|WHAT|| #28 Michigan (16-5, 5-3) vs
#116 Rutgers (12-9, 2-5)
Ann Arbor, MI
|WHEN||noon EST, Sunday|
|LINE|| Michigan –11 (KenPom)
Michigan -13 (Vegas)
Right: Look at ye, all nearly respectable-looking, I ‘ardly recognized ye. [Patrick Barron/MGoBlog]
This is the fourth and final basketball game the Big Ten decided to pack into eight days in the middle of January. Kindly enough, they made the final boss a relatively straightforward tank-and-spank on Sunday at noon, giving the Wolverines a welcomingly refreshing whole Saturday to wake up in their own beds and practice whatever the plan is to beat the screen-switching malfunction Nebraska exposed.
An off night in Lincoln after a mentally exhausting week is forgivable if it’s a one-time occurrence. On the other hand, Michigan’s only had about 20 minutes of good basketball in the 80 they’ve played since beating State by 10 in the Stand Behind Lou Anna Simon Center. Nick Ward’s ankles breaking dot gif can only be replayed so many times.*
Rutgers fortunately represents another step down in competition. However this year’s Knights are more like the decent WAC teams we’d like Beilein to schedule than the bottom-of-the-SWAC drags they’ve been historically. This Rutgers team also thrives on the kind of sloppiness that defined those awful halves. Also we have a running podcast joke about taking away your conference membership if you lose to the 14th who will always be the 14th member of it. It’d be nice to see that cleaned up early and some starters get their rest.
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||3||Corey Sanders||Jr.||6'2, 176||81||26||96||Yes|
|Distributor/ballhandler who’ll drive the lane but can’t shoot.|
|G||0||Geo Baker||Fr.||64, 180||80||20||105||Sort of|
|Pesky defender and main scoring threat who can also distribute—the biggest reason Rutgers has moved up to meh from utter crap.|
|F||35||Issa Thiam||So.||6'10, 190||70||11||118||Not at all|
|If Duncan Robinson was two inches taller (and was still hitting 44% from three)|
|F||33||Deshawn Freeman||Sr.||6'7, 227||65||27||93||Very|
|Physical defensive specialist with Ben Wallace-level hair game, Ben Wallace-like offensive game.|
|C||11||Eugene Omoruyi||So.||6'7, 234||52||23||97||Extremely|
|First among heavy rotation at C. Crashes the boards, gets a lot of blocks, gets to the line and makes half of them.|
|C||21||Mamadou Doucoure||Fr.||6'9, 243||35||16||91||Extremely|
|A guy. Can’t shoot.|
|C||2||Shaquille Doorson||Jr.||7’0, 275||22||12||108||Extremely|
|True C averaged 20 mpg vs OSU-MSU-Purdue, DNP vs Iowa-Wis. Will see him against Teske or not at all|
|C||1||Candido Sa||Sr.||6'9, 235||27||12||85||Yes|
|5/20 career on 3PA (1/1 this year), 40% from two. Very good shot blocker.|
|G||44||Souf Mensah||Jr.||6’2, 220||15||11||39||Yes|
|JC transfer who looks like he’s 40. Only non-C on bench with Mike Williams out, may be a marginal improvement over playing with just 4 guys.|
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]
Baker has changed things…some.
Hey look everybody, Rutgers isn’t the worst team in the Big Ten anymore! They’re up to 113th on Kenpom, beat Seton Hall (at home), took MSU to overtime in the SBLAS Center and clubbed Iowa.
But let’s not get too excited—they’re projected to finish 6-12 in the conference and tied with Northwestern. They’re no longer “WHY ARE YOU WASTING A VARSITY SPORT ON A CLUB TEAM?” bad, but still “a down year for Penn State” bad. That’s good for third-worst in the conference this year because the conference is at maximum Big TENNNN!, but finding five guys who can play basketball and are willing to be publicly associated with Rutgers is still a problem.
That problem has been exacerbated lately with the injury to only plausible reserve guard-like object Mike Williams, last seen on crutches with a heavily wrapped leg.
As in years past the offense mostly runs through point guard Corey Sanders, who over his career has put together an extensive highlight reel from putting the ball on the floor then getting something loopy to fall. At this point he’s got a more than respectable assist/turnover ratio because he can turn most bad idea opportunities into a shot attempt. Between those highlights he’s only moderately efficient.
Before Williams was hurt his minutes had already been heavily usurped by freshman Geo Baker, who has shown some excellent vision for a young off-guard and given the Rutgers offense some semblance of variety from the Sanders show. Baker is also an annoyance on defense—the highlights against Iowa feature a long stretch of Baker poking things away then doing something cool in transition. He’s shown enough ability to get his own shot that he’s become a real second late option to “Sanders do something,” but almost half of those will be two-point jumpers.
