Also dear yente if you could saddle Wisconsin in an impossible bracket that'd be great.
In two days it shall be March. We're already familiar with the Big Ten Tourney participants, so let us look beyond to this NCAA tournament thing.
What, my dear yentes, makes a good or bad matchup for this Michigan team, what are some of the teams out there we might hope to avoid, and who among expected high seeds would Michigan match up well against?
Brian: Bracketology consensus has us a three or four right now; I'll go under the assumption they're a three just to simplify things. That means Michigan is looking at the top eight teams on S-curves trying to suss out a good matchup. Wisconsin is in that group for some lucky 7-seed but won't end up in Michigan's region. The others: Wichita State, Florida, Syracuse, Arizona, Kansas, and some combination of Cincinnati/Villanova/Creighton.
No one in that group seems hugely appealing, but I like the Syracuse matchup best of the current one-seeds. They've only got one shooter, they're 11th on Kenpom, they've had a lot of close calls against not particularly good teams, Michigan played their zone last year, and they've got shooting from everywhere. 'Cuse's current backcourt is much smaller and less athletic than last year's version and Michigan's shot generation is a lot bigger, so going over the zone is much more of an option. Also, undefeated or not, Wichita State is short, largely untested, and not laden with NBA superstars future. I will take either of those one seeds.
Conversely, I want nothing to do with Arizona. Michigan damn near beat them earlier in the year, yeah, but that was thanks in large part to an avalanche of missed putbacks. Teams that can just implode Michigan on the boards are my biggest fear. Kansas and Florida are also teams I'd like to avoid.
BiSB: I'm less optimistic about Syracuse and more optimistic about Arizona. Last year Michigan's offense against Syracuse was a combination of 28-footers and Mitch McGary distributing out of the high post. God bless Morford, but he won't be our main distributor. Their guards may be smaller, but they're still 6'2", 6'4", and 6'7", so passing over them is a dicey proposition. I hate the matchup of Walton and Tyler Ennis, and Ennis is too big for Spike. And while they can't shoot, they're pulling in 39% of offensive rebound chances in the ACC, which is DOOOOOM for Michigan. Also, Kansas would be bad because Wiggins and Embiid would drink of many milkshakes, and Florida would be bad for reasons that involve basketball.
Freshman PG Tyler Ennis is a bad matchup for anybody; we disagree whether he is for Michigan in particular. [Nick Lisi/ philly.com]
On the other hand, Arizona hasn't been the same since Brandon Ashley went down a few weeks ago. Ashley had 18 and 6 against Michigan, and since he got hurt, Arizona has 2 losses and have looked less than dominant in several other games. They're still not an ideal matchup, but we're choosing from some good teams. Cincinnati is basically Ohio State (they're the #105 offense and #3 defense to KenPom). And, of course, Wichita State would be a nice draw, unless they get that one loss that keeps them from being undefeated entering the tournament because it is bad to be undefeated for some reason (/beats self to death with own shoe).
[4 hours later]
…Aaaand of course, as soon as I drop my contrarian "Don't Sleep on Syracuse" Hot Take, they go out and lay another offensive egg and nearly yak one up to Maryland. Still do not want.
Ace: I'll second BiSB regarding Arizona sans Ashley; while it's really nice to have Rondae Hollis-Jefferson ready to step into the starting lineup, he's not on the same level offensively as Ashley. While the Wildcats have blown out a couple decent teams in Oregon State and Colorado since Ashley's injury, they've also had close calls against Oregon and Utah in addition to their two losses.
Without Ashley, Arizona no longer has the terrifying frontcourt that Michigan matched up so badly against. [Fuller]
Ideally, Michigan would face a team that doesn't have their offensive firepower (no Duke redux or Creighton matchup, please) and lacks the size to overwhelm the team on both ends, especially at the 2-4 spots (so, yeah, Arizona, as well as Kansas, Syracuse, Florida, and Kentucky if they make a late push for a high seed). One team that hasn't been mentioned that could get a high seed and be a terrible matchup for Michigan: Saint Louis. The Billikens boast the #2 defense in the country, allow the eighth-fewest three-point attempts, and are second and 26th in 3P% and 2P% allowed, respectively. On top of all that, they also force a ton of turnovers, possess decent size across the starting lineup, and have tons of experience. No thanks.
Wichita State, Villanova, and Cincinnati look like the best matchups among potential top-four seeds. (I know, how original.) I'm not as bullish as Brian on Michigan being able to pick apart that Syracuse zone without McGary working the middle; also, Ennis is a serious matchup problem and this year's version of the Orange is much better at taking care of the basketball than last year's. Give me Wichita State over them any day—I'm worried Cuse could generate too many extra possessions with their aggressive defense, lack of turnovers, and excellent rebounding.
