to be on their way to an unprecedented domination of a mid-major league* until Arkansas caught fire in the first half and ended up winning by 11. This was in Arkansas, obviously. Arkansas outside of Arkansas is Grambling.
Florida recovered from this to bomb a few more SEC foes before losing at Missouri, Tennessee, and Kentucky to to finish 14-4. They went down to Ole Miss in the SEC championship game.
In the tourney, they blew out 14-seed Northwestern State, pretty much blew out 11-seed Minnesota, and controlled Florida Gulf Subs University after a shaky start. That Minnesota win brings their record against common opponents with Michigan to 3-2, with wins over Wisconsin, Arkansas, and Minnesota and losses to Arkansas and K-State. Michigan was 3-2 against the same teams, with both losses to Wisconsin.
To be perfectly blunt, watch Florida have an off shooting night from three. You know they're going to go up, and they're going to go up in spades. Michigan doesn't really have much control over whether the go down or not, both because threes are a lottery and Michigan doesn't close out too well. In general the variance that a three-heavy offense brings is detrimental to deep tourney runs, as one off game condemns you. Michigan found that out last year. Winnchart:
This was a bit earlier in the season when Winn was guessing the Gators would grab a one. They ended up with a three and have already exceeded expected performance, albeit by beating a 14, an 11, and a 15.
Michigan does have a shot of matching them three for three, so there's that. Let's go dome?
Run effectively off long rebounds. With a bunch of long shots come a bunch of long rebounds and the resulting runouts that fuel Michigan's high-powered transition offense. That's the theory, anyway. Michigan and Florida see an identical 12% of opponent shots in the first ten seconds after an opponent rebound.
Win the boards. Is this likely? Oh hell no. But I would have told you the same thing before the Kansas game and thanks to Mitch McGary and Trey Burke drawing huge amounts of defensive attention, Michigan outrebounded Kansas by a whopping 50%. (IE: their OREB rate was 33% and Kansas's was 22%.) Mitch McGary playing 35 minutes is a wildcard unaccounted for in the Kenpom numbers.
Mitch McGary: continue being a low-foul rebound vacuum shooting 80% from the field. No problem. I heard that Patric Young said McGary was literally a fetus.
Seriously though, Michigan doesn't win their last game without McGary making up for some defensive issues with a crushingly effective offensive and possession-generation game. He doesn't have to do quite the same thing against
Tim Hardaway and/or Nik Stauskas: go off. At all times one or the other will be able to shoot over their man, who will be four inches shorter. For a good chunk of the game, both of them will. Possibly all of the game if Billy Donovan elects to put Casey Prather on Burke. If one of those guys can come up with a game in which you think the shot is down before it even leaves the guy's hand, the path to victory becomes much clearer. I don't think Michigan gets this one without one of the two wings lighting it up.
Hope Florida is a Pitt-like product in which weak competition is blown out of the gym but reasonable folks are competitive. The Wisconsin and Marquette games are not great arguments here. But Florida has lost to K-State and Arkansas. They're more human than the number suggest.
Trey!!!! Do I hear double-digit exclamation points? Triple?
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Florida by five.
|WHAT||Michigan vs Kansas|
|WHEN||7:37 PM Eastern, Friday|
|LINE||Michigan –1 (Kenpom)|
I'm putting this at the top here because it's good at providing a framework for the whole team. Four factors. Ranks are in parentheses and out of 347.
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||53.2 (26)||20.4 (201)||34.1 (94)||40.3 (65)|
|Defense||41.1 (1)||18.5 (253)||29.2 (69)||32.3 (83)|
One game after taking on the #1 turnover-generating team Michigan takes on the #1 eFG% defense team. Kansas is #1 in two-point D and excellent at three-point D, probably because their perimeter defenders are long and do not have to sag as much. Withey solves a lot of problems in the paint, propelling the Jayhawks to #3 in block percentage basically by himself.
