Post play to be Key for the Wolverines
GBW has learned that there is a good chance that injured forward Chris Hunter will return to the line up tonight. If he does see action this evening, that may limit the effectiveness of the post double-teaming the Spartans will surely utilize. Hunter's ability as a high post shooting threat and passer may give the Wolverines the chance to exploit their size and depth in the post. The only shot the Maize and Blue has of pulling this one out is if they get more point production in the post.
Another key for Michigan's big men will be rebounding the basketball. The Spartans currently lead the league in defensive rebounding (28.7) and rebounding margin (+7.6). At the same time, the Wolverines are coming off a game versus Wisconsin where they were out-rebounded by 15 (47-32). ""That's a concern obviously," Amaker said of Michigan State's ability on the boards. "They've been very strong with that. They don't give up any second chance opportunities. We are going to have to do a decent job of keeping them off the glass. We need to do a good job of having positive offensive possessions because we may not get many opportunities based on the way they have played in the past, limiting their opponent to one opportunity, if that one. Certainly that is an area of concern as well."
"I think our front line has given us what they can. Obviously as a coach you want more out of everybody, but overall I have been pleased with their production. I think we can rebound it a little better. Especially, he's out now, but Chris Hunter was scoring a lot for us, but I wish we could have gotten more rebounds out of him when he was playing and playing well. I do feel as a group that our front line has been pretty solid for us."
Will Paul Davis play?
Pre-season All-Big Ten selection Paul Davis has been listed as "day-to-day" and is questionable for this evening's game with the Wolverines. As the Spartan's only proven post scoring threat, it would be a significant blow to their low-post game if he were not on the floor. The Rochester (MI) native is averaging 12.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game this season, but his numbers were considerably better versus Michigan last year. In the two meetings last season Davis averaged 17.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists. If he laces them up tonight (and he probably will) Amaker knows the 6-11 267-pounder will be tough to handle.
"He is a tough guard in terms of matching up and trying to guard him," Amaker said. "He is a player that can also step out and shoot the face-up shot. In terms of getting it inside, they do a lot of four-around-one, at least it seems like it breaks down into that. They space the floor very well with shooters out on the perimeter so you can't give a lot of help. A lot of times if it's a one-on-one match up, it is probably in his advantage. We are going to have to be cognizant of that and see if we can somehow give help without giving up the three-point shot as well."
The Daniel Horton effect
The recent suspension of guard Daniel Horton is yet another setback in a season that has already seen so many. The basketball Wolverines have already lost over 80 combined player games to injury or suspension this season. Amaker recently credited his team with dealing with the adversity effectively.
"Obviously you have ups and downs," Michigan's fourth year coach said. "You are going to fight through different situations. There are a lot of things that go on with teams behind the scenes that we are not privy to at times that are disjoining and distracting at times. I think for us, I'm not frustrated. We're competitive and we're going to battle and we're going to see if we can find ways to get our job done. I like the fact that we've been able to come up with some solutions this year. We haven't come up with enough, but we've been able to find different combinations. I give our players all the credit for their ability to bounce back and revamp their games and embrace a different role from let alone week to week, sometimes day to day. For me as a coach, it is very exciting to be able coach kids who are willing to buy into that and maybe reverse it the next week because of the situation and circumstances. I'm not frustrated. I'm excited and we're trying to find solutions that will help us do the best we can with what we have."
With Horton out, what Michigan has is Dion Harris as its only battle tested ball handler. The sophomore guard has been in this situation before, but that does not make it any easier. Much of his backcourt mate's responsibilities will be Harris' when he walks onto the hostile Breslin Center floor this evening. "There are a lot of things that will fall on different players," Amaker said. "But certainly as you look at Dion and his play for us and our backcourt, a lot does fall on his shoulders. That is not always the fairest thing to say, but it is probably very accurate. I think he's a youngster that welcomes that."
One way the Wolverines may try to help Harris stay fresh, while at the same time limiting easy shot opportunities for the Spartans, is to dictate tempo. "They are very explosive and they are a team that has scored a lot of points," Amaker said. "They've been one of the top scoring teams in the country this season. It is important that we value the ball. It is important that we are not giving up easy baskets, which is easier said than done with that team. It that becomes controlling tempo then it is, but we are not going to hold the ball. We are going to play to win and we're going to compete. We are going to go in there with our own game plan and strategy and I think our kids will respond and do the best that they can."
For more comments from Amaker, as well as a few of the Michigan players, click here.
The game tips tonight at 7 PM on ESPN.