|Who: Michigan (6-4) vs. Stanford (8-2)|
|Where: Barclays Center (Brooklyn, NY)|
|When: 8:30 p.m., Saturday, December 21st, 2013|
|TV: Fox Sports 1|
|Radio: MGoBlue, 950 AM, 102.9 FM, Sirius/XM 85|
A year ago Michigan traveled to the Barclays Center with an aura of invincibility. The Wolverines were undefeated and had barely been challenged, outscoring their opponents 779 to 567 through their first 10 games before easing by a .500 West Virginia team in front of a boisterous Michigan crowd in Brooklyn.
Michigan heads to the Barclays Center for its 11th game of the season once again but the mindset couldn’t be more different. The Wolverines need a win because they don’t have many of them. Michigan has a 6-4 record, desperately searching for a win to hang its hat on headed into Big Ten play. The Wolverines face a Stanford squad that has earned its fair share of frequent flier miles, playing its third game at the Barclays Center this season and is coming off of a marquee win at UConn on Wednesday evening.
Johnny Dawkins has been good but not quite good enough at Stanford. Similar to another former Duke assistant’s tenure in Ann Arbor, Dawkins hasn’t been able to get over that NCAA tournament hump. The Cardinal have played in the NIT for the past two seasons, winning the event two years ago and bowing out of the second round last season. All five starters on this year’s team played on that NIT Championship team, so there’s no shortage of experience on the roster but the Cardinal simply haven’t been able to take the next step. Stanford was blown out in early opportunities for good wins against BYU at home and Pittsburgh at Barclays but redeemed itself on Wednesday night with a statement victory at UConn, who scored just 13 points in the second half after leading 38-28 at the break.
Before Wednesday, Stanford’s offensive stats were better than its defensive stats. But after an ugly 53-51 win at UConn that saw both teams fail to top .85 points per possession, those numbers have evened out. Now the Cardinal ranks 49th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 43rd in adjusted defensive efficiency.
The first thing that stands out about Stanford is its size and shooting ability. Ranked 13th in average height and 14th in effective height (?), Stanford is every bit as tall as the Arizona team Michigan faced last week. Stanford shoots 42% on 3-point attempts (16th) and 52% on 2-point attempts (78th) for a 55% effective field goal percentage (27th). While shooting is unquestionably the most important offensive statistic, Stanford doesn’t do much else. The Cardinal are ranked 93rd in turnover percentage, 209th in offensive rebounding percentage and 190th in free throw rate. Those statistics aren’t all weaknesses, but they aren’t strengths either. If Stanford isn’t shooting the ball well, it doesn’t do anything else quite well enough to make up for a rough night.
Stanford utilizes a triangle offense, something Michigan won’t see often this season, in attempts to exploit its size advantage with a starting lineup that goes 6-foot-2, 6-foot-6, 6-foot-7, 6-foot-10 and 6-foot-11. Stanford’s best assist man isn’t its point guard, or a guard at all, instead it’s 6-foot-10, 240 pound Dwight Powell.
Stanford was lit up defensively in its two losses, surrendering 200 points on 155 possessions (1.29 points per trip), but defended UConn better than anyone else this season. Stanford’s interior defense is stout, allowing just a 42.6% two-point field goal percentage (34th), but its perimeter defense appears to be stodgy. Cardinal opponents are shooting 35% from three-point range (209th) and give the ball away on just 16.2% of their possessions (289th). The Cardinal are a good shot blocking team, do a solid job on the defensive glass and don’t foul often but are fairly passive defensively.
That’s because Stanford plays a fair amount of zone defense, something that should make Michigan’s eyes light up. The Wolverines are scoring 1.46 point per possession against zone defenses, a statistic that ranks among the top 1% nationally, per Synergy Sports. Stanford has more length than many other zone defenses but Michigan should be prepared to face the zone with an abundance of shooters and a passing big man in Mitch McGary.
