i refuse to even consider this a possibility
|WHAT||Michigan vs UConn|
September 21st, 2013
|THE LINE||M -18|
|WEATHER||mid-60s, 0% chance of rain|
"paul pasqualoni young". Yup. That's real. If you don't believe me you're spending an awful lot of time disbelieving things it would be patently silly for anyone to make up.
Run Offense vs UConn
UConn. The very name sends trembles down your spine. After Randy Edsall ascended to Heaven on a pillar of righteousness, the Huskies hired legendary Michigan-killer Paul Pasqualoni, and since they have written their name in blood and glory across the night sky.
In their opening game the Towson Somethings struggled to acquired 201 yards on the ground on 50 carries, a 4.0 average. Starting tailback Terrance West ground out 156 yards on 36 carries as the Huskies bayed and called around him, mocking, ever mocking. The Conn Army's second game was ever more dominating: Maryland acquired a pathetic 231 yards on 40 carries; the Terrapins feared exposing just one tailback to the ruthless fangs and split their carries between CJ Brown (QB, 1991-2013, 16 carries for 122 yards) and Brandon Ross (RB, 1992-2013, 18 carries for 95 yards).
I have to break from the faux terror here because UConn's defense was in fact shockingly good a year ago. Do you remember that they held Teddy Bridgewater to 10 points in regulation and 20 overall in a triple-overtime win over Louisville last year? You probably do not, because who remembers things about random Big East games featuring 5-7 UConn? Bridgewater took 53 attempts to acquire 331 yards but threw two interceptions and got sacked five times. The Louisville ground game acquired 57 yards, quarterbacks excluded. For the year, UConn was seventh nationally in rush defense, second only to Alabama in yards per rush ceded.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, Trevardo Williams and Sio Moore* are off to the NFL, as are corners Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson. All of those guys were off the board by the early fourth round. Losing four mid-round NFL draft picks in one go is a body blow for a team with UConn's talent level, and they're currently reeling. Maryland bombed them for 500 yards and FCS Towson almost cracked 400.
Without much penetration or experience on the outside save for Yawid Smallwood, the lone returner from last year's all-NFL linebacking corps (Smallwood is projected as a third round pick like his buddies), Michigan should have opportunities similar to the ones they did against Akron as soon as they figured out what the Zips were doing with their bear fronts. UConn will stem into some three-four looks, but Michigan's seen that already. This has to be a step forward for the line and Toussaint or it's time to stop pushing the panic button and resign ourselves to another zombie apocalypse of TFLs.
Ace thought the interior of the line was solid against the Terps, so this will provide a human-sized challenge for the offensive line after two weeks of baby seals and one featuring two top-end NFL prospects. Move some guys, get some holes, see Toussaint follow them, and spark an ember of hope.
*[Sio is a nickname for… wait for it… "Snorsio." Wow.]
Key Matchup: Fitzgerald Toussaint versus Poor Damn Toussaint Syndrome. Follow your fullback, man. What's the worst that could happen?
Other than that.
Please come out from under the table.
[Hit THE JUMP for lots of caps letters in the cheap thrills section.]
Other stuff here: Ace FFFF!
|WHAT||Michigan vs Akron|
Ann Arbor, Michigan
September 14th, 2013
|THE LINE||M -38|
|WEATHER||sunny, upper 60s
0% chance of rain
I'm trying real hard, Mr. Roo.
Run Offense vs Akron
The Zips were 109th in rushing defense a year ago, ceding nearly five yards a carry even without removing sacks. It's possible they've improved in that department after holding UCF to four yards a carry and James Madison to 3.7, but doubtful that Michigan will notice such a difference.
That's Akron playing defense against Central Florida.
For Michigan, it's about identifying guys correctly and blowing them up. They've had opportunities to break long ones submarined by one missed assignment here, one missed assignment there. That's understandable with a young line and (still) young tight ends. Michigan wants to develop those guys over the course of the season; now would be a good time to put the spurs to an opponent.
Key Matchup: The offensive line vs generating false hopes because they smash low level competition.
[Hit THE JUMP for more condescending key matchups.]
Other stuff here: Ace FFFF!
|WHAT||Michigan vs Notre Dame|
Ann Arbor, Michigan
|WHEN||8 pm Eastern
September 7th, 2013
|THE LINE||M -4|
|WEATHER||mid 70s dropping to low 70s, isolated thunderstorms, 30% chance of rain|
Expanding Tom Hammond head from NDMSPaint. We miss you, Tom.
Run Offense vs Notre Dame
Hello, Mr. Nix, I am a center popularly described as "undersized." Let me step around you all day?
This matchup got more intriguing last week as Michigan's offensive line showed pretty well running zone stretches and Temple went for 4.6 YPC against the Irish. In the aftermath, Louis Nix seemed frustrated at his lack of impact after eating double-team after double-team. This spawns questions: were people not doubling Nix before? Are people aware that doubling nose tackles is standard practice in many offenses? Was it just the sweltering heat that deflated Nix's performance? I don't know, man.
A big chunk of the Temple ground game came on scrambles we'll address in the next section. What didn't was a result of effectively double-teaming Nix, avoiding Stephon Tuitt, and getting Notre Dame's middle linebackers confused. Temple used a lot of packaged plays in this one, which caused the Irish MLBs to look clueless as they sucked up on runs that turned into quick seam routes they vacated. Expect Michigan to do something similar, whether it's more packaged plays—Michigan has run them on occasion in the last couple years—or a variety of counters and screens that exploit a couple of guys in Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese who don't play like the veterans they are.
Also of note: hyper-touted recruit Jaylon Smith is one of the starting outside linebackers for Notre Dame. He's a true freshman who replaces the retired Danny Spond, and may be vulnerable to either getting optioned or just straight-up blown up by guys who have been in college a bit longer.
[NOTE: Notre Dame's 3-4 is going to look a bit like a 4-3 for maybe half the day, as Michigan will have a tight end and Notre Dame will screw down their strongside linebacker (either Prince Shembo or Ishaq Williams) over the tight end. They'll still two gap when they're in that front; sometimes they will go 4-3 with 320-pound Stephon Tuitt moving inside.]
For Michigan, it's Fitzgerald Toussaint's time to grab a death lock on the feature back job or slog through another middling game that opens up the freshman floodgates behind. In this one, I'll believe a freshman gets tasked with defending blitzes from a 3-4 ten seconds after it gets Gardner splattered into goo. Except for short yardage it'll be Toussaint, and then Justice Hayes if he needs a blow.
As for the line, it showed as well as it could against CMU, repeatedly crushing the Chips off the ball to the left side of the line. Jack Miller and Graham Glasgow showed an affinity for the scoop blocks that make the stretch go, and Miller in particular showed the agility you need. That's no surprise since he was recruited by Rich Rodriguez. Michigan will do plenty of that in the hopes that Taylor Lewan can win his one on one matchup and Nix will be left behind, panting. Note than in three-man fronts, Glasgow will be releasing immediately and it'll be Miller and Kalis trying to combo Nix. Not as effective, likely.
Michigan's tight ends are a key. They've got to be able to either block Smith or outrun Shembo/Fox/Calabrese to be effective. Funchess had a tough outing against CMU, and AJ Williams could have been better. Michigan wants to hit the edge, and the tight ends will have to help them get there.
What happens? I don't know. Seriously.
Key Matchup: Nix versus Miller/Glasgow/Kalis. If Michigan can get a stalemate here that's a win. Temple did handle him.
[Hit THE JUMP for my diabolical revenge on Jack Swarbrick, and other stuff.]
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.