Game 7: Michigan at Virginia Preview

Dylan Burkhardt
Who: No. 14 Michigan (5-1) at Virginia (5-1) VirginiaLogo3[1]
Where: John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA
When: 7:02 P.M. ET, November 29th, 2011
TV: ESPN2 / ESPN3 (Provider List)
Radio: MGoBlue /  WWJ (950 AM) / WWWW (102.9 FM) / Sirius: 134 / XM: 190
Preview Content: John Beilein Notes, Quotes & Video, Pick to Click
Maui Invitational: What We Learned

The beaches, sun and cozy atmosphere of the Lahaina Civic Center are a thing of the past but Michigan is back on the road, this time making a trip to Charlottesville, VA to face the Virginia Cavaliers. It’s not Cameron Indoor or the Breslin Center but it’s still Michigan’s first road game of the season in an ACC arena that holds over 14,000 fans. The Wolverines have faced an array of tests with varying degrees of difficulty this season but the trip to Virginia poses two challenges unique to Michigan’s young season: a true road game and a match-up with a slow paced defensive minded team suitable for the Big Ten.

To date, Virginia is the best defensive team that Michigan has faced this season. The Cavaliers first six games might not have been murderers’ row but they have yet to surrender more than .9 points per possession in any game this season. Teams have struggled to score the ball against Virginia because they haven’t been able to make shots – inside or out. Opponents have made just 38% of their twos and 24% of their threes for a dreadful 37% effective field goal percentage (5th best nationally). With all of those missed shots, Virginia’s defensive rebounding might be most impressive as the Tony Bennett’s squad grabs 75% of its opponents’ missed shots. The UVA defense has also forced opponents to turn the ball over on a quarter of their possessions while managing to do an adequate job of preventing free throws.

John Beilein compared Virginia to Wisconsin in his pregame roundtable and he’s about two thirds of the way correct. Wisconsin is the only major conference school that plays at a tempo slower than Virginia and both teams have defended their early season foes as well as anyone. The difference between Bo Ryan and Tony Bennett’s squads is that Wisconsin can score the ball with breathless efficiency. Virginia isn’t quite on that level.

The Cavaliers have ranked near the bottom of the ACC in per possession offensive output throughout Tony Bennett’s tenure and haven’t gotten off to a much better start this season. With a 51 percent effective field goal percentage, Virginia has been just average shooting the ball making a decent 52% of its twos and mediocre 33% of its threes. The causes of concern on the offensive side of the ball have been turnovers and offensive rebounds. The Cavaliers have been Jeckyl and Hyde in the turnover department and simply haven’t attacked the offensive glass all season. The greatest strength of the UVA offense has been getting to the free throw line. The Cavaliers not only get to the line often with a free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 56% but they convert their freebies at an efficient 79% clip.

Green Bay Virginia Basketball

Virginia’s most important player is fifth year senior Mike Scott. Scott suffered a season ending ankle injury last season and spent a bit too much time eating donuts before former Michigan strength coach Mike Curtis got him back into shape. Now he’s in shape, and producing to the tune of 15 points and 10 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-8, 237 pound, power forward is joined up front by 7-foot senior Assane Sene. Sene is an efficient finisher around the basket and a solid shot blocker but only plays around 20 minutes per game. When Sene is not on the floor, sophomore big man Akil Mitchell will serve as his replacement.

Virginia’s No. 2 and No. 3 scorers, Joe Harris and KT Harrell, are sophomore wings that both made 42% of their twos and 42% of their threes a season ago. The duo appears to have lost its three point shooting stroke this season with significant regression by both players. Harris is still the primary shooter, attempting over half his shots from three point range a year ago, while Harrell is more of a slasher. 5-foot-11 guard Jontel Evans starts at point guard but averages more turnovers (2.7) than assists (2.5) per game. Top 100 freshman guard Malcolm Brogdon and fifth year senior shooter Sammy Zeglinski are the primary depth options in Bennett’s backcourt.

This game presents an interesting match-up. Both teams should be more than willing to play the game at a slow pace – similar to the 54 or 55 possession games Michigan has played versus Wisconsin in recent years. Beyond tempo, this game pits relative strengths against weaknesses. The Michigan offense looked better than the defense in Maui while Virginia’s defense appears to be far ahead of its offense. Can Michigan’s offense continue to convert so effectively around the basket against Virginia’s physical defense? Does Virginia’s offense knock down easy looks against a defense that has been up and down? More importantly, how does Virginia’s tendency to get to the free throw line affect Michigan’s foul prone big men?

