Who: Bryant Bulldogs (2-9)
When: Wednesday, December 23rd, at 7:00 p.m. ET (BTN)
Where: Crisler Center -- Ann Arbor, Mich.
Technically, this is Michigan's last "guarantee" game, though the Big Ten ensured that U-M would have at least one during conference play when Rutgers joined. So maybe it'd be better to label tonight's contest as Michigan's last warm-up before the Big Ten season begins next week. The Wolverines have cruised through this final stretch of their non-conference schedule, beating Delaware State by 47, Northern Kentucky by 15, and Youngstown State by 59. Michigan should be able to move past Bryant, who's ranked 329th on KenPom, with just as much ease and then rest and prep for the following week.
One thing on which to keep an eye: a Wolverine has had a triple-double in back-to-back games -- Caris LeVert vs. Northern Kentucky and Derrick Walton vs. Youngstown State. These were the fourth and fifth triple-doubles in school history, and it was just the second time since the 1996-97 season that a team had triple-doubles in consecutive games. I don't know the last time when a team had three straight triple-doubles -- that must be as rare as they come -- but I do know that Walton has the opportunity to become just the seventh Division I player in history to have a triple-double in consecutive games.
Bryant is 2-9 and -- you guessed it -- bad. The Bulldogs' only two wins were against D-III Emerson and #348 Prairie View A&M back in November, which means that their best win is over the fourth-worst team in D-I basketball. Of their nine losses, four have been against top-100 teams. The only one that didn't beat Bryant by at least 30 points was #38 Providence in the Bulldogs' last game 11 days ago (!!) when the Friars won, 74-67. But it must be noted that Providence was without its best player, Kris Dunn, in that close scare.
On offense, Bryant is a wreck, ranking 323rd in adjusted efficiency (93.9). Honestly, there's not one aspect of their offense in which the Bulldogs do anything remotely decent. They are 331st in eFG%, making only 44.2 percent of their twos (285th) and 27.5 percent of their threes (338th). Not only do they not shoot well from the floor, they rarely get to the free-throw line (342nd in FTR) and are one of the nation's worst free-throw shooting teams when they do (350th in FT%). Bryant also is 270th in turnover rate (20.3 pct.) and 296th in offensive rebounding rate (25.0 pct.). Like I said, bad at everything.
It's not better for Bryant on the defensive end either, where the Bulldogs are 300th in adjusted efficiency (107.5) and run lots of 2-3 zone. Their 2-3 zone provides ample chances for offenses to get clean looks from downtown (341st in 3PA%), and those offenses have made 35.7 percent of their threes (233rd). When offenses are able to drive or get the ball into the middle of the zone, Bryant's defense falls apart. Opponents have converted 55.6 percent of their twos against Bryant (328th), including 66.8 percent of their shots at the rim (331st). Further, the zone allows opponents to grab a large chunk of their misses (256th in DR%), which is no surprise. What is a surprise, though, is that Bryant's zone doesn't generate many turnovers (295th in TO%), which means dishes inside or skip passes across the zone shouldn't cause much trouble for offenses. But, unlike Bryant's offense, it isn't all bad for the defense. The Bulldogs don't commit many fouls (70th in FTR), but that safe approach is why they don't force many turnovers.
Bryant's starting point guard is 6-foot-1 senior Shane McLaughlin. Though McLaughlin plays almost the entire game (36.5 MPG), he doesn't post the highest per-game averages. He scores only 7.4 PPG because he's made only 7-of-24 threes (29.2 pct.) and 8-of-21 free throws (38.1 pct.). However, McLaughlin can knock down two-point jumpers (47.4 pct.), and they're all off the dribble as none of his two-point jumpers have been assisted. As a distributor, he's the only Bulldog that creates shots for his teammates, dishing a team-best 4.0 APG, but his assist rate (23.3 pct.) is lower than his bad turnover rate (31.2 pct.).
