Know Your Foe: Michigan's Coming to Town

By Chris Lauderback on January 12, 2013 at 1:00p

With the Buckeyes set to take on the #2 ranked Michigan Wolverines tomorrow in the Schott, it seemed like a good idea to get the scoop on the squad from Ann Arbor. 

With that in mind, we went straight to the expert, exchanging Q&A with Dylan Burkhardt of the truly superb Press onward to get your learn-on about John Beilein's crew. 

Craft vs. Burke will loom large over the outcome Sunday

Trey Burke has been an absolute beast this season (18.2 ppg, 7.5 apg, 55% FG, 41% 3FG), orchestrating the nation’s 7th best scoring offense that sees four guys averaging double figures. Rightfully so, Burke is gaining steam in the NPOY race. Make a case for Burke as the nation’s most outstanding player so far:

You can’t play the point guard position much better than Burke has played it this season. He's not just scoring, he's scoring extremely efficiently. He’s not just setting up his teammates all over the floor, he’s also not turning the ball over. Burke’s rise from nice point guard prospect to fringe top-100 player to Big Ten co-Freshman of the Year to now perhaps the best point guard in the country has been a joy to watch for Michigan fans.

Burke's offensive rating is the best among players using at least 24 percent of their teams' possessions. His assist rate is in the top 15 nationally, he's making 61% of his twos and 39% of his threes. He had 17 turnovers in his first five games but took the turnovers out of his system after the Preseason NIT. In the last 10 games Burke has racked up 82 assists to just 11 turnovers.

Contrary to what many in the state of Ohio might think, Michigan fans aren’t idiots and understand that Trey Burke is very likely headed to the NBA after this season. That means this very well could be Burke’s last game in Columbus. Given his competitive nature I wouldn’t hesitate to guess that this is the first game he circled on the schedule before the season and he wants nothing more than to have one of the best performances of his career.

While Michigan sports four freshmen that have seen action in all 15 games, obviously starters Glenn Robinson III (12.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and Nik Stauskas (13.5 ppg) are having the greatest impact. Beyond the numbers, what can you tell us about their respective games and how they’ve contributed to Michigan’s perfect 16-0 start?

Stauskas and Robinson are both pivotal to the Michigan rotation.

Stauskas has reached double figures in every game other than Michigan's season opener and is shooting 52% on three-pointers. That statistic needs no explanation but the 6-foot-6 Canadian also can get to the basket more than you might believe at first sight.

Robinson is the master of opportunistic and easy baskets. He seems to score almost effortlessly because Michigan will rarely, if ever, run isolations in his direction. Instead, Robinson is always in the right spot for a drop off pass along the baseline, an open three or an offensive rebound. He’s a tremendous athlete but he’s also an extraordinarily smart player as well.

Robinson and Stauskas hit the ground running and haven’t slowed down. Their production has become almost old hat to Michigan fans. Two other freshmen have made great strides in recent weeks and could be crucial to any Big Ten or NCAA tournament run that Michigan makes: Mitch McGary and Caris LeVert.

McGary was once a top-five prospect (actually ranked No. 2) in prep school and while he hasn’t produced at that level, he still brings a lot to the table. He’s a dominant rebounder on both ends and plays with unlimited, at times reckless, energy. He’s essentially Zack Novak plus six inches and 30 or 40 pounds.

LeVert, a Columbus native and Pickerington Central alum, has gone from likely redshirt to the first guard off of the bench in the last month. The one-time Ohio commit has grown an inch and added 20 pounds of muscle since arriving in Ann Arbor and he’s already showing off a consistent three-point stroke and a smooth handle.

Through 16 games, the Michigan offense has been incredibly, almost historically, efficient. If you’re Thad Matta scheming to stop their attack with this current OSU roster, what would be your approach?

I actually wrote this before Michigan played Nebraska on Wednesday and this is almost the exact approach the Cornhuskers took.

Take away the easy twos and hope Michigan misses its threes. Now that’s easier said than done.

Michigan is the best two-point shooting team in the country at 57.4 percent. That’s impressive given that the Wolverines aren’t heavy on low post scorers. Instead, Michigan’s two-point attack is so effective because the Wolverine offense creates so many easy opportunities. Robinson, McGary, Jordan Morgan, Tim Hardaway Jr. and others are getting so many easy opportunities, either in transition or the half court, because Burke creates them. The shots Burke creates for himself can be difficult at times as well but he’s still converting an (unheard of for a 6-foot player) 61% of his twos.

