Michigan-Eastern Michigan Preview: Neighbor

"LOUD NOISES." - Mike Stobe

Michigan takes on 6-3 Eastern Michigan at the Crisler Arena Center Building tonight in what is the penultimate tuneup before Big Ten play begins on Jan. 3 in Evanston.

Exposition

After handling West Virginia with relative ease in Brooklyn on Saturday, Michigan enjoyed a nice long break, which ends tonight as the Wolverines take on their intra-county friends, the Eastern Michigan Eagles.

Michigan enters the contest at 11-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country; to say that the season has been a success thus far would is like gently intimating that everyone involved in the NHL lockout negotiations is engaged in an act of extended self-flagellation. No, yeah, that's an understatement.

Anyway, the Wolverines have swagged their way through the requisite slate of awful teams while generally handling the teams with a pulse (N.C. State, Pitt, Kansas State). The underlying concern through it all has been thus: What happens when the shots stop falling and the freshman --namely Stauskas-- start to play like freshmen?

Well, after starting the season on a tear, Tim Hardaway Jr. is shooting "just" 37% from 3-point land. Through the first three games (Slippery Rock, IUPUI and Cleveland State), he shot 8-for-11. In the ensuing 3-game stretch, composed of the two games at MSG and the N.C. State game, THJ was just 3-for-19 from 3 (16%). Even more worrisome, the number of THJ threes continued to outpace the logical basis for taking them, and so the rest of the schedule features a lot of 1-for-Xs for him in this department. On the bright side, he did go 4-for-8 from beyond the arc against West Virginia; either way, it behooves both Michigan and THJ himself when he attacks. We all know this.

Similarly, Nik Stauskas finally put up a real clunker of a performance against WVU, his first of the season. Honestly, it's remarkable that it even took this long. The Pride of Mississauga was just 2-for-7 from 3 on Saturday and also had six turnovers to his name.

Michigan won't be truly tested until the conference schedule begins, but if there are any storylines to pay particular attention to, it's THJ and Stauskas from beyond the arc, albeit for very different reasons.

The Opponent

Oh, right, Michigan is playing someone. That someone is the 6-3 Eastern Michigan Eagles of the Mid-American Conference, marking Michigan's second directional Michigan school opponent of the month. This would be annoying if this was a post about football, but with the strength of the Big Ten*, there's nothing wrong with a couple empty calorie snacks heading into the new year. This is one of two final chances for the Wolverines to demolish a completely overmatched opponent until Michigan takes on the dregs of the B1G.

As for EMU, their trio of losses came at the hands of: a now 8-3 Jacksonville State team, at Syracuse by 36 and another rout at UIC on Saturday. FWIW, UIC also beat Northwestern a little while back in one of the B1Gest games of this young season. Illinois-Chicago is 9-2 and first in the Horizon League, so that's fine, I guess.

EMU's biggest win to date came at home against Purdue, a 47-44 gritocaplyse of grit and defense. Purdue is not so good, but it was EMU's first win over a Big Ten foe since, oh nevermind I can't remember MOVING ON.

Personnel-wise, the Eagles boast three double-digit scorers: 6'3'' senior G Derek Thompson (12.3 ppg), 6'8'' junior F Glenn Bryant (10.4 ppg) and 6'6'' junior SF Daylen Harrison (10.1 ppg). The No. 4 guy, 6'3'' freshman G Ray Lee, is averaging just 5.5 ppg. As such, the fact that EMU is only averaging 57 points per game should not come as much of a surprise.

EMU does have some elite size in the 7 foot tall Syracuse transfer Da'Shonte Riley. As a freshman at SU, Riley averaged just 1.4 points and 1.5 rebounds per game in 17 game appearances. Naturally, he's doing a little better with EMU' schedule; he's averaging 4.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg, and, most notably, 2.7 blocks per game.

Yes, he is tall, but he's only shooting 38% from the field despite being taller than everyone. Also, is just 7-for-18 from the line (39%), so I don't think Michigan's bigs need to worry much about sending him to the line.

*Oh man, this must be what being an SEC football fan is like, right?

The Gameplan

Michigan came out and derped around for a while against WMU, getting bogged down a bit in WMU's sloppiness and the general lack of flow throughout the first 10 minutes of the game. After the second tv timeout, Michigan was up 12-11 against the Broncos, having turned it over three times to that point (WMU had somehow accrued 7 turnovers in that span).

In short, this game will likely follow a similar path as the Western game. EMU will come out and play hard for a little while, but this should be a glorified scrimmage from the second tv timeout on.

EMU does hit the offensive glass well, however (albeit against mostly not great competition). The Eagles have racked up 120 offensive boards on the year, good for a very good offensive rebounding percentage of 40%. Somehow, Bryant and not the 7-footer Riley leads the way for EMU with 21 ORBs. Basically, as always, if Michigan cleans up on the glass, Michigan will be up by double-digits at the half.

Like the WMU game, the faint smell of molasses should linger in the Crisler Arena Center Building tonight; EMU averages 62.9 possessions per game, even slower than Michigan (64.2 possessions per). Like every underdog, EMU will try to shorten the game as much as possible.

Michigan can end any hopes of an upset bid with a swift transition game. Riley isn't Serge Ibaka or anything, but if you can avoid a halfcourt set against a team with a 7-footer, why not? Michigan's bigs (i.e. Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary) should be able to make hay with a transition dunk or two.

Miscellaneous Stats

  • The truth will set you free. EMU is 328th nationally in true shooting percentage at 46%. Michigan is 6th at 60.4%.
  • Shots. Derek Thompson, EMU's leading scorer and shot-taker, has attempted more 3s (60) than 2s (40). He is shooting a team best 38% from 3, which bumps his eFG% to 52.5%.
  • Block party. No doubt powered by Riley, the Eagles are tied for 17th in block percentage at 10.4%. They average 5.6 blocks per game.

Ending Thoughts, Predictions, Etc.

Oh man, you're still reading this? Well, this is awkward. EMU can't score even though they've seemingly created a significant number of second chance opportunities. They have one really tall guy, a la WMU's Shayne Whittington, who was just 1-for-5 for 4 points and 6 rebounds against Michigan. Even without Horford's services, rebounding should not be an issue, EMU's ORB% notwithstanding.

This will be another blowout, but I'm thinking some holiday sluggishness prevents Michigan from covering. Michigan 70, EMU 51.

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