Weaknesses include TOs at both ends, though on defense that looks like a conscious decision to funnel people to their shot blocker and not an actual problem-type substance. The TO rate on offense is unambiguously bad, and if my viewings of Kansas games so far this season is representative that's just Kansas chucking balls every which way.
#23 Ben McLemore is projected to be the second pick in the NBA draft by Chad Ford and may go #1 depending on who gets the top pick and what they think about Nerlens Noel and his knee. This is reputed to be an extraordinarily weak year at the top of the draft, but still. When he jumps he seems to glide upwards almost supernaturally.
Really "Hey Man Nice shot," clip assembler guy? Really?
He's Kansas's highest-usage player, but he doesn't reach focal point levels like Burke and his super-high usage kin. He takes a lot of threes—just under half his shots—and knocks them down at a 43% clip. He's also efficient inside the line (56%) and a Stauskas-level free-throw shooter. He doesn't get a ton of FTs and his assist to turnover rate is meh; he's about filling it up. He's a GRIII-level finisher at the rim who doubles as Stauskas from deep. Yipes.
So far he has not done that in the tourney. He had a meh eleven points on nine shot equivalents in the 1-16 matchup; he flung ugly bricks against the scoreboard for the duration of the UNC game, scoring two points on ten shot equivalents, both of those at the free throw line. This guarantees he will go 8/10 from three against Michigan.
Try to get him to take two point jumpers, I guess. Easier said than done. Hardaway will check him. He shut down DJ Byrd, you know.
THIS IS NOT GOING WELL THIS IS BAD I SHOULD GIVE THIS SPORT UP –#3
#5 Jeff Withey is not only a defensive force, he also shoots 58% from two and gets to the line consistently with an acceptable-for-a-big 18.0 TO rate. Hoop Math says he's actually Kansas's best shooter inside the arc (at least amongst folks with an appreciable number of attempts), hitting on 40% of his two point jumpers.
Meanwhile on the other end of the floor:
Dude doesn't just erase shots, he puts them in the hands of his teammates. Michigan probably has a bit of an advantage here—actually more of a mitigated disadvantage—since half of Withey's blocks come on guys he's defending straight up. (Is this normal or boggling? It feels boggling.) That's an avenue Michigan rarely uses.
Still. If you've watched these guys this year you know how difficult layups become when he's on the court. The grim FG% on non-transition shots* at the rim Hoop Math has is evidence enough:
- Post-rebound, at rim (19% of shots): 38%
- Post-score, at rim (42% of shots): 45%.
For comparison, Michigan FG% defense numbers in those situations are 63% and 57%.
The difference is huge. Enormous. Hugenormous. I like John Beilein just fine but whenever he picks up a commitment from a guy who might play the five who isn't a 7'3" dude from Senegal with never-ending arms I'm like "d'awwwww." Withey is the difference between Kansas, one seed, and Kansas, probable first-round losers to Bucknell again.
He picks up 2.7 fouls per 40, too. If Michigan can get him into foul trouble, that is enormous. It is highly unlikely.
*[ie, shots not in the first ten seconds of the shot clock.]
#15 Elijah Johnson is a point-guard-ish player. He's got a top 200 assist rate and a TO Rate just about as high; he doesn't get to the line and shoots 76/43/33. No Kansas player has outlandish usage; he, Withey, and McLemore are the most frequent shooters. Johnson is the guy you want absorbing those attempts. He's barely above 50% at the rim and shoots 33% on two-point jumpers. His three rate is acceptable, though. Run him off the line without giving him an opportunity to set someone up for a dunk and you're probably good.
Small forward Travis Releford is a transition fiend, as detailed by Luke Winn earlier this year:
as of January 30th; doubt much has changed there
A third of his shots are in transition. Whoever ends up checking him will have to abandon the boards entirely and flee downcourt as soon as the ball goes up.
