In the boxing world it’s often said that styles make fights. Turns out that that phrase may just be applicable in tonight’s game since Michigan’s mode of attack is one that could limit the Jeff Withey’s impact.
“One of the things you’ve got to do is you’ve got to move him around the court,” Michigan assistant, Bacari Alexander said. “There’ll be ball screen actions, there’ll be opportunities in transition for our guys to rim run, to beat him up the floor and use our quickness… and then there will be times where we have to get behind him in screen & roll situations where he is collapsing in his hedge coverage. Put him in a situation where he has determine, ‘do I stop Trey Burke coming down hill on the ball screen?’ If he does commit to that, now there are passes available for the bigs to finish. If he stays on the big, then we’ve got pull-up midrange jumpers. I think our team is kind of tailor made to negate some shot blockers if we execute our fundamentals and our preparation properly.”
Execution on the defensive end of the floor will also be key. Withey may not be a dominant low post scorer, but thanks to his size advantage the potential is always there for him to take over a game.
“With a guy like that you can’t give him leverage,” Michigan junior center Jordan Morgan stated. “You can’t give him angles to score. You’ve got to make it tough for him… make tough catches (and) make him take tough shots. You’ve got to contest everything, you’ve got to be really physical, and you’ve got to keep him off the backboard because they’re really good at following their own shots.”
Morgan could play a pivotal role in the Wolverines effort to mute Withey’s impact despite seeing just one minute of action in Michigan’s first two tournament games. The Big Ten all-defensive team member signaled his readiness to contribute during practice this week. His availability also puts the “two big” lineup back in the arsenal should the need arise.
“There are going to be some situational things that dictate which way you go,” replied Alexander when asked to explain lineup strategy. “For instance, if they experience foul trouble, then obviously it’s easy for us to continue to play in the manner that we’re accustomed to. On the flip side if we’re in foul trouble or they’re pounding the ball inside, then maybe we go to a double-big line up to negate some of that smash mouth style of basketball. “
“(Morgan) looked really good this week. I think Jordan Morgan is getting back to form in the sense that his explosion, his pop, his reaction is really good. I thought he did a particularly good job this week of coaching the younger guys that are getting more reps than him at this time, which is just a credit to him and his maturation as a leader on our team. But I expect him to be available to play minutes for us in this game. Jon Horford brings a different dimension than ‘J-Mo’ because he has great length and athleticism. There are a lot of times where he can change and alter shots and give us that effect as well. And then Mitch McGary… who could discount his motor skills in terms of how he gets after 50/50 balls and gives us extra possessions with his offensive rebounding prowess.”
All strategy aside, much of Michigan’s success or failure will hinge on playing smart basketball and not being intimidated.
“We definitely have to attack (Withey),” Trey Burke said confidently. “We have to try and find ways to get him in foul trouble, get him to jump in the air where we can find his man and things like that. He is really good defensively… one of the best shot-blockers in the country. It’s definitely going to be tough, but we have to (adjust).”
For more from Bacari Alexander, check out his one-on-one interview with GoBlueWolverine below.