Game 4: Michigan vs. Memphis Preview

Dylan Burkhardt
Who: No. 17 Michigan (3-0) vs. No. 10 Memphis (1-0) memphis_logo[1]
Where: Lahaina Civic Center, Maui, HI
When: 3:00 P.M. ET, November 21st, 2011
TV: ESPN2 / ESPN3 (Provider List)
Radio: MGoBlue /  WWJ (950 AM) / WTKA (1050 AM) / Sirius: 92 / XM: 19
Pre-Game: Notes & Quotes: John Beilein and Zack Novak / Five Pre-Tournament Thoughts
All 2011 Maui Invitational Coverage

Internet streams, Division II opponents, student announcers and sleepy 8:30 tip offs are in the past. The 2011-12 Michigan basketball season kicks into full gear this afternoon as Michigan faces off against Memphis to open the Maui Invitational.

Stylistically these two teams couldn’t be more different. Memphis is one of the more athletic teams that Michigan will face this season. The Tigers play a deep bench, want to run the floor and attack the basket but have the tendency to turn the ball over. Michigan is more apt to play a methodical game, limiting turnovers and firing up three pointers.

The bad news for Michigan fans is that the differences in early season performances between Memphis and Michigan are more dramatic than the differences in style of play. Michigan has looked relatively lifeless in all three of its early season tune-ups while Memphis played one game, a nearly perfect dismantling of one of the nation’s better mid-majors, Belmont. Memphis turned it over on just 11 percent of its possessions, made 61 percent of its twos, 50 percent of its threes and shot 34 free throws in that 97-81 win.

Memphis returns all but one player (back-up post player Will Coleman) from last year’s roster, which was the second youngest in Division I, and adds a McDonald’s All-American (Adonis Thomas) and a junior college big man (Stan Simpson) to the mix. Memphis has the talent and athletes to match-up with just about any team in the country but the bigger question is whether the Tigers can produce consistently.

Despite that talent and athleticism, Memphis had the worst offense in Conference USA last season. The Tigers turned the ball over on 23 percent of their possessions in conference games and were the C-USA’s worst three point (27%) and free throw (65%) shooters. Memphis did convert inside the arc (52%), where they attempted 70% of their shots, and was solid on the offensive glass. The Memphis defense was very good as well, a product of its size and athleticism. C-USA teams struggled to shoot against the Tigers both inside (46%) and outside (32%) and turned the ball over on 20% of their possessions. Memphis blocked 15% of its opponents’ field goal attempts but also paid for that over aggression by sending opponents to the free throw line far too often.


Breaking down the Memphis roster, everything begins with sophomore point guard Joe Jackson. The 6-foot-1 guard turned the ball over on 29 percent of his possessions a season ago, an extremely troubling number for a lead guard, and shot just 47% inside the arc and 31% outside. He spent the summer playing with Tim Hardaway Jr. on the USA U19 World Championship team and early returns are that he’s a much improved player. Jackson is joined in the backcourt by last year’s leading scorer, 6-foot-6 Will Barton. Barton attempted 38% of his field goals from three point range last season despite connecting at just a 27% clip from outside compared to 53% inside.

Wesley Witherspoon is one of the more dynamic players on the Memphis roster with the ability to score inside or out at 6-foot-9 and 210 pounds. He settled to play a more complementary role in the offense last year but exploded for 22 points on 8 of 8 (3-3 3pt) shooting in the season opener against Belmont. Freshman wing Adonis Thomas was a McDonald’s All-American and provides a strong and athletic wing option off the bench for the Tigers.

Tarik Black and Stan Simpson handle the five position by committee. Black, at 6-foot-8 252 pounds, is a workhorse that excels on the offensive glass but struggles at the free throw line (59%). Simpson is a JUCO transfer that used to play at Illinois. Charles Carmouche is one of the few veterans on the team and the 6-foot-3 senior is one of Memphis’s better three point shooters, along with Antonio Barton.

The last 80-minutes of basketball that Memphis has played have been significantly more impressive than their 2010-11 body of work. The Tigers took Arizona the distance in the NCAA tournament before falling by two last March and crushed a very good Belmont team last week. Memphis has shown signs that a year of experience has wiped away many of its flaws from a season ago. Michigan will have to exploit some of those former bad habits if it wants to advance on the island. The keys for Michigan:

  • Defend Perimeter Shots: Memphis is almost impossible to beat if it is hitting perimeter shots at a consistent clip. Michigan can’t give up easy looks early to build the Tigers confidence or this game will slip out of control quickly.
  • Force Turnovers: Michigan has forced a lot of turnovers in early season play but most of those feel like they were generated by opponent ineptitude rather than swarming defense. The biggest factors here will be the 1-3-1 zone and drawing charges. Novak changed the Tennessee game with his ability to draw charges and that will be something to watch early.
  • Control Tempo & Value the Ball: Memphis wants to run, Michigan doesn’t. John Beilein might emphasize that Michigan can play at a faster pace but the Wolverines don’t have the horses to get into a track race on Monday. This will be a huge test for Trey Burke to make the right decisions in his fourth college game. Running is fine but running into mistakes (turnovers, bad shots, etc.) is a scary proposition against a team like Memphis that can make you pay.

