|WHAT||#7 Michigan (24-3) vs
#4 Michigan State (22-5)
Ann Arbor, MI
|LINE||Michigan -2, 56% to win (Kenpom)
Michigan -4.5, 69% to win (Torvik)
War. War never changes.
Except in 2011, when it did:
“I had Delvon Roe guarding me. I think at this point, his knees were basically gone,” said Novak about the former Spartan who had endured multiple knee injuries. “There’s got to be some benefit to playing a 6-2 guy at the power forward position in the Big Ten. That was the benefit. I was just running him off screens and getting good looks.”
The Wolverines clung to a slim 24-20 lead when a loose ball bounced just outside the reach of Douglass. On the sideline, Novak lost his mind. He stomped his feet and violently shook his hands in a team huddle – a signature moment of his career that is now known in Michigan circles as the “Aneurysm of Leadership.”
“It’s funny going back to that now,” Novak said. “You see Colton Christian throws a towel at my mouth just because he knows that it’s on national TV and just about every other word I’m saying is not family friendly.”
Michigan goes for its fourth straight on Sunday.
THE LINEUP CARD
Click for big.
Projected starters are in bold. Hover over headers for stat explanations. The "Should I Be Mad If He Hits A Three" methodology: we're mad if a guy who's not good at shooting somehow hits one. Yes, you're still allowed to be unhappy if a proven shooter is left open. It's a free country.
|G||0||Cassius Winston||Jr.||6'1, 185||84||28||123||No|
|Egads, a bonafide PG. #3 assist rate nationally, shooting 49/43, big usage. Defense better this year.|
|G||34||Matt McQuaid||Sr.||6'5, 200||82||13||123||No|
|3&D McPoyle shooting absurd 36/44 split, allergic to rim. Does mostly deserve D rep, somehow.|
|F||21||Aaron Henry||Fr.||6'6, 210||47||15||100||Yes|
|Composite #141 FR mostly a dunk on assists guy. 25 TO rate when he tries to create. Very occasionally shoots a 3.|
|F||35||Kenny Goins||Sr.||6'6 230||73||15||112||Meh|
|Gritty grittenstein has added okay three point shot out of nowhere. Rebound magnet, creates nothing. Excellent block rate for 6'6 guy.|
|C||22||Xavier Tillman||So.||6'8, 245||80*||20||121||Yes|
|Excellent utility guy shooting 68% in B10, rebound magnet, top 100 block rate, gets some steals, 71% at line. Very dependent on assists, 5.1 fouls per 40.|
|G||23||Foster Loyer||Fr.||4'11 170||13||19||101||Yes|
|Gnome gets about 4 MPG. 4/18 from three on season. 27 assist rate, 30 TO rate.|
|F||1||Kyle Ahrens||Jr.||6'6, 210||45||13||114||Meh|
|Low usage Not Just A Shooter hitting 63/31 from the floor.|
|F||2||Gabe Brown||Fr.||6'7, 210||15||12||129||No|
|Composite #101 FR is Just A Shooter hitting 38% from deep.|
|C||15||Thomas Kithier||Fr.*||6'8, 225||25*||12||144||Yes|
|Deep bench backup unearthed when Ward went out. 14/18 on season, almost all assisted.|
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]
While I hate to give Tom Izzo credit for anything other than deftly burying sexual assault investigations, it must be said: this is a hell of a coaching job he's done to get this collection of zero-ish NBA players, one former walk-on, one It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia peripheral character, and an underpants gnome to the cusp of a Big Ten title and a two seed despite a couple of major injuries. Even when this team was hale and hearty it was deeply strange/frustrating to see them be more or less just as good as the Jaren Jackson team last year. Or Ben Carter team. Whichever.
Injuries have whittled Michigan State down to a Craig Ross jam just like Michigan: six guys and some spare parts. We have a pretty good idea of what MSU looks like without Josh Langford, who's missed the last 14 games. Langford was just a shooter who was in love with long-range twos and not particularly efficient, so as long as Ward and Winston were both nearing 30% usage the role players around them could pick up the slack.
