In the days leading up to Michigan’s opening round match-up with Oklahoma State most pundits predicted a basketball shootout would unfold. They were right. Now in round three the Wolverines are preparing to do battle with another skilled offensive team and those same pundits predicting another contest laden with fireworks. Michigan assistant coach Billy Donlon is the man tasked with coming up with the plan to limit the Ducks’ explosiveness, but he knows that’s easier said than done.
“They always have four guys out there that can make threes at a prolific rate, they’re incredible in transition, and they have four guys that can also take you off the dribble,” said Donlon. “So you’re talking about a team that can spread you with the dribble, which when you get spread that either means they attack the rim, or if you get compact that means threes. They’re unbelievable in transition. (Tyler_ Dorsey, (Dillon) brooks, and (Dylan) Ennis are guys that can take over games. And that’s not to take anything away from (Payton) Pritchard or (Carson) Bell, but those three guys can combine for 65 or 70 points. And then they’ve led the PAC 12, at least analytically, in transition offense and transition defense. Both! And a strength of ours is our transition offense. I do think we’ll have to get some four second baskets as coach Beilein calls them. But their ability to make threes… they make more per game than we do and they shoot a better percentage than we do if that puts it in perspective.
The scoring ability from almost every position might draw comparisons to Michigan since all five of the Wolverines’ starters are capable of going off, but to Donlon there other teams whose styles are more reminiscent of the Ducks’ attack.
“They’re a combination of two teams in our league,” said Donlon. “Minnesota and Indiana with their ability to really spread you out like Indiana does and drive it, and kick it, and create threes. And then Minnesota because they have big guys that can really attack the glass. They have a really really elite four man. I shouldn’t pigeon hole Brooks as a four man, but that’s what he plays on their team. And then their point guard is like (Nate) Mason. Dorsey can come off of a ball screen and score, he can turn a corner, and he can come off the re-screen which reminds me of Mason. And then just their transitional pace is terrific. It’s four push men. Anybody can take it, and occasionally Bell will take it. Don’t be surprised if Bell gets the defensive rebound and he decides to bust it out. He does it about once every two games. That’s really hard to defend.”
That penchant for getting up and down the floor prompted some of the Ducks foes this season to counter by trying to slow things down when they had possession. John Beilein doesn’t come close to subscribing to that theory.
“You have to get easy points this time of year or you’re not going to score,” Beilein explained. “So we must run. Michigan, as long as I’ve been there, unless we’re ahead late we’re running on absolutely every single turnover and every single rebound. You’ve never seen us not run. (At least) the coach doesn’t want them to not run. Now whether they run or not, that’s up to whether they’re going to sprint or not. A lot of our kids think running is jogging. We’ve got to sprint up the court. So we have to take advantage of that against Oregon. Oregon has got this really unique stat. No. 1 in offensive transition and No. 1 in defensive transition. I’ve never seen that stat because usually if you’re scoring you’re outnumbered going the other way… and they’ve really done a great job with that. So that’s a big challenge.”
The Ducks have a big challenge in their own right. Michigan is one of the best teams in the country at taking care of the basketball. On paper that means fewer run outs for the Oregon and more times where they have to execute in the half-court. That wasn’t the Ducks strong suit in their second-round victory over Rhode Island.
“Our transition has been great,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “Our numbers have been off the chart! You know in the half court with the exception of the last eight minutes of the first half against Rhode Island, our ball movement… our things were pretty good. We just had a terrible eight-minute stretch there that defensively and part of the problem defensively is we turned the ball over so darn much and gave them layups. We've got to do a better job. Our guys know that. We've got to be sharper with our execution and make teams guard a little bit longer.
“We had some quick possessions, some bad possessions that we won't be able to get away with against Michigan. We're going to have to play a lot better and play a lot smarter.”