|Who: Michigan (8-2) vs. Oakland (6-5)|
|Where: Crisler Arena, Ann Arbor, MI|
|When: Saturday, December 18th, 12:00 ET|
|Radio: MGoBlue / WTKA 1050 AM|
|Opposition Blog: Grizzlies Gameplan / Preview Q&A|
|Tickets: Starting at $5|
Don’t let their Summit League affiliation or 6-5 record fool you, Oakland is the best team that Michigan has hosted at Crisler Arena this season. The Golden Grizzlies not only tout an NBA-caliber post player in Keith Benson, they will travel to Crisler Arena with their confidence soaring after knocking off #7 Tennessee in Knoxville. Greg Kampe has established at quality program in the shadows of the Palace of Auburn Hills and it just seems to keep improving.
The Oakland attack starts in the middle with Keith “Kito” Benson and there isn’t much that Benson can’t do. The 6-foot-11 senior is efficient offensively, shooting 52% on twos and making frequent trips to the free throw line where he converts 71% of his freebies. He’s also a dominant rebounder on both backboards and blocks 10% of opponents’ two point field goal attempts. Benson dominated Michigan two seasons ago and, given his improvement since then, I wouldn’t bet against him posting monster numbers in Crisler Arena this Saturday. The trouble for teams that focus on Benson is that his frontcourt mate, 6-foot-9 Will Hudson, is an extremely productive player in his own right. Hudson averages 14 points and 7 rebounds per game while shooting a remarkable 65% on twos and getting to the line almost as often as Benson.
Larry Wright, Keith Benson, and Reggie Hamilton (OU Athletics)
Their front court isn’t just good at the mid-major level, it’s good at any level. However, the Grizzlies aren’t quite as strong in the backcourt. 5-foot-11 UMKC transfer Reggie Hamilton and 6-foot-2 Saginaw native Larry Wright are the constants in the Oakland backcourt. Hamilton hands out four assists per game but makes his living shooting the basketball — 56% on twos and 39% on threes. Wright started the season 3 of 21 (14%) from three point range but has connected on 7 of 9 three pointers in the Grizzlies last two games versus Michigan State and Tennessee. Both guards have the propensity to turn the ball over a little too often but can be very effective when they are hitting shots.
The fifth spot in the Grizzly lineup has been a bit of a revolving door this season. After expected started Blake Cushingberry went down to injury in preseason, three different players have started in that spot. Those players are Drew Valentine (5pts, 4rebs), Ledrick Eckles (6-foot1 slashing defender), and Travis Bader (37% 3pt). 6-foot-7 junior Drew Maynard has also been thrown into the mix after a recent return from suspension. The final player that will play off the bench is 7-footer Ilija Milutinovic who provides depth in the post but isn’t nearly as talented as Benson or Hudson.
At the macro level, Oakland’s offense is much more proficient than their defense. On the backs of their terrific post play, the Golden Grizzlies shoot 53% on two point attempts and dominate the offensive glass where they grab 41% of their misses. Make twos and rebound the misses – it’s a relatively simple but extremely efficient game plan. If Oakland has truly found their three point stroke, 16 of 27 (60%) over the last two games, then they become significantly more challenging to stop. If they are missing threes, the task is a little bit more reasonable. Defensively, they aren’t quite as strong as one might expect with that size in the middle. The Grizzly defense is relatively pedestrian as they do a great job defending twos and blocking shots but don’t force many turnovers and allow opponents to shoot 37% from three.
Keith Benson (OU Grizzlies)
The key for Michigan is figuring out a way to slow down Oakland’s offense. Michigan’s defensive rebounding has been very good this season but Oakland’s front line provides a much stronger test than Michigan has faced thus far (except perhaps Syracuse). Of course defensive rebounding is moot if Michigan can’t figure out a way to prevent Keith Benson and company from making their shots the first time around. Stopping Benson is a task in itself. I suspect that Michigan will open up in straight man but eventually be forced to attempt to double him. While the Wolverines haven’t ran much of their 1-3-1 this year, they have experimented with several other zones including the 2-3 – don’t be surprised to see more zone than we have at any point this season as Michigan tries to throw different looks at Oakland.
Fouls will also play a crucial role in this game. It’s not only important for Jordan Morgan to stay out of foul trouble, it’s important to get Keith Benson into foul trouble of his own. Any fouls that Michigan can force Benson into will be crucial because Benson can’t score when he’s sitting on the bench. Oakland averages 24 FTAs per game while Michigan has only allowed more than 15 FTA in one game. With two players that earn a huge chunk of their offense at the free throw line (Benson & Hudson), it will be important for Michigan to avoid giving up freebies.
The final stat to watch is tempo. Oakland wants to run and then run some more, averaging 71 possessions per game. On the other hand, Michigan has been significantly more methodical this year as only two high major schools play at a slower tempo than the Wolverines’ 64 possessions per game: South Florida and Wisconsin. Michigan will want to slow this game down and force Oakland to play at their pace.
It’s tough to call this game anything but a toss up. You can give the advantage to Michigan, due to home court advantage, but this one will go down to the wire. Pomeroy projects Michigan to win, 70-65, and gives the Wolverines a 70% chance at victory. I’m going to cop out and avoid any game prediction but here are three more specific predictions:
- Keith Benson gets his but Will Hudson is the guy that Michigan can’t seem to stop.
- The winner of the Larry Wright/Darius Morris match-up wins the game.
- Michigan runs the 1-3-1 or 2-3 zones for at least 10 possessions.