What MSU looks like sans Ward is a much bigger question. His absence doesn't impact the team's defense much since his replacement is significantly better…
tomato cans excised
…although there's some three point luck in there. I checked the post-Langford world and it's pretty much the same: a hair worse on offense, better on defense. This is because Xavier Tillman is a dude.
But he'll have to wait because you can't start this section with anyone other than Cassius Winston. Winston's handled the transition from second or third banana to alpha threat with almost no friction. His three-point shooting isn't quite where it was last year but it's only dropped from 50% to 44% despite a big uptick in both volume and unassisted jacks. He's maintained his ridiculous assist rate—43% of MSU buckets are assisted by Winston, third nationally, and that's 46% in Big Ten play. He's shaved five points off his TO rate despite a usage spike. And his defense is… eh… okay, which is a massive improvement.
What jumps out in the above video is how much transition and semi-transition there is; this is discussed more below but that's really what makes the MSU offense go, and Winston is the primary driver of this with more than half of his assists in the first ten seconds of the clock.
Once locked into the halfcourt Winston remains a crafty shot-maker with all manner of floaters who will suss out open players, but he can get sped up and start flinging the ball around. This was more of a problem last year; Illinois brought it back with their pressure defense, forcing 9 Winston TOs.
SG Matt McQuaid wants to bump it.
McQuaid is a low-usage Just A Shooter (13% usage, 104 threes vs 26 shots at the rim on the season) who's hitting 44%. He's miserable inside the line, hitting 36%; McQuaid two point jumpers go down at a 20% clip.
On the other end of the floor he's an inexplicable defensive stopper who plays like he's wearing bathrobe and other people don't want to touch him. YES JUST LIKE A MCPOYLE I TOLD YOU I TOLD ALL OF YOU BUT DID YOU LISTEN NO YOU DID NOT LISTEN AND NOW THIS GUY IS GOING TO BE ON THE ALL DEFENSIVE TEAM.
Anyway. McQuaid likes to tumble to the ground for charges and is tough to get around. He's gross. In all ways. Michigan will endeavor to prevent him from launching open threes; he's hit just one unassisted 3 on the year.
Freshman Aaron Henry moved into the starting lineup when Langford got injured and splits time pretty evenly with Ahrens. He's paint-oriented and usually acts as a finisher instead of a creator. He is hitting a good clip on other twos (44%) with most of those unassisted, but he's not much of a threat behind the line. He's at 6/20 for the year and hasn't hit one since Nebraska over a moth ago. He's only taken five since. He can be sagged off of.
Your author may have cackled wildly when Izzo said Kenny Goins would be the starter at the four, but Goins did the damndest thing: he added a three point shot in his senior season. After zero attempts in his first two years he was 4/15 last year. This year he's hitting 34% on 82 attempts and has seemingly bailed MSU out of tough spot after tough spot. Usually from at or near the top of the key after Winston draws a double on a 1-4 pick and roll.
Inside the arc he remains the same limited leaper who's kind of short; he creates very little for himself aside from the odd putback and is putting up twos at about the same rate he did last year. But adding those threes has taken him from 11% usage to 15%, and on a team that's increasingly reliant on fewer and fewer players that's been a godsend.
Goins is another key defensive piece for the Spartans; his 5.2% block rate is top 200 nationally and he's actually ticked up a hair in Big Ten play. For a shortish 4 that's doing work.
The final starter is Xavier Tillman, the aforementioned dude. Physically similar to Ward but better able to move, he's got a top 100 OREB rate, a top 100 block rate, and is hitting 68% of his shots from the floor. That rate has not dropped at all in Big Ten play. Neither has his OREB rate. He's doing work; he also chips in with steals and a bunch of free throws he hits at a 71% clip.
Tillman is not the post-up threat Ward is. He's not bad, but there's a big gap between his usage (20%) and Ward (29%). Both guys will duck in for transition post-ups really effectively, something that might not last if Tillman has to go deep into the clock. He was 7/11 from the floor against Rutgers in 133 minutes; so far, so good. Michigan presents a different level of challenge in that department. He might be hard-pressed to post up Jon Teske.
MSU has been better with Tillman on the floor that Ward this year; whatever benefits Michigan derives from Ward's absence are going to be when Tillman leaves the game and when Teske doesn't because he's not in foul trouble.
