NCAA First Round: Michigan vs. Clemson Preview

Dylan Burkhardt

si-coverWhere’s Manny?

: Michigan (20-13) vs. Clemson (23-8)
Where: Sprint Center, Kansas City, MO
When: Thursday, March 19th, 7:10 PM
Spread: Clemson by 5
Preview: Stat Sheet, U-M KenPom Profile, Clemson KenPom Profile
: MGoBlue

Throw out all the celebrations, it’s time to play ball. This is the big stage and there is really no telling how Michigan will react. I could see them playing their best or worst game of the year or anything in between — that’s part of the beauty of this tournament.

While I’m sure there are a couple believers, most people firmly expect Clemson to win this game, not just President Obama. As Brian points out they have good reason to side with Clemson because statistically they appear to be the better team.

I’ve already looked at Clemson a little bit here and here including a look at Clemson’s press, the head coaches, Clemson’s tendency to collapse down the stretch, and personnel. So what does that leave for the preview? Let’s start with the strengths and weaknesses.

I am a firm believer that this game is going to come down to turnovers. Michigan doesn’t turn the ball over and Clemson forces turnovers as well as anyone in the country, who’s going to break? Beyond the turnovers here is a look at some other factors:

Clemson’s Strengths

  • Offensive Rebounding. Clemson rebounds 38.8% of their misses (22nd) while Michigan only rebounds 67% of their opponents’ misses (188th). Clemson doesn’t have imposing size (their effective height is also below the college average) but they have a good core of athletes led by Trevor Booker.
  • Shooting. Clemson s a very good shooting team and their 2 point, 3 point, and effective shooting percentages all fall in the top 55 nationally. They don’t attempt a particularly high number of three pointers but they have two very capable shooters in Terrence Oglesby and KC Rivers.
  • Turnovers, blocks, and steals. As previously mentioned, Clemson excels at forcing turnovers. They rank in the top 16 nationally in turnover, steals, and block percentages. Michigan has played three schools that force more turnovers than Clemson (Savannah State (9th), Northwestern (12th), and UCLA (15th)) with about a 50% success rate. Savannah State and Northwestern (round 2) were nightmares while UCLA and Northwestern (round 1) were solid performances.

Clemson’s Weaknesses

  • Defensive Rebounding. Clemson rebounds only 63.5% of their opponents’ misses (302nd). Michigan isn’t a good enough offensive rebounding team to really punish them in my estimation. I also think that when a team blocks (and attempts to block) so many shots they are more likely to give up offensive rebounds.
  • Getting to the line. Clemson doesn’t get to the line much at all, just a little more than Michigan. Both teams do a good job of keeping opponents off of the line and neither team can get there. Will there even be a free throw attempt?
  • Three point defense. Clemson has a solid 2-point defense but they allow their opponents to shoot 35.8% from behind the arc, well above the national average. This is worse than every Big Ten team besides Indiana.


  • Pace. I pointed out that Clemson tends to play at a faster pace and Michigan tends to play at a slower pace. However Michigan plays better at a faster pace while Clemson plays better at a slower pace. Judging by Ken Pomeroy’s correlation data (which I believe I am reading correctly), Michigan’s offensive efficiency increases and their defensive efficiency decreases the faster the pace of the game. Clemson’s data shows the exactly opposite effect.
  • Coaches. Beilein has overachieved just about every time he is in the tournament (4-1 in the first round, 6-4 overall) and Purnell is the exact opposite (0-5 all time). Will the trend hold or is regression toward the mean likely?
  • The Collapse. I also talked about this early in the week but Clemson looks to be in the midst of their patented mid-season collapse. Will they be able to break the curse with a tourney win this year?
  • Conferences. The Big Ten has been getting destroyed for the last two weeks or so in the media. The last time Michigan played an out of conference game they hung with a #1 seed that they matched up terribly with on their floor. The most surprising aspect of the UConn game was that at times Michigan looked more physical than UConn. I will be keeping a keen eye on the officiating. I think Michigan fares better in a tightly called game but maybe they are more prepared than we think for a more physical game because of the physical nature of the Big Ten?
  • Rest. This was originally pointed out in the comments (sorry I don’t remember by who) and brought up again in an MGoBlue diary along with some fancy tables and graphs. The bottom line: Michigan plays much better with rest and this should be a good sign for the first round but not so much the second.
The ChartI arrived in Kansas City tonight so I’ll be at Sprint Center all day tomorrow. Seeing Michigan run on the court in Kansas City will be a treat in itself, especially in a year I only dreamed about making the tournament. It’s win or go home but I am proud of this team regardless. As a fan all I can hope to see is that all-out nothing to lose attitude that we saw against UCLA, Duke, and Purdue. Pomeroy and Vegas both like Clemson by 5 but it’s hard to go against John Beilein in the NCAA tournament.