My approach would be to hound Burke with physical on-ball defense and pack in the lane with the rest of your defenders. That should prevent easy looks around the basket but leaves a vulnerability behind the three-point line. The problem with hoping that Michigan misses its threes is that the Wolverines don’t miss many. Michigan is connecting at 39.7% from three-point range, the 13th best percentage in the country, and almost everyone on the floor will be a three-point threat. Beyond Michigan's five men (Morgan and McGary), Robinson is the worst perimeter shooter in the rotation at 38 percent.

Nebraska slowed down Michigan’s defense with that very strategy but that was mostly due to a horrific 3-of-17 three-point shooting performance from the Wolverines.

One thing that’s always frustrated me about Ohio State fans, as a whole, is how such a large segment of them very casually, if at all, follow the men’s basketball program. How much traction does Michigan hoops have among the entire fan base and what kind of uptick is the program experiencing this year thanks to the impressive start and #2 national ranking?

Tim Hardaway Jr. is averaging 16.3 ppg and 5.4 rpg

Michigan, like Ohio State, is a football school first and foremost. You’ll never see the sort of rabid basketball fans you see in Bloomington or Lexington in Ann Arbor. But everyone loves a winner. Michigan’s ticket sales are up – with reported sellouts in nearly every game – and the students are coming out in better numbers than they have in a long time.

The athletic department is also putting significantly more emphasis into the basketball program. Michigan added a practice facility and gutted the Crisler Center, completely renovating the concourses, seats and everything in between. Crisler has gone from of the worst facilities in the league to one of the best, seemingly overnight.

It’s clear that John Beilein has the program headed in the right direction and people have noticed. Now it’s up to the Wolverines to capitalize with a big run in March this season.

The Buckeyes have put the wood to Michigan in recent years, winning 16 of the last 19 matchups but Michigan clearly has the dominant squad this year. In fact, I think the vast majority of fans are worried OSU is about to walk into a buzzsaw. With that in mind, what kind of role will the revenge factor play as Michigan takes the court?

There were obviously some lean years for Michigan basketball in that span. Michigan’s team is predominantly very young so I think some of the more immediate history weighs in as motivation. The two teams shared the Big Ten regular season crown (along with Michigan State) last year and split their regular season games.

Most importantly this game is personal for Michigan’s best player. Trey Burke is easily the most maniacal worker on the Wolverine roster and his desire to beat Ohio State means a lot more to this team than the fact that Michigan hasn’t won in Columbus since 2003.

Beilein had trouble bringing (supposedly) elite blue chips to Michigan the first few years of his tenure. Even guys like Hardaway Jr., Burke, and Morgan were only Rivals three-stars but last year he got a five (Robinson III) and two four-stars in Mitch McGary and Stauskas with three more four-stars set to arrive in 2013. I’m sure Crisler Arena’s renovations didn’t hurt, but what is truly at the core of Michigan’s recent recruiting success?

There’s no doubt that Beilein has built this program from the ground up. When he arrived in 2008 he was recruiting guys like Zack Novak and Stu Douglass, the type of recruits that not many schools in the country even wanted. He used them as the foundation of his program and has steadily improved his recruiting ever since.

His talent evaluation is proven as guys like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke have gone from fringe prospects to All-Big Ten caliber players. Glenn Robinson III committed early in his prep career and was relatively off the radar before ending up as a five-star prospect. Now he’s started every game. Nik Stauskas was another fringe level guy that’s producing and starting early in his career.

The recruiting momentum appears to be continuing as Michigan has a strong 2013 class. However, Thad Matta did land two of the Wolverines’ priority targets in the class of 2014 with Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate pledging to the Buckeyes.

Finally, how do you see this one playing out on Sunday?

Early in the season I had this game chalked up as one of Michigan’s most likely losses. Since then I think Michigan has trended upward and Ohio State has trended downward.

Now the question is whether both teams have trended far enough that an upset is possible or even likely. I think Michigan has a legitimate chance to win on Sunday but I’m not ready to pick the Wolverines outright. Everyone understands how difficult it is to win on the road and a game in Columbus doesn’t quite compare to a game in Peoria or Evanston — the only two road games Michigan has played this year.

To be honest, Michigan fans have been waiting for the moment this team has a bad game and gets beat. Week in and week out we examine why Pittsburgh or North Carolina State could be the team that finally exposes the Wolverines but somehow they’ve passed every test with flying colors. Sunday’s game is easily this team’s biggest test yet.


Comments Show All Comments

Smanpoint10's picture

Caris levert went to my crosstown rival in high school. Not only did he dominate us on the court his senior year, but he is one of the nicest guys I've ever had the pleasure to meet. I've been told that since his dad died he hasn't said one curse word again

iball's picture

I like the fact Burke will have AC in his face all day and I question UMs abiltiy to slow down Thomas. Once again OSU will need a second scorer to emerge if they expect to win.

