Who: 3-0 Oregon Ducks
When: 9 p.m. ET
Where: Barclays Center -- Brooklyn, N.Y.
The Ducks are led by Dana Altman, in his fifth year in Eugene after 16 years as the head man at Creighton (where he became the school's all-time winningest* coach). Altman recorded his 100th win as Oregon's head coach in the win against Toledo this past Friday. He's compiled a 100-47 record in his time there.
This season, the Ducks have tallied a 42-point victory against Coppin State, followed by a win against Detroit that was not that different from Michigan's. The Ducks were tied at the half, 35-35, but outscored the Titans in the second, 48-31.
Most recently, the Ducks beat Toledo, 78-68, while edging the Rockets in free throw attempts, 24-13.
*This word will never not look weird to me (if you were wondering, yes, it does have a red squiggly line underneath in in the CMS word processor. I agree, CMS! And yet, there it is, a made-up sports word, existing in our copy.
The Ducks had some key losses from their 2013-14 squad, namely Mike Moser (13.2 ppg), Jason Calliste (12.7 ppg) and Damyean Dotson (who was dismissed from the team). That was an exciting, high-powered offense -- it's Oregon, so how could it not be? I got to watch the Ducks live against Wisconsin during their tournament game in Milwaukee; the 7-seed Ducks gave the eventually Final Four-bound Badgers all they wanted in the first half.
However, that doesn't mean the Ducks still can't fill it up. Fortunately for them, Joseph Young is back, and he is quite good. He averaged 18 ppg last season, and while it's only three games into this one, he's currently averaging an absurd 26 ppg. The 6-foot-2 senior from Houston is a big time player, and will give the Wolverines a big time test early in the season.
Given the Wolverines' at times shaky three-point defense, they'll have to watch out for him beyond the arc. Young has hit 40 percent of his 25 attempts thus far, and has historically been a very good three-point shooter (38, 42 and 42 percent his freshman-junior seasons).
Of course, even if your star goes off, it's tough to win if no one else produces (that is, unless we're talking Michigan's trip to Bloomington last season...Yogi/Assembly Hall is an exception).
Filling in for the aforementioned departed production are 6-foot-6 forward Dillon Brooks (from the Land of Stauskas, otherwise known as Mississauga) and Elgin Cook (who was much at home against Wisconsin in that game, as a Milwaukee native).
Both average 12.7 ppg, with Cook from the power forward position and the freshman Brooks at the small. Small sample size, but Brooks can shoot it from outside (42 percent, 12 3PA).
6-foot-1 guard Ahmaad Rorie and 6-foot-7 forward Dwayne Benjamin round out the starting five. On paper, at least, this seems like a game Michigan can give its Walton-Albrecht two-point lineup some serious run; 6-foot-9 Jordan Bell is Oregon's tallest contributor, coming off of the bench. Bell is, naturally, their best rebounder, reeling in 9 rebounds per game so far this season.
Senior 6-foot-4 guard Jalil Abdul-Bassit is the key scorer off of the bench, averaging 9.7 ppg in 18.0 mpg. A North Idaho College transfer, he didn't play much at all last season as a junior, but seems to be an important contributor thus far. He might be a good three-point shooter, but even that is unclear; he's 5-of-10 from beyond the arc this season, but shot 32 percent from there last season in limited minutes (just 18 attempts all season). Needless to say, if his three-point shooting to so far this season is closer to reality than aberration, the Wolverines can't afford to allow him make an impact on the game, especially if Young does what he does. and Cook/Brooks have their way.
- Transition defense. Not surprisingly, Oregon will want to get up and down the floor. Given that fact, Michigan will need to be on its game in transition, especially since Michigan leans on the three so much; while Michigan hits those threes at a pretty good clip, misses often yield long rebounds which yield transition opportunities. Michigan can probably get what it wants on offense. As always, taking good shots is the first step on the road to good defense.
- Freshmen minutes. We're only three games in, but there's already a little disappointment in how the freshmen have looked, or even the fact that guys like Ricky Doyle and DJ Wilson (and even Mark Donnal, averaging 17.3 mpg as a starter) haven't gotten on the floor much at all. That will have to change at some point. As superb as LeVert, Walton and Zak Irvin are, that is a delicate dependence. Michigan needs more from its young frontcourters, and it simply starts with getting to the point that Beilein can trust them enough to put them in a close game. The Wolverines don't need 10 ppg from Mark Donnal or an avalanche of rebounds from Ricky Doyle, but they do need something, even its just as simple as boring, unnoticeable, baseline-level competence/reliability.
- Bielfeldt? In the same vein as the previous point, this game will provide a nice early season litmus test, not only for the freshmen, but for Max Bielfeldt. Is he a serious long-term option at the 5? No, probably not, especially against teams with actual low post scorers. Oregon, however, is more about speed and agility than towering height. The minutes breakdown between Bielfeldt and the freshmen might just be the most interesting piece of insight to be gleaned from this game.
- Contain Young. Easier said than done, of course, but Young is the guy who makes this team go. If he scores 25 and one of Michigan's Big Three has an off night, the Wolverines might not be able to scrape enough points together to keep up. At 6-foot-2, Young's size poses problems for Derrick Walton, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Caris LeVert matched up on him for significant stretches. In rudimentary terms, holding Young to less than 20 points probably results in a win.
It's tough to tell who is good and who isn't this early in the season. Like Michigan, Oregon hasn't played anybody; having Detroit as a common opponent is nice, but I'm not sure what it means, if anything. Detroit might be a decent non-major squad, or Oregon and Michigan just snoozed their way through the first half and change against the Titans. Who knows?
Either way, this should be a fun game, at the very least, as Oregon will get up and down the court. While Michigan might be known for its halfcourt precision, everybody knows they can run, too. Michigan has shown itself to be more than comfortable with playing against up-tempo opponents, knowing when to turn on the jets and when to slow down and dictate the pace of the game.
I expect a fast first half, with the two teams being within a few points of each other at the break. In the second, however, I think Michigan gets the run or two it needs to edge what is still a dangerous Oregon squad.
Brooklyn has been kind to the Wolverines in recent years, and I think it will be so once again. It'll be close, but the Wolverines move to 4-0, with what should end up being a very nice win on the resume come tournament seeding time.