SCOUTING THE WOLVERINESS
Those expecting to see the offense that John Belein ran at West Virginia while coaching the Mountaineers in the early 2000s might be a bit disappointed. While the Wolverines will still display some of Beilein's pet sets and moves (watch for the shoelace cuts and the ever-famous "Double Quickie Potato"), the veteran coach has assembled enough talent to play more traditional offensive sets most of the time. The Wolverines incorporate a running game with a pair of speedy guards that get up and down the floor with abandon and rebounding unlike anything Beilein's squads were able to muster at West Virginia, and complement that with outstanding shooting from just about every player in the lineup.
Trey Burke (So., 6-0) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (Jr., 6-6) key Michigan's attack from the backcourt, and each have a number of interchangeable skills that make them very difficult to defend. While Burke is the better distributor, and features a stellar 3:1 assist to turnover ratio, both shoot the ball very well and are threats to either pull up for threes or drive the ball to the basket. Hardaway is the better rebounder, averaging 5.5 per outing, but neither has a weakness that can be exploited. They lead the team in scoring (Burke, 17.1 ppg, Hardaway 14.8) and either is comfortable in taking pressure shots.
As if those two weren't enough, sniper Nik Stauskas (Fr., ), who recently moved into the starting lineup, adds a spot up shooter who plays extremely well off the ball. He excels at finding openings for kick-out passes off drives or from the post -- something that Beilein's offense is structured to do very well. Most importantly, he makes those shots. He's shooting an eye-popping 58.7% from three-point range, and also cans nearly 90% of his free throws on the way to a 13.5 points per game average.
On the front line, Beilein has the workhorse that he rarely had at WVU in the form of Glenn Robinson III. The son of a former NBA player (just as Hardaway is), Robinson (Fr., 6-6) gives the Wolverines power inside and a soft shooting touch that again ranges out to the arc. He's averaging 11.6 points per contest, and leads the team in rebounding with 6.5 per game. Fellow starter Jordan Morgan (Jr., 6-8) sticks inside and complements the range of Robinson with 6.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.
Off the bench, there's not a lot of productivity in the backcourt. Guard Matt Vogrich (Sr., 6-4) started the first six games, but has been coming off the bench of late. He provides stability to the lineup, and while he's not a big numbers guy, he keeps the offense flowing and doesn't gum up the system. Spike Albrecht (Fr., 5-11) and Caris LeVert (Fr., 6-5) who has shed a potential redshirt, hit a shot here and there, but are also learning the system and keeping things in gear while the big three get their rest. The key? The trio has combined for 23 assists against just three turnovers this year.
The frontcourt subs add even more beef and punch. John Horford (So., 6-10) and Mitch McGary (Fr., 6-10) each check in at 250 pounds, and with Morgan give the Woverines more size and rebounding than Beilein has ever enjoyed. McGary sticks to his role in the paint, and he does so very well. He's making nearly 62% of his shots and averages an identical 5.7 points and rebounds per game, while Horford adds 1.9 and 2.1, respectively.
A look at Michigan's rotation shows a lot of inexperience, as freshmen dot the roster, but no one has been able to rattle the Wolverines yet.
West Virginia will try to pressure UM on defense, especially in the half-court, where it will have to extend on thre three-point shooters arrayed across the court. The Mountaineers haven't been able to do that consistently this season, as they are allowing opponents to convert more than 36% of their tries from distance. Even if they are able to get out and defend successfully, that will just open opportunities for the backcuts that still exist in the Beilein offense. It's a Hobson's choice, a pick-your-poison situation for the Mountaineers. Michigan features five six players hitting more than 33% of their three-pointers, so sitting back in the lane clearly isn't an option. With three 250-pounders squaring off against WVU's less physical front line, it's also difficult to see the Mountaineers achieving a stalemate in one-on-one battles down low.
WVU 4-4, 0-0
Michigan 10-0, 0-0
WVU - 110
Michigan - 2
The one place WVU might have an edge is in play off the bench. While the majority of Michgan's subs have been efficient, only McGary gives them a great deal of scoring and rebounding, so West Virginia's backups might have the opportunity to make up some ground when the Wolverines don't have their best five on the floor. Those options won't last long, however, as Burke, Hardaway and Stauskas will all play at least 30 minutes. Also, adding in WVU's uncertain rotation, it's difficult to even pinpoint who might be able to generate that advantage. Aaron Brown and Dominique Rutledge have been buried on the bench recently, while Keaton Miles has seen his minutes drop appreciably. Newcomers Juwan Staten, Matt Humphreyey, Terry Henderson and Eron Harris haven't provided the hoped-for support from long range -- that quartet is a combined 17-59 from three (28.8%).
Might West Virginia be able to rattle Michigan's youngsters, who don't have a great deal of experience away from their Crisler Center home? Conventionally, that answer might be yes, but Beilein teams typically don't panic, and there's enough experience on the roster to help steady any nerves. Plus, Michigan has played in a big New York venue already this year, having won a pair of games in Madison Square Garden against Pitt and Kansas State. They're not likely to wilt under pressure, even if they don't hit a lot of shots early.
The overriding match-up in this game is one of the simplest of all -- shooting. West Virginia is, at best woefully inconsistent, while Michigan gets good shots and makes them. As a team, the Wolverines are shooting 50.7% from the floor and 40.8% from three-point distance. It they come anywhere close to those numbers on Saturday night, they'll go home with an easy 11th win.
No West Virginia player has made more than seven shots in a game this season.
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Michigan has played just one true road game to date -- a 74-66 win over Bradley in Peoria. The Wolverines also have impressive neutral court wins over Pitt and Kansas State. WVU has played just two home games two date, but will play its next four games at home following this contest.
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Like its football pass defense rankings, WVU's shooting numbers are trending near the bottom of NCAA statistics. The Mountaineers are 293rd in field goal percentage (39.8%) and are 308th in three-pointers per game, with just 4.3). They're also 262nd in three-point field goal percentage defense.
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A false perception about John Beilein holds that he doesn't care about rebounding. That's not the case -- but many West Virginia fans believe it, given his teams' underperformance on the boards at West Virginia. Beilein was smart enough to realize that he didn't have great rebounders at WVU, so he tried to create extra possesions in other ways, such as by limiting turnovers. He's melded those with awesome performances on the glass this year to make his team a powerhouse. Michigan holds an outstanding +10.3 rebounding margin over foes, and has just 98 turnovers against opponents' 121.
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Michigan has started the season 10-0. The last time Michigan had an undefeated start was in 1988-89 when it began 11-0 and won its only national championship.