The Michigan game: tempo free, etc.

Michigan Wolverines
Current record: 4-10
Big Ten record: 0-2
Current RPI: 170
Current Sagarin: 173
2006-07 record: 21-12 (8-8); lost to Florida State in second round of NIT
2006-07 RPI: 54
2006-07 Sagarin: 56
Series: IU leads 97-52
Last IU win: 1/27/07 (76-61 in Bloomington)
Last Michigan win: 2/17/07 (58-55 in Ann Arbor)
Last IU win in Ann Arbor: 3/4/06 (69-67)
TV: 7 pm, ESPN

Last year's loss at Crisler Arena snapped an eleven game IU winning streak against Michigan and a four game winning streak for IU in Ann Arbor. Like most other Big Ten fans, I'll miss Tommy Amaker. His soft, underachieving teams were a thing of beauty to those of us who have never quite moved beyond our Michigan-hatred formed during the Fab Five era. I don't expect Michigan to be any such pushover as the Beilein era progresses, but this year's team might be the worst Michigan team in decades. In their defense, the Wolverines have played, by any measure, one of the nation's toughest schedules. Michigan has lost to Georgetown, Butler, Boston College, Duke, UCLA, and Wisconsin (all by at least 13). Any team could lose to those teams. Losses to Western Kentucky, Harvard (coached by Tommy Amaker!), and Central Michigan are tougher to justify.

I enrolled at IU in the fall of 1992, when both IU and Michigan were at the top of the college basketball world. Both teams were ranked in the preseason top five and both returned nearly every contributor from Final Four teams. Michigan, with all of the Fab Five returning as sophomores, was ranked #1 in the preseason AP poll and the Hoosiers were #4. Because of the high ticket demand that year, IU students received tickets to only four home games each. Tickets were allocated on a random basis, meaning the last person in line might get better tickets than the first person in line. I remember waiting in line for tickets and watching the reactions of the students in front of me. Each recipient reacted with a celebration or a profane outburst, depending entirely on whether a ticket to the Michigan game was in the allotment (yes, I got one, 35th row East Main). So, despite the demise of Michigan's program in the last decade, I am subconsciously programmed to think of IU-Michigan as a big game, and I still get butterflies when I see Michigan on the court with IU, at least when the Wolverines wear the maize jerseys. My personal favorite IU games at Crisler:
  • The 1993 game. During the aforementioned 1992-1993 season, IU won both of the matchups by one point. That doesn't really tell the story of the game in Bloomington. IU led that game by ten with about a minute remaining but Chris Webber made three 3-pointers in the last minute, including one as time expired, to tighten things up at the end, but IU was in no real danger of losing at the end. The game in Ann Arbor, on the other hand, was every bit as close as the score would indicate. As the linked article says, Alan Henderson blocked Chris Webber's attempted putback and IU escaped with a one point win and ultimately won the Big Ten with a 17-1 record.
  • The 1997 game. This IU team ultimately disappointed, but not nearly as much as the Wolverines. This was Steve Fisher's last Michigan team, and despite a roster that included Robert Traylor and Maurice Taylor, the Wolverines somehow ended up in the NIT. The IU game certainly contributed to the Wolverines' demise. IU trailed by 20 early in the second half but worked back to within three points at the end of the second half. Freshman AJ Guyton, who scored 31 points in the game, buried a three pointer with 2.1 seconds remaining to send the game to overtime. I have linked the Michigan Daily's coverage above. Bob Knight said that other than Keith Smart's shot in the 1987 NCAA title game, "[t]hat's as good a play as I've ever had a kid make under that kind of pressure."

Unfortunately for the Wolverines, Chris Webber isn't walking through that door. None of Michigan's tempo-free numbers look particularly good, although the tough schedule means that the adjusted numbers are prettier than the raw numbers. Michigan's raw offensive efficiency rank is #177, but adjusted it's a respectable #102. While the Wolverines don't shoot particularly well, they take care of the ball (19.9 turnover percentage, #69 nationally; 8.1 steal percentage, #45 nationally). Michigan capitalizes on 35.1 percent of offensive rebound opportunities, #116 nationally. Defensively, it's uglier. Michigan allows 1.08 points per possession (#302 nationally), and even the weighted defensive efficiency number ranks #183 nationally. The Wolverines block a lot of shots (#30 nationally per possession) and keep opponents from getting to the line (#17 nationally). The low number of freethrow attempts may be attributable to the Wolverines' part-time use of Beilein's famous 1-3-1 zone. On the flip side, Michigan's opponents shoot over 42 percent from behind the arc (that's #329, almost dead last nationally), so why take it to the hoop?

For an update on IU's tempo-free numbers, go here. Of course, IU's strength offensively has been getting to the free throw line (IU is #2 nationally in free throws made per possession), while Michigan opponents haven't been able to do so. Despite the excellence of Eric Gordon, IU has been a good but not overwhelming three point shooting team (37.4, #90 nationally) and only 30 percent of IU's attempts are three point shots (#255 nationally). IU ranks #20 in both 2-point field goal percentage and free throw percentage. On the defensive side, IU again is above average nationally across the board, but the Hoosiers' weakest category defensively is turnover percentage. IU should win this game, but it seems that Michigan's strength (taking care of the ball) lines up against IU's defensive weakness. And while Michigan isn't a good defensive team, the Wolverines have lost because of opponents' three point shooting, which hasn't been the dominant focus of IU's offense. It will be interesting to see whose game these teams play.

I'll discuss Michigan's roster tomorrow.

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