Mathlete: Give me teams that are good on defense. Michigan losses in Big Ten play have come from teams that have buried them with made shots. Beilein and co. have shown when not getting down big early that they can get the offense moving. Imposing your will is usually more of a defensive term but I think it applies to this Michigan offense. They have the ball handling, the system and the weapons to ultimately get points against any type of team. Teams that are more defensive than offensive are going to have trouble keeping up once the shots start falling. A good shooting offense could bury us early and we don't have the defense to consistently claw back in.
Of the five tournament quality teams have lost to, only Arizona was a better defensive team than offensive. I'm with the consensus that Kansas and Florida are the scariest. Duke and Creighton would be fun games to watch as a third party but I would take a lot of other teams before them. I would take Arizona as a one seed, Syracuse would be a bigger challenge without McGary but I think they would still be a decent matchup. Beyond Kansas, Florida, Duke and Creighton I think a late matchup versus any other team seems reasonable.
Seth: I don't know if there's a way to Kenpom this easily, but my sense is Michigan remains a generalist team that can beat anybody when Stauskas is hot, and will defeat the bottom half of the field with the rest of the guys.
When I'm making my brackets things I look for in upset picks are guys who can create scoring against any defense, highly rated freshmen who've slowly been improving over the season, and teams who played well on the road. My point: WE are the matchup nightmare. My Sparty brother pointed out before Sunday's game that he's always afraid when facing Michigan that GRIII will suddenly convert his general bounciness into rebounds. Michigan is 350th (there are 351 teams!) in rebounds from the power forward position. Tournament time is when outliers like that can shift dramatically.
When Stauskas is making his contested shots Michigan just doesn't lose. [Fuller]
In a deep tourney run, Walton could go pop. A three-game hot streak from Irvin would be igniting wildfire.
If you rank Michigan's performances by straight-up offensive efficiency the Wolverines lost the worst five and the seventh (#6 was the close call at Minnesota). Just about the same thing happens if you rank it by eFG%; the only time they lost on even an average shooting night was Arizona. Welcome to Beilein World, where opponents fall as often as the shots do.
Any team will beat anybody when they're shooting the lights out so that isn't a very helpful metric. Another one that correlates strongly among Michigan's opponents--again, no surprise if you know anything about a Beilein team--is opponent 3-point percentage. Other than Ohio State and that time we ran the floor better than Iowa, Michigan struggled against teams that are good at defending the outer circle. The only loss to a statistically middling 3-point defense was Wisconsin, on a night that Wisconsin was back to their typical selves in this regard. Tournament teams with that: Saint Louis(2) Louisville(10), VCU(13), Arizona(18), Kentucky(18), Duke(23), and Iowa(24).
The other one that stuck out was teams that deny opponents assists seem to fare better against Michigan than their rankings. Wisconsin and Ohio State are 4 and 1 in the country at this, but Duke and Indiana and Zona and Charlotte are high on the list. Tennessee, Kentucky, Utah and Duke are up there; Syracuse is near the bottom. This is a man or zone discrepancy, and Michigan has too many 6'6 shooters to zone effectively.
Things that don't seem to matter as much to Michigan as others are those with high block rates (Syracuse, UConn, Cincy, Kentucky, Wichita State, Kansas, SDSU), assist rate (Creighton, ISU, Pitt, MSU, Villanova), and steal rate (VCU, UCLA, Louisville, Syracuse, Cincy).
I'll take Kentucky or UCLA or Wichita State over Creighton or Villanova or Saint Louis. Give me Cuse, give me Florida (theory: they are Michigan State if you put them in the SEC), give me VCU, heck, give me Michigan's entire 2013 tourney schedule except Kansas. Let somebody else take care of Duke and Zona.
I really don't see Syracuse or Florida making it past the Elite 8. Just by watching them, they are struggling lately against average or above average teams. Poor shooting and relying on put backs and turnovers. Come tourney time when teams play with all they have, watch out.
I think Syracuse is a good match up for Michigan. Beilein is very good at defeating the zone with good scheme, for obvious reasons. I also think Florida is way overrated. Playing in the SEC has inflated their record IMO.