On an individual level it will be interesting to see how Michigan tries to counter Mike Scott. Evan Smotrycz has played physically this fall but is in for another level of competition and needs to stay out of foul trouble while generating a mismatch offensively on the perimeter. John Beilein will certainly go small for stretches with Novak at the four, a scenario which will create drastic defensive mismatches for both teams. Does Novak make Scott pay on the defensive end, forcing Bennett to counter with a small lineup, or does Scott have his way with Michigan in the paint?

Pomeroy gives Virginia a 62% chance of defending home court, projecting a 56-54 final in a 57 possession slugfest. It’s important that Michigan doesn’t underestimate a Virginia team that might not have the name cachet of other ACC foes. The ACC looks wide open after Duke and North Carolina and Virginia looks very much the part of a middle of the ACC bubble team, meaning a win tonight be a nice bullet point on Michigan’s resume this March.

  • Nick

    Michigan 47
    UVA 41

    Jerry Tarkanian eats a towel in disgust

  • gpsimms

    been waiting for this game ever since I moved to charlottesville.  of course, kenpom is predicting the ugliest game in the century.

    it seems like UVA’s sagging man defense (decent writeup about it in mgoblog diaries) will make it tough for us to make so many twos.  back cuts and things like that will probably be pretty clogged.  i’ll say what i said about duke: we need to hit our good looks from 3.  the big difference is that UVA is not going to put up tons of points, so if we miss shots, we still have a chance to win ugly.

    • Kenny

      they should have UVA paired with Wisconsin to give a chance of breaking the low scoring record with 35 sec shooting clock.

      • Mattski

        Harvard and FSU already did it in the first half of their game last week–15-15 at halftime!

  • section13row15

    Why is a top 15 team an underdog in this game? Just because it’s a road game?

    • cheechmo

      Because where you’re voted in a poll has no impact on what actually happens on the court, silly.

    • Because Virginia isn’t half bad, albeit not too tested, plus the game is on the road. I think this would be awful close to a pick-em, maybe U-M a 1-2pt favorite on a neutral court. 

  • SJWolv

    Tech question here.

    I am in Europe on business but want to watch the game via espn3.  Since my IP address is from Austria, ESPN won’t let me watch anything.  I tried playing the replay of Tenn/Oakland to no avail.  Is there a way to get around this?  Or is someone streaming the game?

    • Slago1205

      Try  I’m not sure if it will work over there but it is worth a shot.

    • If you US provider is on the provider list, you might be able to enter your login credentials and view the game. For example, I use comcast, I can login into espn3 with my comcast info and get the info, even if I am at a hotel in Alabama. But, if you are out of country, maybe ESPN won’t even let you try. GL.

    • MarcO

      Ip hider

  • mikey_mac

    UM really seems to shine in “system-versus-athletes” games, and UVA is decidedly not a collection of athletes, a la UT, Memphis, UCLA. Western Illinois is the best example from this season, I think, of a team like UVA with a strong defense-first scheme. Add in the first-true-road-game jitters, and this will very much be a test.

    • Agree on the Western Illinois comparison. That team was surprisingly disciplined defensively against U-M. I think Michigan has to hit some threes to stretch Virginia out.

      • Guest

        Agreed. A few buckets early, maybe some quick transition points or threes, can put a team like this in a world of trouble. They need to be in the game at all times, and a quick little run to start could prove too much for a team like UVA 

  • Fresh

    I dont get why we are making such a big deal about their defense.  Obviously the numbers they are putting up are great but look at who they are playing, i mean cmon now…..the best team they played they lost too and that was TCU…really?  im guessing not one of those teams is ranked in the top 150.  As long as michigan stays composed and burke isnt rattled then michigan wins by at least 10 and if their shots are falling 15ish   Virginia hasnt come close to playing a team like michigan.  Michigan is good, this game doesnt concern me in the least. 

    • Denarded

      I understand why you may seem so confident, but doesnt that, in itself, cause you to concern rooting for a team of underclassmen against a system team built on seniors.  Andy Katz picks Virginia to finish 3rd or 4th in the ACC and they have an all-ACC player in Mike Scott (in a conference with plenty of athletes deserving of this accolade).  I think Michigan will need to stay disciplined and Trey will have to overcome his undoubtely pregame jitters in his first true road test in a packed arena in Charlottesville.

    • BMorant


  • AG

    For those of you that are into that sort of thing, Michigan has been hit with the curse of “reverse line movement” as a large majority of pickers are on Michigan but the line is moving in Virginia’s favor.

  • That was a travel on the easy layup. I counted 4 and 1/2 steps.