|WHAT||Michigan vs. Charlotte|
|WHERE||Coliseo Roberto Clemente, San Juan, Puerto Rico|
|WHEN||6:30 p.m.* Eastern, Sunday|
|LINE||Michigan –10 (KenPom)|
Right: THERE'S ECSTASY IN THEM THAR HILLS.
After pulling off a seven-point upset in the opening round against Kansas State, Charlotte earned their spot in today's title game with a nine-point triumph over Northeastern. It's worth noting that, according to KenPom, the 49ers are now ranked ahead of KSU; that may not have been as much of an upset as initially thought.
6'4" lead guard Pierria Henry averages 14.4 points and 5.4 assists per game; while he hasn't shot particularly well from the field this year (19/40 2-pt, 1/10 3-pt), he gets to the line at a remarkable rate, drawing 7.4 fouls per 40 minutes. With his size and ability to get to the basket, Henry provides a difficult test for Michigan's point guards; the last 6'4" point they faced, Iowa State's DeAndre Kane, had 13 points and six assists against the Wolverines. Michigan was able to harass Kane into five turnovers and Henry has coughed the ball up 19 times in five games, so Derrick Walton's quick hands could come into play here.
6'3" senior Ben Cherry, a grad-year transfer from Tulane, is the nominal starter at shooting guard—he's a career 43% three-point shooter who doesn't add much else offensively. His role has been mitigated significantly by the emergence of sophomore sixth man Shawn Lester, who leads the team with 16.6 points per game after being academically ineligible last season. Lester's been remarkably effective scorer at the basket, hitting 91% of his shots at the rim despite tallying zero offensive rebounds and getting assists on just 30% of those makes, per hoop-math.com; he's a serious threat off the dribble, and adds to that threat by shooting 46% on two-point jumpers and 37% on three-pointers this season.
6'4" junior Terrence Williams is the third guard in this three-guard lineup; he's been brutally bad from the field this year (12/44 2-pt, 3/9 3-pt) but, like Henry, has made his hay from the line; he's drawing north of six fouls/40 and is 24/32 from the line. Williams shot just 39% from two and 21% from three last season, so his shooting woes don't appear to be an anomaly. He does function as something of a second point guard for Charlotte with 17 assists already this season, though he's balanced those out with 17 turnovers.
6'9" sophomore forward Willie Clayton and 6'11 sophomore center Mike Thorne round out the starting lineup; both are excellent offensive rebounders who should give Michigan's bigs another stiff test on the boards. Both also finish very well around the basket; Clayton shoots 76% at the rim and Thorne is even better at 86%. While Thorne has a much better jumper (40% on two-point jumpers, where he takes over half his shots, vs. Clayton's 18%), Clayton gets to the line at a much higher rate, nearly on par with Henry, though his 56% mark on free throws is actually an improvement over a sub-50% freshman season. Thorne also provides a solid shot-blocking presence defensively with eight so far this year.
Aside from Lester, only two reserves get significant playing time for the 49ers. After missing the first three games with a foot injury, 6'0" guard Denzel Ingram is averaging 22 minutes in the Puerto Rico Tipoff, contributing eight points and 2.5 rebounds per game; he started 28 games as a freshman last season and struggled mightily from the field. 6'7" freshman forward Marcus Bryan is 7/17 from the field, all two-pointers, this year and hasn't added much to the box score otherwise.
Charlotte is now the #97 team on KenPom after tallying home victories over #218 East Tennessee State and #160 Elon along with their neutral-site win over #106 Kansas State and #139 Northeastern. They do have a bad loss on their resumé, a one-point road defeat at #218 College of Charleston.
Four factors, with obvious sample size caveats applying (national ranks in parentheses):
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||49.5 (168)||19.7 (243)||35.6 (89)||56.6 (35)|
|Defense||49.4 (175)||18.6 (161)||28.2 (86)||31.4 (47)|
Aside from their high tempo (75 possession/game, #17 nationally) and ability to get to the line, very little about this team stands out—for good or for bad—on either side of the ball. While it hasn't come back to bite them yet, they do allow a significant number of three-point attempts, which usually is the sign of a sub-par perimeter defense; if that's the case, there's an area that Michigan should be able to exploit in a big way.
BOX OUT. Keeping this the same from the FSU game, as Michigan players not named Mitch McGary still aren't doing a great job getting bodies on potential offensive rebounders. McGary can only block out one of the Clayton/Thorne duo; given that both are very good at attacking the offensive glass, he's going to need some help. This is mostly focused on Glenn Robinson III, though Michigan's wings have also fared poorly in this regard; Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton are having to do way too much work on the defensive glass to cover for their teammates not boxing out. If Michigan can stay about even in the rebounding battle, their shooting should win out over Charlotte's.
Stay calm, young Walton. Hey, kept this one, too. While Walton played a solid game overall against Florida State, shooting well from the outside and playing very good defense on the back end of the 1-3-1, he also forced the action at the rim and wasted possessions when he appeared to get caught up in Florida State's fast pace. Charlotte is looking to make this another high-tempo game; Walton calmed down as the FSU game went along, and hopefully he starts from that point tonight instead of needing a half or so to settle in.
Keep attacking the basket. If their statistical profile is at all telling, Charlotte is going to get their fair share of free throws; if Michigan wants to keep the foul count close, they need to attack the basket like they did during the second half and overtime against FSU. With the 49ers lacking a pair of seven-footers or a fleet of 6'7"-or-taller wings like the Seminoles, getting to the hoop with Stauskas/Robinson/LeVert seems like a good idea regardless.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 10
*NOTE: The early games in Puerto Rico went long, so the start of the game has been delayed. Tipoff will be shortly after the finish of FSU/Northeastern; best guess is sometime between 7:15 and 7:30 Eastern, barring overtime.