Game 9: Michigan at SMU Preview

Dylan Burkhardt
Who: Michigan (6-2) at Southern Methodist (6-0)  SMUmustangsRrgb
Where: Moody Coliseum, Dallas, TX
When: 9:00 p.m., December 8th, 2015
Radio: 950 AM, 102.9 FM

With two frustrating losses and two solid wins, tonight’s game at Southern Methodist (6-0) is the swing game of Michigan’s non-conference schedule. A win would position the Wolverines where they want to be heading into the Big Ten season while a loss would leave them with serious work to do in conference play.

It’s only fitting that they found themselves in a similar spot a year ago. Last year, the Wolverines were hurtling toward rock bottom with three straight losses to NJIT, Eastern Michigan and Arizona (by 27) and looked at a home game against SMU as a chance to rebound before league play. The Mustangs’ 15-3 run over the final 7:30 that turned a 1 point Michigan lead into an embarrassing 11 point home loss felt like a death knell for Michigan’s 2014-15 season.

The stakes aren’t nearly as dire this year as the Wolverines don’t have the same sort of ugly early losses as they did a year ago, but the importance of this game remains. Michigan needs a quality win and it can erase some of last year’s demons in the process.

The Mustangs

SMU’s schedule hasn’t forced it to work up much of a sweat thus far. The Mustangs’ toughest non-conference game was at home against Yale (ranked 88th by KenPom) and they escaped with a two-point victory. The easy schedule has allowed the Mustang offense to work up a full head of steam entering tonight’s contest. SMU has scored over a point per possession in every game this year and it has a roster loaded with great scorers and offensive rebounders.

The Mustangs are ranked 11th nationally in effective field goal percentage, making 55.5% of their twos (32nd) and 44.1% of their threes (8th) for a 58.3 eFG%. Despite the accurate three-point shooting, only 27% of SMU’s shot attempts come from outside the arc. Those shooting numbers are impressive, but the offensive rebounding numbers are downright scary. SMU is the fifth best offensive rebounding team in the country, grabbing 42.2% of its misses off the backboard.

Stopping SMU is difficult because it is built around scoring inside, but effective enough from three-point range to make you pay for cheating down (as Michigan did against NC State) and dominant enough on the glass to make up for any mistakes.

Defensively, there are more warts on the SMU resume. The Mustangs have given up over a point per possession in four out of six games despite the cushy schedule. They have a strong interior defense (42.2% allowed on twos), but are ranked just 151st in three-point defense at 33.1% allowed. Similar to the UConn and Texas teams that Michigan has faced already this season, teams attempt a lot of threes (43% of FGA) against the Mustangs because of their interior defense.


SMU returns three starters from last year’s team that faced Michigan including 5-foot-9 star point guard Nic Moore, 6-foot-5 wing Keith Frazier and 6-foot-8 swing man Ben Moore. Michigan fans will be glad to hear that 6-foot-11 Yanick Moreira, who dominated last year’s game with 19 points on nine shot attempts, has graduated.

Nic Moore makes the SMU offense go. He’s a 42% three-point shooter and over half of his attempts are treys. John Beilein referred to Moore as a ‘dynamo‘ and praised his ability to create his own offense while still keeping his teammates involved. He’ll be a huge defensive challenge for Michigan, especially with Derrick Walton sidelined or limited — he didn’t practice on Monday.

He’s joined in the backcourt by 6-foot-5 junior Keith Frazier. Frazier shoots 54% on twos and 37% on threes with close to a 50-50 split and is efficient in a limited role in SMU’s offense. He shied away from the three-point shot as a sophomore (66 attempts down from 103), but he’s still a threat and connected on 6-of-10 triples against New Hampshire on Saturday.

6-foot-9, 245 pound big man Markus Kennedy was just returning from suspension when Michigan faced SMU last year, but appears to be rounded into form this year. Kennedy shoots 60% on twos and is also a great passer out of the post with a team-high 24% assist rate.

Kennedy is relieved by 6-foot-7, 240 pound Texas Tech transfer Jordan Tolbert. Tolbert touts the fourth best offensive rebounding rate in the country, shoots 58% on twos and does a good job of getting to the free throw line.

6-foot-8, 205 pound senior Ben Moore starts at the four spot.  He had a quiet game against Michigan last year with 0 points on three shot attempts, but fits the mold of other SMU frontcourt players: great on the offensive glass, blocking shots and finishing around the rim.

Freshman guard Malik “Shake” Milton comes off the bench, but plays significant minutes. Milton has always had a great feel for the game dating back to his time in the Nike EYBL and he’s shooting 67% on twos and 56% on threes through early season action.

