What to Expect: Michigan

  • 01/31/2012 11:06 am in

In lieu of our usual “What to Expect” feature, we’ve switched things up today and have enlisted the expertise of Dylan Burkhardt for analysis of Wednesday’s opponent: Michigan. Burkhardt, who is a good friend of the site, is the founder and editor of UMHoops, a must-read for fans of Wolverine hoops. You can read our conversation with the UMHoops founder below:

The first game between these two teams came down to a few final possessions at the end and could have gone either way. Neither Trey Burke or Tim Hardaway Jr. shot the ball particularly well in that game, which I thought was a huge key for the Hoosiers grinding out the win. How have both guys been playing in the weeks since the first meeting and what does Michigan need out of each guy on Wednesday night?

Trey Burke’s role in the Michigan offense grows every game. He’s playing the point guard position as well as you could ask for from any freshman. He hits big shots, controls the game, finds his teammates and gets after it defensively. He hasn’t been immune to poor shooting games but his 4-for-15 performance at Indiana was one of his worst. Michigan needs Burke to play within the offense and make plays on the screen-and-roll. Depending on how Indiana defends him that could mean distributing the ball to Jordan Morgan down low, kicking to shooters on the wings or getting to the basket by himself and finishing at the cup.

Tim Hardaway Jr. continues to be an enigma this season. He’s shooting 22% on threes in Big Ten play but has the second most 3-point attempts in the Big Ten. This is the same player that almost single-handedly shot Michigan into the NCAA Tournament last season by connecting on 44% of his threes in conference games. He’s still scoring the ball and has improved attacking the basket, but he continues to shoot a lot of threes and not very effectively. It’s all about confidence for Hardaway, if he hits a couple early shots or picks up a few easy baskets then he’s more than capable of getting hot and changing the game with his scoring ability.

Speaking more specifically to Burke, he’s been neck and neck with Cody Zeller in the race for freshman of the year in the Big Ten and has been the Wolverines’ best player for most of the season. How surprised have you been at how well he’s played and is this team better now with Burke than they were a season ago with Darius Morris (now with the Los Angeles Lakers)?

I knew Trey Burke could play before he arrived in Ann Arbor but I didn’t expect this sort of production this fast. Last week when reporters asked Burke when he knew he could play well at the high major level he admitted it wasn’t until his first game in Ann Arbor. John Beilein’s offense is intricate and Burke is the most important player on the floor. I would estimate over half of Michigan’s possessions include some sort of pick-and-roll action with Burke so he has the be the priority defensively for any opponent.

Is Michigan better with him? This team is certainly different but both players have their weaknesses. Morris was blessed with great size and vision and his superior passing ability could be a reason that several Wolverines shot the ball better a season ago. That’s not to say Burke can’t pass the ball, but he has struggled a bit with his inability to pass over hard hedging big men. Jordan Morgan has regressed a bit and Michigan’s shooters aren’t shooting the ball nearly as effectively as a a season ago. Perhaps those things are attributed somewhat to the point guard. What Burke can do that Morris couldn’t is keep defenses honest with the 3-point shot. Burke is connecting on 34% of his long range attempts this season and that’s an element that Morris never had in his repertoire.

I’d settle on Michigan being a better team but it’s not just Burke. It’s also a general progression of the program as four starters from last year’s team are back. This team continues to grow and Burke has proven himself to be wise beyond his years.

I’m sure we’ll hear mentions on Wednesday night of it being potentially the last time Zack Novak and Stu Douglass will play against Indiana. Given that both guys are from the Hoosier state, does this game mean any more to them or is that just a storyline that is convenient to talk about and perhaps exaggerated?

It might have been important to them as freshmen or maybe during the games back in Indiana, where they have more family and friends in attendance. However, neither player has the personality to let something like that affect them at this point in their careers. Both players are focused on Indiana because it’s the next game on the schedule and they want to finish the season strong. Despite their no frills attitude, we did post a video interview with Douglass and Novak from earlier this season in Bloomington in which they discussed what it’s like playing at Assembly Hall.

Evan Smotrycz is a player that started off much improved from a season ago, but has fallen off a bit over recent weeks. What’s been the cause of his struggles and what kind of factor do you see him being in this game given how well Christian Watford played in the first meeting?

Smotrycz’s 3-point production has fallen off of a cliff. He made over half of his threes in the month of December but is hitting at under 25% from 3-point range in Big Ten games. His offensive game is predicated on the 3-point shot and at this point there’s not much more that Michigan can do other than hope he starts hitting his long-range attempts. Given his struggles, Michigan has moved to a small ball lineup. Senior guard Stu Douglass replaced Smotrycz in the starting lineup which shifts Zack Novak back to the four position where he’s spent most of his career despite his 6-foot-4 stature. Novak defending Watford is an advantage that Tom Crean will certainly try to take advantage of.

