Michigan at Minnesota (1/2/14) Pregame Thoughts

Michigan at Minnesota (1/2/14) Pregame Thoughts
January 1, 2014

Minnesota begins conference play on Thursday, January 2, 2014 when the Michigan Wolverines visit the Barn. Game time is 6pm CT. The folks at UMHoops.com provide great coverage of the Michigan program and their site is worth a pre-game visit.

Our thoughts on these two teams haven’t changed: Minnesota has a chance to be a tournament team and Michigan should be a tournament team. It’s the first conference game for both squads but quite important.

The Wolverines are 8-4 but are better than their record. Several miscellaneous thoughts and insights on Michigan and this game can be found below.

Mitch McGary
McGary’s plan to have back surgery is a big headline item, but the impact on the Wolverines is overdone by some. Jordan Morgan is expected to start against the Gophers. He’s a senior who has almost 100 career starts.

Along with the 6’8”, 250 pound fifth year man Morgan, 6’10” junior Jon Horford gives Michigan veteran guys who can do a good job of filling in for McGary’s minutes. They’re not as good as McGary, but they can rebound and play solid, efficient basketball.

Perhaps more than his statistical production on the court, the Wolverines will miss McGary’s fire and vocal leadership.

Free Throws
Minnesota leads the Big Ten in free throw percentage and that means next to nothing. Michigan isn’t far behind in third place, but it’s a statistic that has little correlation to winning basketball games.

More relevant is that the Wolverines don’t get to the line a lot, but they are excellent at keeping their opponent off the charity stripe.

Both Robinson and Stauskas have strongly improved their drawing of fouls (Robinson’s fouls drawn per 40 minutes went from 2.9 as a freshman to 4.4 this season; Stauskas improved from 2.7 to 5.7). After those two, however, Michigan’s players don’t get to the line much.

Nik Stauskas has improved his offensive rating and eFG% while boosting his usage as a sophomore. As discussed above the Canadian is getting to the line more frequently and that’s largely a result of attacking the rim more. His 3FGA/FGA tendencies have trended more toward 2FGA’s and he’s proven that his game far surpasses that of an outside shooting

Year ORtg eFG% Usage %Shots
2012-13 131 61.3% 23% 21%
2013-14 123 59.7% 16% 18%

Note: Usage increase exceeds %Shots due to higher assist & free throw rates.

As impressive as he’s been it’s relevant to remember how good he was out of the gate last season against lesser competition. His nonconference eFG% of 61.3% this season (which is sensational) is actually down considerably from an uncanny 70.3% in November and December of 2012.

Entering the 2013 calendar year Stauskas was shooting 56.5% 3FG. He converted 36.3% of his 3FGA’s the rest of the way. This season his 3FG% stands at 47.5%.

He’s really good, but through 11 games he’s been great against lesser teams and “only” very good against good teams.

 Competition eFG% Ortg
Top 6 opponents 48.6% 119
Lower 5 opponents 81.8% 156

Glenn Robinson III
Like Stauskas he’s a very good player who can score multiple ways, but isn’t a high usage guy (21%). GRIII has been playing at a very high level lately and his turnover rate of around 8% is unbelievably low.

Glenn’s 23 points in his last game (vs. Holy Cross) were a career high. He had 9 points (including a highlight reel dunk) in his only game against the Gophers last season.

Is he ready to consistently up his possessions for this team?

Other Players
Caris LeVert has been inconsistent but when he’s on, the long sophomore guard is entertaining and can be a major factor. Had 24 points against Duke… and 1 point with 3 turnovers against Stanford.

In addition to LeVert, freshman Zak Irvin is an X-factor. Yet another skilled guy around 6’6″, Irvin is a great scorer who has launched the majority of his attempts from 3-point range this season.

How Minnesota matches up and their use of zone defense will be of interest. There is a lot of good size and length for Michigan and all of their wings can shoot from outside. Stauskas and Robinson are the bigger names right now, but the Gophers can’t forget about LeVert and Irvin.

The point guard position is where Minnesota has to dominate. True freshman Derrick Walton should get the start. He’s a good talent, but he’s young and inexperienced. The Wolverines do not turn the ball over much, but Walton is an exception. Dre Mathieu has the ability to get Walton flustered early and often.

Off the bench at point is Spike Albrecht, an undersized, low-usage-but-steady guard who continues to make the shots he takes.

This game is a coin flip. We’ll be watching Pitino’s substitution choices and defensive strategies with great interest. Ultimately the winner may be decided by how often Michigan’s 3-point shots are falling. The Gophers’ D-I opponents have shot just 29.4% from behind the arc, but we don’t put a lot of stock into using that figure when projecting games.

Offensively Minnesota should be fine if their decision making isn’t too wild. Like the Gophers, Michigan’s defense isn’t as good as its offense. Along with Pitino’s coaching, we’ll be focused on the play of Dre Mathieu. Against the Michigan point guards he does have a skill set that could produce strong results on both sides of the ball.

As always, though, the Gophers must lean heavily on senior Austin Hollins and junior Dre Hollins.

Flashback: The Gophers were ranked #9 in the nation (Associated Press) when Michigan beat them 83-75 at the Barn last January.

@LateNightHoops is on Twitter.

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