|Who: Holy Cross (6-5) at Michigan (7-4)|
|Where: Crisler Center (Ann Arbor, MI)|
|When: 6:30 p.m., Saturday, December 28th, 2013|
|Radio: MGoBlue, 104.3 FM, 102.9 FM, Sirius 92, XM 190|
Michigan looks to close the non-conference season on a high note, returning to action against Holy Cross on Saturday after a short holiday break.
The Crusaders are projected to finish in the upper half of the Patriot League and travel to Ann Arbor with a 6-5 record and a Ken Pomeroy computer ranking in the top 150. While Holy Cross will provide an upgrade in talent over many of Michigan’s other non-league home games, the majority of which were against teams in bottom third of Division I, the Crusaders have mostly beaten the very bad teams and lost to the above average games on their schedule this season.
Holy Cross did give North Carolina a slight scare, falling 62-54 in Chapel Hill in November, but its best wins have been over Albany, Hartford and Fairfield with losses to Harvard, UNC, Belmont, Hartford and Canisius.
The Holy Cross offense is ranked 174th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. The Crusaders shoot the ball fairly well – 49% on twos, 36% on threes for a 51% effective field goal percentage – but thrive at the free throw line where they attempt 50 free throws per 100 field goal attempts (45th). In the half court, an impressive 47.2% of Crusader field goal attempts come at the rim. Holy Cross doesn’t do a great job of holding onto the ball, giving it away on just shy of 20% of its offensive possessions, or crashing the offensive glass. Holy Cross rebounds just 29% of its missed shots, 260th nationally, and is just 1-5 this season when it rebounds less than 30% of its misses.
Holy Cross touts the 149th best defense in the country and it’s a defense that thrives in the areas where its offense struggles. The Crusaders are best at forcing turnovers and cleaning up the defensive glass. Holy Cross opponents give the ball away on 20% of their offensive possessions and rebound just 28% of their misses. Holy Cross struggles to defend the three, opponents shoot 36% from long range, and its overall field goal defense suffers as a result. The Crusaders allow a 50% eFG% on the season, 178th best nationally, despite a fairly stout (48% 2-point shooting) interior defense. Holy Cross is 5-1 when it holds opponents under a point per possession and just 1-4 when the opposition cracks that mark. Michigan has been held below a point per trip just twice this year, at Iowa State and against Charlotte.
6-foot-9 big man Dave Dudzinski (right) leads the Crusaders in scoring and rebounding. The senior uses a quarter of Holy Cross’s offensive possessions and is shooting 51% on twos. He’s also capable of stepping out and hitting a three (11-of-24). Dudzinski is a viable rebounding threat on both ends and attempts 43 free throws per 100 field goal attempts.
Taylor Abt and Malcolm Miller are the only other Crusaders to have started every game this season. Miller is a low usage but efficient wing. The 6-foot-6 junior shoots 57% on twos and 44% on threes and is Holy Cross’s best shot blocker. Abt starts but plays just 39% of available minutes and can finish around the basket but is limited offensively.
True freshman wing Malachi Alexander comes off the bench but averages 10.1 points per game. Alexander isn’t the most efficient shooter – 49% on twos, 19% on threes – but he gets to the free throw line effectively and is an above average defensive rebounder.
Sophomore guard Eric Green has stepped into the starting lineup and is averaging eight points per game, Green appears to by the Crusaders’ best perimeter defender with a top-100 steal rate.
5-foot-9 junior Justin Burrell starts at point guard. He’s a solid setup man and can hit the three (41%) but struggles with turnovers and shoots just 29.7% on twos. He’s backed up by 5-foot-10 freshman Anthony Thompson. Thompson missed last game due to injury but is a more efficient scorer than Burrell, mostly because he’s attempted more free throws than field goals this season.
The Crusaders have also been without Cullen Hamilton. The 6-foot-3 guard was averaging 16 points per game but has missed the last six games due to injury.
- Slow down Dudzinski: There has been no official update on Mitch McGary’s injury status (that should come this afternoon) but it would be a surprise if Michigan brought him back for this game. That means that Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan will have their hands full with Dudzinski. At 6-foot-9, 227 pounds, he’s far from the most intimidating big man Michigan has faced this year but he’s experienced, a good rebounder and an efficient scorer.
- Win the free throw battle: Holy Cross scores 26.6% of its points at the free throw line, the 32nd highest rate in the country. The Crusaders get to the line often and convert at an effective 73.7% rate. Michigan is among the nation’s best at not fouling – its 26.2% free throw rate allowed ranks 5th and only 12 teams have given up a smaller percentage of points at the charity stripe. The Wolverines are coming off their worst fouling performance of the season against Stanford but have been otherwise impressive.
- Force the tempo: Holy Cross averages 69 possessions per game but just 16.6% of its field goal attempts come in transition. The two best Crusaders in transition have been Anthony Thompson and Cullen Hamilton (transition threes), both of whom have been out injured of late. Holy Cross might not have the weapons to test Michigan’s transition defense (an obvious weakness) so the Wolverines might as well push the pace because the offense has seemed to improve in uptempo games.
- Pack the lane defensively: Hamilton and Thompson are also the best long range threats on the Holy Cross roster. Miller and Dudzinski can hit the occasional triple but just 33% of Holy Cross’s FGAs come from 3-point range and Hamilton leads the team in attempts (34) despite playing only five games. Holy Cross wants to attack the rim and Michigan’s help defense could be troublesome if the Wolverines become too stretched.
Ken Pomeroy’s projections like Michigan, with a 92% chance of victory, to cruise in this one by a final score of 76-62. Michigan’s strengths – not fouling and not turning the ball over – seem to negate Holy Cross’s top traits and the winner of those statistical battles should have the upper-hand. The Wolverines can’t afford a slip up heading into the Big Ten season and the opportunity of a blank conference slate.
This & That: Michigan is 2-1 all-time against Holy Cross but the Crusaders beat the Wolverines on March 18th, 1948 at Madison Square Garden in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.