Smotrycz is playing roughly half of his minutes at the five position, which leaves Michigan with an even smaller lineup. He’s effective in stretching defenses with the pick-and-pop but that weapon is rendered mostly useless if he can’t regain his shooting confidence.

Michigan hasn’t been particularly good at guarding the three in the Big Ten and that’s been Indiana’s strength for much of the season. Do Indiana’s chances to win in Crisler lie mostly in their ability to knock down shots from the perimeter? How big of an impact do you see Zeller making in this contest?

Michigan’s struggles to defend the 3-point shot and their chances of stopping Cody Zeller are more correlated than you might first believe. The Wolverines 3-point defense has struggled at times because they have focused so much on limiting interior scoring despite lacking any game changing post defenders. The numbers illustrate this point as Michigan is the fourth best 2-point defense in the Big Ten despite blocking fewer shots than any other team in the league. The Wolverines double the post from an array of different angles but if opponents react and adjust correctly, there are open 3-point attempts to be had.

It’s a pick your poison decision but in the first match-up Michigan didn’t stop Indiana’s shooters or Zeller. The Hoosiers made 7-of-11 threes while Zeller scored 18 points on 10 field goal attempts. There’s plenty of room for improvement in both departments for the Michigan defense in this one.

Pomeroy likes the Hoosiers to win, which is surprising given the fact that they’ve only won one road game in the league. How do you see this game playing out?

Pomeroy’s computers have never been particularly fond of Michigan this year, something that can be somewhat attributed to lackluster performances against some of the weaker teams on Michigan’s schedule. However, Michigan is undefeated at home and already has knocked off six RPI top-50 teams this season. The Wolverines are capable of playing good basketball and defending home court against a team of Indiana’s caliber. The first 66 possession game in Bloomington was the fastest game that Michigan has played in the Big Ten this season and the Wolverine defense suffered as a result. Expect Michigan to do a much better job of slowing the game down in Ann Arbor and preventing Indiana from picking up as many easy baskets in transition or on the secondary break. I think that’s enough to tilt the scales in Michigan’s favor. But expect the end result to come down to two or three critical possessions in the final minute or two.

Filed to:

  • marcusgresham

    Given their lack of post players, what about the seldom-used 3-2 zone?

  • ufo33

    Beware the Tweety Bird Canary suits.
    I need sun glasses to watch UM home unis.

  • CreamandCrimson

    Interesting idea but in my opinion, you don’t want to zone a team with Novak, Douglass, Smotrycz, Burke and Hardaway Jr.  Especially when our zone can get caught out of position at times. 

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see it for a couple of possessions here and there, which is fine with me, but I wouldn’t expect to see it for large chunks of the game.  

  • NervousWreck

    Novak may have guarded Hulls in the first game, but that was because Smotrycz started.  They said they’ve been playing a smaller line-up because he has struggled in Big Ten play, and that puts Novak back at the 4 (as it says in the article above).  

    Agree that at Crisler is a Big Advantage for Michigan – which could make
    the difference in this game.  However, I still feel like the big
    advantage is with IU having Watford and Zeller.  I went to the first
    game and sat next to a Michigan fan.  He admitted that Michigan has no
    one who can guard Watford.  And Zeller is a big who can run with Morgan.  I feel like Zeller/Morgan are both bigs who can run, but Zeller is a bit more polished.

    If IU can get they’re bigs going, that will open up the perimeter where most of us agree IU is inferior to Michigan.  Plus I feel like IU has the guys to at least slow down Burke, Hardaway, and Douglass.

    Like I said, I’m usually not this confident (as you can see from my name), but I have a good feeling about this game and the Purdue game.

  • NervousWreck

    Novak may have guarded Hulls in the first game, but that was because Smotrycz started.  They said they’ve been playing a smaller line-up because he has struggled in Big Ten play, and that puts Novak back at the 4 (as it says in the article above).  

    Agree that at Crisler is a Big Advantage for Michigan – which could make
    the difference in this game.  However, I still feel like the big
    advantage is with IU having Watford and Zeller.  I went to the first
    game and sat next to a Michigan fan.  He admitted that Michigan has no
    one who can guard Watford.  And Zeller is a big who can run with Morgan.  I feel like Zeller/Morgan are both bigs who can run, but Zeller is a bit more polished.

    If IU can get they’re bigs going, that will open up the perimeter where most of us agree IU is inferior to Michigan.  Plus I feel like IU has the guys to at least slow down Burke, Hardaway, and Douglass.

    Like I said, I’m usually not this confident (as you can see from my name), but I have a good feeling about this game and the Purdue game.

  • marcusgresham

    The thing with our zone is that Jordan Hulls should be told “at no time do you come below the free throw line (and man-to-man, as well for that matter, unless the guy he’s guarding goes down low.)  I don’t know how many times I’ve seen a guy shooting a wide open three because he got sucked down into the lane.

