Preview: Stanford

Preview: Stanford

Submitted by Ace on December 20th, 2013 at 3:36 PM

THE ESSENTIALS

WHAT Michigan vs. Stanford
WHERE Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York
WHEN 8:37 pm Eastern, Saturday
LINE Michigan –3 (KenPom)
TV Fox Sports 1

Right: Coach Johnny Dawkins' triangle offense runs largely through 6'10" forward Dwight Powell.

LAW OF GUS

The Law of Gus is in effect, as tomorrow night's game will be televised on Fox Sports 1 with a delightful broadcast crew of Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery. The odds are high you will end this game screaming along with Gus, and the only variable is whether it's out of joy or rage.

THE THEM

Stanford is in the first year of implementing the triangle offense made famous by Phil Jackson and Tex Winter with the 1990's Chicago Bulls dynasty. The foundation of the offense is forming a triangle (surprise!) between a big man in the low post and perimeter players in the wing and corner, like so:

The Cardinal run much of their offense though 6'10" senior forward Dwight Powell, who not only averages 14.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, but also dishes out 4.2 assists, leading the team in the latter two categories as well as assist rate. Powell isn't the most efficient scorer, spreading most of his looks pretty evenly between shots at the rim that he hits at an acceptable rate (67.3%) and two-point jumpers that don't fall nearly as often (35.8%). He does most of his rebounding damage at the defensive end, as is the case with this team as a whole, and is a solid, not outstanding, shot-blocker.

The primary beneficiary of Powell's kickouts from the post is 6'2" junior guard Chasson Randle, the de facto point in this offense despite an assist rate that's exactly half of Powell's (12.4 compared to 24.8). Randle leads the team with 18.6 points per game thanks to deadeye outside shooting (44.4% 3-pt), a stellar 56.6% mark inside the arc, and frequent trips to the line, where he's a 78.4% shooter. Almost a third of Randle's shots originate in transition, so Michigan's guards have to keep track of him on both ends of the floor.

Stanford fields a large enough lineup that the next-shortest starter, 6'6" junior Anthony Brown, is listed as a "guard/forward" in Stanford's game notes. After shooting 35% from downtown in each of his first two seasons, then sitting out 2012-13 with a hip injury, Brown has hit 22 of 38 long-range attempts so far this year; his two-point mark has taken a similar leap to 54% on 54 attempts. He can spot up or take defenders off the dribble and presents a very difficult matchup.

6'7" senior forward Josh Heustis—have you gleaned that this team is remarkably experienced?—pulls in nearly as many rebounds as Powell and provides another solid inside-outside threat, connecting on 51.4% of his twos while going 9-for-21 from three this season. Over half of Heustis' shots are actually two-point jumpers, which he hits at an okay 42.9% mark; he's much better around the rim and has an identical percentage from beyond the arc. Heustis makes more of an impact on defense, sitting just outside the top 100 players nationally in block rate despite committing a relatively minuscule 2.3 fouls per 40 minutes.

Then there's 6'11" junior center Stefan Nastic, whose KenPom stat line this season is truly something to behold. Despite being very tall and taking nearly all of his shots from two-point range, Nastic has just a 4.4 offensive rebound percentage—again, he's 6'11"—and on the other end of the floor he rebounds a Sam McLaurin-esque 9.4%; in simpler terms, this is a center who averages 2.4 rebounds in just under 19 minutes per game. I assume this is a product of Stanford's system, as those numbers are way down from what he did in limited action the last two years, but I like to think that he's a Division I basketball player who's somehow afraid of the ball.

Stanford was already a starter-heavy team before their top reserve, guard Aaron Bright, was lost for the year with a dislocated shoulder after just seven games; they now rank 334th nationally in bench minutes and none of the healthy reserves crack the 100 mark for offensive rating. Stanford will play their starters as much as possible. 6'10" forward John Gage, whose stat profile suggests he's a stretch four without a deadly outside shot, is the most likely player to see extended time, as Nastic is very foul-prone.

THE RESUME

The Cardinal lacked a solid win away from home until Wednesday, when they knocked off KP #28 UConn in Hartford in a 53-51 defensive slugfest; Stanford trailed by as much as 13 early in the second half but gave up just 13 second-half points to key a rather slow comeback.

Otherwise, Stanford's victories are unremarkable, with their next-best win either a four-point home squeaker over #98 Bucknell in the season opener or a nine-point road victory over #105 Denver. A nine-point home loss to #47 BYU and a 19-point blowout at the hands of #11 Pitt (in an early-season tournament in... Brooklyn) represent their two defeats.

THE TEMPO-FREE

Four factors (national ranks in parentheses):

  eFG% Turnover % Off. Reb. % FTA/FGA
Offense 54.9 (28) 16.9 (90) 30.3 (208) 39.9 (189)
Defense 46.1 (71) 16.2 (288) 27.5 (38) 33.7 (62)

Offensively, Stanford is an excellent shooting team that takes care of the ball and otherwise doesn't do a whole lot well—though, granted, shooting well and not turning it over are pretty critical parts of a good offense.

On defense, Stanford mixes in a healthy amount of zone, which could be problematic for them against Michigan's sharpshooters. So far this season they've either been stellar—especially in the UConn game—or downright awful; Dylan points out that they surrendered an ugly 1.29 points per possession in their two losses. The Cardinal protect the rim well, allowing opponents to shoot just 42.6% on two-pointers while blocking 14% of opponent attempts, the 40th-best mark nationally. They're prone to getting lit up from the outside, however, ranking worse than 200th in both 3PA/FGA and three-point percentage allowed.

THE PROTIPS

One acceptably-healthy Mitch McGary, please. Because this damn year won't end, John Beilein revealed this week that Mitch McGary is "injured" and "not even close" to 100% due to ailments that he wouldn't cite specifically; if McGary doesn't have a good day of practice today, we won't see him on the floor tomorrow. That's bad news in general and even worse considering the upcoming opponent; Stanford has great size across the board, runs their offense through the post, and plays a lot of zone defense. If McGary is good to go he should be able to pick apart the zone a la last season's Syracuse game. If he's not, Jon Horford is going to have to step up in a major way, and even if he plays one of his best games the offense will suffer without McGary's passing from the high post.

Attack Powell. Stanford lacks depth, as noted above, and Powell is the key to their offense. If he's matched up against one of Michigan's primary scorers, they should be looking to attack off the dribble and try to get him into foul trouble; Nastic seems pretty prone to doing that on his own. If they can get one or two or Stanford's bigs on the bench, it would go a long way towards mitigating whatever damage is caused by McGary being limited or absent.

Find the right point guard early. Against a zone defense, quick, sharp passing is paramount, and so far this season Michigan's hasn't always had that when Derrick Walton is out there. If the offense is running smoother with Spike Albrecht at the point, I wouldn't be surprised if we see a playing time distribution similar to the Arizona game, in which Walton started but Spike got the majority of the minutes.

THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES

Michigan by 3

Elsewhere

UMHoops preview. Joe Stapleton breaks down GRIII's performance against Arizona.