The Bulldogs have two starting guards alongside McLaughlin that are the leading scorers on the team: 6-foot-2 sophomore Hunter Ware (13.7 PPG) and 6-foot-2 freshman Nisre Zouzoua (11.0 PPG). They are fairly similar players, and that's not necessarily a good thing. Both are inefficient on offense, posting sub-100 offensive ratings, because both make about one-third of their threes and have turnover rates that overshadow their minuscule assist rates. The key difference between them offensively is that Ware is better scoring off the bounce -- only 31.6 percent of his made threes are assisted and he's drilled 44.7 percent of his two-point jumpers -- while Zouzoua struggles to score inside the arc unless he can get to the line, where he's sunk 24-of-29 free throws (82.8 pct.). And that's about as much as both contribute because neither of them does much on the glass.
For reasons beyond me, the focal point of Bryant's offense is 6-foot-6 junior forward Dan Garvin, who averages 10.5 PPG. You're probably wondering how the team's third-leading scorer is the focal point of their offense, and the answer is that Garvin has Bryant's highest usage rate (27.5 pct.) -- by far -- despite being a terrible shooter this season. He's made only 42-of-104 twos (40.4 pct.), draining less than half of his shots at the rim and only one-fifth of his two-point jumpers, and he's not a three-point threat whatsoever. Add in that his assist rate is only 8.9 percent, and it's clear that he is a black hole for Bryant's offense. Once he gets the ball, it's going up to the rim and usually not going in. But Garvin can make an impact in other areas. He's an excellent rebounder (12.5 OR% and 22.1 DR%) and shot-blocker (6.4 pct.). It's just not enough to make up for his offense.
There's some confusion as to how tall Bryant's starting center Marcel Pettway is -- the official roster lists him at 6-foot-5, while KenPom has him at 6-foot-8 -- but there's no confusion that Bryant should get the freshman more touches. He's averaged 10.0 PPG in his last six games, in which he's earned more playing time than he did earlier in the year, and he has the starting lineup's best offensive rating (101.9) because he's 31-of-60 on twos (51.7 pct.). However, Pettway may have so few touches because 85 percent of his shots are layups or dunks and he can't make much outside five feet. And the touches that he does get likely come from his offensive boards (9.8 pct.). On defense, Pettway is a great rebounder (18.9 pct.) and the only Bulldog that makes an effort to get steals (3.2 pct.).
Bryant usually brings only three players off the bench. One is 6-foot-7 redshirt sophomore wing and Australian Bosko Kostur. He fires about an equal number of twos and threes, but he's been much better inside the arc (53.8 2P%), particularly on jumpers, than outside of it (25.0 3P%). Also, Kostur doesn't pass much (4.5 ast%) and tends to cough up the ball (24.9 TO%). Another reserve is 6-foot-8 sophomore center and New Zealander Gus Riley, who's more perimeter-oriented than a paint presence. The final bench player that gets run is 6-foot-4 senior guard Curtis Oakley, Jr., but he's missed the past two games. I can't find an official report, but I think he suffered a knee injury.
Fix Zak Irvin's Three-Point Shot: This is Michigan's last non-conference cupcake, and it just so happens to run a 2-3 zone that surrenders lots of three-pointers. This is a dream come true for Michigan's sharpshooting offense and, in particular, Duncan Robinson, who could break some three-point records if he's feeling it. However, the Wolverine that Michigan most wants to get going from behind the arc is Zak Irvin, who's made only 7-of-41 threes (17.1 pct.) this year despite being a 38.1-percent three-point shooter in his first two seasons. Irvin's offseason back surgery may have a role in this shooting slump, though it hasn't affected his ability to score inside or create open looks for teammates, but Irvin's even missing open threes. Badly. He must get his shot back on track now.
Stay Healthy: Michigan is about as close as it will get to 100 percent with the Big Ten season starting next week. This would be the worst time for U-M to suffer a new injury.
Don't Ruin Christmas: I'd like to enjoy my holiday.
Afterwards, Bryant will ask Santa Claus for a neuralyzer, so it can forget what happened.
Michigan 94, Bryant 50