6-foot-6 guard Sterling Brown is known for his defense, rebounding and finishing and has connected on 4 of 6 three-point attempts. Another freshman guard, Jarrey Foster, is also active on the offensive glass (the fourth nationally ranked offensive rebounder on the roster), and draws more fouls than any other Mustangs.


  • Clean up the defensive glass: The good news is that Michigan has already played plenty of teams like SMU. The Wolverines got abused on the glass against Xavier, but did a decent job against good offensive rebounding teams like Texas and N.C. State. SMU is certain to test Michigan’s frontline with its size and stick-to-itiveness on the offensive boards. This could be a situation similar to Xavier where Markus Kennedy (Jalen Reynolds) gets much of the focus, but Jordan Tolbert (James Farr) ends up as the player that kills Michigan on the glass.
  • Hit threes: This game is similar to UConn where you can bet that SMU will do a great job of making Michigan attempt a lot of threes. Against the Huskies, Michigan missed just about every attempt. Last year against SMU? It shot just 22%. Michigan is shooting 44% on triples this year and it’ll have to keep that hot streak alive to win on the road.
  • Caris LeVert: LeVert scored 4 points on 1-8 shooting and turned the ball over five times against SMU. It was one of the worst games of his career and he’ll have to play better, especially with Derrick Walton limited or out, to pull off the road upset. He’s been playing exceptional basketball and with 30 scouts watching he’ll certainly be looking to have a big game.

Bottom Line

Losses to Xavier and UConn hurt because on paper they looked like a better chance at a quality win than Michigan’s test tonight. Those games were at home or in a foreign country against teams expected to be of a similar caliber.

Tonight, the Wolverines will head on the road to face an undefeated opponent projected at the top of its league with a roster built to exploit some of Michigan’s critical weaknesses. The Wolverines have the firepower and shooting ability to win on the road at SMU, but it will take one of their best defensive performances of the season. KenPom projects a 71-66 Mustang victory, giving Michigan just a 31% shot at the road victory. The Wolverines opened as 5 point underdogs in Vegas, but the line has crept to 8 as questions about Derrick Walton’s health remain.

  • bobohle

    No slow start tonight PLEASE!

    • Leslie Hoerwinkle

      It’s pretty much Michigan’s style.

  • JJ3ball

    Wow, hard to have faith in a tough road win after reading that. On the flip side, M played well on the road against NC State. It’s going to take a very good effort, and a very good team to win at SMU, here’s hoping M is that team.

  • jakerblue

    It’s interesting, it doesn’t seem like they are a bigger team from the measurements listed above, Doyle is a big as Kennedy, Wagner is lighter but taller. The size seems to match up down the roster. Maybe they are just better at using their size or they look like a good rebounding team because of the cupcake schedule against smaller teams?

    Seems like the 3 ball will be important. If IIRC a comment from Robinson about being off in the UConn game was because he didn’t get his full pre-game shooting in, so hopefully the travel delay doesn’t throw off the timing too badly and they can get the full pre-game routine in.

    • AA7596

      SMU is bigger because it will play multiple bigs together. Michigan won’t (and probably shouldn’t).

      • jakerblue

        Robinson is just as big as their four, and Dawkins isn’t far behind.

        Is it because of the way UM plays the four spot? More as a wing and less as frontcourt and SMU plays both the bigs in the frontcourt?

        • Are we referring to offensive rebounding? SMU is a good offensive rebounding team because it has good offensive rebounders and makes it a priority to crash the glass. U-M doesn’t have anyone like Tolbert or Kennedy, but U-M doesn’t send many people to crash the glass.

          Both teams are pretty average defensive rebounding teams. UM at 71%, SMU at 72.9%.

          Now the big difference defensively is that SMU is a much better interior defense…

          • jakerblue

            So more playing style and big’s abilities than a size differential. Makes sense.
            I feel like whenever I hear a team talked about it terms of strong rebounding/interior play, I just assume a size advantage.

  • gobluemd16

    I think we will need Zak Irvin, who has shot the ball very poorly this season, or another “outlier” to have a big game if we want to beat SMU on the road, especially if D Walt is out. Doesn’t seem like a good matchup at all on paper or from the preview. Hoping for a win, but seems like a tall task. Go Blue!

    • gobluemd16

      Having Walton hurt this game would also really hurt us on the defensive boards and guarding Moore at the point. Gunna need to make a ton of threes, imo, to win this game

  • Champswest

    Unless Walton is 100%, I hope they don’t play him. I would rather he get healthy and be ready for the rest of the schedule, than to risk further damage that continues to limit him.

    • Leslie Hoerwinkle

      That’s pretty much what Beilein has stated.

  • Chazer

    I’d have to start the Doctor (DR.) tonight in order to avoid the slow start. He’s earned it, going to need the three ball and lots of ball movement for the Win…..

    GO BLUE!!!!