Because of the high proportion of transition buckets it's hard to get a picture of him as a player in the half-court. His efficiency numbers are off the charts: he shoots 78%/66%/41%. Despite doing that he's the Kansas regular with the lowest usage rate—and once you adjust for transition that would be by a mile. Weird player. I mean, in 36 minutes against TCU Releford had one point on two shot equivalents for a—drumroll please— 6% usage rate. It seems like if you can keep Kansas from running on you Releford is going to get very few attempts from inside the line.
Power forward #40 Kevin Young is the fifth option. He plays about half of Kansas minutes, hits 57% of his twos and rebounds both ends well. He's a garbage man. 70% of his shots are at the rim, many of which are generated by his 13.3 OREB rate, and he hits just 30% on his two point jumpers. Keeping him off the boards is tough; doing so will reduce his offensive contribution to a few attempts, no more. FWIW, he's a 60% FT shooter so if he's got an easy two lined up Michigan shouldn't hesitate to put him on the line.
Kansas's bench is almost precisely as short as Michigan's. The two teams are 325th and 326th in bench minutes, with Michigan very slightly more generous. The Jayhawks have one perimeter backup of any significance, #1 Naadir Tharpe. He's a 5'11" point-guard-type player with a decent assist rate but a TO rate over 20. His shots are split about evenly between threes he hits at a 34% clip and twos he hits at 36% with extremely rare three throws. A Tharpe jumper from inside the arc is a good thing for Michigan. Note that unlike anyone else on Kansas, Tharpe will jack up contested threes.
Kansas has a couple of 6'8" freshmen backing up their two post spots. #34 Perry Ellis is the better of the two, a good rebounder with an extremely low TO rate who doesn't shoot effectively (47%) but does get to the line frequently and hits his free throws. #31 Jamari Traylor is a guy who puts up very few shots at a 42% clip and turns it over a lot. It's 4 on 5 when Traylor's in on offense.
Kansas lost to Michigan State in their second game of the year in a game that, insanely, was in a dome in Atlanta. They recovered to blitz eventual four-seed St Louis by 14, eventual ten-seed Colorado by 46, and eventual 11-seed Belmont by 29. The epic nonconference hammering stopped there but they also added wins against Ohio State (by eight) and Temple (by seven) before Big 12 play.
In the league they went 14-4, winning it, and took the tournament crown without breaking a sweat. Big 12 play was weird. You of course know about the stunning TCU upset—imagine losing to a version of Penn State that is 129(!) spots worse on Kenpom. That game was sandwiched by losses to both Oklahoma teams, and in their last regular season game Baylor blew them out by 23. (Baylor shot 60% from two and 50% from three, which… WTF.) Add in three OT wins and Kansas's Big 12 season was probably their shakiest in a long time.
Then they trailed at halftime to Western Kentucky and North Carolina, beating the former by only seven. Their lights-out second half against the Tar Heels turned a nine-point deficit into a 12-point win.
It's worth noting that Kansas's struggles in the first couple rounds came on what was a de facto home court. The Jayhawks played three nonconference games and the Big 12 tournament at the Phone Company Center in Kansas City. By the time they finally blew past North Carolina they were into the second half of game eight at the same dang place, one far more partisan than the blue/green divide in Auburn Hills.
I, Brian Cook, promise to not complain about a single Trey Burke stepback jumper in this game. Doesn't matter where it's from, how much time is on the clock, or how nasty it is.
Foot on the three point line, fine. I cede all of the things to Trey taking jumpers in this one, because Jeff Withey can only watch when that happens and Trey is dang good at hitting them.
Also as of January 30th; Luke Winn's power ratings that week were an inadvertent Michigan-Kansas preview.
The relative efficacy of those shots goes up immensely when Withey is waiting inside. Withey blocks don't just erase shots, they erase possessions 75% of the time and fuel Kansas's lethal transition game. If Trey wants to pull up on the pick and roll and take a pretty good shot that has a pretty good chance of seeing Mitch McGary flush it even if it misses, okay. If he wants to run to the baseline and pull up for his leaner, okay. If he wants to step back and rise up, okay. Okay Trey, okay. Her life is in your hands.
