#33 Michigan (14-7, 4-4 B1G) at
#53 Michigan State (12-9, 4-4)
East Lansing, Michigan
|WHEN||1 pm ET, Sunday|
MSU -1 (KenPom)
PBP: Kevin Harlan
Analyst: Clark Kellogg
Right: Gonna keep rolling with "embarrassing photos of opposing coaches" until that stops working. [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
Last night's dismantling of Indiana shot Michigan up ten spots on KenPom. While the Bracket Matrix hadn't been updated at the time this was written, it's safe to say the Wolverines couldn't have done much more in that game to improve their tourney hopes; CBS's Jerry Palm moved M up to an 8-seed in today's update.
Going by KenPom's updated numbers, Michigan's win projection has improved substantially:
Michigan improved their season outlook quite a bit after last night's win: pic.twitter.com/kRGtmF8RHf
— Crisler Spider-Man (@CrislerSpidey) January 27, 2017
That's a median of 9-9 at just over 25% likelihood, and a 41.5% chance of finishing 10-8 or better in conference play
— Crisler Spider-Man (@CrislerSpidey) January 27, 2017
KenPom projects Sunday's game as a virtual toss-up, giving Michigan a 45% chance to pull off the road win. With four home games and road matchups with Rutgers and Nebraska left on the schedule, that would put a 10-8 conference record (and 20 regular-season wins) very much in play.
THE LINEUP CARD
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||11||Tum Tum Nairn||Jr.||5'10, 175||60||12||109||Kinda|
|Decent distributor, but wonky shot has only improved slightly. Tiny usage for PG.|
|G||14||Eron Harris||Sr.||6'3, 190||59||24||107||Not At All|
|Excellent three-point shooter both on spot-ups and off the bounce.|
|G||1||Josh Langford||Fr.||6'5, 210||51||15||109||Not At All|
|Good spot-up shooter who sticks to perimeter; one FT attempt in B1G play.|
|F||22||Miles Bridges||Fr.||6'7, 230||51||27||100||Not At All|
|ORtg doesn't do his all-around game justice. As he goes, so goes MSU.|
|C||44||Nick Ward||Fr.||6'8, 250||48||33||105||Very|
|Massive-usage post scorer. Great rebounder and shot-blocker. Fouls, FTs can be issues.|
|G||5||Cassius Winston||Fr.||6'0, 185||50||24||104||Kinda|
|Boasts #1 assist rate in the country, but inconsistent shot and too many TOs.|
|F||25||Kenny Goins||So.||6'6, 230||47||12||98||Very|
|Former walk-on forced to spot Ward at C. Decent finisher but very TO-prone.|
|G||3||Alvin Ellis||Sr.||6'4, 210||39||20||101||No|
|Decent outside shooter, disruptive defender getting more time lately.|
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]
There's some weird guys out there.
Season-ending injuries to Ben Carter and Gavin Schilling wiped out MSU's frontcout depth before the season began. Tom Izzo has been forced to make do with a freshman, a former walk-on, and a current walk-on at center.
For as bad as that sounds, it could be much worse. The freshman, Nick Ward, has been the surprise of the season in the Big Ten, averaging 13 points, six boards, and two blocks in 19 minutes per game. When he's on the floor, the ball is very likely to go through the post, and he's one of the better pure post scorers Michigan has faced this year. That said, he still has his shortcomings, mainly at the free-throw line (56%, a big issue given how often he draws fouls) and getting into foul trouble.
Don't be surprised if Michigan goes at Ward from the jump. He's had a rough recent stretch, committing 16 fouls and nine turnovers over the last four games while going 15-for-30 from the field. The Spartans lost three of those games in large part because there's a significant dropoff when Ward is on the bench. Former walk-on Kenny Goins does an admirable job of playing center at 6'6", 230, but he can be overwhelmed in the post, and it only gets worse if 6'5", 220-pound walk-on Matt Van Dyk is pressed into service—he's played 22 scoreless minutes in that four-game sample.
