Game 9: Utah at Michigan Preview

Dylan Burkhardt
Who: Utah (6-2) at Michigan (6-2) utah-drum-lg[1]
Where: Crisler Arena, Ann Arbor, MI
When: Friday, December 10th, 6:30 PM
Radio: MGoBlue / WOMC 104.3 FM

Last year’s game at Utah could very well have been the low point of last season. Michigan suffered a 16 point road loss against a seemingly mediocre team which knocked their record to 4-4, a hole they never seemed to be able to pull themselves out of. Michigan looked discombobulated and inept, playing without Zack Novak, and they barely put up a fight as Marshall Henderson carved them up for 22 points.

Utah returns just one starter, 77 minutes, and 15 points of production from last year’s contest while Michigan returns one starter (Morris), 86 minutes (17 of which belonged to Eso Akunne), and 16 points. Michigan is not only in an entirely different situation than they were a year ago, these are almost entirely different teams.

Will Clyburn, Jason Washburn, and Josh Watkins

Will Clyburn has carried the Ute offense thus far, the 6-foot-7 junior averages 20 points and 9 rebounds per game while shooting 51% inside and 38% outside the arc. Utah has plenty of size inside as 7-footer Jason Washburn and 7-foot-3 David Foster anchor the middle. 6-foot guard Josh Watkins provides the bulk of the remaining Utah scoring, averaging 16 points and 4 assists per game and doing most of his damage inside the arc and at the charity stripe. 6-foot-8 Jay Watkins and 6-foot-7 Shawn Glover aren’t offensive stalwarts but they don’t turn the ball over and are able rebounders.

Michigan will undoubtedly have their hands full trying to deal with Utah’s size up front. With three starters over 6-foot-7 (6-7, 6-8, and 7-0) and more size off the bench, Utah ranks first in effective height and 10th in average height. Despite their size, Utah is not without their weaknesses. They are a terrible three point shooting team, connecting on just 26% of their three point attempts this season. Perhaps more surprising is the fact that they struggle on the offensive glass and have 12% of their shots blocked.

Utah’s offense thrives when they can get to the free throw line as the Utes boast the 7th best free throw rate (FTA/FGA) in the nation at 54%. Keeping Utah off of the free throw line will undoubtedly be tantamount to Michigan’s success defensively as the Utes score an NCAA best 30% of their points at the stripe. The Wolverines have thrived in this regard under John Beilein and rank 10th in the nation in terms of keeping opponents off the line.

Defensively, Utah does a solid job limiting opponents’ shooting percentages and they block a fair amount of shots but that’s about it. They are relatively average when it comes to forcing turnovers and hitting the defensive glass. Their Achilles heel is their penchant to foul too often, six players average more than 4 fouls per 40 minutes, and allow opponents to shoot lots of free throws.

Pomeroy predicts Michigan taking this one by a score of 66-59 with a 78 percent chance at victory. I might not be quite so confident but on paper I think this is a game Michigan can win. They will have to hit some shots, and I worry about their ability to finish inside, but all in all a winnable game. I’ll go Michigan 67, Utah 64 (there’s no way my score prediction is as close as last week). Let’s hear your thoughts and predictions:

Three predictions:

  • Will Clyburn plays a great game, similar to Syracuse’s Kris Joseph, because Michigan doesn’t have an answer to guard these tall and athletic slashing forwards.
  • Michigan manages to keep Utah off the free throw line, holding them to a free throw rate under 33%.
  • Jordan Morgan shoots under 50% from the field for just the second time this season as he struggles with Utah’s size inside.

Bonus! We should have a number of recruiting posts this weekend as well. Stay tuned.

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  • MaizeNBlueJ

    It sounds like it’s definitely going to be a stiff first test for our front line. I look forward to seeing how Jordan, Evan, and the other bigs handle Utah’s size. I certainly agree that it looks like a game that we can win, but I think Jordan Morgan is going to be the key. Staying out of foul trouble is a must for him in this game, because I don’t have confidence that McLimans or Horford can keep those big guys off the boards.

    I definitely wouldn’t look for Beilein to go small much tonight, just because it could lead to lots of offensive rebounds and trips to the free throw line for Utah. I’m going to say Michigan 65 Utah 60.

  • Bigfoot

    This one may be tough. I think we probably will barf away the Utah or Oakland game. Hopefully not.

  • eddie

    Wondering how Horford’s knee is, whether Beilein will use him if it’s healthy with a possible RS looming, and whether Horford will be effective even if knee is healthy and he plays. It’s going to be all-hands-on-deck for our bigs tonite.

    I also wonder if Christian will be able give a meaningful minutes against such a big frontline.

    This game could be a good barometer for the B10 season in that we’ll be facing really big bigs with our very young frontline.

    I’m worried but optimistic. UM 72 UTAH 66

  • Jo Mo has his work cut out; hope we’re hitting from outside. Late free throws pump up our point total: UM 70, Utah 62. :)

  • Tweeter

    Sounds like Utah’s offense plays to a lot of UM’s strengths on D. They do not shoot it well from the perimeter, so we shouldnt have to go out and chase on the outside. They do not offense rebound well, so our backup bigs who will have to play a role tonight with all their size but have struggled on the boards, should not have as much trouble tonight. The UM defense usually does better when they can pack it in, play a lot of help and force jump shots.

