|WHAT||#5 Michigan (8-0) vs
|LINE||Michigan –6 (Kenpom)|
This is going very well!
Michigan is undefeated and if they can brave the new Welsh-Ryan there's a very good chance they get through the year unscathed. They've unleashed beatdowns on every opponent so far, but Northwestern provides a couple of potential roadblocks.
One: it's a road game. All basketball teams have weird road games where they shoot horribly and the refereeing seems absurdly tilted. Two: last year Northwestern bottled up Michigan's offense in two ugly games by playing a lot of zone, and pretty much the last "oh no what if" left in this season is "what if they play a good zone D." As you'll see, the Wildcats have the length to make their zone annoying indeed.
At some point Michigan is going to look mortal, and this is a good candidate. Hopefully their defense carries them through even if that's the case. The alternative is more red flowers down below us.
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||Anthony Gaines||So.||6'4, 200||58||15||93||Yes|
|Never shoots, for good reason. 43/27 last year and worse this year. TO rate of 28 is awful. Blocks a lot of shots for a 6'4" guard though?|
|G||14||Ryan Taylor||Sr.||6'6, 195||79||20||112||No|
|Evansville grad transfer. Finding life in a major conference much more difficult but still a low-TO guy and shooting is shooting. Early scuffles (31% from three) probably a mirage, must check.|
|F||21||AJ Turner||Jr.||6'7, 188||80||19||99||Maybe?|
|BC transfer. Decent numbers as a low-usage guy there two years ago; currently getting to the line a ton at 88% and missing all his threes.|
|F||4||Vic Law||Sr.||6'7 200||78||26||117||No|
|Stretch four with low-ish TO rate shooting 48/45 is most Beilein player on NW roster.|
|C||5||Dererk Pardon||So.||6'8, 250||77||22||125||Yes|
|I just learned that dude has an extraneous R in his name. WTF! Crushing it so far with top 20 OREB rate, 66% from floor with 22 usage early. Both are big steps forward.|
|C||22||Pete Nance||Fr.||6'10 210||33||18||93||Maybe|
|Erstwhile M recruit chose poorly. Miniscule rebounding numbers on both ends, shooting too early to tell. Beanpole.|
|C||25||Barret Benson||Jr.||6'10", 240||23||16||109||Yes|
|Just another backup C. JABC? JABC.|
|G||2||Ryan Greer||Fr.||6'2, 185||21||18||65||Yes|
|Composite #341 is closest thing to PG on roster. Miserable in all facets so far after reclassifying to 2018.|
|F||23||Miller Kopp||Fr.||6'7, 210||33||25||94||No|
|Composite #116 FR off to good start from three but miserable inside line, lot of TOs.|
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]
Positionless basketball is all the rage these days and it's not hard to see why. But it's not a great idea to do it on accident, and that appears to be the case in Evanston. Bryant McIntosh graduated, projected replacement Jordan Lathon had his admission mysteriously revoked by the school in May, and Absolutely Nobody stepped into the void.
The team that results from that abrupt about-face is a bunch of wings without a point guard. Everyone in the Northwestern starting lineup is between 6'4" and 6'8". They share the ball—nine different players have assist rates in double digits. But not very well—only two of those players have assist rates higher than their turnover rates.
Thus far things have been middling. Northwestern has a 22-point win over a Utah team that's just outside of the Kenpom top 100, a six-point win at home against #76 Georgia Tech, and some rote walkovers. They also have 19-point loss to #84 Fresno State. A two-point loss to Indiana at Assembly Hall is probably their best performance of the year, and it happened on Saturday.
The twin engines keeping this rickety boat afloat are Vic Law and Dererk Pardon. (Yes, "Dererk." Is it common knowledge that Pardon's got an extraneous R floating around his name? I am flabbergasted right now.)
Anyway: Law is a very Beilein player. He's 6'7" and an excellent three point shooter (39% on almost 400 career attempts) who's just as good at the line; he vacuums up defensive rebounds. His turnover rate is just meh. He's not just a shooter but he's a far worse player once he gets inside the arc. He was 45% from two last year and is at 48% this year despite an early-season schedule heavy on bad defenses. He's not much of an athlete, so he doesn't get to the rim much and when he does he's barely over 50%.
As a senior his usage has shot up; his efficiency has gone up as well as he's added a fair number of assists without bumping his TO rate; he's shooting more free throws and hitting 45% from deep. Michigan's going to test his ability to drive. It's probably not going go well for him, but he's hitting about half his Other Twos so he's got a good backup plan. Law has added a fair number of unassisted threes this year, so Michigan will have to be vigilant.
holy cow check out the tiny cheerleader [JD Scott]
Pardon is a crafty center who's been an efficient, if low-usage, scorer for the duration of his career in Evanston. He's upped his usage annually once he emerged as a starter and he's up to 22% this year; given the supporting cast that should probably be higher. Pardon's been a top 100 OREB gent the last two years and has a ridiculous 17% in the early going; he's a decent shot blocker and gets to the line a lot. Historically he does not convert very well once there but he's at 67% this year and has steadily risen over the course of his career.
