Game 19: Michigan at Rutgers Preview

Dylan Burkhardt
on
Basics
Who: Michigan (11-7, 4-2 B1G) at Rutgers (10-9, 2-4 B1G) logo
Where: Louis Brown Athletic Center (Piscataway, NJ)
When: 6:30 p.m., January 20th, 2015
TV: BTN
Radio: 950 AM, 1050AM

Michigan gets its first taste of life without Caris LeVert this evening and is expected to have limited reserves. The injury report also features Derrick Walton (turf toe), Spike Albrecht (sick), Ricky Doyle (sick), Kameron Chatman (knee), Zak Irvin (sick) and DJ Wilson (knee).

The only Michigan players to have started a game this season that aren’t facing some sort of injury or ailment are Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Mark Donnal.

The Wolverines are wounded and shorthanded, but still have one of their best remaining opportunities to steal a road victory of the season. Rutgers has exceeded expectations this season, knocking off Penn State and Wisconsin at home, but this is also the same team that lost to St. Francis, Northwestern and St. Peter’s at home this season.

The Scarlet Knights

Scoring points has been a difficulty for a Rutgers team that has managed a Big Ten-worst .93 points per possession in league games. The Scarlet Knights are the worst shooting team in the league with a 45.2 eFG% in Big Ten play, knocking down 44.7% of their twos and 31% of their threes. The Knights only attempt 26.9% of their field goals from long distance, the smallest ratio in the conference. Turnovers have also been a problem for Rutgers, which gives the ball away on 21.1% of its offensive possessions — second worst in the league.

Despite the ugly offensive numbers, Rutgers has still managed a handful of Herculean offensive efforts including a 1.2 point per possession outburst against Wisconsin and a 1.1 point per possession outing against Minnesota on Sunday. The Scarlet Knights scored 147 points in 129 possessions in those two games – 1.14 PPP – but managed just 207 points in 255 possessions – .81 PPP —  in their other four Big Ten games. Minnesota and Wisconsin aren’t the best defenses the league has to offer, but it’s clear that Rutgers is at least capable of getting something going when it gets hot.

Defensively, Rutgers has been surprisingly effective. The Scarlet Knights are allowing just 1 point per possession in Big Ten play, fourth best in the conference.  Rutgers doesn’t force many turnovers and is just average on the defensive glass, but it has solid defensive field goal percentage splits: 49% on twos (7th), 30.9% on threes (4th), 47.9 eFG% (6th). For a Michigan offense that’s had less than 72 hours to adjust to life without its best player, scoring could be a chore in Piscataway.

Personnel

Rutgers’ offense is led by senior duo  Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack.

Mack is a 5-foot-10 lead guard that shoots 49% on twos and 33% on threes. He’s averaging 15 points, five assists, five rebounds and two steals per game and is the catalyst for the Rutgers offense. Mack isn’t the most efficient ball screen player, but he runs a lot of them. He also has the tendency to push the ball in transition and is an underrated catch and shoot player.

In fact, Mack is really the only reliable three-point shooter on the roster. He’s 15 of 41 on three-point attempts in Big Ten games while his teammates are just 10 of 39 from long distance.

Jack is a 6-foot-9 big man that can face up and slash. He’s not a great jump shooter, but he was terrific in Rutgers’ upset win over Wisconsin with his ability to attack the basket. He plays the majority of his minutes at the center position and has the size and versatility to expose slower big men on the perimeter. Defensively, it’s a win when you force Jack to settle for the mid-range jumper, something he’s not afraid to do. If he hits it, fine, but it’s a much better proposition for the defense than letting him attack the cup.

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Despite Jack’s versatility, he’s not a traditional low post scorer. He’s averaging just .45 points per post-up, which grades out in the 7th percentile nationally according to Synergy Sports. In fact, the Scarlet Knights are the worst post-up offense in the Big Ten and

Mack is the more consistent of the two stars, but Jack might be more important. In wins Jack averages 15 points per game with a 47 eFG%, in losses he averages just 11 points per game with a 37 eFG%.

Junior guard Bishop Daniels is the No. 3 option in the Rutgers offense. The 6-foot-3 guard is a turnover prone slasher and is shooting 44% on twos and 33% on threes this season. Daniels was moved into the starting lineup against Wisconsin and is averaging 11.5 points per game since the move. Freshman guard Mike Williams was sent to the bench for Daniels to move into the starting lineup and he’s the only other Rutgers player with double digit three-point attempts.

Big man Greg Lewis is an above-average shot blocker who does a good job of getting to the line.  6-foot-7, 230 pound big forward Junior Etou is primarily a defensive rebounder and low-usage offensive player. Like almost everyone else on the roster, he’s shooting in the mid-40s on two-point attempts and the low-30s on threes.

Keys

  • Health: The list of injuries and illnesses is long and who is actually able to play will play a critical part in this game.  With Kam Chatman’s knee injury, it’s a very real possibility that walk-on Sean Lonergan will be Michigan’s backup forward and almost everyone on the roster will have to play major minutes.
  • Who steps up? The opportunity is there for Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Aubrey Dawkins – basically anyone on the roster. The minutes and shots are all there, someone has to take them. I’m really curious to see how Derrick Walton responds to LeVert’s injury because at this point this is his team. He’s nursing an injury and has struggled a bit this season, but he’ll have to show something down the stretch this season.
  • 1-3-1 Zone: I’m not convinced the 1-3-1 zone is the answer, especially without Caris LeVert’s length, but at this point I’m not sure what other options Michigan has. Rutgers is more turnover prone than most and is the worst corner three shooting team in the Big Ten, per ShotAnalytics. If there’s ever a team begging to be 1-3-1’d, it appears to be the Scarlet Knights.

Bottom Line

Even with Caris LeVert, this game was projected as close to a 50-50 proposition according to KenPom. Pomeroy’s ratings predict at 59-58 Rutgers victory, giving the Wolverines a 47% shot at the upset. Without LeVert (and possibly a number of other players), Michigan’s chances should be even lower, hence the Vegas spread of 3.5 points.

  • KG

    This was probably a lost season already. Now with the LeVert injury and everything else, all bets are off as to what we’ll see out there. Very disappointing the position that this program is in right now. Some of it is bad luck and some of it is the fact that we haven’t recruited enough impact players. Next year should be better but I’m not sure to what extent at this point. Lots of unknowns and uncertainty.
    It makes it worse to see all 3 guys that left last year just warming NBA benches.

  • A2MIKE

    book it… Michigan will win straight up! Dawkins and Doyle have big nights.

  • rlcBlue

    So KenPom classifies the defensive fingerprint of Rutgers as “some zone”. Anyone know what kind of zone Eddie Jordan has his team run? I guess 2-3 is the most likely. I hope Walton, Irvin, and Dawkins bring their shooting shoes.

  • Bigrange

    I see this as a statement game for Michigan, even with all the illness and injuries. Since LeVert went down, everyone has written off the Wolverines. I think this is the chance they have to come out and show everyone that they still have a good team. Doyle, Irvin, & Walton will carry them but I expect others to step in and have significant contributions.

  • Dean

    Mohammad-Ali has started a game and is not facing injury

  • Chezaroo

    Just a bad matchup for us IMO. We are going to struggle mightily to score ( as we often did WITH Caris ) against that solid Rutgers D. Conversely our interior defense can cure any team’s offensive struggles. Factor in being on the road and all the illness and injury ………… ? Sometimes though, teams amazingly come up with unforeseen performances in the absence of their star.

  • polisci

    Anyone heard who is actually going to be available tonight?