    I see the team coming out with a ton of energy, getting an early lead and keeping it for most of the game except a short stretch in the second half when we go on our usual dry spurt. I will say UM 70 Utah 65.

  • gordie bell

    I would like to see Belien go small with one of the Utes 7 footers on the floor. Make the big fella come out and guard Smot at the 3 point line, creating all sorts drive and dish scenarios. Concordia forced Belien’s hand maybe we can force Utah’s hand.
    Mid range game could be big tonight as well, one way to neutralize a tall relatively immobile big fella is not take the ball to the glass but pull up in space for the J in the 10-15 foot range.
    This is an interesting match-up. If my boy Mclimans is going to continue to chuck up 3s, this would be a good day to finally make one. Come on Blake!!! You can do it!!!

  • MikeSal

    I agree with Tweeter…our bigs need to step up tonight. From what I’ve read, everybody raves about Utah’s size but I think our guards/forwards should be able to hold up. Morgan has preformed poorly in the post the past two games but his work with BA should help clear that up. This game should have the atmosphere similar to a B10 game. I’m excited to see how our guys come out today. If we can shut down Clyburn then we have a decent shot at winning. With such a young team it’s hard to tell which players will excel tonight (ie Smots, THJ). I love the way Darius has been playing. He’s grown so much from last season. If he keeps playing this way he will be one of the best PGs in the B10. Prediction UM 69 Utah 61

  • No way this gets streamed, huh?

  • JimC

    I can’t make a prediction or it will hose the outcome. But I like the preview, that is a winner.

  • Section13Row15

    The key tonight is not forcing up bad shots when they’re not there. Hardaway specifically needs to be more selective with that baseline 3. Don’t be afraid to use the shot fake and dribble drive or pull up for a jumper. D-Mo will find J-Mo down low for some easy buckets regardless of their size, we just need to play high intesity defense for 40 minutes! Can’t make it tonight but hopefully everyone is cheering loudly!

  • jds

    Gotta feeling this could be a big game for CC

    • CJD



    I anxious to see how Evan performs he has the most potential. Jordan should be steady as long as he rebounds and Tim need to have a good game to show his growth b4 the B10 starts up!

  • Umichmadness

    I really want to be excited for this year as a fan and I hope there is a postseason this year..but similar to football, they’ll get some wins early (and maybe some big ones in suprising fashion), but I just feel like the experts predictions will eventually come true. The conference just looks too rough and I think I will be pretty hard for this young team to start grasping everything Beilein wants them to do while also surviving the best conference in college basketball. ( I really hope all of this isn’t true)

    • Umichmadness

      Oh, and I think if Hardaway and Smot get it going again, Michigan can pull out the win…60-56

  • Roverback

    I think we absolutely need to connect on our threes for this game.

  • AG2

    Last year, Utah wasn’t very good at shooting or rebounding and they still handled us effortlessly, with their shortest player scoring the most points. The only thing we have going for us this year rather than last year is that Novak is healthy and we’re executing better. Those are the two biggest factors in whether Michigan wins this game.

    Michigan 58
    Utah 54.

  • Fab54ever

    Michigan is favored by 8. But I would take the points in this one Michigan 69-64.

    • CJD

      I think Michigan is one of those teams that is still trying to figure out how to win; in that vain I do not think there is anyway they cover the 8. I hope I am wrong….

  • Evan

    This was definetly the most frustrating games of the year for us. There smallest guy could not even miss a shot and we played terrible

  • ZRL

    Last year’s game has no effect on the outcome tonight. Our transition defense was TERRIBLE in that game (and all of nonconference) and they scored so many points because we refused to get back. Additionally, this was the point of the year where Peedi was playing terrible and shot something like 2-12. Even so, the score was kind of misleading. A Manny and 1 cut it to 1 with like 8 to play, but then he missed the free throw, Utah got a layup the other way, and the wheels came apart.

    I think we win comfortably 73-61. Novak hits 4 threes.

  • TheYooper

    Anybody else going to the game tonight? Pumped for my first trip to Crisler since the Duke game two years ago.

    • Dylan Burkhardt

      Hopefully you bring more good luck.

      • TheYooper

        I’m gonna have to start going to games more often it seems.

  • Sam

    Instead of predicting the score before every game, I like to play a different game: predict our leading scorer. It’s a lot harder than you would think; I believe I have only been right about three times so far, but I did predict Stu to lead the team in scoring this season. I’m gonna stick with the hot hand and go Stu to lead the team in scoring again tonight.

  • KRN

    I agree with Dylan about Clyburn. Michigan always seems to struggle against forwards who score the ball well yet aren’t dominant in terms of size advantage. Clyburn against Michigan looks like a career game waiting to happen. Still, I think we will outshoot them from three and rebound most of their misses despite the size disadvantage.
    To me this looks like a high scoring game for once with most of Michigan’s players improving on their shooting numbers. I think that Hardaway and Novak will rebound nicely on the offensive side while Morgan and Smotrycz will struggle due to Utah’s frontcourt altering shots in the paint. Douglass and Vogrich will both shoot it well as Michigan proceeds to make 15 threes.
    No team will have a lead greater than six throughout the game until the very end where late fouling extends Michigans lead to 9. I’ll go Michigan 84 Utah 75.