Hopefully there is a good crowd of Michigan fans at the game but after seeing the turn out in Indianapolis I’m not expecting much. I’ll be posting comments throughout the day so stay tuned. Let’s hear your thoughts, predictions and Kelvin Grady talk in the comments.

Go Blue.

Pre-Game Reading:

  • Mith

    I wasn’t screaming for Grady. I still don’t know why you love him. I didn’t see much out of him tonight aside from a really sweet airball.

    I think he’s just as likely as anyone else to make some turnovers down the stretch.

  • RB

    Agreed. Grady should have been playing the last 10 minutes of that game. Regardless, that was fun to watch. We’ve been cheated that last 11 years.

    Watching OU right now. Looks like it’s going to be a really tough match up. I think we’re going to have to see a lot of 2-3. I think they’ll eat up the 1-3-1. Can’t wait to see what Beilein comes up with.

  • All I know is that if we can walk into UConn and handle Thabeet like we did, we can handle Blake Griffin. If we manage to shut Griffin down, who is the next go to guy for Oklahoma?

  • jmblue

    Unsung hero tonight – Gibson. He seemed to be around every loose ball. He gave us a great 10 minutes.

  • Illinois choking. Losing by 12 with 7:19 in the half.

  • gpsimms


  • Bluebufoon

    Congrats to Zach Gibson he played tough defensively today. I was very impressed. Feel bad for labeling him a panzy earlier this year.

  • Hey guys, post-game is coming. GREAT game, was really fun. Illinois is looking to ruin a perfect day on my bracket.

  • Glad you had fun Dylan. Do the post game tomorow! Now isn’t the time for work, it’s time for Beer! Beer! and More Beer!

  • gpsimms

    ok, now, my reservations:
    1) peedi didn’t show up today. every time he gets blocked early in the game, he disappears.

    2) when we are up 15 with 5 minutes to go, all we have to do to win is get the ball past half court. even if his defense blows…compared to merritt’s being totally overwhelmed by the athletic clemson press in the second half, i just don’t see the downside of giving grady minutes in that situation

    but how can i complain when we’re in the top 32 in the national tournament one year after kenpom put us outside of the top 100 teams?

    in fact, ignore my complaining

  • gpsimms

    oh yeah, how amazing was gibby? he came in and kept a few KEY possessions alive with the volleyball rebounds! he was actually better on both ends than deshawn today (minus deshawn’s big 3)

  • I keep thinking about how great this team will be next year. A buch coming back and some new studs coming in. It’s going to be a good year next year too!

  • PeteM

    We’re in Kansas City — looking to change flights. Does anyone know what time the Oklahoma game is likely to be Saturday?

  • 5:50 Pete.

  • They have TBD for Michigan. However, the games with determined times are 3:20, 3:35, 5:40 and 5:45. So it’s either 1:xx or 7:xx… I’ll repost as soon as I find it.

  • Or 5:50. Thanks Dylan! Sorry Pete.

  • Dan26

    Here is the link to the official game times from CBS – as Dylan said Michigan is at 5:50. The featured game at that time will be UNC-LSU so have the computer ready if you’re not in the MI area.

  • I *think* it is 5:50 at least. Michigan and OU are the late games so I would think they would be the late game. The game times in Kansas City are 2:20 and 30minutes after the first game (about 5:50). I’m not sure that it is official yet though.

  • Holy crud. Some dude from Morgan State just did a judo flip on Griffin. Griffin has hanging on his back and he pulled him over and “put” him on the floor… He was then ejected of course.

  • Giddings

    Dylan, it’s official that the Memphis/Maryland game is at 3:20 ET, so that means that we are indeed at 5:50. I’m heading down for the game… for those who were there tonight, will it be easy to scalp tickets?

  • Flowers delivers hundreds of thousands of arrangements. Wonderful post!