The one threat from Threelandia is 6’10 anthropomorphic stick Issa Thiam, who’s taking over half of his shot attempts from beyond the arc and canning them at a 44% clip. Like Duncan Robinson, Thiam doesn’t add much to his height when he rises to shoot, and given what else is on the floor opponents have done a good job of limiting his opportunities. When he puts the ball on the floor it’s an invitation to a turnover, and with opponents playing him high that happens with some frequency.
One reason you can commit perimeter defense to Issa is combo forward Deshawn Freeman—instantly recognizable for his long and lovely dreads—can’t hurt you out there. Freeman is active on defense and mostly contributes to the offense by backing guys down. Occasionally he tries to be more of a wing, which has a 50% chance of ending comically.
Eugene Omoruyi gets the most minutes and will probably draw near starter time to deal with Wagner. Omoruyi is small but bangin’, especially on offense where he’s not afraid to crash the boards and draw fouls. He also picks up a fair amount of those on his own—be on the lookout for him to try to get the crap Mo whistle effect going early.
The bench right now is four guys, three of whom are centers, and they all have names from Star Wars. Mamadou Doucoure is the freshman with the strong recruiting profile (160th overall, #15 center on the 247 composite) slowly picking up minutes, but he’s an offensive liability and as likely to pick up a foul as his man. Shaquille Doorson is a very large dude who saw a lot of time against big teams but probably won’t figure much against Michigan unless Teske is out there a lot. Candido Sa is a decent shot blocker who will occasionally pop out and take a three (not successfully). G Souf Mensah is a JUCO piece they’ve been forced to play since Williams was the entirety of their non-big bench—if not for the frequent turnovers he’d be a strong candidate to bagel the box score.
Finally, Grisinc Binarjump is a Sith trainee from the Hoth System who appears in one episode of the Clone Wars but be honest you were ready to believe he’s a Rutgers player.
What they are good at is knowing what they are good at, and that is going to the basket. A lot of Rutgers’s half-court offense is probing for a lane or trying to bully somebody’s four. As a result they’re #1 in the country in percent of points coming from two-point land (60%). They’re also good at collecting OREBs despite the size of the starting five.
What they are not good at is what happens after that—they’re 330th in 2-point %, 339th in free throw %, and 341st in eFG%. Anything that involves shooting usually won’t go well.
To Kenpom they’re virtually identical to last year’s Rutgers except they’ve stopped turning the ball over:
They’re a good defensive team because they play a lot of big and talls. They’re a terrible offensive team because they can’t get the big and talls off the court.
It all makes for the only truly atrocious offense in the conference this year. Kenpom has them 251st in Adj Off, with a team eFG% of just 40.6. The one saving grace is they don’t turn the ball over—in fact after the last two games Rutgers slinked past Michigan in that regard.
On defense they don’t have the athletes to constantly switch on ball screens like Nebraska, but they share the Huskers’ swat-a-lot approach. The big fellas extend that to shots. They don’t really run opponents off the three-point line but they can affect those shots, resulting in the 14th best effective eFG% against in the country.
They’re a mixed bag when it comes to pace—Rutgers would like to get out in transition but when they can’t they’ll get stuck until it’s time for Sanders to make something crazy happen. Or they’ll put the ball into the post and end up taking a bad two.
AN ANSWER FOR SWITCHES. By now every Michigan opponent has downloaded Nebraska’s switching defense against Michigan’s screen game. Last year when opponents tried that against the Wolverines, Derrick Walton just cut to the basket and made the switcher look silly in the process. Rutgers may not have the personnel to pull off that trick as effectively but they’ll certainly give it a go, so hopefully Beilein’s already found an answer that works with this year’s personnel.
THREE LUCK GOES BACK TO THE MEAN. The relative hole in the Rutgers defense is they don’t defend the arc as well (49th in 3P% against, 106th at preventing them). Michigan has a big gap in depth at the 2-4 spots to exploit the hell out of that, but only if Beilein’s parade of shooters are making those shots. Meanwhile Michigan has dropped to 248th to Kenpom in 3p% against despite remaining one of the best in the country at running opponents off the line, because contested jacks from typically bad shooters are falling at an alarming rate. Hopefully a good night’s sleep in a comfy South Quad dorm bed sets that back aright.
ENOUGH WITH THE SUCKY FIRST HALVES. Michigan hasn’t led at the half since they played Iowa on January 2. Rutgers can’t keep up with Michigan on an average shooting night, but they can screw with your shot, get you in foul trouble, and make everything feel ugly and grumbly, and there’s been far too much of that lately thankyouverymuch.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 11.