Pardon's most recent outing was a comprehensive clobbering of Indiana in which he went 11 of 15 from two with a series of post-ups usually on Juwan Morgan. Teske's obviously a different beast than the 6'7" Morgan. Last year Pardon struggled against Michigan, going 6 of 14 from the floor with one assist against four TOs. This year it's going to be mostly Teske instead of mostly Wagner, and that'll be a stiff test.
Evansville grad transfer Ryan Taylor is the other functional offensive player. Taylor took an astounding 41% of Evansville's shots last year, which was tops nationally. Despite being a 6'6" guy in a low-major conference, Taylor was allergic to the rim (12% of his shots). He's an excellent shooter both off the bounce and in spot-up situations, but he is very much Just A Shooter even if he took an ungodly number of twos last year. Those were all jumpshots. His sub-20 FT rate is evidence enough of that.
The rest of Taylor's profile is prototypical JAS. Few assists, fewer TOs, nonexistent as a rebounder. He's having some early issues from three (31%) but he was at 38% and 42% the last two years and should rebound to about that level—shooting is shooting.
Possessions used by anyone else on the roster are boons. The only other guy on the roster with an ORTG over 100 is little used backup C Barrett Benson, and he was at 96 last year.
BC transfer AJ Turner is yet another 6'7" wing who might have a case that his early issues are just bad three point luck. He's 5 of 27 on the season; two years ago he hit 37%. But his TO rate is extremely bad and his free throws, which are propping him up, were heavily concentrated in games against three sub-200 Kenpom opponents. Close out and if he wants to drive it's fine, like everyone else.
Sophomore Anthony Gaines is the final starter and is an abominable offensive player. He shot 43/27 last year in about half of Northwestern's minutes. Things have not improved this year; in fact his TO rate has shot up to 28. Gaines has gotten to the line an absurd amount and would otherwise be in the 80s in ORTG. The good news, such as it is, is that he blocks a lot of shots for a 6'4" guy. So he's got that going for him.
Northwestern's bench is mostly freshman Miller Kopp, yet another 6'7" wing. He's started his career hot from three but is shooting 32% inside the arc. Too many turnovers, as per usual for freshmen. The rest of it is Benson, a Generic Backup C, and one-time Michigan recruit Pete Nance. Nance has a lot of potential but is currently listed at 6'10, 210 and has the rebounding stats to match. Too early to say much about his abilities other than he should be redshirting and he's perfectly willing to take threes.
Guards Ryan Greer and Jordan Ash get scattered minutes in which they turn the ball over a third of the time they use a possession and don't do anything else to make up for it.
Billy Donlon heads up the D after he defected from Michigan and at least early it looks like his teachings have taken hold. The first inklings that Michigan would prevent opponents from launching threes came during the post-Maverick section of Donlon's lone year in Ann Arbor, and that's carried over: the Wildcats are 52nd at preventing launches and in the top 100 at defending those.
They've maintained a good two-point D while doing this, and in this they're a lot like Michigan's defense. Other things not so much: NW is currently a high-pressure, high-risk D that gets a lot of turnovers but also gives up a lot of free throws.
The offense is the clunky thing it usually is. They're getting a lot of offensive boards (61st) and free throws(44th) and hitting those free throws. Anything from the floor is a major struggle. NW hovers around 200th in eFG and has a turnover rate of almost 20. They are vulnerable to steals, as a large team with no point guard should be.
Prep for zone. Northwestern played a bunch of 2-3 zone last year and had good success with it against Michigan, which put up 0.91 PPP in a loss and 0.98 PPP in a win. This year the Wildcats are shaped even more like a typical 2-3 zone team with a bunch of wings everywhere.
Michigan's early offensive struggles came against low major teams that threw a bunch of junk zones and forced bad threes up; Michigan did do some good work against Providence a couple weeks later. But Northwestern is on another level, defensively.
No help. The only Northwestern player who's able to do anything at the rim is Pardon, and if he goes off for 24 on 15 shots against Jon Teske I'll eat a lemon. The Villanova gameplan where there's absolutely no help for anyone should be effective.
Nobody is getting to the bucket on this team even against some not great defenses; Michigan should be able to stay in front and force a ton of tough contested jumpers. From two.
Sticky fingers. Michigan isn't a team that forces a ton of turnovers or gets a ton of steals but Zavier Simpson and, uh, Jon Teske should have some opportunities to pick some pockets against the series of high-TO, loose-handled wings Northwestern will throw at Michigan.
Michigan's transition offense (65% eFG) is deadly. Might be a good way to avoid Donlon's half-court D.
Get downhill on closeouts. NW will close out hard, giving Matthews and Iggy excellent driving opportunities. Pardon is a decent rim defender but not a game-changer.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 6.