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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Q&A: Michigan Preview

In anticipation of Wisconsin's upcoming tilt with Michigan, fellow hoops-only blogger Dylan from agreed to exchange a few thoughts about the two teams. Believe it or not, the Wolverines have a chance to move ahead of the Badgers in the Big Ten standings Wednesday night, so the game is pretty important for postseason resumes and conference jockeying alike.

Check out Dylan's stellar blog for my half of the preview.

HM: We know the 3-pointers (29.5%) aren't dropping for Michigan. Has this been the biggest difference so far between last season and this season that has held Michigan back or is it something else?

UMH: We've actually had some healthy discussion about whether three-point shooting is the real problem for Michigan. Michigan shoots a ton of threes and hasn't made them at nearly the same clip they did last year. The statistics show that when Michigan can hit over 33% they are hard to beat. The problem is they have been just dreadful from behind the arc, one of the worst major conference teams in the country.

Will the UConn win carry over and kick start the Wolverines? How do you feel about the fans rushing the court afterward?

Michigan is playing the best basketball they have all year. They've won 4 out of 5 and really let the one loss, versus Northwestern at home, slip away in painful fashion. The schedule hasn't been the toughest but it's clear that Michigan has gained a little bit of confidence back after a dreadful start this year.

As for rushing the court, I was disappointed. I didn't think it was the right call but it also shows that our fan base is just dying for something to cheer about. Football has obviously been a disaster and this was the year the basketball team was supposed to take the next step and that obviously didn't happen. At the end of the day, it was probably fun for those involved but still a little foolish.

Wisconsin may be morphing into a perimeter-oriented team (POT) before our eyes. As someone familiar with John Beilein's teams at Michigan, is there a more hopeless feeling than watching a POT having a bad shooting night?

I was shocked to look at the stats and see how much Wisconsin looked like a perimeter oriented team. The Badgers have actually attempted a higher percentage of three point field goal attempts in conference play than my very own three point happy Wolverines (3PA/FGA 44.9% to 41.9%).

Considering that we are a POT that is shooting 29% from three-point range, I can tell you that I am very familiar with the hopeless feeling of watching missed three-point shots clang off the rim. The flip side is that a game can turn on a dime. Michigan scored 16 points in the first half at Penn State, didn't make a three until midway through the second half, and still managed to catch fire and come back from a double digit deficit thanks to the three point shot.

As painful as it is, a team that relies on the three is never out of the game.

Though people might assume Michigan will deploy a zone, should Wisconsin fans expect Beilein to throw a variety of defenses at the Badgers?

Michigan likes to start with their man-to-man defense which has improved by leaps and bounds over the last several weeks. They usually go to the 1-3-1 zone after made baskets for a stretch here and there, especially if it causes some turnovers and seems to work. Against bigger teams like Connecticut, Michigan also will throw in some 2-3 zone. Still, contrary to the popular belief that Michigan is an all 1-3-1 team, you will see very healthy portions of man-to-man defense.

Can DeShawn Sims take advantage of Jon Leuer's absence and wreak havoc in the paint on Wednesday?

Sims has the ability to be a dominant player on any night. However his tendency to disappear in some games, especially on the road, frustrates Michigan fans to no end. Most of the reason that Michigan has been playing so well in Big Ten play is because DeShawn Sims has brought his A-game (20.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 61.1 eFG% in conference play).

Sims tends to get comfortable against smaller opponents and if he makes his first couple shots he can definitely get on a roll. That being said, Wisconsin is great at defending two-point shots (42.8%) so it will probably be tough for him to get going. When Michigan is at their best they play inside out through Sims first and then spreading the ball out to their guards for three-point shots.

Which member of the supporting cast must have a good game in order for Michigan to steal one on the road?

The key for Michigan is that DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris play their game and at least one other player steps up. Laval Lucas-Perry, Stu Douglass, and Zack Novak can all shoot the ball from three-point range. When one, or even better two, of them can hit a few three pointers Michigan becomes very tough to beat. The problem is that none of them have been extremely accurate from three-point range this year.

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