Who: Michigan (9-7, 3-2) vs. Connecticut (11-5, 2-3)
Michigan gets their second crack at a top 25 team inside the friendly confines of Crisler Arena. The first time around, Michigan pulled away from Ohio State for their best win of the year.
The style of basketball that these two teams play is dramatically different while the angst among the fan bases at this point in the season appears to be eerily similar. The UConn Blog’s Andrew Porter manages to sum up his feelings in one play:
Gavin Edwards grabbed the ball and threw an outlet pass to Dyson. Dyson raced up the court and promptly lost control. He tried a desperation pass to Walker, but since he was already cutting to the hoop, Walker was out of position. Walker dived after the ball and, in an attempt to keep it inbounds, threw it right into the waiting arms of a Pitt defender. Game over. That play was UConn’s entire season in 10 seconds — exciting, fast, athletic, fundamentally flawed and marred by a dumb turnover.
Porter compares Connecticut’s season to their 2007 season that saw the Huskies go from preseason #18 to 6-10 in the Big East and missing out on the post-season entirely.
Connecticut is big, strong, and athletic but not nearly as good as the team that Michigan faced last year in Storrs. In the front court, the Huskies rely on a trio of 6-foot-9 forwards: super athlete Stanley Robinson (17 points, 7 rebounds), freshman and former McDonald All-American Alex Oriakhi (6 points, 9 rebounds), and senior Gavin Edwards (11 points, 6 rebounds).
In the backcourt, Jerome Dyson (19 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists) and Kemba Walker (13 points, 6 assists) shoulder the load. Walker is an ultraquick setup man while Dyson is a bit taller at 6’4 and can rack up points in a hurry. It was Dyson who killed Michigan last year, scoring 19 points and hitting 3 out of 4 three pointers.
Similar to Michigan, Connecticut isn’t a particularly deep team. Their bench plays on 16.6% of the team’s minutes, the lowest number in the country. Ater Majok has actually started some games but the raw big man only plays about 10 minutes per game. Wing forward Jamal Coombs-McDaniel is the most likely player on Connecticut’s bench to make an impact.
Connecticut is extremely athletic and a very good defensive team but they don’t force many turnovers (17.9% opponent turnover rate). They play great eFG% defense, holding opponents to 42.2% eFG% and only 39% from two point range. Their field goal defense can obviously be attributed to being the best shotblocking team in the nation (20.9 Block%). Similar to last year’s team they also do a very good job keeping opponents off of the free throw line (Opp. FTA/FGA = 21.2%, 4th nationally).
The good news for Michigan is that Connecticut shouldn’t expose their newfound turnover problem. The bad news is that Michigan has been doing most of their scoring inside the arc – leaning on DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris. Sims has the tendency to clam up versus imposing defenders (8 points on 11 shots at UConn) and Harris’ wild driving into the lane will likely be neutralized by UConn’s length. It’s going to be absolutely critical for someone to get hot from outside…
Offensively, the Huskies are almost a polar-opposite of the Wolverines. They shoot only 19% of their shots from three point range (fewest in the country) and rely almost entirely on pounding the ball inside. There aren’t many glaring weaknesses on their offensive profile beyond their 66.8% free throw shooting. UConn does a good job of getting to the line (FTA/FGA = 44.6%) and crashing the offensive glass (36% OR%) while shooting 49.2% on their twos.
Michigan is in dire need of a signature win and Connecticut appears to fit the bill as a vulnerable top 25 team. That being said, it’s tough to find much to like about this match-up if you’re Michigan beyond the fact that you played well against them last year. Connecticut has a size advantage almost across the board and it will take a hell of an effort defensively and on the glass if Michigan wants to win this one.
Also: The game is a maize out and Michigan will be passing out 7000 “Rally Spinners”. Your guess is as good as mine as to what exactly a rally spinner is, hopefully they are maize colored. Wear maize, get there early, be loud.