|WHAT||#30 Michigan (1-0) vs
#31 Creighton (1-0)
Ann Arbor, Michigan
|WHEN||6:31 pm ET, Tuesday|
|LINE||Michigan -4 (64% WP) (KenPom)
Michigan -4 (66% WP) (Torvik)
PBP: Tim Brando
Analyst: Bill Raftery
Seth did a graphic [click for big]:
I'm guessing Juwan Howard sticks with Adrien Nunez in the starting lineup over Brandon Johns for at least one more game, but I'd be okay with being proven wrong.
Howard's squad gets the first major test of his tenure in this Gavitt Tipoff Games matchup against Creighton, which sits one spot behind Michigan in KenPom's rankings. The Wolverines are coming off 27 minutes of excellent basketball and 13 minutes of everyone forgetting how to basketball in an eight-point win over Appalachian State that wasn't really that close.
I'll dig into lineup analysis more later this week, when we'll have the added benefit of more data. The simple explanation for what happened against ASU, however, is that the three-point-guard lineup really did not work. Via Hoop Lens:
That lineup played for nearly half the game. Michigan was outscored by 14 points per 100 possessions when they were out there. In the game's other 44 possessions, M crushed ASU by 31 points per 100 possessions; that number jumped to an unsustainably good 54(!) in the 16.5 possessions (16 offensive, 17 defensive) that Howard put Brooks and Simpson on the floor with DDJ on the bench. Yes, there's some three-point noise in the offensive numbers, but the nearly 20-point gap in two-point defense is an obvious problem, as is the huge dropoff in offensive rebounding.
Creighton is a small, fast team this year. Howard may be tempted to play small ball with them. I hope he resists this temptation.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]
Seth did another graphic [click for big]:
Like Michigan, Creighton has only played the one tuneup game so far, beating #327 Kennesaw State 81-55.
As mentioned above, the Bluejays are small. While they're usually a high-tempo, undersized squad, this time it isn't totally by design; 6'11" center Jacob Epperson suffered a serious leg injury in the preseason, leaving 6'11", 230-pound Idaho State transfer Kelvin Jones as the only big man with any college experience. Jones is productive as a scorer, rebounder, and shot blocker when he can stay on the floor, but he's committed 8.0 fouls per 40 minutes in each of his two college seasons—he had three fouls in 16 minutes off the bench in the opener. Also, Idaho State was the #329 team on KenPom last year, so I'm guessing all-around defense wasn't a strength.
The starting "center" is 6'7", 205-pound sophomore Christian Bishop, who at least has experience doing this after being the primary backup at the five last year. That went better than you'd expect, though there were struggles against the better teams on the schedule. Bishop is a very effective junk scorer and surprisingly good shot blocker, but like Jones he's foul-prone (6.2/40 min.), and the third center is a 6'8", 210-pound freshman. Expect the beginning of this game to look a lot like the last one, with the Wolverines looking to run the offense through Jon Teske early.
The player to watch is 6'4" junior wing Ty-Shon Alexander, a three-level volume scorer who'd benefit greatly from more help—he's at his best as a spot-up shooter and transition finisher, but is asked to do a whole lot more in the halfcourt at which he's less effective. Keep Alexander out of the fast break and he's much easier to slow down; he shot only 35% on twos and 34% on threes in Tier A (top-50 opponents adjusted for home/road) games last year.
Returning as the starting four is 6'5", 205-pound junior Mitch Ballock, whose shot distribution tilts towards the perimeter in the extreme; he made 42% of his 224 triples last year and 59% of his 59 twos. Decent passing keeps him from being a pure Just A Shooter™. He's a guy you can't lose touch with, especially in the corners.
Injury isn't just affecting the interior. Creighton will be without Davion Mintz, their starting shooting guard. 6'5" wing Damien Jefferson, an effective reserve who graded out as their best defender by a healthy margin last season, is a game-time decision after a foot injury held him out of the opener.
Zagarowski is a deadly above-the-break three-point shooter.
Sophomore Marcus Zegarowski starts at the point for the second straight year; he's an excellent spot-up shooter and the team's best pick-and-roll ballhandler, but he can run into turnover problems and will get an evening of Zavier Simpson in his grill. He shares the backcourt with some tiny freshmen. 6'0", 155-pound combo guard Shereef Mitchell is the primary option at the two and also the backup point—he mostly looked to attack the basket in the opener. 5'10", 155-pound Jett Canfield got 17 minutes at the two against Kennesaw State and was nearly invisible on offense.
Have I mentioned this team is small?
Make Teske pinker than Pepto-Bismol. Teske is going to look like a man among boys from a height perspective for much of this game; that should also be the case basketball-wise. Post-ups and pick-and-rolls should be the primary mode of attack until Creighton proves they can slow Teske without fouling. With so little size and depth, the Bluejays will be in big trouble if their two main options at center pick up early fouls and are forced to play tentatively down the stretch. This would also be a very interesting spot to break out the Teske-Castleton lineup, which was effective in limited action against ASU.
Keep Creighton out of transition. The live-ball turnovers down the stretch against ASU were probably more this-is-a-blowout sloppiness than anything else, but there were enough times M coughed up the ball on drives that they should be worried about letting Creighton out into transition, where they're far better than the halfcourt even after adjusting for the greater effectiveness of transition offense. This is especially key against Alexander, who's great on the run but has trouble finishing over size at the rim, and the three-point shooters, who love spotting up on the break. Both of these teams like to get out in transition; the team that best limits the opponent in that regard is probably going to win.
Scrap the three-PG lineup. I know it's a one-game sample (really a half-game sample) but man was it not a good one. Brandon Johns and Colin Castleton should both be able to feast on the boards against this frontcourt. Isaiah Livers is fully capable of playing 35 minutes. There's absolutely no need to have one of Simpson/Brooks/DDJ defending even undersized small forwards, especially when DeJulius is also having a hard time settling into an off-ball role on offense.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 4.
Teske should overwhelm the lilliputians, while Livers should pose a major headache for Alexander. As long as Simpson isn't playing like he did down the stretch against ASU—which would be remarkably out of character—then this might even be relatively comfortable.
Account for Michigan likely going into an offensive funk at some point due to getting comfortable in the new system or playing around with some ineffective lineups and the four-point line seems pretty accurate, even with Creighton's injuries. Any sloppiness by the Wolverines is going to lead to some quick points the other way. That said, they have the size and personnel to shut down the Bluejays for long stretches.