1/20 Tuesday thoughts

20 Jan

“We have more injured or sick players than we have healthy players right now”- John Beilein.

The only player who has started for Michigan this year who isn’t injured or battling a respiratory illness is Mark Donnal. Obviously the big injury is to Caris LeVert, who broke the same bone in the same foot and is out for the year. Walton is battling turf toe but should play, while Irvin, Albrecht, and Doyle all have the respiratory infection. Albrecht seems to be the only one really in question of not playing, besides LeVert of course, but it seems all will be limited in some capacity. Walton has to be able to take over the scoring LeVert leaves behind, and I’m not sure he can in his current state. Can someone like Dawkins or Abdur-Rahkman step up for Michigan? I think you’ll see a healthy dose of the 1-3-1 tonight from Beilein, even though losing LeVert’s length and athleticism makes it less effective. With the potential lack of scoring, all focus has to shift to the defense, and Rutgers is a team that screams to be 1-3-1’d. It can still bother Mack, and force Jack away from the rim and Rutgers into taking the corner 3. Who knows, maybe Michigan thrives under the lack of expectations tonight and gets hot against the Rutgers zone. Or maybe, probably more likely, an offense that looked terrible at full strength completely collapses tonight against an actually decent Rutgers defense in front of a sellout at the RAC, and Michigan won’t be able to exploit the Scarlet Knights on the offensive glass.      All things considered, it’s possible Minnesota is the worst team in the B1G. Minnesota did everything they had to do on their checklist to get a home win over Rutgers (26% TO rate, only an 11% TO rate themselves, 1.22ppp) but the defense still leaked like a sieve when Rutgers did get the ball across halfcourt. It just further highlights that the Gophers HAVE to get out in transition via turnover to win. So can Nebraska handle the press? Well, yes and no. They’ve steadily improved since the back to back debacles vs Cincy and Hawaii, two high pressure teams, but I think the issues are still there with the lack of proven ball handlers behind Benny Parker. They also need some secondary scoring to help Petteway and Shields, also a season long issue that doesn’t seem capable of being remedied consistently at this point. That being said, Nebraska’s length they can put on the perimeter defensively should bother the smaller Mathieu and Hollins, and the Gophers aren’t a threat in the frontcourt, and it’s hard to score on the Huskers inside anyway. Nebraska also had the weekend off to prep for this one, although in the past two seasons Miles is 5-12 with 5+ days of prep (4 of those wins were over South Carolina State, NIU, Arkansas St, and The Citadel) and that number drops to 1-4 in conference play, and he’s 0-4 with 5+ this year. Three of those 12 losses were at home as well.       The loss of Trae Jackson is a little more significant than people realize, I think. Jackson was so important not necessarily because of his shooting or passing or even defense, but because he’s so phenomenal at keeping his dribble and penetrating to the middle of the court, and completely initiating Bo Ryan’s offense. I don’t think Koenig is capable of doing the things Jackson did, and Ryan of course knows that, and I think you’ll see the offense work more through Nigel Hayes in the high post as something of a point forward. The Badgers already utilized that with Jackson healthy, but I think you’ll see it far more often. Iowa always plays Wisconsin close, even at the Kohl Center (probably should have won there last year if not for an epic Fran Freakout), and they have the mobile bigs to limit Kaminsky outside (stopping him in the post in the second game last year was a different story though). The fact that there’s no Trae Jackson and the offense becomes a little more predictable running through Hayes coupled with the fact Iowa has a player like Aaron White or even Uthoff who can defend Hayes and/or Kaminsky, makes me think this is going to be another classic battle. Iowa has to execute offensively though, because second chance options are limited vs the best defensive rebounding team in the country, as are transition opportunities. Neither team fouls, so these games are always a joy to watch as both offenses are able to execute. Prediction: Iowa +9.5 

Kansas State has reduced the turnovers and kept teams out of transition in their 4 game conference winning streak, and keeping Iowa State is obviously a big key, but I think you’re going to see Kansas State struggle to score tonight. KSU’s offense is predicated on attacking the gap off of motion and getting to the FT line. Iowa State is the best team in the country at defending in the half court without using their hands. They have the lowest foul rate in the country, while Kansas State has the fifth highest FT rate in the country. The Cyclones have always had a low foul rate under Hoiberg, but it’s different this year as they have a legit shot blocker in McKay underneath, and they’re even more willing to funnel the offense down. Kansas State has averaged .91ppp when they don’t shoot at least 20 FTs (their offensive numbers aren’t great even when shooting 20+), while Iowa State has allowed 20+ FTs just twice, a win at West Virginia and a loss to South Carolina.

Boston College is already playing typical Jim Christian defense, aggressive man to man that can push teams off the three point line, but they can still be exposed inside when facing guards who can penetrate and get the ball inside, plus the offense isn’t anywhere near capable of competing in the ACC right now. Syracuse is basically playing a 5 and a half man rotation with McCullough out, but Christmas and even Roberson should feast inside assuming Joseph and Cooney aren’t too tired to get them the ball.

Big game in the A10, as Dayton heads to Davidson. The Wildcats were crushed by Richmond on Saturday, as the Spiders were far superior in their ball movement and really exposed an exposable Davidson defense. Richmond dominated inside and out, going for 1.41ppp, Kendall Anthony hit 7 threes, and their assist rate was an absurd 81%. It was an awesome offense performance, and something I think Dayton is more than capable of replicating. The Flyers have perhaps the best ball movement in the country, and as proven Saturday, if you get Davidson’s defense moving laterally, they’re going to struggle to keep up. Dayton is also so active in disrupting passing lanes, and I think you’re going to see them really limit Davidson’s motion offense in the half court, as the Wildcats don’t have the post presence that would force Dayton to collapse down. Transition opportunities against the Flyers are also very limited, as they generally don’t turn the ball over and they’ve passed on going after offensive rebounds, especially with a dismissed frontcourt. The lack of depth as they hit the grind of conference travel is a concern, and they’ve played an absurdly easy conference schedule to date, as their five conference wins have come over teams that are a combined 7-18 in A10 play.

