|Who:No. 4 Michigan (26-7, 12-6 B1G) vs. No. 13 South Dakota State (25-9, 13-3 Summit)|
|Where: Palace of Auburn Hills (Auburn Hills, MI)|
|When: 7:15 p.m., Thursday, March 21st, 2013|
|Radio: MGoBlue, 950 AM, 102.9 FM|
|More: 2013 NCAA Tournament Coverage|
It’s hard to avoid the comparisons between South Dakota State and Ohio University. Just over a year ago the 13th seeded Bobcats shocked the Wolverines, sending them home before they had even gotten settled in to Nashville. Now the 13th seeded Jackrabbits hope to replicate the Bobcats magic.
The seeding is the same and both teams rely on a great point guard but South Dakota State isn’t Ohio University. While the comparisons are inevitable, the Jackrabbits are a very different squad than the Bobcat team that beat Michigan a season ago.
Ohio University featured a great defense with a subpar offense while South Dakota State is blessed with a great offense and an underachieving defense. The Wolverines are unmistakably an offense-first team they have historically fared much better against teams that want to outshoot them than teams that want to shut down their offense.
The names on the jerseys change every year but March Madness is defined by upsets and players like Nate Wolters becoming stars. Michigan will have to learn from its past mistakes and prove that it can defend if it plans to hang around in this year’s NCAA tournament.
This is a very good South Dakota State offensive unit. The Jackrabbits rank 39th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric, when compared to Big Ten teams that would slot them 6th; better than teams like Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa. South Dakota State has three point shooting ability across the board and shot 39% on threes for the year, 10th best in Division I. In many ways, the Jackrabbits offensive (and defensive) profile emphasizes everything that John Beilein’s ideal teams emphasize. SDSU spreads the floor, shoots the ball well, doesn’t turn it over and loves the three point shot but doesn’t crash the glass or get to the free throw line very often.
Defense has been a struggle for the Jackrabbits. With a national rank of 209th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency, this is the worst defense that Michigan has faced since December. That will be a welcome sight to a Michigan offense that has lost its way against the well scouted and drilled defenses of the Big Ten. South Dakota State doesn’t force many turnovers or block many shots and its opponents shoot the ball very well: 49.6% on twos (250th) and 35.5% on threes (253rd) for a 50.9% eFG% (261st). The Jackrabbits are a good defensive rebounding team, grabbing 74% of their opponents’ misses (11th nationally), and don’t foul often. The defensive rebounding is impressive but the shooting numbers are ugly, Michigan should be able to find open shots consistently against South Dakota State.
We’ve already scouted South Dakota State in-depth on an individual level but the roster breaks down into fairly straightforward group. Nate Wolters, two wing shooters and three fairly versatile big men. The Jackrabbits don’t play a long rotation if they can avoid it and prefer to lean on that group of six as much as possible.
Wolters is the uber-efficient guard that creates for both himself and his teammates. South Dakota State wants to spread the floor and let Wolters go to work off of either a high ball screen or a simple isolation. One underrated aspect of Wolters’s game is that he’s able to push the tempo and probe for opportunities yet be judicious of when to pull the ball out and reset the offense.
Brayden Carlson and Chad White are the primary wing shooters and obvious beneficiaries of Wolters’s abilities. White, a 6-foot-6 senior, shoots 44% on triples and is an impressive 45% for his career. Carlson is also a career 40% three point shooter but is only hitting at a 36% clip this season. Both players attempt more threes than twos but Carlson appears slightly more versatile and comfortable in transition.
Jordan Dykstra, Tony Fiegen and Marcus Heemstra combine to play almost all of the minutes at the four and five positions. Dykstra is South Dakota State’s second leading scorer and most versatile big man. He’s very comfortable shooting threes (43%) but also playing with his back to the basket. The face up four man is also South Dakota State’s best defensive rebounder. Fiegen mans the five position and loves the 16-foot pick-and-pop jump shot but is an underwhelming rebounder.
- Push tempo after South Dakota State misses: South Dakota State shoots a lot of jump shots, doesn’t crash the glass and has a suspect transition defense. Michigan’s defense has been suspect in recent weeks but this is a golden opportunity to revive the Wolverines transition offense and generate easy baskets. Of course Michigan’s ability to push the tempo will also depend on its ability to get stops and clean defensive rebounds.
- Four Position: Dykstra measures in at 6-foot-8, 235 pounds compared to Glenn Robinson III’s 6-foot-6, 210 pounds. Robinson has struggled against offensively skilled fours with size and Dykstra fits the bill as he can score outside and inside. Dykstra is not a great defender and Michigan will need Robinson to exploit the match-up offensively; run the floor hard, cut hard and find opportunities on the offensive end.
- Win the offensive glass: This should be a low turnover and low free throw game for both teams. Both teams are generally content to partake in glorified shooting contests but this feels like a game where Michigan should attack the offensive glass. Mitch McGary, Jordan Morgan, even Glenn Robinson III all could be effective in attacking the glass. The Jackrabbits are a very good defensive rebounding team – 11th in the country – but Michigan has bigger and better athletes.
At the end of the day, South Dakota State is going to make a lot of shots. Nate Wolters is a big game player with good size and skill and Scott Nagy has a great collection of shooters around him. The good news is that the Jackrabbits shouldn’t be able to stop Michigan. The Wolverines can’t afford an off-shooting night but, simply put, haven’t faced a defense this porous in a very long time. The good news is that bad offenses have hot shooting nights more often than bad defenses play lockdown defense. The inherent randomness of shooting isn’t present on the defensive end of the floor and after 30-something games bad defenses are bad defenses.
Ken Pomeroy projects a 78-65 Michigan victory, giving the Jackrabbits just a 14% chance at an upset. Michigan knows the Cinderella story because its lived it before; now the Wolverines must learn from their past and shake the No. 13 seed monkey off their backs.