“When your team is winning, be ready to be tough, because winning can make you soft. On the other hand, when your team is losing, stick by them. Keep believing” ― Bo Schembechler
While technically not against the rules, I'd be surprised if we get Duke or Arizona until the Final Four. [Though I think a rematch with Arizona wouldn't be awful since they lost Ashley]
I do think Michigan tends to be a defense-independant offense. So I would prefer teams that are more defense oriented. St Louis, Syracuse. I also wouldn't mind Florida [last year, also the SEC is not good so their record is inflated]. Given how Villanova has done against Creighton this year, I think we could do something similar.
Teams I want no part of: Creighton [against our defense?, no thanks], Wichita St [Went to Final Four last year and have won 30 straight. I don't care who you are playing, that is impressive], Kansas [No Trey to save us this year]
Undecided: Louisville [defense oriented, but still scare me for some reason], Virginia [I don't think Beilein has a good record vs. Bennett]
I want to play anyone that wins games with "gimmicks" (maybe the wrong word) like Syracuse's zone. I think Beilein has proven he can prepare his team to defeat these strategies. It's the hyper-athletic, big, strong rebounding teams that scare me. Basically, I think Beilein can out-coach, but I don't think he can turn his team into something that can consistently out-match better skill and athleticism.
"And when we play as a team, when the old season is over, you and I know, it's gonna be Michigan again, Michigan."
I think the nature of home the NCAA tournament along with the subtle rule changes is going towards is actually rewarding teams that are shot makers. There are in my mind only three true shot making teams in the tournament: Michigan, Duke and Creighton. If any of them even play a modicum of defense, they should be able to make a lot of noise.
The traditional method by which teams make it far in the tournament is top 20 offense that rebounds and/or creates turnovers at really high rates. The only way to overcome mediocre offense is generating a litany of extra possessions. One of the things that was glossed over last year as a true beneficial effect on the team was GRIII increased rebounding presence in the tournament. I'm not sure if it was a McGary effect or a concerted effort on the coaches part but it helped us limit extra possessions on the other side and drive up our own possession rate. Teams that have that potential this year are Kansas (because they ALWAYS have that potential), Duke (because again they ALWAYS have that potential), San Diego State, and Arizona. Arizona missing Brandon Ashley is a big blow though. He was their offense.
Traditionally I would put MSU in that cateogory and oddly enough when they have everybody healthy (I know...I know...waa waa....but objectively speaking here) they have the best front five in the country I think. Appling, Harris, Payne, Dawson and obligatory high percentage three point shooting stretch four guy are a pretty significant match up nightmare and have lots of experience. In my mind, these usual suspects will do what they do in the tournament.
Florida, Wisconsin and Syracuse seem like paper tigers to me. Syracuse because ultimately their zone actually limits them when it comes to teams with shooters or people who can pass from the high post. They grind down the game to such a slow pace that it is a complete crapshoot which end of that pace they will end up on. They are almost one over michigan (sort of like Ohio State but with more offense). I expect them to go far but I'm not sure they can go all the way to the Final Four. The only variation from theme on that would be if no one can gaurd Ennis in anyway but even then they don't have the type of shooters who make you pay for giving up penetration. Florida is the definition of a paper tiger. They play in the SEC which sucks save for a few teams. They have one volume shooter who puts up a ton of points and if he has even a remote off day they are DOA. That just seems like too much risk. Wisconsin...because you know, they're Wisconsin. I like the composition of this Wisconsin team more than previous years. They have shooters, veterans, they run seven deep and can be a real pain in the ass as usual. But they are Wisconsin. You over estimate them and they let you down - like that divorced dad who promises to do stuff with his kids but never does. The only caveat to that is Wisconsin is far better offensively than they have ever been in the recent past. If they play even a modicum of defense, they could go pretty far in the tournament.
The one team that sort of fits every criteria for making a surprise tourney run and going really, really far is actually in our conference and that is Iowa. They generate a ton of extra possessions, rebound like mad, can send ten guys out there and has a variety of plus players who can get hot at any time. Their three point shooting is a fluctuating phenomenon but would it surprise anyone if aaron white or RDM got hot?
Watch out for Iowa...they really have a Michigan from last year feel to them. In fact, I really like four teams from the Big ten to make real noise in the tournament this year: Iowa, Wisconsin, MSU and Michigan. All four of those teams, if healthy, could make a legitimate run to the final four if not the championship.
In terms of who Michigan should avoid, Kansas...Kansas....AND...Kansas. Also Duke and Creighton and any of our fellow Big Ten compatriots. I think where Michigan will have the biggest trouble is against teams that can keep up with them offensively but can turn up enough defense that they can get distance. The only defense Michigan can play that has the possibility of doing anything is the 1-3-1 and that just slows the game down. If you are behind far enough that this starts to happen, it is probably too late.