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Duke Basketball: Interview with a Michigan Blogger
The series the Duke basketball program had with Michigan was one of the more interesting and heated match-ups of the 1990s. The teams don’t play nearly as often anymore, but it’s still two programs with tremendous tradition and prestige. It should be a fantastic game when the two teams square off against each other in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Tuesday night as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The game will begin at 9:15PM EST. and will be televised on ESPN.
As we prepare for the game, we talked with Zach Travis. Zach is with Maize n Brew, the SB Nation blog for the Michigan Wolverines. Here are his insights into the game and this year’s Michigan squad.
Michigan is having to replace two of the best guards in the country from last season in Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., who are both now in the NBA. Who is filling the void left by those two this season?
So far the answer to that question is still a little unclear. The main replacements in the lineup have been true freshman point guard Derrick Walton and sophomore wing Caris LeVert, but that doesn’t get to the heart of the issue: Michigan didn’t just lose two players, it lost its two primary offensive options.
Burke was the catalyst for almost all of Michigan’s offensive success last year. His control of the offense, ability to push the pace, and penchant for taking and making shots in crunch time was unparalleled, and there was never any way that Michigan would be able to fully replace that in the offense with just one guy. Walton has come in and played well so far. He is more of a defensive presence and has been a better rebounder than what Burke was. However, he is still struggling as a scorer and his main offensive contribution has been his pretty good ARate (23.2%) — although with young guards, turnovers are a bit of an issue (25.9 TORate).
With Walton limited as a pure scorer, Michigan has looked to fill that void on the wings. Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III are the names most already know from last year’s tournament run, but Caris LeVert has been an important piece in the offense thus far. He is a sophomore and was bound for a redshirt last season until he played his way out of it in practice by the middle of December. The coaches used him heavily in the rotation, relied on him in crunch time, and while he had some issues handling the college game from a physical standpoint (he was about 165lbs a year ago in a 6’6 frame) he was an important role player in last year’s run. This year it looks like he has taken a great stride forward, and he has been able to improve his effectiveness in the offense. In terms of filling Hardaway Jr.’s shoes, LeVert is starting to do that somewhat, and he is even a situational option at point guard when Michigan wants to run with an all 6’6 and above lineup.
The biggest hole remaining for this team has been that of the go-to scorer, and while many thought Glenn Robinson III would step forward and take that, it has been Nik Stauskas that has time and again been the player that Michigan trusts late in games. He developed (unfairly I might add) a reputation as just a shooter early last year, but Stauskas always had ball skills and the ability to get into the lane. This year both those have improved and he has looked like Michigan’s best player in the early season.
At 6’10”, 260 pounds, Mitch McGary has the size and talent to give Duke serious trouble in the paint. How do you think the Wolverines will use him to their advantage in this game?
It is tough to tell what exactly Michigan will get out of McGary. He is still working back into playing shape from a back injury that hampered his off season development and conditioning, and Michigan hasn’t used him much this year — he sat out the first two games and is getting just 44% of available minutes.
When McGary is in the lineup, there is no question how he can affect the game. He is an agent of chaos. He will hit both the offensive and defensive glass hard, and he sees every defensive rebound as a chance to ignite a fast break opportunity, either with a quick outlet pass or him pushing the ball himself. He is also an active defender in the post and on the perimeter, well known for his ability to top and chase down careless passes to bigs on the outside. His offensive game is still largely based on being set up by other players; he hasn’t shown a consistent ability to be a back-to-the-basket type scorer, which is fine given that those types of players aren’t a big part of John Beilein’s offense. Michigan will need a big game from McGary if it hopes to get the win Tuesday night, and given early returns on the season, that is certainly a possibility.
Is Glenn Robinson III ready to become a star for Michigan? He seems to have fantastic potential, but hasn’t lived up to it yet.
As of right now: no. GRIII was the big X-factor coming into this year. Michigan needed a new dominant scoring threat to run its offense through, and the young wing is absolutely dripping with that sort of potential. The issue is that he still hasn’t found a way to consistently generate his own shot. Last year GRIII was known by his teammates as “Light Rob” in part because he was so quietly effective. He could put up 10 points and 8 rebounds and you’d almost never know he was there. The reason is that so much of it was generated by teammates. Robinson is a solid outside shooter capable of dropping outside shots when defenders collapse, and his athleticism makes him a nightmare to deal with in transition. He was also a good offensive rebounder which set him up for scores off put-backs.
Now that Michigan’s two primary offensive weapons are gone, there isn’t as much opportunity for him to have a quiet impact. Even more, Michigan needs him to continue to assert himself within the offense and take over a larger share of the scoring. There have been flashes thus far, but nothing consistent.
The Wolverines certainly had to have been disappointed with the 63-61 loss to UNC Charlotte in Puerto Rico last week. Will the issues they had in that loss lead to more problems against Duke?
The biggest problems that Michigan ran into against Charlotte were outside shooting woes and an inability to keep Charlotte off the offensive glass. Michigan gets a bad rap as a three-point dependent team because that reputation is still hanging with John Beilein, but the Wolverine offense is more diverse than that and is very good in transition and using the pick and roll.
Against Charlotte, Michigan lost the battle on the offensive boards with the 49ers rebounding 38.1% of their own misses. This robbed Michigan of an opportunity to get the ball out in transition to take advantage of the Wolverines’ skills in the open court. With fewer transition opportunities, Michigan absolutely needed to connect on its outside shots at an average clip, but Michigan hit just 5-of-23 3PA.
This is the way to beat Michigan’s offense. Make shots and grab offensive boards when you don’t, keep the Wolverines from getting out in transition, and make outside shooting tough in the halfcourt. Charlotte used that formula to keep the game close. Duke has the talent to use the same formula to win the game handily.
What would you say is the biggest key for Michigan to upset the Blue Devils in Cameron Indoor Stadium?
I think three point shooting is important for Michigan, as is finding a way to contain Jabari Parker, but as I’ve alluded to above, I think the most important key for a Michigan win is how it rebounds. Mitch McGary should be able to do a good job against a Duke lineup that doesn’t seem to feature someone capable of dealing with him for 30-35 minutes. However, Michigan is going to need whoever its wings are to keep Parker and Rodney Hood off the boards. Duke hasn’t been a great offensive rebounding team this year, but with that much length on the wings and both Nik Stauskas and GRIII recently injured, I am worried that the Blue Devils can get second chance opportunities while limiting Michigan’s ability to get out and run.
What’s your prediction for the game?
I think it is close throughout with neither team pulling more than five points ahead at any time. I think Parker and Hood both score 20+ while Michigan has five players score in double figures. Michigan should mostly break even on the glass and I think there will be early struggles from outside but that the Wolverines will pull close to average shooting from outside.
In the end I think Duke wins a close one because of home-court advantage and the benefit of having two talented crunch time scorers that it will feed the ball to late. When it is a one possession game under two minutes left, I still don’t think Michigan has a really great option to go to (although Stauskas has been doing his damnedest to prove me wrong on that), and ultimately a couple empty possessions late swing things in Duke’s favor. Kenpom predicts 74-72 Duke, and I would be a fool to question him, so I’ll go with that.