Hoops Preview: Holy Cross

Liz Condo-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan returns to the Crisler Center tomorrow evening to take on the 6-5 Holy Cross Crusaders, the Wolverines' final non-conference opponent of the season.

Game: 6-5 Holy Cross @ 7-4 Michigan

Date: Dec. 28, 2013

Time: 6:30 ET

Location: Crisler Center--Ann Arbor, Mich.

TV: BTN

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Obviously, Michigan has a game on the gridiron tomorrow, so a non-conference game against a barely-above-.500 Patriot League squad might not be registering on your radar. Nonetheless, it's Michigan's last non-conference game before the Wolverines head to Minneapolis on Jan. 2 for their Big Ten opener.

Resume

Holy Cross comes into this 188th in RPI, with losses to Harvard, North Carolina, Belmont, Hartford and Canisius. While Hartford and Canisius aren't "good" losses, the first three on that list certainly are. UNC and Harvard are both in the RPI top 25. Belmont currently sits at No. 67, helped out by an early season upset of the mercurial Tar Heels in Chapel Hill.

The Crusaders are 0-4 thus far against teams in the top 150 in RPI; to their credit, the box scores of the Harvard and UNC games make it seems like those games were vaguely competitive (they lost by 10 and eight points to those teams, respectively).

This isn't South Carolina State or Coppin State, but it doesn't really seem like Holy Cross is a team that should challenge the Wolverines much.

Personnel

Senior forward Dave Dudzinski, standing at 6'9'', paces the Crusaders with 17.1 ppg and 7.6 rpg. Dudzinksi offers a bit of a matchup problem, as he also shoots 46 percent from beyond the arc (on 24 attempts). Additionally, you can't just hack away and hope he misses from the line, because he shoots 80 percent from there. Needless to say, shutting him down will go a long way toward assuring a comfortable victory.

Sophomore guard Cullen Hamilton has missed the last six games due to injury; before getting hurt, he was averaging 16.2 ppg, buoyed up a bit by dropping 35 in a double overtime affair against Sacred Heart. To be honest, I haven't been able to find much about his injury status, but I would guess he doesn't go.

Malcolm Miller and Taylor Abt round out the front court for the Crusaders. Miller averages 9.8 ppg and is second on the team in rebounds with 4.5 rpg. Like Dudzinski, he's also a threat from outside, where he shoots 44 percent (23 attempts).

Abt is listed as a probable starter (per Holy Cross's athletics website's official preview), but he's only logged 16.0 minutes per game and just 2.9 ppg.

In the front court, 5'9'' point guard Justin Burrell runs the show for the Crusaders for the third season in a row. Even so, he's fourth on the team in assists and sixth in field goal attempts; in short, he's a true point guard and not of the score-first variety.

6'4'' sophomore guard Eric Green rounds out the starting five. He averages 7.9 ppg and 3.7 rpg. For what it's worth, he's described as an athletic type in his official profile. I don't imagine that he'll be able to lock Nik Stauskas (or whomever) down, but Green does seem to have the length to cause some problems.

Game Keys

  • Strong start. This time of year, the layoff between games can lead to some accumulation of holiday rust. Michigan got a big win last Saturday against Stanford, but that momentum would be completely obliterated if the Wolverines were to struggle tomorrow--or worse, lose.
  • Life without McGary. According to Brendan Quinn, we won't know much about McGary's status until Beilein talks to the media today at around 4:30. However, there's little reason to send McGary out there, especially with the Big Ten schedule right around the corner. As such, the pressure will continue to be on Michigan's guards to hit their outside shots. On the bright side, McGary's absence does give Glenn Robinson III more opportunities to find shots from the low post, which he's done quite well in the first half against both Arizona and Stanford.
  • Foul trouble. Fouls were a big issue in Brooklyn last weekend. Now, part of that was simply due to some touchy officiating, but Michigan will need to return to its infrequently fouling ways of last year or Big Ten teams with size comparable to Arizona and Stanford will give the Wolverines fits. Obviously, Holy Cross doesn't have that sort of size, but this game should be treated as a pre-Big Ten tuneup anyway.
  • Shut down Dudzinski. Dudzinkski is the productive fourth-year player that every dangerous small conference squad seems to have; if he doesn't produce, Holy Cross has no shot of making it a close game, like they did at Harvard and at North Carolina. Holy Cross lists him at center but he's really a stretch 4 type, what with his 3-point shooting capabilities. Regardless, he'll be a good test for Jon Horford et al. Given Dudzinski's mobility, Jordan Morgan does not exactly matchup well with him. As such, Horford needs to avoid reprising his essentially foul-a-minute performance against Stanford.
Outlook
Everyone's thinking about the bowl game, and rightfully so. With Devin Gardner out, though, Michigan's best chance at a W tomorrow will come on the hardwood.

Michigan is 2-1 against Holy Cross all-time; by around 8:30 on Saturday night, they'll be 3-1. Then, the Wolverines can finally shift their collective focus to the part of the season that really counts.
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