MAKE YOUR DANG THREES. 30% isn't going to cut it, and the quality of the looks is going to be worse. But Stauskas, Hardaway, and Burke have proven they can hit some dang threes even if they're ideas that seem not so great until the ball goes through. Unless Kansas goes through one of their phases where they can't get out of their own way—not out of the question—Michigan is going to have to have a nice day from the outside to move on.
No transition. This goes part and parcel with the above: Kansas's offense is hugely efficient in transition and can struggle in the half-court. Michigan's turnover avoidance sets them up nicely to avoid conventional sources of fast-break buckets against (see also: 4 VCU fast break points).
Kansas gets bonus fast break opportunities from Withey crushing shots. Some of that is inevitable; keeping that down to four points provided instead of ten could be the difference in what projects to be a tight game.
Keep out of foul trouble, Mitch. Withey draws 5.1 fouls/40; as a team, Kansas is 65th in getting to the line. McGary is operating on a level beyond the other two posts at the moment; Michigan needs him on the court. Is he going to play 34 minutes again? Probably not. If he's stuck at 15, Michigan's in trouble. 28 they can probably live with.
Generate extra possessions. Kansas's games against WKU and North Carolina were competitive despite opponents shooting 39/15 and 31/29, respectively, because the Jayhawks were intent on giving their opponents every opportunity to stay in contact. Against the Hilltoppers Kansas had 17 turnovers to WKU's 10 and got crushed on the boards. How that happens against a 20-15 Sunbelt team I do not know.
KU turnovers shot up to a whopping 22 against UNC and while Kansas plowed the undersized Tarheels on the offensive boards they gave up an OREB rate of 31% themselves.
Run. KU eFG% defense dips dramatically when shots are taken in the first ten seconds of the shot clock, because Withey is chugging down the court behind the action. Is it a good idea to take this shot in transition? Yes, even if it's not.
Maybe watch Kansas inexplicably self destruct? Can't rule that out. Let's go, having the game handed to you by collection of sixth graders who superficially resemble Kansas.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by one!
|WHAT||Michigan vs Virginia Commonwealth|
|WHERE||Palace Of Auburn Hills
Auburn Hills, Michigan
|WHEN||12:15 PM Eastern, Saturday|
…er… let's come back to this later.
Surprise! VCU goes fast. They make you go fast, too, by pressing your ass off like the ghost of Nolan Richardson has given them a quest to let his weary soul rest.
Almost 40% of their shots come in the first ten seconds of the shot clock, which isn't actually that much more than Michigan (32%). The eFG gap is about the same for each team, except VCU is six points lower in each situation.
- MICHIGAN: 64% fast, 52% slow
- VCU: 58% fast, 46% slow
However, Michigan runs off rebounds a lot (20% of shots) and effectively (66% eFG). Their eFG on steals is 69%. VCU is at 57% on quick rebounds (14% of shots) and 64% on steals (12%).
The upshot: VCU's half-court offense is poor and they make up for it with the havoc. Their transition game is not as efficient as Michigan's, and they try to get you in transition as much as possible.
Note that the havoc does not stop once you cross halfcourt. VCU's defense is turrible in the first ten seconds when their press is broken; afterwards they recover well enough to hold opponents to 47% eFG.
WHAT IS THE HAVOC
A standard 1-2-1 trapping full court press… a third of the time. Michigan has faced this intermittently so far this year, usually when leading late against Big Ten teams. None of these teams has dedicated itself to the art of the press, nor have they reconfigured what they put on the floor to bend to its will… even so, Michigan has generally broken it easily by passing it between Hardaway, Burke, and Stauskas until such time as Burke has a sliver of a gap on someone.
The rest of the time, well:
[VCU's] go-to look is a trapping man-to-man called "double-fist." The double-fist only works if you have quick guards who can, in Rams parlance, "heat up the ball" in a one-on-one situation. This means getting the ballhandler out of control and blinding him from the impending trap, which comes from a secondary defender who's lurking near halfcourt.
