|Who: Houston Baptist (3-5) at No. 21 Michigan (5-3)|
|Where: Crisler Center (Ann Arbor, MI)|
|When: 12:00 p.m., Saturday, December 7th, 2013|
|Radio: MGoBlue, 950 AM, 1050 AM, Sirius 135|
Michigan has played some very difficult games this season but it has also faced a number of woefully over-matched opponents. The Wolverines’ five victories are over teams with a combined 6-28 record against Division I opponents this season and Florida State accounts for five of those six victories. Michigan has feasted on cupcakes in early season play and will face one more on Saturday afternoon at the Crisler Center.
Houston Baptist has two wins over D-I opponents, winning its last two games at Army and against Rice, but is yet another low-major opponent on the Wolverine schedule. The Huskies are ranked 305th nationally by Ken Pomeroy and have never finished better than 317th in their five previous seasons in Division I.
The good news is that Houston Baptist is the last sub-200 ranked team the Wolverines face this season as the schedule heats up. Michigan has just two games (Holy Cross 109, Northwestern 144) against teams ranked worse than 100th by Ken Pomeroy’s rankings.
Houston Baptist is coming off its best offensive performance of the season, 1.05 points per game, at Rice. On the season, the Huskies have scored just 524 points on 553 offensive possessions: .95 points per trip. The 327th ranked Husky offense has been plagued by poor interior shooting, turnovers and lackluster offensive rebounding.
Houston Baptist abhors the three-point shot and its offense appears to revolve around isolation drives to the basket. Just 22% (345th) of the Huskies’ field goal attempts come from behind the arc and only 41% (321st) of their field goal makes are assisted. There isn’t a single player on the HBU roster with a higher assist rate than turnover rate. The Huskies give the ball away on 22.6% of their offensive possessions (329th) but attempt 46 free throws per 100 field goal attempts (98th) due to their aggressive nature of offense. Houston Baptist’s 35% three-point shooting isn’t bad but potentially skewed due to the low number of attempts. Interior shooting has been a struggle, HBU shoots just 44% inside the arc.
Defensively, Houston Baptist is slightly more formidable. The Huskies are ranked 238th in adjusted defensive efficiency and have a decent field goal defense. HBU opponents are shooting 47% (103rd) on twos and 34% (167th) on threes for a 48% effective field goal percentage (130th). However, the Huskies force turnovers on just 15% of their opponents possessions (328th) and allow them to rebound a third of their missed shots (236th). HBU is also coming off of its best defensive performances of the season but hasn’t played against a top-100 offense this season.
Tyler Russell leads the Huskies in scoring and playing time but the 6-foot junior has fairly pedestrian statistics across the board . He’s not a great shooter, but he doesn’t have many glaring weaknesses either. Caleb Crayton, 6-foot-3, and Marcel Smith, 5-foot-6, start alongside Russell in the backcourt. Crayton is a sophomore that has struggled to find his shot this year, 44% on twos and 2-of-10 on threes, while Smith is a diminutive low-usage guard with a decent three-point shot.
Cody Joyce stands 6-foot-8, 220 pounds and is great at getting to the free throw line where he struggles to finish, just 16-of-32 for the year, but he’s reached double figures in six of HBU’s last eight games.
Ricmonds Vilde has legitimate interior size at 6-foot-11, 255 pounds and the SMU transfer moved into the starting lineup recently. He’s an elite defensive rebounder, grabbing 25% of opponent misses while he’s on the floor, and an above average offensive rebounder. He’s
Rob Lewis is HBU’s highest usage player and leading scorer at 13.4 points per game but he comes off the bench. The 6-foot guard shoots 46% inside the arc and 32% outside the arc and he’s HBU’s best setup man for good measure.
Dauson Womack is another option that opened the season in the starting lineup. The 6-foot-6, 205 pound forward is a good offensive rebounder but shoots just 37.5% inside the arc. Big man Alex Fountain didn’t play in the last game but the 6-foot-7 freshman opened the year in the starting lineup as well, he was named Mr. Basketball in Tennessee last season.
There will be little to take away from this game long-term but it’s a chance for Michigan to get back on the right page before a week of preparation for Arizona. Ken Pomeroy projects a 77-55 Michigan victory in a 65 possession game, giving the Wolverines a 98% chance of moving to 6-3 on the season.
Houston Baptist’s tendency to turn the ball over should play into Michigan’s hands, creating a number of transition opportunities for the Wolverines and that should open things up offensively. Transition threes, easy layups and shots that just weren’t there against Duke should be plentiful against the Huskies. If Michigan is able to get out in transition, the game could get out of hand quickly. If not, the Wolverines might be in for a stronger test with their half-court offense.
The players I’ll be watching closely are Glenn Robinson III, Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin. Robinson’s struggles have been well documented, and he needs to find a groove. It’s no secret that Michigan needs Robinson to play much better if the Wolverines are going anything this season. This is also the last chance for Michigan’s freshmen to experiment against a lower-DI foe. Zak Irvin has shown signs of finding a comfort zone while Walton has had some great games and some forgettable ones. Both freshmen are critical to Michigan’s success.