“There’s one thing I have learned through all my adventures and conquests - it’s that some people are just wired for success. I had no choice when it came to being great - I just am great.” – Kenny Powers

bucknut24's picture

Honestly, we don't have the firepower to keep it close.  I hate to say it but this is going to be a rebuilding year of sorts.  We only have one legit scorer and I think Michigan wins in a blowout in the second half.

gwalther's picture

We should have the defense to keep it close though.

Class of 2008

RedStorm45's picture

Wow, a couple shots from both guys at the OSU fan base.

tennbuckeye19's picture

I didn't take them as shots against OSU fans. I didn't have a problem with the comments. OSU fans by and large are ony die hard about football and only give basketball a little attention here and there, if any. Or they take the 'wake me up when it's March' approach. And while the Schott is a nice venue and a nice home court and all, and generally has a good crowd and can make some noise. But it's not what I would call an imposing venue like some others in the conference.

RedStorm45's picture

"One thing that’s always frustrated me about Ohio State fans, as a whole, is how such a large segment of them very casually, if at all, follow the men’s basketball program"
"Contrary to what many in the state of Ohio might think, Michigan fans aren’t idiots and understand that Trey Burke is very likely headed to the NBA after this season."
Is he saying people in Ohio think Michigan fans are idiots or we think Trey Burke isn't headed to the NBA?
Correction - not really shots.

Ohio State Ombre's picture

excelent write up, love the mutual respect from both interviews (including the one on umhoops)

UncleBuck's picture

Whoever wins the matchup between Craft and Burke wins the game.

M Man's picture

This game should be a joy to watch.  Not because I think Michigan is destined to blow out the home team.  I don't think that will happen.  But I think it will be a great game.  And Michigan hasn't been in many tight, gritty ones yet.  That's a different kind of a game, and it may be one where Thomas and Craft have a bit of an advantage, especially at home.
I agree that the matchup with Craft and Burke is very large.  I'm not so anxious about Burke; he'll show up, and he's been very good about not forcing things if he is overmanned.  That's the thing with this Michigan team; we've got about four different ways to hurt you.  Hardaway; Stauskas (our Diebler-- mark it down); Robinson; they can all take over, and Burke will let it happen.
 I'm really eager to see how Craft steps up, because he's a player I like and respect and he has a big job ahead of him on Sunday.

Kalamazoo Steve's picture

Who is the best team scUM has beat this year? Have they even played a Duke or Kansas type team yet?

M Man's picture

If "Kansas State" is a "Kansas type team," I suppose the answer is yes.
Michigan's wins of note so far have been beating Pitt and Kansas St. in Madison Square Garden, and then returning home and beating then-#18 N.C. State (today's winner over Duke) in the B1G-ACC Challenge.  And later beating WVU in the Barclay Center (Brooklyn).  They have all been comfortable wins.

Kalamazoo Steve's picture

So no top 10 elite teams. Kansas St. is not Kansas. Ask Vegas.

Normal Buck's picture

Who the heck did they play in Peoria?  

ShowThemOhiosHere's picture


Class of 2010.

Normal Buck's picture

Pretty bad if someone feels the game day atmosphere at the Schott doesn't compare to Bradley.  

ShowThemOhiosHere's picture

OSU takes this one.  TSUN hasn't played a tough schedule at all.  NC State is the only good team that they've played this year, and that was at home.  Even in the B1G they've gotten NW, Iowa, and Nebraska.  They've put up a lot of points in some games, but they haven't faced a team as defensively proficient as OSU.  I don't think they are any better than Duke or Kansas, and I think B1G play will show that TSUN is ranked so high right now by default, not because they are a top 2 caliber team.

Class of 2010.

zbd's picture

Strength of schedule for M is 24, and for Ohio State is 82.

tampa buckeye's picture

Smith gets loose and the good guys roll easy at home. Scum is over rated

tampa buckeye's picture

Says alot about Trey Burke going to Michigan? ?? Wtf man.

zbd's picture

How did Trey Burke get to M when he was a teammate of Jared Sullinger and Weatherspoon at Columbus Northland?  Matta is slipping recruiting wise.  Aaron Craft couldn't play along side Burke?  

tennbuckeye19's picture

It wasn't about Aaron Craft. OSU went after Shannon Scott instead of Burke. Scott was rated higher as a PG, was a McDonald's All American and looked like the better player. Burke didn't come on strong till his senior year of high school when he won Mr. Basketball in Ohio. 

Brutus's picture

Do not fret. We will win.