How important is this game? Any game versus a top 10 opponent is a great opportunity. A win over Memphis means that Michigan is almost playing with house money for the rest of its time in Maui – a quality neutral court win in hand with a likely chance to play Duke. Lose and you face an almost must win situation against Tennessee in the losers bracket and a significantly weaker strength of schedule. But it’s also important to remember that Michigan’s 2011-12 fate won’t be determined in 72 hours of basketball played halfway across the world in a 2,400 seat gym. However, there’s no denying that results on the island have a way of sticking with a team, just ask 2010 participants Connecticut and Michigan State.

Ken Pomeroy says Memphis by three, Vegas likes Memphis by six. For better or worse, we’ll know a lot more about this team by the end of the afternoon. This feels like a game that will be won or lost in the first 10 minutes of play. Memphis will want to firebomb Michigan out of the gate (see Purdue/Alabama yesterday) and the onus will fall on Michigan to weather that storm and keep things in check.

Let’s hear your thoughts and predictions in the comments.

  • MGoTweeter

    I agree with your conclusion on defending perimeter shots, that Michigan cannot let Memphis get their confidence by making easy looks.  However, I have a hard time seeing how Michigan prevents Memphis from getting a bunch of wide open threes without sacrificing a lot of help defense.   If Michigan plays man, which I expect them to do at least to start the game, then they are going to have to over help especially with guys like Novak and Smotrycz having to guard explosive wing players.  So it is either going to come down to UM drawing a charge and thereby preventing a kick out for the three or Memphis gets an open three.  

    It will be interesting to see how well the 1-3-1 works if UM has to use it.  I could see it going either way.  Forcing Memphis to make a lot of bad turnovers or it gets shredded by a quicker, longer team.  Perhaps we might see some 2-3 thrown into the mix today?

    I also agree that this game is all about the first five-ten minutes.  UM has to come out and play well early or at least match the level that Memphis is at (good or bad).  Early morning game, in a new gym, I could see both teams really struggle to find a groove for the first half.  

  • John

    I truly have no idea with this game. I think if we can slow them down then we can win, but thats always easier said than done.

  • eddieben

    This preview reads a lot like the Tennessee preview did last year minus the crazy coaching debacle that hung over the game for UT.  That said, I’m a lot more nervous about this matchup.  I think the squad will be able to slow down Memphis, but not sure it will be enough. Hope I’m wrong.  

    • Yup, or UTEP early in the season which didn’t go quite as planned. Really interested to seeing how this team responds — especially Trey — to getting punched in the fact for the first time this season.

  • Kenny

    Dylan, insightful preview as always. 

    Although I think that we have < 50% chance of winning, Beilein's team usually does better as an underdog. 

  • Taddie

    Gotta say, I don’t like our chances. I certainly am not in the Chicken Little camp yet with this team, but we just haven’t figured ourselves out yet. Beilein teams typically struggle in preseason tourneys, and I don’t think we change that trend. A lot of season left after this week though to grow as a team and get to where we want to be, here’s hoping I’m wrong.

  • Fab54ever

    I think its a good matchup for us if we shoot 35% 3’s and don’t turn over I like our chances. 10 am start out there may help us. Good luck boys.

  • Johey

    I think we end up losing by 20 unfortunately.

  • Yossarian927

    We don’t really know what we have with this Michigan team yet. Like Belein has been saying–this will be a measuring stick for the team. Let’s see what we’ve got and what we need to improve on by the time we get to March.

    Its hard to not get overly amped about this game, but the fact remains–this is going to be a learning experience for Michigan, especially for Burke. Maybe they can go steal one from Memphis, but if not there is no reason to panic.

    That said, Michigan by 5.

  • Cj8493

    This team will be fine, its tough to get up for Western Illinois and Towson, relax, Beilein will have em ready, theyll slow Memphis down into a Big Ten style of game. Michigan 66 Memphis 61..

  • rlcBlue

    I don’t see us getting blown out, but I’m not too optimistic about a win. We’ve got a puncher’s chance, sure, but the offense doesn’t look like it has gelled enough yet.

    If we do win, there will be at least one very unlikely hero – Vogrich or Christian or somebody…

  • On the jersey tweaks, from @Freepwolverines:twitter 
    UM BB wearing special adidas shoes and “shooting shirts” while in Maui… special logo on shirts of Ku, Hawaiian god of war