Tuesday, December 30, 2008

UM vs.Wisco: The Measuring Stick Game

Hope everyone had a good holiday. After spending time with family, friends, and getting chastized for showing up unannounced to a women's basketball game (more to come on the next post), I feel refreshed and ready to get back to blogging.

The title says it all. This next game is the measuring stick for how the Wolverines have progressed since the Duke game. Wisconsin might not have shot out to the start some people thought they would back in November, but Bo Ryan always puts out a disciplined team. As many people have written (including our friend Brian from MGoBlog), the Wolverines have not played any significant teams in the last 3 weeks. Teams like EMU, Oakland, and FGCU have allowed Michigan's RPI to gradually slide, putting them in an interesting position if the start to their conference season isn't good. If UM gets off to a rocky start, the game against UConn late in the season could become crucial.

Speaking of UConn, the Huskies committed the one huge mistake I was hoping wouldn't take place until AFTER the Wolverines traveled to Storrs: getting blown out at home by a quality team. In last night's game against Georgetown, Greg Monroe introduced himself to NBA Lottery teams by making 7-ft UConn center Hasheem Thabeet look like Manute Bol. Thabeet looked slow and out of place all game as Monroe showcased some nice low post moves and took Thabeet away from the hoop in order to drain 15-ft jumpers at will. Expect Thabeet's draft status to drop like a rock while Monroe just shot himself into the conversation of potential Top 5 picks.

What's this mean for UM? Michigan now doesn't have the element of surprise of being able to go in and hit UConn in the mouth unexpectedly. UConn is a talented and deep team and seemed to underestimate the Hoyas. Jim Calhoun is too good a coach to let that happen again this season. So, the road trip to Storrs might've just got a little harder. The silver lining: Hasheem Thabeet is an awful defender when forced to guard a man outside the paint. All I could think of while watching Monroe hit jumper after jumper was how reminiscent this was of DeShawn Sims against Brian Zoubek of Duke. If Sims can consistently hit the 15-17 ft jumper from the wing, Michigan might not need to worry too much about its RPI after this game.

OK. Back to Wisconsin...

"The Badgers are not who we thought they were"... to say the least. The Badgers come in at 9-3 having lost to every quality team they scheduled (Marquette, Texas, and UConn). Their best win came against Va Tech on a last second hanging-runner to beat the Hookies by 2. While this team is lead by some experienced players (Trevon Hughes, Joe Krabbenhoft, and Marcus Landry) they haven't lived up to their billing as a top 3 team).

"And if ya don't know, now ya know:" DeShawn Sims was named B10 POW this week. Sims hasn't gotten a lot of recognition so far by the mainstream media. I'll assume it's because he is undersized at the center position and the conference has some legitimate centers putting up decent numbers already this season (i.e. Suton of MSU). However, Sims is averaging almost a double-double (17 pts and 9 rebs) while being the first Wolverine in 30 years to post a 20-20 game earlier this month against FGCU. Sims has been nothing short of spectacular for a team who desperately needs a consistent rebounder. While they've shot double digit three point totals in the past couple games (the record setting performance of 16 vs EMU followed by 14 against OU), if those shots don't fall consistantly, Sims' work on the glass becomes far more essential. Look for him to have a distinct advantage in quickness over the lead-footed Krabbenhoft.

Long Distance Defense: This could ultimately decide the game. While Sims and Gibson will try to establish a low-post presence, Michigan needs to do a better job of defending the 3-pt shot against a team that likes the long-line almost as much Beilein. Wisconsin G Jason Bohannon torched Texas for 4-7 beyond the arch in a loss in Madison last week. Bohannon is a lot like Michigan's Douglass and Novak: A young, country boy that can go on a tear if given time and space. Michigan did a good job of defending OU's Eric Kangas (another deep threat) in the first half at the Palace last week, but lost track of him in the 2nd half and Kangas was able to get OU within 6 points in a hurry. Kangas and Blake Cushingberry (aka the Lost Gotti brother...Google it) were able to get wide open looks at ease once Michigan eased up. That can't happen or all five players (yes, even Krabbenhoft) could get on a run from deep.

"It feels good to be back": Michigan finally gained some mainstream media love after Memphis fell out of the Top-25, allowing Michigan to sneak in at 24 (they currently reside at 23 according to the AP poll). ESPN's bracketologist Joe Lunardi put the Wolverines in the field of 64 last week, giving them an 8-seed and facing Maryland in the 1st round. Also, Dana O'Neil wrote a nice piece on the Manny Harris-John Beilein relationship for ESPN.

Myself, Stu, and Rushi will have the call live from Crisler Arena at 2 pm. Click here to listen for what should be a great game. Post-game wrap to follow the game.