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The Wolverines have a pretty important game tonight. Here's a list of a few things to pay attention to during the game.
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Chicks dig the long ball
There are many similarities between Michigan's offense and SDSU's, and in most cases, Michigan is the more efficient team. But one area where SDSU has an advantage could hurt Michigan big. The Jackrabbits are a very dangerous three point shooting team. They boast the ninth best three point percentage in the country (39.4%) and are solidly in the top-100 when it comes to distribution of three-pointers compared to field goals (36.4 3PA/FGA, 77th nationally).
This could be no bueno for a Michigan team that hasn't always had the best luck dealing with three point shooting teams. Think back to just last week vs. Wisconsin, when the Badgers took control of the game with a barrage of three point shots in the second half. Nate Wolters is a skilled passer and scorer, and if Michigan sags off shooters on the outside it will open up shots that SDSU can convert. Four SDSU starters shoot over 35 percent from three with over 100 attempts, so this is a team that will take and make shots from outside.
The Nate Wolters Show
A solid amount of this three point success is generated from the point guard position. Michigan fans should be very familiar with this, as Nate Wolters is a bigger version of Trey Burke. A hyper-efficient scorer (22.7 ppg with an eFG% of 55.9) that can dish out assists at a high rate (An assist rate of 34.5 is in the top 50 nationally and a 12.5 turnover rate is downright Burke-ian in its efficiency considering the high dependence on the point guard position to handle the ball), Wolters is a matchup nightmare. He shoots nearly 40 percent from three and draws an average of six fouls per forty minutes, which puts him in the top 100 nationally in that stat. Hell, he even averages over five rebounds per game.
Michigan is going to have its work cut out for it checking Wolters. Putting Burke on him could be a recipe for disaster as you risk running your star player ragged on both ends of the court. However, that leaves either THJ or Stauskas as the only other starting options. I would guess that LeVert gets some significant minutes and spends most of them guarding Wolters to give Burke a break.
Michigan is the youngest tournament team in Kenpom's experience metric. It isn't even close, really. Meanwhile, Michigan is facing a squad that is 44th in the nation in experience with an average of 2.18 years. The starting lineup consists of two seniors and three juniors.
Michigan starts two freshmen (three if McGary starts), and a sophomore. In all, five freshmen get non-blowout minutes. Only two upperclassmen play at all for Michigan.
I've (and everyone else) has talked all year about how well Michigan holds onto the ball. The Wolverines are first in the nation in turnover percentage at 14.3. This is another striking similarity between the two teams as SDSU sits 10th nationally at 16.3 percent, a lot of it thanks to the aforementioned Wolters.
Given how well these two teams hold the ball, turnovers could be a big deal. "What?" you say, "that doesn't make sense." Bear with me. Both teams struggle to force turnovers (Michigan is slightly better with a turnover rate of 18.9 forced compared to 17.1 for SDSU). There won't be many to go around in this one, thus adding a lot of value to the ones that do happen. The team that wins the turnover battle -- and more importantly score more points off those turnovers -- is going to have a good leg up on the other.
This is one of the areas that Michigan is going to have to win. SDSU has solid height spread across its roster. The starting lineup measures 6'4, 6'4, 6'6, 6'7, and 6'8. What the Jackrabbits don't have is someone really big. They still manage to do a good job keeping other teams off the offensive glass (10th nationally with an allowed OR% or 26.0). Michigan has had some problems on the glass this year, but that has been against Big Ten teams that have more size and athleticism down low. On the year Michigan is gathering in 32.5 percent of its offensive rebound chances, and Mitch McGary is seventh nationally in OR% with an OR% (16.5) better than most players DR%.
Michigan is probably going to have problems with SDSU's three point shooting, and second chance points on offense will be a good way to mitigate those shots on the other end by keeping possessions fruitful and drawing fouls (something else SDSU doesn't do much: foul).
This is a matchup that Michigan should win. The Jackrabbits are a dangerous offensive team with some serious defensive issues. However, this one will probably come down to whether or not SDSU gets hot from outside. If that happens, it'll be a short tournament for Michigan unless the Wolverines find a way to dominate in other areas (rebounds, turnovers).