What do you get when your favorite basketball team loves to do things they're not good at? You get the Michigan Wolverines. John Beilein has implemented the 1-3-1 zone and three point bombing attack he had going at West Virginia, only at Michigan he has much worse personnel with which to execute it.
Last year Michigan shot the 12th most three pointers in the country last year, and got a third of their points from beyond the arc. But they didn't exactly do it in an efficient way. They shot just 29.7% from beyond the arc, which was 331st in the entire country. As a result they didn't get to the line at all. 329th most in the entire country. A further look at the Wolverines after the jump:
Players to know: With Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims gone, much of the load rests on the shoulders of Zack Novak, Stu Douglass and Darius Morris. Novak, despite being only 6'5", played a lot at the 4 spot last year, though all indications point to him playing at the two guard. Stop me if I've said this before, but shooting from beyond the arc is not his forte. Novak took 144 threes but made just 30.6% of them. Douglas actually took the most threes on the team, 158, and made just 32.9% of them. If Michigan is to have a surprising year, these two need to improve their shooting.
Helping out in that regard could be Sophomore Matt Vogrich. Vogrich didn't play much as a Freshman (just 12.9% of the minutes), but he made roughly 40% of his threes and had a 54% eFG. Vogrich also reportedly added about 15 pounds of muscle to his frame, and while he was already a decent rebounder (10% defensive rebounding percentage), he should get even better in that department. He's a poor defender, bu by being able to shoot the three well he will probably get a lot of minutes for Beilein.
How to attack them: As I said, Michigan plays a lot of zone. The Wolverines were a bit taller than average last season, but with DeShawn Sims (6'8") and Zack Gibson (6'10") gone, Michigan will likely be a little shorter this year. As such, Kansas will probably be able to utilize the high low and get the Morri and Thomas Robinson involved. Last year in the Michigan game Marcus Morris had a career high 23 points, going 7 for 10 from the field and making all 8 of his free throws. Hopefully a similar game is in store this year. However, it is also possible that Michigan, knowing about its lack of size, could pack it in. In which case, the Jayhawks will have to improve their outside shooting from the Washburn game.
How to defend them: This one is actually pretty easy. Although Manny Harris had a down year last year, he still had the ability to take over a game. Michigan doesn't have anyone like that anymore, and are pretty much going to rely on their three point shooting to get points. As such, Kansas should probably just pack guys in and let them shoot. Obviously under Bill Self the Jayhawks have preferred to play pressure defense on the perimeter, but any backdoor cuts they allow would be extra points for the Wolverines, and unnecessary ones.
Game prediction: Kansas wins 71-60 in 65 possessions.
Note: the above was written before the season started, because I mistakenly thought the previews would all be published before the season. Here is an update on their year so far:
The first thing that jumps out at you when looking at Michigan is how slowly they play. The Big 10 is a slow conference as a whole, but the Wolverines take it to an entirely new level. Their 63.5 possessions per game is 2nd slowest in the conference (to Wisconsin's glacial 59.3) and only 24 teams play more slowly than them in the entire country. Michigan also shoots a ton of threes. Their 44.1 3PA/FGA is 8th most in the country. So it is pretty apparent that their strategy is going to be to run down the clock as much as possible and then shoot a three. Fortunately, Michigan's three point shooting isn't very good. 34.4% as a team (which is above their last year's total of 29.7% and just above what I like to call the break even mark of 33%, but still nothing to get worried about). But even better news is that their most frequent chucker, Freshman Tim Hardaway, is shooting just 28% from beyond the arc. The two players to hound beyond the arc, and I would suggest putting Releford and Taylor on them, respectively, are Stu Douglass (27-60) and Evan Smotrycz (20-51). And the last good point to make about their obsessive three point shooting is that it results in them getting to the line far less frequently. I would expect the Morri to avoid foul trouble in this one, unless they are a little too ambitious in guarding on the perimeter.
One other thing to note is that our defensive rebounding, which has been a bit suspect this year, won't get much of a test from Michigan. Although the Wolverines are a good defensive rebounding team (27.7%, 28th in the country), they don't grab many offensive rebounds, at a rate of just 29.1%, 277th in the country. This is not because they somehow suck at offensive rebounding but can turn it on on the defensive end of the floor, but rather that they don't send many people, if any, to the offensive glass, preferring to get back on defense and control the pace. As such it will be tough for Kansas to get out in transition and we will have to make sure to execute in our offensive sets. Though I advocated for playing Releford on Douglass earlier, he might not get into the game too much because of the lack of running opportunities. I'm not sure of the availability of Thomas Robinson for this one, but I am assuming he is playing. If so I expect him to have a big day against Michigan's smaller front line. I certainly expect that for the Morri as well but Robinson is the one who can really outmuscle Michigan's big men (Smotrycz is their tallest player who plays at least a third of their minutes, and he is only 6'9" and is more of a perimeter guy as evidenced by the 51 threes he has taken so far this year, 4th on the team).
Current Prediction: KenPom currently has 71-60 in 66 possessions (which, by the way, means I am patting myself on the back for my earlier prediction), and I am going to deviate from that only slightly. I'll say Kansas wins 75-62 in 69 possessions.