Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Showdown in Champaign

Tonight, Michigan (13-3) gets Illinois (14-2) for the second time and it won't be easy.  The Wolverines are a 6.5 point underdog.

Programming Info: The game is on BTN at 8:30 et. with Wayne Larrivee and Shon Morris on the call.  WCBN will have a preview of the game tonight on the DSR (5:15) and reaction tomorrow on the DSR (5:15).  Michigan State @ Penn State precedes the Michigan game at 6:30 on the BTN.  I'll give credit where its due, I am greatly enjoying BTN's coverage of basketball this year.  They are covering more games and I like the 6:30/8:30 doubleheaders.  
***Gus Johnson Alert: Gus will call the Michigan-Penn State game in State College next Tuesday night.

Game #1: Back on January 4, just ten days ago, Michigan defeated Illinois 74-64.  Here's the post game thoughts.  All I will say is that Michigan was the more desperate team in that one, coming off a home loss to Wisconsin, while Illinois had just defeated Purdue on the road in overtime.   

Why Michigan Will Lose: #1- Michigan is playing on the road in front of a very tough environment. The Wolverines have only played two true road games thus far at Maryland and Indiana and neither were pretty.  In fact, if you look at Michigan's total resume, Michigan has seven wins against teams currently ranked below #100 in the RPI. Granted, they do have 3 wins versus top 50 teams (UCLA, Duke and Illinois), but they're still should be some concern over whether Michigan can win consistently in the grind of Big Ten season.  #2- In the first game between the two teams, Zach Gibson was terrific, finishing with 10 points in 17 minutes. Unfortunately, that will not happen tonight.  No further explanation needed.  #3- The matchup of Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale against Zach Novak and DeShawn Sims. I don't mind that Michigan has gone to a small starting lineup, with Novak playing at the 4-position. There are very few teams they will play that have great size and it enables the Wolverines to stretch the defense, leading to open three's or back-door cuts.  However, the one exception is Illinois.  As one of the few teams with size in the front-court in the Big Ten, I would be surprised if Tisdale and Davis fail to exceed the combined 17 points and 8 rebounds they had in the two teams first meeting of the year.  Add to that the sudden disappearance of Jevohn Shepard and Michigan is going to be really dependent on its guards to rebound, namely Harris and Novak.

Why Michigan Will Win: #1- John Beilein has historically had great success when facing a team for the second time in a single season.  In fact, Beilein won three of five of those games last year and is perfect this year (Duke).  I'll take Beilein over Bruce Weber any day of the week. #2- Michigan's bench outplays that of Illinois.  While this may seem highly unlikely, especially considering the fact that role players tend to play better on their home floor, CJ Lee has been playing well lately and Stu Douglass is due for a performance more like what we saw at MSG. Beilein has used Sims and Grady off the bench at different points this year to provide some sort of spark and someone else needs to step up and fill that void.  #3-Big game from DeShawn Sims. In all of Michigan's significant wins this season (UCLA, Duke, Illinois and Northeastern), the Wolverines made a concerted effort to get the ball to Sims inside.  Very much a rhythm player, Michigan must go to DeShawn early and often tonight.  Furthermore, Sims must stay out of foul trouble, in defending Tisdale and/or Davis.

"Super Six": Michigan is now into the heart of Big Ten Conference play and the final six games in January are vital to their tournament chances.  The next six include four road games (Illinois, Penn State, Ohio State and Purdue) and just two games at Crisler (Ohio State and Northwestern). With a back-loaded conference schedule that is much more difficult (Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan State, Minnesota twice) and UConn out of conference, Michigan really needs to get 3 wins in their next 6. If we assume wins at home against Ohio State and Northwestern and losses at Purdue and Illinois, Michigan has to find a way to steal a road win from either Penn State or Ohio State, neither of which will be easy.  People have to remember while Michigan is 13-3 right now, it is highly likely they will be well under .500 in their final 15 games. Still, a 6-9 finish would put Michigan at .500 in conference and more than likely into the NCAA tournament. Michigan must protect its home floor, as one slip-up against the likes of Northwestern or Penn State could prove costly.  The depth of the Big Ten will and the weakness of mid-majors will see the Big Ten get six or seven teams into the tournament, meaning one or two of Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State will probably be left out.

Prediction: Michigan has nothing to lose in this one.  Road wins in the Big Ten this year will be hard to come by.  The Wolverines just have to keep it within 10 points at the half and give themselves a chance to steal the game late. I know Michigan has two awfully impressive wins thus far over two teams ranked #4 in the country at the time, but if the Wolverines were to pull this off tonight, it would be the most impressive of all.

Illinois 72 Michigan 60

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