Izzo also faces a conundrum at point guard, where he has two flawed options. Junior Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn has experience on his side but he's only hit 9-of-24 three-pointers even though opponents are more than willing to let him shoot; his presence kills any spacing MSU hopes to have on offense. Freshman Cassius Winston (yes, the former M recruit) has displayed a ton of potential—he leads the country in assist rate—and is much more involved on offense, but he's struggled with his shot and turns the ball over at an Izzo-tantrum-causing rate.
Two more players in the starting lineup have rather limited games. Junior Eron Harris is a 40% three-point sniper who's otherwise not adding a whole lot; Izzo publicly hoping for more consistency from Harris has been a running theme all season. Freshman Josh Langford (yes, another former M recruit) has a great jump shot—he's top-20 in the conference in eFG%—but he's almost never in attack mode; he's attempted one free throw total in eight Big Ten games. I couldn't find a Michigan rotation player on KenPom with that low a free-throw rate unless you want to count 2001-02 reserve Mike Gotfredson.
That brings us, finally, to the most important player on the Spartans, freshman forward Miles Bridges (yes, yet another former M recruit). Bridges is shooting 54% on twos and 42% on threes and he's nationally ranked in both defensive rebound and block rates. He takes on a huge workload, one that only grows in crunch time. This is an astonishing stat:
In the final 10 minutes of the last 3 games (all losses), Michigan State has gotten a total of 8 FGs from players not named Miles Bridges.
— Brendan F. Quinn (@BFQuinn) January 26, 2017
MSU let a monster effort from Bridges—33 points (7/9 2P, 5/8 3P), seven rebounds, four blocks—go to waste in their most recent game, a loss to Purdue at home. That goes to show it's possible to beat State when he's on, though it's much easier when he's not: the Spartans are 1-6 in games he's posted an ORtg of 100 or worse, with the lone win against Florida Gulf Coast.
The Spartans struggled through a nonconference gauntlet that included losses to four of the top 16 teams in the country and a slip-up against #118 Northeastern. After a 3-0 start in Big Ten play, they've lost four of their last five, though the sole win was an impressive 18-point blowout of Minnesota at the Breslin Center.
Small sample size caveats apply.
With the center position down to Nick Ward, scotch tape, and some spare paper clips, MSU's offense looks different than any Izzo offense that's preceded it. That's mostly based on their performance on the glass: this is on pace to be Izzo's worst offensive rebounding team in his tenure by some distance. They're more turnover-prone than usual and also more reliant on the outside shot.
The defense has managed to remain strong due to excellent interior defense and rebounding; I realize this is hard to reconcile with the issues on offense. The Spartans block a lot of shots; they also commit a lot of fouls.
Get Ward off the court. Self-explanatory given everything above. While Michigan doesn't have a pair of behemoths like Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan, who bullied Ward into his worst game of the season on Tuesday, the Wagner/Wilson duo could have a similar impact as the Wolverines continue to get more frontcourt-oriented on offense. The good news is even if Ward stays out of foul trouble, Beilein should be able to get Wagner some breathers that aren't disastrous for the team when Ward needs a break and Goins or Van Dyk enters the game.
Provide timely help on Ward/Bridges. Michigan's post defense has improved significantly of late. Wagner and Wilson have done a much better job of communicating on defense and they've held their own against burly post scorers. Part of that has been providing better help defense—Wilson forced a Thomas Bryant travel last night with a perfectly timed double when it looked like Donnal was in trouble—and the guards should be able to help out, too, when Tum Tum is running the point. Getting aggressive against the bigs could lead to some transition opportunities.
Don't let Harris get hot. In general, Eron Harris has been very good in MSU's wins and largely absent in their losses. The key is preventing him from getting decent looks beyond the arc. MAAR is coming off arguably the best defensive performance of his career, holding James Blackmon Jr. to four points and not allowing him to put up even a single three-point attempt. MAAR should draw Harris; that matchup may very determine could the outcome.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
MSU by 1.
I'll be curious to see how Vegas looks at this game. These teams seem to be heading in opposite directions, though fortunes have a way of changing very quickly in college basketball. At the very least, Ward/Bridges vs. Wagner/Wilson should be a fun matchup to watch.