Death From Above: Western Michigan
|WHAT||Western Michigan at Michigan|
|WHERE||Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan|
|WHEN||8:30 PM Eastern, Tuesday|
|LINE||Michigan –22 (Kenpom)|
Right: Buster Bronco, (s)toked. Yes, I'm not-so-subtly implying that Western's mascot is Snoop Dogg levels of high.
Western Michigan is 6-1 on the season, though that hot start has come against a pretty weak early slate—KenPom ranks their SOS #309 nationally thus far. Their opening road loss to #241 Cornell dampens the resume, though they do boast a five-point away win over #93 South Florida, a tournament team last year.
The team's top scorer is 6'7" senior wing Nate Hutcheson, who's scoring mostly via volume shooting—his 13.7 points per game come while shooting 45% from two and 33% from three. An impressive knack for getting to the line can't save an ugly efficiency rating.
Those familiar with Illinois basketball will be shocked by this: 6'8" freshman forward Darius Paul, brother of notorious chucker Brandon, is averaging a very efficient 11.7 points per game on the strength of 53% shooting from two. He's 3-11 from three this year, so he's still upholding the Paul name with pride in a way, at least, while also doing good work on the offensive boards.
Rounding out the front line is 6'10" center Shayne Whittington, who doesn't finish well inside (47.2 2P%) but has the #8 defensive rebound rate in the country (28.3%) and a very high block rate (8.4%). Whittington also gets to the line with regularity; along with Hutcheson, he could test the new-found depth of the Wolverines up front.
Starting two-guard Brandon Pokley is Western's primary outside shooting threat, knocking down 15-of-33 three-point attempts so far this year. He's also drawing fouls at an impressive clip, despite rarely attempting shots inside the arc, and knocks down over 80% of his free throws. Point guard Austin Richie is mostly a distributor, albeit one with serious turnover issues—his 29.4% assist rate is nearly matched by his 28.1% turnover rate.
Off the bench, 6'1" guard Jared Klein is a solid outside shooter with 11 steals already this season and, bizarrely, a 17.4% defensive rebound rate; he's also struggled with turnovers. The rest of the rotation plays limited roles and the Broncos don't have a true backup big—when they go to the bench, they also go small.
As stated above, the schedule hasn't exactly been a gauntlet. Along with USF, victories have come against NAIA squad Marygrove, Loyola Chicago, Maryland East Shore, High Point, and Oakland, with their lone loss at the hands of Cornell.
Four factors, with national ranks in parentheses:
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||48.9 (156)||20.2 (142)||31.4 (183)||41.2 (93)|
|Defense||45.3 (87)||18.2 (277)||26.2 (31)||31.1 (95)|
Major caveats apply due to strength of schedule; even without those, the numbers are very average aside from an ability to keep opponents off the offensive glass, something they probably can't replicate against a big, talented Michigan squad.
Also of note: Western's opponents are scoring right around a third of their points from three-point range, a very high rate, despite connecting at a 34.3% clip, which is only a little above average. This suggests that opponents are getting a number of good looks, so... hello, Nik Stauskas.
Hello, Nik Stauskas. Do what you do, kid.
Protect the glass. Western isn't a stellar shooting team, nor are they great defensively; just about the only way Michigan can lose this game is to allow Paul and Whittington to dominate the offensive glass and get a ton of second-chance points. Michigan is currently the third-best team in the country at preventing opponent offensive rebounds despite playing some big, athletic squads, so... yeah, they're probably gonna win.
Keep doing what you've been doing. I mean, yeah. (Until they lose, this is staying in the previews.)
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 22