Game 20: Michigan at Arkansas Preview

Basics
Who: No. 19 Michigan (15-4, 5-2 B10) at Arkansas (13-5, 2-2 SEC) arkansas-razorbacks-logo-800ae[1]
Where: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville, AR
When: 2 p.m. ET, Saturday, January 21st, 2012
TV: CBS / Free Stream
Radio: MGoBlue, WWJ 950AM, WTKA 1050, Sirius 85, XM 85

It’s back to the road for Michigan as the Wolverines open a six game stretch that will feature five games away from home. First up is a non-conference game sandwiched in the middle of Big Ten play as Michigan travels 900 miles to Fayetteville, Arkansas. Michigan will leave the trudging pace of the Big Ten back in the Midwest and face the nation’s third fastest major conference team, the Arkansas Razorbacks. Arkansas averages 72.5 possessions per game, 14th fastest in Division I, which is over nine possessions (15%) more than Michigan’s 63.3 (314th) possessions per game. The Wolverines have played just one game as fast as the Razorbacks’ season average and the Razorbacks’ slowest game of the season would be Michigan’s fourth fastest game of the season.

Under new head coach Mike Anderson, Arkansas is one of the youngest Division I basketball teams in the nation. The Razorback rotation, which features nine players averaging between 16 and 28 minutes per game, is made up of four freshmen, two sophomores, a junior and two seniors. Returning leading scorer and rebounder Marshawn Powell was lost to a season ending knee surgery after just two games. The Razorbacks have yet to win away from home this season, with five losses at road or neutral sites, but are undefeated on their home floor. Only the last two wins, against Mississippi State and LSU, have been over KenPom top 100 teams while the other 11 wins were against opponents with an average KenPom ranking of 238.

Arkansas might be young and play fast but the Razorbacks don’t lack discipline with the basketball. Arkansas turns the ball over on just 18 percent of its possessions, and an SEC best 16.3% of its possessions in league play. On the year, the Razorbacks have been pretty average shooting the ball while making just 47.7% of their twos and 34.7% of their threes for a 49% effective field goal percentage. The three point shooting has improved in conference play while the two point shooting has dipped, although I’d be remiss not to mention that one of Arkansas’ four league games was against Kentucky and Anthony Davis, who has blocked more shots than most Division I teams this season.

Where Arkansas has run into trouble this season is on the backboard where the Razorbacks are the worst rebounding team in the SEC on both ends of the floor. In SEC games, Arkansas is rebounding just 23.8% of its missed shots while allowing opponents to reel in 38.5% of their misses. Michigan isn’t equipped to dominate teams on the glass, and will likely be cautious crashing the offensive glass due to Arkansas’ transition game, but it will be important for the Wolverines to control the defensive glass and come up with a few timely second chances.

Mike Anderson was a long time assistant to former Arkansas head coach Nolan Richardson and has vowed to return Richardson’s “forty minutes of hell” philosophy to the Arkansas program. His defense backs it up. Arkansas forces turnovers on just under a quarter of their opponents’ possessions and has stolen the ball on a league best 13% of its opponents’ possessions in SEC play. Aggressive ball pressure defense and full court press is the name of the game and this is a challenge unlike anything that Michigan will see in the Big Ten. The aggressive style of defense has led to some foul issues and easy baskets in conference play. SEC teams have a free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 41.5% versus Arkansas and are making 54.3% of their two point shots.

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Arkansas freshman, and leading scorer, BJ Young

Given its aggressive style of play, it makes sense that Arkansas features a deep rotation. Freshman guard B.J. Young is the Razorbacks’ leading scorer, averaging 14.7 points per game in 23 minutes off the bench. Young is not only a very good three point shooter, 28-of-67 for 41.8%; he also makes 56.3% of his two point attempts. The only other double-digit scorer in the lineup is sophomore guard Mardracus Wade. Wade is the best pickpocket on the Arkansas roster and lethally efficient when he shoots the ball, making 37-of-75 threes (49.3%) on the season, but he uses fewer possessions than any of his less efficient teammates.

Rickey Scott, Julysses Nobles and Rashad Madden are three other not particularly efficient guards that play significant minutes. Scott is just 3-of-34 from three point range on the season, Madden isn’t much better at 27% from behind the line while Nobles makes just 38% of his twos and is more of a distributor.

6-foot-8 big men Devonta Abron and Michael Sanchez start down low. Abron is a great rebounder, especially on the offensive glass, but is making just 38% of his two point shots on the year. Sanchez isn’t much more efficient, making 40% of his twos and just 57% of his free throws. 6-foot-10 freshman Hunter Mickelson has the second best block rate in the country while 6-foot-9 Marvell Waithe is the one Arkansas big man that can step out and hit a three.

Michigan has generally fared well against aggressive and athletic teams like Arkansas. The recipe in those games has been clear, if the Wolverines avoid turnovers and can effectively run their offense then good looks at the basket have presented themselves. In the last couple of games against teams like Memphis, Tennessee or UCLA, the Wolverines have done a great job of executing against pressure although the Razorbacks appear to be a bit more disciplined in their approach. However, four of Michigan’s last six games have been 58 possessions or fewer so it will certainly be a dramatically different test than anything the Wolverines have faced lately.

Another worry for Michigan will be handling the raucous road atmosphere, pace and aggressive style of play with such a short bench. Expect Stu Douglass to get his second consecutive start as Michigan will want his ball handling and defense in the lineup. The storyline to watch is how Beilein tries to rest his players that generally play 36 or 37 minutes per game against a team that rarely allows its players over 30. Can Burke, by far Michigan’s best ball handler, manage to play 38 minutes against the Razorback full court press?

Pomeroy likes Michigan, but just barely, predicting a final score of 70-68, and giving the Wolverines at 55% chance at their first road victory. Arkansas hasn’t beaten a team as good as Michigan this season but they haven’t had a great chance at home. Fresh off of a blowout loss at Kentucky and with a full crowd expected, it’s safe to bet that Michigan will receive the Razorback’s best shot on Saturday afternoon.

This & That

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Arkansas is expecting its first sellout since March 1st, 2009, which was 52 home games ago versus Georgia, with just 900 tickets remaining as of yesterday morning. Bud Walton Arena has a capacity of 19,368 fans.

Penn State’s upset over Illinois last night puts Michigan alone in first place at 5-2. Ohio State, Illinois, Michigan State and Purdue are all tied for second, a half game behind at 4-2.

This solid X’s and O’s picture page style breakdown of Arkansas’ full court press from Rush the Court should serve as some requisite pre-game reading material.

Razorback quarterback Brandon Mitchell recently joined the basketball team but is not expected to play on Saturday.

You can watch Mike Anderson’s pre-game press conference here at ArkansasRazorbacks.com.

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