Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Big Ten Preview Part 3

3. Michigan 10-2
Just when God blessed all Spartan fans with Rich Rodriguez, he had to start what appears to be a dramatic turnaround to the Michigan basketball program. At 10-2, the Wolverines have already matched their win total from one year ago. John Beilein has this team playing well on both sides of the ball lead by Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims. The "Detroit Connection", as they are being promoted by the U of M athletic department, has become one of the best inside-out duos not only in the conference, but nationally. It's difficult to say what has sparked this tremendous turnaround so far this season. I directly attribute it to the dramatic improvement of Sims during the offseason. He has essentially doubled his rebounding average this year and increased his scoring average from 12 to 17 ppg. If he were to keep on this pace through conference play, he would be the conference player of the year.

I would love to say that Michigan's success has been against lackluster competition, but this is not the case. Unlike many recent Michigan teams that have had hot starts, the '08 Wolverines have the most impressive wins among all of the Big Ten teams. They beat UCLA convincingly early in the season at MSG and eventually split a rare non-conference pair of games with Duke beating them at home. Non-believers would argue that UCLA isn't that good and that the Duke game was a fluke. I could see that argument.

Why they can beat MSU:
1) The 1-3-1 Defense. After watching the UCLA game, it was obvious how the 1-3-1 was dramatically improved. Beilein has extended it to nearly half court and it has a very high pressure presence. The first thing I thought of was that this is the type of defense that has plagued the Spartans for a decade. I can see us turning the ball over a ton.
2) The "Detroit Connection" could get hot. Let's be honest, the Spartans wanted both of these guys and couldn't get it done. They are tremendous players that could take over a game against anyone in the country.
3) Laval Lucas-Perry is now playing. I was skeptical that he would contribute the way Wolverine fans thought that he would, but so far, he has scored in double figures every game.
4) Superior FT shooting. As a team, they are shooting over 80% from the line. Mix that in with the only game at Crysler this year and we are in trouble.

Why MSU will win:
1) We have a deeper bench. We don't clutter our bench with brothers of overhyped football players or former transfers from Rutgers. We will hopefully wear out the starters for the Wolverines and get some cheap baskets.
2) Better rebounding. Aside from Sims, the Wolverines are average rebounders at best. This is one of our strengths and we will exploit it.
3) We will exploit their defense. Michigan has been efficient on offense, but not on the defensive end. Currently their defense is ranked 136 nationally in Pomeroy rankings. They will have to improve on this to beat the Spartans.
4) Izzo is a better coach. While Beilein is approaching 500 wins, Izzo has the clear advantage.

In the end, I was hesitant to place the Wolverines so high in my rankings. They could very easily finish as low as 8th in the conference. They could also win it all. I'll hope for the fomer, rather than the latter.

Predicted Record: 11-5

1. Purdue (Tie) 11-3
Unlike last year, Purdue has the bullseye on their back as the conference favorite. My heart tells me that they won't live up to the hype since they will not be surprising anyone this year, but my mind tells me that they are really good. What impresses me most about Purdue is their great pressure defense that causes a lot of turnovers. They lead the Big Ten with a +6 turnover margin and are second in steals. Defense is the staple of this team and should provide a great deal of consistency throughout the year.

Offense will be the limiting factor for the Boilermakers this year. Although they have the capability to put points on the board, I don't know how well they will respond when everyone knows they have been picked to win the conference. So far this year, Robbie Hummel has continued to be a force averaging 14 points and nearly 8 rebounds per game. E'twaun Moore on the other hand has struggled somewhat so far this season. While his ppg are up, his shooting percentage is down. He shot nearly 44% from three point land one year ago and is currently shooting 32%. In order for them to be a contender for the conference title, he will have to play better.

Why they can beat MSU:
1. Aggresive defense. Like I said about Michigan's 1-3-1, Purdue plays an aggressive, in your face defense that has historically given MSU problems. I have faith in Kalin Lucas' ability to break their full court pressure, but I am unsure about the rest of the Spartans. I think that Lucious has the ability to push the ball up, but he is only a freshman and that is a lot to ask.
2. Hummel, Moore, and Johnson. These guys have the capability to put big numbers up in a hurry. If they get hot offensively, Purdue's defense will carry them to a victory.

Why MSU can beat them:
1. An efficient offense. If we play to our potential, I think we are capable of putting big numbers up on anyone.
2. Superior rebounding. As a team, we are better rebounders although JuJuan Johnson is a force individually. We will need all the second chance points we can get.
3. Deeper Bench. We can legitimately play 9 or 10 deep and with Purdue's style of play, I anticipate both teams needing to go to role players due to foul trouble.

Predicted Record: 14-4

1. Michigan State (Tie) 9-2
It is very hard for me to put the Spartans on top this year. Mainly because they have consistently let me down during conference play throughout this entire decade. Certainly I think that winning a share of the conference is a lofty prediction, especially with the way they have played so far. I know they were picked by the media and coaches to finish second, but like every other year, this is because of our success during the previous year's NCAA tournament and how we were returning most of our starters. This team is not playing as well as a #10 ranking suggests.

Keys to success:
1) Chris Allen needs to find his shot. He is really struggling right now to find his shot. His defense is weak as it is so if he isn't hitting shots, he might as well not be on the floor. He also is the only true three point shooter we have. I don't buy Summers being a legitimate threat from the perimeter although he has shot the ball well from distance so far this year.
2) Raymar Morgan needs to be consistent. No more dissappearing in big games. No more travelling in transition. He needs to continue to pound the ball inside and stay away from perimeter shots.
3) Limit turnovers. I was surprised to see that MSU is only average among Big Ten teams in turnovers and turnover margin. It seems like they have taken care of the ball better this year, but the statistics do not show this. It's probably because in recent years, their turnovers have been ridiculously high so now when they are average, I think they are doing well.
4) Lucas needs to be a consistent penetrator. Hopefully the Oakland game is the turning point for him and he starts to find his shot. If he can add some scoring to his terrific assist/turnover ratio, we will have a great shot at winning this league.
5) Avoid injuries. The conference season is off to a rough start with Roe on the bench probably for the first two games. Like everyone in the Big Ten, this team will need everyone to be 100% in order to win.
6) Consistent Rebounding. The Spartans lead the conference in rebounding margin with +7. This is solid and slightly exceeds my expectations since we don't have a dominant rebounder. We clean up on the boards because of Izzo's philosophy more than anything.

Predicted Record: 14-4

Later Today: Minnesota Preview.

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