Michigan split their road trip to Brooklyn and had a comfortable win against Nicholls State since we last gathered in this space. Anything stick out as being really surprising or underwhelming with the team's play?
John: I'm a little underwhelmed at the play of the freshman so far as flashes of brilliance have been overshadowed by miscommunication on both side of the ball. I think this is one of John Beilein's deeper class but it may take longer to develop than the previous few. I particularly expected more from Kameron Chatman at this point but I'm sure he'll come around.
Drew: John has a legitimate concern about the early play of Kameron Chatman. Offensively, Chatman has two key issues. First, his shot selection has been problematic. For a 6-foot-7 wing playing the 4 in John Beilein's offense, Chatman's struggled to work his way to the rim, where he's attempted only three of his 33 shots, per Hoop-Math. This means he's settling for longer jumpers, which leads to the second problem: his shooting form looks broken because many of his attempts have been way off target. Outside shooting was never Chatman's strength, but, if he can't get to bucket, he must hit those.
Defensively, Chatman is lost within the scheme. If you go back and look at the tape of each game this season, you can find at least one instance in each where Chatman was turned around in help defense, which directly led to a layup or dunk for the opponent. However, this doesn't concern me as much as Chatman's shooting woes because this is a common freshman mistake. As he becomes more and more comfortable with Beilein's defensive system, the errors he commits in help defense will occur less and less often. Plus, Chatman has already demonstrated he can be a pest with his on-ball defense, using his length to prevent penetration and generate turnovers, so, once he learns how to play proper help defense, I believe Chatman will become one of Michigan's better defenders.
To switch gears, I have been impressed with the play of Zak Irvin. We knew entering the season that Irvin could be a gunner, but what we didn't know was whether he had the ability to be more of an all-around scorer that can produce points in a variety of ways. Thus far, he's proven he can. There were a few moments in the Oregon game where Irvin flashed NBA-caliber drives to the rim that really caught my eye. If Irvin can continue to demonstrate both an inside and outside game, he's going to give opponents nightmares.
#TeamDonnal or #TeamDoyle for who gets the nod for the center position by the end of the nonconference schedule?
John: #TeamDoyle !!! I'm rooting for Donnal all the way don't get me wrong and I think they'll both be solid players by the end of the season, but I think Doyle has the potential to be the guy right here, right now. He played very well in Brooklyn and in a Saturday laugher against Nicholls State, so I think he'll take a lot of momentum into this game against Cuse. If Doyle can take advantage of the zone much like Mitch McGary, we'll know Michigan has a solution at center. (I also wouldn't be surprised to see Beilein play two big men to contain bigger teams like Wisconsin)
Drew: #TeamDoyle. Given the fans' pining for Ricky Doyle to start, you'd think that Mark Donnal has been playing poorly as Michigan's starting 5, which hasn't been the case at all. Nonetheless, Doyle needs the lion's share of the minutes at the position. Offensively, Michigan needs a center that can finish through contact around the rim and scavenge for offensive rebounds and putbacks. Advantage: Doyle. Defensively, Michigan needs a center that can hedge hard on screens on the perimeter and recover, and be physical in the post. Advantage: Doyle. Donnal will provide another dimension with midrange shooting in the pick-and-pop game, but Doyle fits the needed criteria better.
The matchup with Syracuse appears quite even, because both teams lost talent and are breaking in some freshmen. And it's early in the year. What does Michigan have in their favor against a team that will have the size advantage?
John: I'll go Beilein and the Maize Rage. Beilein has beaten the zone before and his systems seem to work well against unconventional defenses. Any team that can shoot and avoid turnovers can succeed against Syracuse and there are few better than Michigan. Add in a raucous Maize Rage and Michigan should have a clear advantage.
Drew: Michigan has many of the same advantages against Syracuse that it had against the Orange in the 2013 Final Four: the Wolverines can be lethal from long distance and are not careless with the basketball. The key difference, though, is that they don't have Mitch McGary, a 6-foot-10 center that can destroy a 2-3 zone from the inside because he can finish with either hand, shoot midrange jumpers, terrorize the glass, handle the ball, and drop no-look dimes. My guess is John Beilein will try to have Caris LeVert flash to the high post frequently from the opposite wing to shoot 15-foot jumpers and kick it out to Michigan's three-point artillery (Walton, Irvin, Albrecht) once the zone collapses.
On the other end of the floor, I expect Beilein will dial up a mix of 2-3 and 1-3-1 zones to negate Syracuse's size advantage and tempt the Orange, which have made an atrocious 19.8 percent of their triples, to jack up shots from behind the arc. We may not see the zone defenses until the second half, preventing Syracuse from being able to adjust to those zones during the lengthy halftime intermission. Accordingly, I wouldn't be surprised if the defensive switch sparked a significant second-half spurt for Michigan.
To that end, Michigan's performance in the B1G/ACC Challenge has been about 50/50. Can they get a home victory against one of that conference's power schools?
John: I think Michigan holds the B1G banner proudly and wins 61-56 behind a strong game from Irvin and LeVert and a Doyle-double (or double-Doyle).
Drew: Michigan wins, 61-56, John? I see what you did there.
My prediction: Pulp.
Michigan 65, Syracuse 58