Earlier this week I had the opportunity to do a question and answer exchange with Dylan Burkhardt from UMHoops.com. If you're looking for some Michigan perspective on the game outside of SB Nation's Maize N Brew I would definitely recommend checking out what UMHoops has to offer, they really do some good work and it's always good to check out the view from the other bench heading into a game like this.
I'll post my Q&A with them once they put it up. For now, here's what Dylan had to say.
1. Two matchups in this one. When Michigan has the ball we have a great offense against a great defense. When is Michigan at their best offensively and when have they struggled.
Michigan is at its best offensively when it gets out into transition. Trey Burke is great at running the break and he has a number of weapons to distribute the ball to. Tim Hardaway Jr. can finish at the rim but also loves to shoot the three as a trailer in the secondary break. Glenn Robinson III is Michigan's best athlete in a long time, Nik Stauskas is a 43% three point shooter and most of Michigan's bigs are comfortable running and finishing.
The Wolverines generally only run off of clean rebounds and turnovers, so if Michigan is getting out in transition it also means that its defense is playing well - far from a certainty with this group.
In the half court, Michigan's offense revolves around the Trey Burke high ball screen. Burke is a National Player of the Year candidate and is very capable shooting, driving or distribution from the pick and roll.
2. Flip that to when Kansas has the ball and we have a matchup of mediocrity. All that said Kansas has had an offense that can really click at times. Michigan fans seem concerned with the team's defensive effort, what has been the issue here and what types of teams have exploited that?
Michigan fans are concerned with the defense because the Wolverines struggled to stop anyone over the final month of the season. Michigan wasn't just gouged by a certain team or style of team; it struggled to stop any style of play.
Many of those struggles have been attributed to the team's youth - Michigan is the youngest team in the tournament and starts three freshmen with two others in the eight man rotation - but the common denominator was poor defensive rebounding. At one point in early January, Michigan had the second best defensive rebounding percentage in the country. Since then the Wolverines have fallen to 70th in defensive rebounding and really struggled against some of the more physical Big Ten offenses.
However, Michigan seemed to fix some of those problems against South Dakota State and VCU. The Wolverines finally got some stops and also did a significantly better job on the defensive glass than they have in a long time. It's just VCU and South Dakota State but still an encouraging sign.
3. How would you defend Trey Burke?
Burke is deadly because he can affect the game in so many ways. He lives off of the ball screen and he's able to shoot the three if defenders go under the ball screen or weave his way into the lane where he's able to finish, drop the ball off to one of Michigan's finishers (Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary) or kick the ball to Nik Stauskas on the wing for an open three.
The bottom line is you are going to need some really good defenders to slow down Burke. I don't think there's any perfect strategy to stopping him. The key is forcing him into positions where his only option is to beat your best defender - but still manage to eliminate Michigan's peripheral weapons.
The common strategy is to isolate the high ball screen at the top of the paint and not help off of Michigan's two, three and four position players. This has been referred to as "locking the rails" by
Michigan coaches and fans. Ohio State and Indiana both did a pretty good job of this, essentially forcing Burke and Michigan's five man, Mitch McGary usually, to score the ball.
I would suspect the Kansas approach would be somewhat similar where the on ball defender attempts to blow up or fight through every high ball screen and force Burke to reject the screen; funneling him into Jeff Withey.
4. Follow up to that, who is the next most important person for the Michigan offense?
Tim Hardaway Jr. is probably Michigan's streakiest player. When he's hitting threes (he was 8-of-12 against VCU and SDSU last week) then Michigan's offense reaches very dangerous levels. But Hardaway is usually going to get his way to 15 points regardless of his three point stroke. The x-factors are the freshmen: Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas and Mitch McGary.
The stat that everyone loves to throw around is that Michigan is 19-1 when Robinson reaches double figures. Robinson scores almost entirely off of what John Beilein calls residual action - cuts to the basket, drop off passes from Trey Burke, transition and offensive rebounds - and if he's scoring that means Michigan's offense is likely clicking on all cylinders.
McGary played probably the two best games of his career in the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament and began to look like the top-5 prospect he was once considered. McGary's inside presence adds the one element that Michigan truly lacks but he'll have much tougher sledding against Jeff Withey. McGary has been prone to picking up fouls and his ability to stay on the court could be critical.
5. How would you describe John Beilein's approach philosophically from an offensive/defensive perspective?
John Beilein has adapted quite a bit during his time at Michigan but some of the core - almost stereotypical - principles of his basketball philosophy remain in place.
Michigan still runs a spread offense with what amounts to four perimeter players and one big man. The Wolverines still shoot their fair share of threes, although not as many as previous Beilein led teams, but they've added additional wrinkles. Beilein has leaned on the point guard heavily over the last three seasons with Darius Morris and now Trey Burke. The ball screen has gone from a small part of Michigan's offense to the core component. The addition of Mitch McGary has also helped Michigan's offense at least begin to make an attempt on the offensive glass and come up with a few extra opportunities.
Defensively, the 1-3-1 zone that made Beilein famous at West Virginia has been all but scrapped this season. Michigan ran a zone defense on just 5.5% of its possessions this year and hasn't been all that effective when it goes to the zone. Despite the fact that the 1-3-1 is rarely used and hasn't been that effective, I could still see Beilein utilizing it against a sometimes turnover prone team like Kansas if he needs to utilize a change of pace.
The Wolverines played two of their best games in a long time last weekend at the Palace of Auburn Hills and recency bias is certainly clouding my judgment. That being said, Michigan looked much more like the team that dominated for the first half of the season than the team that limped to the finish line in the Big Ten. I think Kansas is a very difficult matchup (and should have a home court advantage) but Michigan comes out and surprises with a 75-69 win.