On Thursday night, Purdue heads into the
GMC Dodge Crisler Center to face some formidable Wolverines. They do wear blue and yellow (maize, my ass), but as far as I know they aren't actually mutants with vicious retractable claws. They might as well be, however, with the way they've been carving up opposing defenses this season. Here are some observations:
1 They're sort of like this year's Missouri.
Remember Missouri? They tore through the Big 12 last year with a juggernaut offense boosted by white-hot shooting, a lot of threes, and a low turnover rate. Their defense wasn't great, but they did keep opponents off the free throw line. And they played a guard- and wing-heavy lineup with only 7 players seeing significant minutes. And everyone was like, "OMG, I bet Painter wishes he had gone to Missouri when he had the chance." And then they lost to Norfolk State in the first round of the tourney. Whoops.
Well, most of what I just said is true about Michigan as well. In fact the numbers are ridiculously similar:
2P% 3P% 3PA/FGA TO% % bench minutes 2013 Michigan 56.8 39.8 37.0 15.1 22.5 2012 Missouri 57.0 39.8 37.9 15.4 21.1
What to expect: The "small ball" incarnation of this year's Boilers will probably have to continue. Sure, we'll see a little bit of Hale, Lawson, or Carroll, but with the exception of Hammons, I suspect Painter will use his bigs surgically. One also wonders if he'll try to take advantage of our relative depth by turning up the defensive pressure and/or getting out and running a bit more than usual.
2 They are REALLY good at some things.
While Ohio State was fairly good in every four factors category, Michigan's statistical profile shows two massive strengths on offense, and two on defense. On offense, they shoot well, with an effective field goal percentage (EFG) of 57.9, #2 in the nation. They also limit turnovers (15.1%, also #2 in the nation). On defense they clean the glass (24.8%, #3 in the nation) and keep opponents off the free throw line (Opponent free throw rate of 21.1%, yet again #2 in the nation). In all other categories, they're fairly average.
These numbers suggest that they want their games to be about who can shoot better. Their low turnover rate means that they can get a shot up nearly every time down the floor, and their high EFG suggests that they'll make a lot of them. On defense they don't force many turnovers, but their solid defensive rebounding means that they're willing to give their opponents one (and only one) shot per possession. And when you're the second-best shooting team in the land, getting a roughly equal number of shots with your opponent usually means victory.
What to expect: To beat Michigan this year, you're probably going to have to negate their massive strengths in at least two of the categories I mentioned above. To take the one and only example so far, Ohio State beat them by forcing a bad shooting night (EFG of 44.7%) and creating a lot of turnovers (21.7% of UM possessions). Based on our strengths, it seems that keeping their EFG low and getting a lot of offensive rebounds might be our path. For that reason I suspect you might see us prizing offensive boards a bit more than usual. And that's where the small ball lineup might hurt us. For a wing, Rapheal Davis is decent on the offensive glass, but other than that, our offensive rebounding relies on our bigs.
3 They have a freshman named Spike Albrecht.
What to expect: Albrecht comes in before a media timeout to give Burke a breather. During a stoppage in play, he makes a brilliant woodcut of the Fab Five on the Crisler Center floor, then circles around three times, lies down, and gnaws on an old bone until the next deadball.
One thing I like about tempo-free stats is that they help you see in a bit more detail what makes good teams good. And then when they lose, you can see how someone managed to beat them. For example, last year Norfolk State beat Missouri by defying probability and simply outshooting them. Purdue is not going to outshoot Michigan tonight. But our recent improvement in that department as well as our FG% defense suggests that we can keep the shooting battle fairly close. Then the question is whether we can win enough other smaller battles (on the boards and with turnovers) to piece together a victory. For my part, I doubt it. I expect a Michigan State style game (minus the second half foul avalanche)--that is, a game where we're often trailing slightly but manage keep it close throughout.
Michigan 75, Purdue 66
PS. I hope I'm wrong! (I said this last time and it totally worked, so superstition demands that I say it again.)