Chasson Randle leads Stanford in scoring at 18 points per game. The 6-foot-2 junior is a career 14 point per game scorer and is a threat inside (59%), outside (39%) and at the free throw line. Randle is the only player under 6-foot-6 in the starting lineup but is a scorer before traditional point guard. Randle loves to push the tempo and nearly a third of his field goal attempts come in transition.
He’s joined in the backcourt by Anthony Brown, a 6-foot-6, 215 pound scoring wing. Brown averages 16 points per game and is lethally efficient, shooting 57% on twos and 60% (21-of-35) on threes. He embodies the ‘not just a shooter’ mantra and takes 35% of his shots at the rim,
Josh Huestis is regarded as Stanford’s best defender. The 6-foot-7, 230 pound senior is ranked in the top-100 in block percentage and is also aggressive on the offensive glass. Huestis isn’t a high volume shooter, 42% of his field goal attempts are put backs, but he averages 12 points and eight rebounds per game.
Dwight Powell is projected to be a borderline first round draft pick in June. The 6-foot-10 senior is a bit wiry but he’s extremely versatile. He shoots 57% inside the arc and has the rare honor of leading his team in assists and defensive rebounding. Powell struggled against UConn, going just 4-of-18 from the floor. He’s not a physical presence like Arizona’s big men but he will still be a test for Michigan’s frontcourt with the ability to post up, face up, spot up and slash to the basket,
Stefan Nastic starts in the middle and is backed up by John Gage. Nastic stands 6-foot-11 and shoots 59% on twos. He’s not as strong of a rebounder as some other Stanford players but he’s a good shot blocker. Gage provides more size off the bench but prefers the long ball, he’s 5-of-12 on threes and 3-of-5 on twos this season.
Stanford is not deep, leaning on its bench for just 22.9% of available minutes. Backup point guard Aaron Bright is out for the season with a career ending shoulder injury and John Gage was the only bench player to play double digit minutes against UConn. Brown, Randle and Powell played 40 minutes while Huestis played 38.
- Hit Threes: Hitting early threes will stretch Stanford’s zone and make bigger Cardinal defenders guard the perimeter. We’ve harped on Michigan’s zone offense and it will be interesting to see whether Stanford’s zone works, and whether Johnny Dawkins sticks with it.
- Watch the assists: If Michigan is doing what it needs to against Stanford’s zone, its assist numbers should be elevated. It’s important for the Wolverines to attack the gaps in the zone and flash to the middle of the zone and create shots for others. Making the extra pass will be critical for a team that had just one assist in the second half against Arizona.
- Defend the Interior: Michigan was beaten up a bit inside against Arizona and faces another big Stanford frontcourt. This group isn’t as talented as the Wildcat group that Michigan saw last Saturday but is still a very good frontline. Michigan will face size disadvantages at the three and four spots and will have to control the defensive glass. Stanford isn’t nearly as dominant on the offensive glass but the Cardinal frontcourt is very skilled and will challenge the Wolverines.
- Control the tempo: Stanford plays at a much faster tempo than Michigan (71 possessions per game to Michigan’s 65). Michigan has an effective transition game but has actually been more efficient (on both ends of the floor) in slower games than faster games.
- Exploit Stanford’s depth: Michigan will have to look for ways to take advantage of Stanford’s lack of depth. The Cardinal don’t have many options on the bench and early foul trouble could tilt the game into Michigan’s favor.
- Box out Huestis: If McGary and Robinson are guarding Nastic and Powell, that means that Nik Stauskas is probably guarding Heustis. Heustis isn’t a threat to do a whole lot offensively, but he can make you pay for not boxing him out or falling asleep on a defensive possession.
Stanford’s win over UConn adds to the intrigue of this game. The victory provides some reassurance that Stanford could be a NCAA tournament team and provides an opportunity for a quality win for the Wolverines. Ken Pomeroy’s projections give Michigan a 71-69 advantage and a 58% chance of picking up victory number seven.