The Horizon slate is fairly boring tonight. Valpo has a weird game as they’re off a tough, grind it out win at Wright State, and head to Youngstown State, a team they already throttled this year, before they head to Green Bay for a massive game on Friday night. The Penguins haven’t really been competitive in a conference game since blowing a late double digit lead at UIC in their Horizon opener. Keith Carter had 15 pts and 10 rebs in the first meeting, and he’s still out for the Crusaders. In his absence, Valpo hasn’t really found a steady presence at PG, as Nickerson is banged up as well. However, if they can simply get the ball up court and into the hands of Peters against pressure-less YSU, Valpo should be fine. Peters tends to dominate the second time around against HL teams.    Wright State heads to Milwaukee in a rematch of last year’s Horizon championship game, but so few of the players on both teams were key contributors in that game. Wright State is also without Davis and Yoho again for this one, but even shorthanded, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Donlon full court press like he did Saturday against Valpo. It worked for about 35 minutes, but then Valpo gained some composure and the Raiders ran out of gas. Still, it’s their best option vs the much bigger and turnover prone Panthers, who are just as shorthanded with Lyle out. If the Panthers can handle the press, they’ll be able to get some open 3 point looks, and work Wright State inside. Wright State is 1-13 since 2000 at Milwaukee. Prediction: UW Milwaukee +1.5       UIC has had nearly a week off after losing to Detroit at home in devastating fashion, turning the ball over twice in five seconds while trying to inbound the ball to simply close out the game at the FT line. Typical UIC stuff. Anyway, they travel to Green Bay, who as mentioned earlier has a big Friday night home game with Valpo on deck, but UIC has trouble limiting penetration without fouling, and especially without Tai Odiase around the rim. The Phoenix offense is of course predicated on Sykes penetration and getting to the FT line.

Illinois State might have some motivation issues at Drake tonight. They just beat rival Bradley and have a massive home date with Northern Iowa ahead of them. They also throttled Drake in the first meeting 81-45. Drake is coming off their first MVC win, and first D1 win in over a month. They beat Indiana State by going 12-17 from 3, with all 12 coming from Ricks, Caird, or Daniels, while the defense still gave up 1.24ppp to the Trees. Always banged up Illinois State could be without Paris Lee tonight as well. I mentioned there might be a lack of motivation for the Redbirds, but Reggie Lynch will have some extra motivation. His extended family made the trip from Minnesota to the Knapp last year, and he responded with a big game. Expect the same tonight, especially since Lynch says his back is much better and Drake doesn’t defend inside (or outside for that matter).

The Air Force zone flustered San Diego State mightily in the first meeting, but the Falcons had Kam Williams and Max Yon in that meeting, both of whom are unavailable for this one. The Aztecs generally struggle with Air Force, and have lost three of the last four at Clune, but Fisher is getting some great production from his bench in MWC play, and that’s key when playing your second elevation game of the week.      It seemed as if maybe Nevada was going to turn a corner on their season after the win at UNLV, but then they lost at home to Fresno State and were beyond embarrassed at Colorado State. Scoring points is just a massive struggle for the Pack, as they’re the worst three point shooting team in the country (their four highest volume shooters Coleman, Fenner, Perez, and Cooper are an astounding 35-165 from 3. Gross.) and basically rely on getting to the FT line and offensive putbacks. Fortunately for them Utah State is a very poor rebounding team, so the offensive glass will be open for AJ West, who has the highest offensive rebounding percentage in the country. Nevada also had nearly a week off after the Colorado State game, and Coleman described the practices as “mini-training camp hell” leading up to this game. If Nevada can chase USU off the 3 point line, I think you’ll see a bounce back win from the Pack. Prediction: Nevada +1

All four SEC games come down to who can handle pressure or who can hit a modicum of perimeter shots out of their zone offenses. Tennessee is going to high pressure/trap zone South Carolina, while the Gamecocks will sit high in the halfcourt with their pressure. Who can limit their turnovers more efficiently and can either one open things up at all on the perimeter? Could be an ugly game dictated almost primarily on who gets to the free throw line more as neither team is looking to shoot the 3.      LSU can struggle with zones and teams that can harass Gray and Hornsby. Florida is certainly going to pressure LSU, and if the offense isn’t running through Mickey and Martin, LSU is going to have issues. Florida ran out of gas against Georgia on the road (travel issues didn’t help there), and they haven’t had a whole lot of rest, but I think they should be able to turn the LSU back court over enough, but can they defend LSU in the frontcourt when they do break pressure? And the second burning question is, can Florida score enough? The Tigers’ defense is built to funnel you inside and take away the 3, where they have their rim protectors. I think LSU keeps it close at O’Connell. Prediction: LSU +11    Vanderbilt has a ton of size, but it doesn’t translate on the defensive glass, and that’s a MAJOR concern against Kentucky. Stallings will use his zone tonight of course, but Vandy just won’t be able to score enough or keep the UK off the offensive glass even if it is effective.      Back to another SEC game where it comes down to being able to penetrate a zone. Georgia isn’t looking for the 3 with their offense, but they’ll be up against Ole Miss’ zone. Fortunately for them, Ole Miss is prone to fouling on penetration, and that’s UGA’s strength offensively, and it helps that they’ll have the potential home whistle. Georgia’s also good on the defensive glass, and should be able to contain Ole Miss on putbacks, another strength of this team. Of course, Ole Miss has been known to get absurdly hot from 3, and Georgia’s defense can be beat from outside.

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