It’s only December and we can already see that getting through the Big Ten this year is going to be an absolute gauntlet. We have seen preseason AP national favorite Michigan State struggle early and Maryland play in several close games. We saw Michigan jump from unranked to No. 4 while every team in the conference defends their home court dang well so far. At this point in the season, I don’t think any team has the ability to look past any road conference matchup.
Looking outside the conference though, Michigan has played a slew of top tier teams and programs in head coach Juwan Howard’s first 2 months. The Wolverines played a respectable Creighton team at Crisler, then played three good teams in the Bahamas between Iowa State, No. 6 North Carolina, and No. 8 Gonzaga. Then the team traveled to No. 1 Louisville, no big deal.
Now, No. 10 Oregon is on the clock, a team that has also played North Carolina and Gonzaga, and lost those two games by a difference of five total points. Oregon head coach Dana Altman has done a tremendous job with this team in recent memory, making an Elite Eight in 2016, a Final Four in 2017, and a Sweet Sixteen in 2019. The 2017 Final Four run consisted of a one point win in the Sweet Sixteen over the Wolverines, which was the last time these two met.
What to Watch:
Point Guard Battle: If you follow college basketball a fair amount, you have probably heard of Oregon’s point guard Payton Pritchard. The senior is looking to go full circle this season, with goals of leading the Ducks back to the final four. Pritchard is a guy that does it all, averaging 18.8 points, 6.1 assists, and 4.2 rebounds through nine games this season. Whenever the Ducks need a bucket, this is the guy they’re turning to either take the shot or create the look for a teammate. Wolverines fans are all pretty familiar with Zavier Simpson, the scrappy senior from Lima, Ohio who also has a final four appearance. This matchup will be one to watch all game as Simpson is one of the better defenders at his position in the country and he will be called on to slow down the Oregon offense.
Knocking down three pointers: Michigan really struggled to shoot the ball well on Wednesday, marked by a 17 percent clip from behind the arc. The team has shot much better at home than on the road this season and hopefully they can reverse what wasn’t a pretty performance against Illinois. The Wolverines have attempted more three pointers than the Ducks have this season, but the Ducks have made the higher percentage of their shots, shooting 40.4 percent from three as a team this season. Their best shooters are Payton Pritchard who averages 6.2 attempted threes per game and Anthony Mathis who averages 5.2 attempted threes per game. They shoot 39.3 percent and 51.1 percent from deep, respectively. Michigan is going to need big shots from their guys in order to win this game. Isaiah Livers is someone who needs to more involved in the offense given his high level scoring and shooting abilities. Franz Wagner is another wild card; he looked comfortable at home last week against Iowa but wasn’t able to get in any sort of rhythm on the road in Champaign. Eli Brooks has emerged this season, stepping into a starting role and playing well, making shots from deep, mid-range, and even some floaters. Shots from these three wing threats could be the difference in the game.
Paint Physicality: Michigan’s interior defense and defensive rebounding has been a weakness as of late. They were out-rebounded at Louisville and Illinois by pretty wide margins and they’ve allowed a combined 63 points to opposing starting centers Luka Garza and Kofi Cockburn in their last two contests. On top of that, they have also allowed 30 offensive rebounds in that two game span, 15 to Iowa and 15 to Illinois. Luka Garza and Kofi Cockburn are two big dudes but so is Jon Teske and it’s mostly his job to keep these guys off the glass and their shots out of the hoop. Juwan Howard has tried to accommodate by using different matchups, for example we saw Austin Davis against Iowa, and Colin Castleton has gotten in his playing time based on when the opposing centers have rested. However, in four years, Austin Davis has never had a true role in the rotation and Colin Castleton is still a very raw and developing sophomore. It doesn’t fall all on the shoulders of these guys though. Positioning is a very important part of rebounding and any extra efforts from guards and wings like Livers and Wagner can help cut down on the number of offensive rebounds and second chance points that the Wolverines are allowing.
I think this is probably a fairly high scoring, fast paced game given the explosive potential of these two offenses. Lots of three pointers will be made and in the end, Michigan will defend its home court. Michigan 79-76.
Teams: #10 Oregon Ducks (7-2) at #5 Michigan Wolverines (8-2)
Date: Saturday, December 14, 2019
Location: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Time: 12:00 p.m. EST
Television/Streaming: CBS/CBS All Access