Michigan is looking to bounce back from a deflating 72-70 loss to NJIT.
With that, Michigan welcomes its first opponent since that game in its neighbors from Ypsilanti. Eastern Michigan is coming to town and we spoke with SB Nation MAC partner Hustle Belt to preview tonight's game.
Editor-in-chief Alex Alvarado took some time out to answer a couple of our questions. You can follow him on Twitter, here.
Q. Michigan has already faced a version of the 2-3 zone EMU runs, and the Wolverines put up 1.1 ppp against a long, athletic Syracuse team that runs the original version of that defense. How do you think EMU matches up against Michigan on this end of the court?
A. FWIW: EMU held their opponents to the lowest field goal percentage in the nation last year. The Eagles area also without eight players from last season's roster, too.
There's really no understating this team's length and poise at defense. Karrington Ward (6'7"), Mike Talley (6'0") and even Jodan Price (6'7") are all good at guarding around the perimeter, but Karrington is also extremely busy down low with the blocks and rebounds. Then down low, Mike Samuels (6'11") is two inches shorter than our center last year, Da'Shonte Riley (2013-14 MAC DPoY), but is a little bit more skilled of a defender than Riley was.
Ward and Anali Okoloji are two names to know when we're talking about rebounding. Ward leads the team with 58 total rebounds while Okoloji, George Mason transfer, is second with 44.
Q. Michigan's most recent game was a stunning upset, and while part of it can be blamed on a lackluster offensive performance from a number of Wolverines, perhaps the bigger worry is how easily NJIT slashed and cut Michigan's young defense to pieces. How does EMU's offense look this year, and who should Michigan worry about?
A. Offensively, the eye test says that this team is more comfortable at running an offense than they did last year. Now, that could be due to the weak schedule they've had leading up to Dayton, but I'll take 73.5 points per game any way we can.
As evidenced by the Dayton game, EMU really loves to shoot the 3-pointer, which is fine, but the Eagles will have to knock down more than just 30% of their shots if they want to do anything. Also, it looks like our leading scorer could miss tonight's game after he tweeted out that he was kicked in the eye yesterday (to hyperlink: http://www.hustlebelt.com/2014/12/9/7359381/raven-lee-could-miss-tonights-game-against-michigan).
If he's out, Price and Ward really need to step up. Ward is the team's best player, but he'll have to be on his p's and q's on both ends of the floor to keep things from getting out of hand. Price hasn't played a full year of basketball since high school after playing only eight games for DePaul before transferring over here.
Two guys that put in a lot of work down low on offense are also transfer students in their first season as an Eagle: Brandon Nazione and Okoloji, who average 4.3 and 8.8 points per game, respectively. Their box scores are nothing sexy, but they're the kind of big men that make you think "man, one of these days, they're going to have a game or two where they just completely take over."
Q. What does EMU have to do to put Michigan on the receiving end of another stunning upset?
A. Let's assume that Lee is out. That would mean that two guards, he and Tim Bond (true freshman), are out and we'll have to start relying more on Ethan Alvano and Talley. You'll hear more about Talley who gets the bulk of the minutes at point guard, leading the team with 4.0 assists per game, but Alvano has been named the starter for all eight games so far. Alvano has been having a... pretty bad season so far on offense. I haven't been able to see what it's like for him to "click", so I'll stay optimistic and wait and see how the Eagles do if and when he finally shows up.
But you know, draw the fouls, make the free throws, scorers need to score, all that fun stuff goes without saying when it comes to upsets, but the Eagles can hold their own by clogging up passing lanes. That'll be a key point for the EMU defense.
Q. How does this game play out in your prediction?
A. I don't believe in momentum in sports, meaning I don't think that the loss to NJIT will have a big impact on how this game will turn out. It's not like Michigan is going to suck all of a sudden and finish as one of the bottom-feeders of the Big Ten because of it.
Michigan 82 - EMU 68