"If you watch tape with me," VCU coach Shaka Smart said after the Dayton game, "the possessions where we heat up the ball, something good happens. And the possessions where we don't, where we run and try to trap a guy who's not under pressure? Something bad tends to happen -- an open three, an easy shot."
Can VCU heat up Trey Burke? That's the game.
Also in different order because VCU demands it to be so. Four factors. Ranks are in parentheses and out of 347.
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||51.5 (61)||16.9 (22)||37.1 (28)||30.3 (306)|
|Defense||49.6 (214)||28.8 (1)||34.6 (289)||41.1 (282)|
VCU is number one by more than a percentage point in TO% and steals. They are bad at all other defensive things. They're okay shooting the three and defending it, take a lot of threes, give up a dead average number, and all of this is kind of futile because VCU is two different teams depending on whether they're in transition or the half-court.
To facilitate the pressing, VCU deploys a four-guard lineup. Junior post Juvonte Reddic is the only guy over 6'5" to get significant playing time. Partially as a result, he has McGary-like rebounding numbers. In statistics that look nothing like McGary, he has impressively few turnovers for a big who puts up a lot of shots and keeps out of foul trouble (at least for a big) despite having a healthy steal rate.
His shots are split evenly between attempts at the rim and jumpers, with the predictably huge gap between efficiencies: 68% at the rim, 41% on the jumpers. If his university-provided highlight reel of those jumpers is representative, a lot of those successful jumpers appear to be baby hooks from the paint:
If Michigan ends up leaving him open from 15 feet like they did Tony Fiegen, they're probably not going to get 6/6 on their face.
The next-biggest guy is 6'5" wing #21 Treveon Graham, VCU's highest-usage player. He's not a great shooter (73/49/36 with a moderate number of FTAs) but he's a decent one and like most of VCU's players he has a TO rate scraping the low teens. He gets to the rim quite a bit, with the usual split in efficiency between rim and not rim.
Corner gunner du jour is #30 Troy Daniels, a senior in the top 50 in eFG. 88% of his attempts this year have been threes, which he hits at a 41% clip. He never assists, never turns the ball over, and doesn't generate possessions with steals or rebounds. He is just a shooter. A good shooter who Michigan will have to find in transition, but just a shooter.
Senior #10 Darius Theus is a point guard in the traditional sense. He gets the ball to his teammates, has a lot of assists, and doesn't shoot much (just 13% of VCU shots when he's on the floor). He's a little turnover prone, but also there is a big flashy blinky light on his Kenpom profile next to his steal percentage, which is 5.5, #6 nationally.
Junior Rob Brandenberg (enormous disembodied head above) puts up a lot of shots at with mediocre results (69/45/36) and provides not much else peripherally save the requisite steals. He's above evenly split between twos and threes, and hoop-math says he's the worst two-point shooter on the team by a large distance.
VCU gets a lot more minutes from its bench than South Dakota (which played four starters 40 minutes and the last 32 yesterday). When not blowing out the opponent by 40+, it's essentially an eight-man rotation except one of the men is a two-headed backup post. Briante Weber is the primary PG backup, though VCU will run Theus and Weber out there at the same time. He's a statistical clone of Theus except he's a low-quality three-point shooter—Theus is meh—and his outstanding steal rate is a full 2.2 points higher than Theus's and #1 in the country. He does pick up 4.5 fouls per 40 as a result.
Freshman Melvin Johnson is the shootin' backup. He launches a greater percentage of VCU's shots when he's on the floor than anyone save Graham, but he's not particularly efficient. He's a 28% three-point shooter with 82 attempts on the year and hits 49% from two with very few free throws drawn. He doesn't get to the rim much, so he's mostly taking two point jumpers at a mediocre clip.