  • BCharles9295

    This should be a fun game to watch, which is good because I’ll be there.  Last year we nearly came back for an upset, hope the Hoosiers seal the deal today. 

    A W in Crisler would be a great road win especially since UM is 12-0 at home.  Plus if IU is to stay in the top half of the conference I’m afraid this win is a must.  Keeping my fingers crossed TV Ted is not officiating. 

    OT: either before or after will nip into Arbor Brewing Company for a delicious IPA.  That establishment is about all that makes Ann Arbor tolerable (j/k) 😛

  • CreamandCrimson

    A very good point.  I think that’s a large reason why zone tends not work for us.  A simple drive and kick or quick ball reversal is going to get Hulls (or most of our perimeter players to be honest) out of position and give up open looks.  Against Michigan in Chrysler, I don’t think we can afford to do that. 

    Hulls backs off of his man in man-to-man defense because of his lack of quickness.  If he gets in tight on a guy, he will get beat off the dribble.  He knows it, we know it, the opponent knows it.  Hulls is a lot of things, a dumb basketball player isn’t one of them.  He might feel the need to sag into the lane in the zone because of this as well.  I actually think the zone has been at it’s best when Hulls is playing on the baseline of the zone.  This hasn’t happened much and it wouldn’t be a long-term solution but he has been able to get a few steals and draw a few charges while on the baseline of the zone.  Plus it minimizes the number of times he gets burnt by the drive.  Bottom line, there is no good place to hide Jordy on defense.  When he is shooting well and in-tune on offense, he is worth having in.  When he is not, he is a liability.  I think Yogi is a game changer but that doesn’t help us now.  

  • CreamandCrimson

    One thing I forgot to mention in my earlier post but I think it will be interesting to watch.  IU has rebounded the ball better as of late (with the exception of the last five minutes against Wisconsin).  It was one of our biggest concerns at the beginning of the Big Ten season but it has really improved.  I will be interested to see if we can exploit Michigan on the glass and beat them in second chance points.  With Novak at the four, we will have a size advantage and it should manifest itself with points in the paint and rebounds (I say should, doesn’t mean it will).  

  • jahhoosier

    1) Despite the win, the first Michigan game was when I began to think, “Whups, this team’s got problems.” That lasted through halftime of the second Penn St. game. Since then, in my opinion, IU has righted the ship. In fact, individually, everyone is playing as well as they have all season on the offensive end.

    2) Will Sheehey did not play in the first game. His presence is a HUGE boost against Belein’s 1-3-1. He’s exactly the kind of player a basketball doctor would order against U-M’s defense. Jones’ new-found confidence is also a huge boost.

    3) Indiana tends to play well at Chrisler, including in recent years when IU was clearly out-classed.

    4) Of the “tough” road games going into conference play, I liked the match-ups in two of them: Michigan and Purdue. If the Hoosiers play to near their capabilities, this could be an important and rewarding week for the team.

  • MillaRed

    I hear ya, a win at Purdue is always glorious. The Michigan game is first. So I suppose we gotta see what happens tonight before I judge PU.

  • IUfanToby

    Maybe “let down” is the wrong term…..I was just trying to say that I hope they don’t fall back on the mentality that “our offense can carry us.”  

  • Eastwood88_20

    Playing at Crisler – Big Advantage Michigan because Big Ten officials.  Teddy “TV” in this game and we have no chance.  Hard to win any road games cause of home cooking.  I was at the minnesota game and we were up in arms when calls are not slighted in our favor.  Not because our team came out without any desire. 

  • Eastwood88_20

    Playing at Crisler – Big Advantage Michigan because Big Ten officials.  Teddy “TV” in this game and we have no chance.  Hard to win any road games cause of home cooking.  I was at the minnesota game and we were up in arms when calls are not slighted in our favor.  Not because our team came out without any desire. 

  • Eastwood88_20

    IU is now a 4.5 point underdog

  • Physical slugfest is what I expect.

  • Andrew

    Ha.  They wore those in the Hall last month.  They’ll be too scared to go back to ’em tonite.

  • jpniles

    We should so play a 1-3-1 defense with Zeller at the top… that would be awesome. Ok… maybe not. 

    I like our options when playing Michigan IF our guards show up on defense… once again, B1G if (did you see what I did there? HAHA! Sorry… back to business). We need Watford to show up. Not holding out for Pritch to have a game like he did against Iowa. We need Watford and Zeller to connect with each other like they have in the games that we have won. 

    Other key is to get Sheehey going. We didn’t have him the last time we played Michigan??? Right? Solid defender. Pure energy. Can knock down shots to keep the defense honest. This is a huge momentum game after the shellacking we put on Iowa. Need to keep things going. 

    Go Hoosiers!!!