Michigan State's bench is now Kyle Ahrens in something approximating the Livers role—20 MPG at different spots—and largely overwhelmed freshmen. Ahrens is a beefy guy and a lot more liable to head inside the line than his brother at OSU, but he's not going to generate anything on his own. He's got 9 makes on the year that weren't assisted, and three of those were putbacks. He's a spectator, and if Michigan is inclined they might double off him since he's shooting just 25% from three in Big Ten play.
The other bench guys:
- Foster Loyer has to be the most-outlandishly-listed-at-6'0 guy in the country. He gives Winston about four minutes of rest a game and has stats that are so low sample size that they don't really mean anything. O/U on his minutes: 1.
- Gabe Brown is a prototypical Just A Shooter at this juncture.
- Thomas Kithier got scrub time at the end of games until the last four. Against Minnesota, Kenny Goins left after 7 minutes and he got 18, hitting 4/5 from the field. In the wake of Ward's injury he got 10 MPG against OSU and Rutgers, committing 5 fouls in those 20 minutes and hitting two bunnies.
Foul trouble at the 1 or 5 is likely to be deadly for MSU.
Some weird extremes. On offense:
- MSU is 70th in average possession length but this really understates their tempo. MSU is sixth nationally in the number of shots that go up in the first ten seconds of the clock.
- They're good inside the line and out and 14th in eFG%, first in the league inside the line.
- They remain pretty pretty bad at TOs, sitting exactly 200th.
- They're 20th in OREBs, first in B10 play.
- They're #1 nationally in assist rate.
- They are again outstanding in eFG%. A team with two 6'8 guys at center is second nationally in 2PT% D because they're top 20 in block rate. Both of these hold up in league play. Flat out bizarre.
- Like Maryland they're horrible at forcing TOs, 326th.
- They're 11th in DREBs, which is also bizarre given their OREB rate. They do try to block a ton of shots, I guess.
- They give up a reasonable number of threes but in league play opponents are hitting just 29%. That's probably luck.
It adds up to a top ten team. Somehow.
Transition, transition, transition, transition. Only one major-conference team is ahead of MSU in transition attempts: North Carolina. Michigan happened to play UNC and largely won that battle. A third of UNC's shots were quick ones but they only had a 52.3% eFG on them despite canning an anomalous number of long, bad two point jumpers (56%!). To do this Michigan abandoned the offensive boards even more than they usually do, grabbing just 2 OREBs.
Meanwhile in Michigan's two wins against last year's also transition-heavy (#65 in early FGAs) Spartans, MSU was held to 25% and 41% eFG in transition; Michigan actually out OREB'd MSU across the two games.
So many Big Ten teams are caught out by MSU's transition; unlike UNC's it's deadly efficient at a 63% eFG. In the now-we-play-defense era Michigan has won this every time against every opponent. This year is no different: only fractions of a percentage separate M's transition eFG from its halfcourt eFG. It's rarely been as critical to continue the streak.
One on one Winston containment. If Winston's stat line looks anything like the last two times he went up against Zavier Simpson this is going to be a bloodbath. For the record, those statlines:
- 11 points on 9 shot equivalents, 2 assists, 4 TOs
- 11 points on 12 shot equivalents, 5 assists, 1 TO
Those were good for a 10 point home loss and an 11 point neutral-court loss, and that was a team with Jaren Jackson, Nick Ward, Miles Bridges, and Josh Langford.
With all those guys in the NBA or on the sidelines for this one Winston is literally the only shot creator MSU has on the roster. The Langford injury will bite here as Michigan can freely switch Simpson and Matthews, giving one defensive ace a breather against a guy who doesn't do much other than sit in the corner while the other one goes to work. Michigan pulled that switch on Anthony Cowan after he got loose for a couple threes early in the second half of the Maryland game, and Cowan went back in the box for the remainder.
Fouls. God willing this will be a game where verticality is respected, because if either five gets in foul trouble the dropoff is gigantic. Ward's absence is important here since it puts MSU in the same situation with Tillman and takes a guy who's third nationally in drawing fouls off the court.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 2.