WHEN: Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014. Tipoff is at 11 a.m. CTWHERE: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, Mich.
TV/RADIO: ESPN2, KAAM 770 AM
SERIES: This will be the first meeting between the two teams
SMU comes into this game at the perfect time, riding a five-game winning streak that includes an impressive win over Wyoming. In the Mustangs’ last game, against UIC, sophomore guard Keith Frazier recorded his first career double-double in his latest stellar performance of his breakout season. He scored 16 points on just six field goal attempts and grabbed 10 rebounds. Markus Kennedy did not play due to his eligibility issues and remains without a timetable for return.
SMU beat UIC despite turning the ball over 20 times. Giveaways have been an issue all season: the Mustangs average 14.1 turnovers per game. But they’ve made up for it by shooting 49 percent from the field.
Recently, not much has gone Michigan’s way. The Wolverines are on a three-game losing streak, their first since the 2010-11 season. Two of those losses came at home, to low-major NJIT and MAC team Eastern Michigan. John Beilein has built his teams on mistake-free offense and excellent shooting, but it hasn’t quite gone that way this season. A season ago, Michigan led college basketball with 124.1 points per 100 possessions. This year? 106.6, just 48th. Three-pointers, U-M’s bread and butter, are falling at a 36.8 percent rate this year, down from 40.2 in 2013-14. But despite the recent struggles, Michigan has lit up the scoreboard a few times this season. And as usual, its never turns the ball over or fouls (9.5 turnovers per game ranks fifth in the country).
G Caris LeVert: LeVert was named preseason third-team All-American and first-team All-Big Ten. He is Michigan’s go-to guy on both ends of the floor and leads the team in points per game (16.7), rebounds per game (5.2), assists per game (3.9) and three-point shooting (48.1 percent, min. 10 attempts). The projected NBA first-round pick is one of the nation’s best isolation scorers, can score off the pick-and-roll, and is a good 1-on-1 defender. At 6-foot-7 and 200 pounds, he’s a matchup nightmare for every opposing two-guard. He’ll be the toughest man Frazier guards all season.
THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH
G Zak Irvin: Irvin, the team’s second-leading scorer with 15.3 ppg, is loaded with talent and when he’s on, he’s probably the Big Ten’s best pure shooter. But after a scorching start, he has shot only 5-for-22 from deep during his team’s three game skid. He’s also been less aggressive driving to the hoop. But he’s still a threat to put up 20 every game, and never ever leave him open in the corner. Sterling Brown should draw Irvin.
F Ricky Doyle: Michigan’s forwards are talented but young, and they’ve struggled at times this year. Doyle has come off the bench in Michigan’s previous games, but Beilein said he will likely start against SMU. The 6-foot-9 freshman is an offensive rebounding machine, but has been a bit overmatched and slow on defense sometimes.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
PG Nic Moore vs. PG Derrick Walton Jr.: Frazier will have a tough matchup with LeVert, but the biggest matchup is the two point guards. Both have battled nagging injuries this season. Moore shook off a lingering knee issue to put up 16 against UIC, and Walton has dealt with a sprained toe for the last three weeks. But when healthy, the 6-foot, 185-pound Walton is a load for the smaller Moore to defend because of his explosive ability and aggressiveness. He also averages 4.7 rebounds per game and is fantastic shooter, although his shooting numbers have dipped since getting injured.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Ball screen defense: Michigan runs tons of ball screens, and uses them to set up open looks from three and open mid-range jumpers. But they haven’t been as effective this year: Michigan has rarely found the roll man on screens this year, and defenders have cheated toward the shooter as a result. LeVert, Irvin and Walton just aren’t as good on ball screens as Nik Stauskas was. Still, SMU must protect against the roll man. Doyle has been the effective big man, and he’ll get the majority of minutes today.
Feed Yanick Moreira: Michigan has struggled to defense in the paint, and doesn’t have a big that matches Moreira’s combination of athleticism and quickness. He needs a lot of touches for SMU. Limit the fouls: Michigan shoots 76 percent as a team from the foul line, and SMU has racked up some fouls this season. Making free throws is a good way to make for an offensive funk, and SMU must limit those opportunities.