With DJ Haley oddly leaving the program just before the A-10 tournament, VCU is down to two large-ish dudes to spell Reddic, sophomore Jarred Guest and freshman Justin Tuoyo. Both gentlemen enter the court to play foul-heavy defense and rebound. When the ball comes to them they try to get rid of it as fast as possible. There's a big dropoff when Reddic leaves the game.
Major VCU nonconference games:
- Wichita State: L 53-51
- Memphis(N): W 78-65
- Duke(N): L 67-58
- Missouri(N): L 68-65
- Belmont: W 75-65
- Alabama: W 73-54
In these games the answer to "did VCU win?" is the same as the answer to "did VCU force at least 15 turnovers?" This is because of Havoc™.
In conference play VCU went 12-4 in the A10, Kenpom's #8 league. The A10 was virtually tied with the Valley for #8 and a long way behind the SEC, #7. Losses came against fellow bid-acquirers St Louis (twice, once in the A-10 tourney final), Temple, and La Salle plus an eight-point OT loss to John Beilein's old Richmond club. They beat Butler by 32 in early March. That was their only win against the other NCAA teams in the league in five tries. Memphis (a six) and Belmont (an eleven) also made it.
Until Sunday's league final that turnover metric held true. St Louis managed to best VCU despite 18 turnovers. All others kept it under 14. Meanwhile, I checked every win over KP100 teams. Every single one saw VCU reach the magic 15.
We have this formula for beating VCU, then:
- keep your turnovers around 10 or lower
- watch them shoot 42%/17%.
Don't turn it over. I am Jack's complete lack of surprise. VCU's defense is all TO generation, as is a significant portion of their offense. If Michigan and VCU have an approximately equal number of TOs the game comes down to rebounding and shooting. The first should be a push at worst, and if VCU shoots Michigan out of the tournament in the halfcourt, so be it.
If you have to plunge into 50/50 charge/block calls so be it. If a guy is coming over to bother you with a trap, for God's sake just run the guy over if it's even close. If you get half of 'em, that probably means nothing in terms of extra FTAs given up (especially since offensive fouls don't generate them) but will get you in the bonus quicker against a team that always gets into the bonus. It is also unlikely to put Michigan in serious foul difficulty since they do not foul. Meanwhile, VCU has six significant contributors above 3 fouls per 40*, a couple of whom (Reddic, Daniels) bring irreplaceable skills to the table.
Similarly, Michigan should go to the damn basket over and over in the halfcourt. One: Kobe Assists are there for the taking if Reddic is forced to help. Meanwhile VCU's main shooter off the bench is their worst and they hang on the edge of putting in a guy named Teddy Okereafor who has an ORTG < 90.
Do whatever you can to get whistles. If you commit charges, so be it.
Withstand the vicissitudes of fate. This game has a make-it-take-it aspect to it: when VCU scores, they get to press. When they do not score, Michigan gets to run, either off a steal or a rebound. In situations like this, withering runs either way are possible. Don't get too down, just get it across the timeline.
Punish when you break the press. VCU's generally horrible numbers outside of turnovers are an effect of concessions made to it: lack of height, lack of positioning. Even accounting for the former, their defense is not horrible in the half-court. In fact, opponent's eFG numbers when shots go up in the last 25 seconds of the shot clock are identical to Michigan's. Michigan's not great, but that doesn't help Michigan beat a team playing itself.
So: when you're roaring towards the basket with two guys on your back, Trey, do something crushing, or they get free turnovers.
Glenn Robinson: run at the basket with ill intent. The man has a size advantage in this one, and there will be transition. Go to the basket, and leap at passes or rebounds, and then dunk them, and then yell something unintelligible afterwards, preferably at least five times.
Trey: don't have the worst game ever. That's out of the way, I hope.
Akron: get your sweaty germs all over VCU. It could happen?
VCU: don't get your sweaty germs all over Michigan. Er.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by one even though Kenpom doesn't know it moved VCU up ten spaces yesterday for VCU's destruction of a hollow shell of Akron, not actual Akron.