Who: (7-1) Eastern Michigan Eagles
When: 9:00 ET (ESPNU)
Where: Crisler Center -- Ann Arbor, Mich.
There's not much to say here other than the obvious: Michigan is coming off of an embarrassing loss, and it needs a complete performance to partially erase the bad vibes of that defeat. Eastern Michigan isn't Kentucky, but they'll provide a solid test for the Wolverines, especially the younger ones, who might still have the NJIT loss on their minds when the ball goes up tonight at the Crisler Center.
EMU has gotten off to a nice 7-1 start, with their lone loss coming at Dayton on Dec. 6 by a score of 73-64. Now, they haven't exactly played anyone of note, but they're averaging 73.5 points per game and 42.5 rebounds per game, the latter number good for 16th nationally. If you've heard it before, you'll hear it here again: EMU is kind of like Syracuse Lite.
Former Syracuse assistant coach and current EMU head coach Rob Murphy brought that pesky 2-3 zone with him to Washtenaw County; luckily for Michigan, they just saw the SU zone and did fairly well against it, but that doesn't mean EMU's will be a piece of cake to beat.
EMU is paced by 6-foot-3 guard Raven Lee (16.4 ppg) and 6-foot Mike Talley, who comes off of the bench (10.3 ppg), with senior F Karrington Ward pitching in 13.6 and a team-high 7.3 rebounds per game.
F Anali Okoloji (8.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and the 6-foot-11 C Mike Samuels (3.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg) round out the starting frontcourt.
G Ethan Alvano pairs with Lee in the backcourt, but plays just 19.9 minutes per game, seemingly making Talley a starter in everything but name.
Not surprisingly, this is a team with size, which is always a must for a 2-3 zone outfit. At 6-foot-1, Alvano is the shortest starter (Talley is at 6-foot even). Lee is 6-foot-3, and the other starts are 6-foot-7 or taller. Once again, Michigan will have to contend with that size and find ways to shoot around it or, as Spike Albrecht was able to do against the Orangemen, get into the teeth of the zone and make plays in tight spaces.
With that said, EMU doesn't shoot it particularly well. They're 247th nationally in field goal percentage and 270th in three-point field goal percentage (30.3 percent). Lee is a solid outside shooter, hitting 36 percent from beyond the arc, and Talley shoots 40 percent, but on just 15 attempts. Ward has actually attempted a team-high 41 threes, but he's connected on just 29 percent of them. If he's shooting from outside, that's not a bad outcome for the Wolverines.
On the boards, EMU is much better on the offensive glass, where they boast a 38.5 offensive rebounding percentages (41st nationally), but just 68.6 percent at the other end (201st nationally). Michigan's got to be ready to be tough on the defensive glass; for a point of reference, Syracuse rebounded 41.6 percent of their misses against Michigan.
- Get your Windex out. As just mentioned, EMU doesn't shoot the ball well but they do attack the offensive boards. Michigan can't let them hang around by giving them easy second-chance buckets.
- Beat the zone down the floor. Again, the best way to attack the zone is to not allow it to set up at all. Michigan has an athletic advantage against EMU that it didn't really have against Syracuse (at least not an obvious one, if there was one at all). Rip the rebound down and go.
- Get Irvin going. Okay, guys are going to have bad games...sometimes really bad games. Irvin shot just 2-for-11 against NJIT, 1-for-8 from downtown. When that three isn't falling, he has to find other ways. He's flashed a newfound ability to attack, and if the outside shot isn't falling again, he'll need to recognize that he has to go to it.
- The Kam Chatman roller coaster ride. I figured his length would be a major asset against Syracuse, and although he shot just 4-for-11, he finished a rebound shy of a double-double (10 points, nine rebounds). After a rough outing against NJIT, it'll be interesting to see how Chatman bounces back in what has been a topsy turvy start to his Michigan career. The talent is there, but the confidence just isn't (and sure, a year of college S&C will help him for next year, but this is now).
Luckily for John Beilein and Co., they've seen this very same defense not too long ago. This game isn't about EMU -- it's about Michigan bouncing back and taking care of business. EMU seems to have a solid team, but if they manage to keep it close, or worse, steal a win, it'll be time to start seriously worrying (and I wasn't even really worried when Michigan started 6-4 last season).
Especially heading into what will be a brutal road test at Arizona this Saturday, the Wolverines need a complete performance against a team they should beat handily.
It's still unclear how good this team can be this season, but I think NJIT was more a blip than a harbinger. Michigan probably won't have an A+ game, but I see them pulling away in the second half for a comfortable victory. Michigan 72, Eastern Michigan 55.