Michigan Frontcourt Preview

Texas has to take advantage of a smaller Michigan team in the paint.

* Unless otherwise noted, statistics are pulled from KenPom.com and Hoop-math.com.


If there's one area that Texas should have an advantage over Michigan, it's up front, where the Longhorns are bigger, longer, more physical and deeper.

John Beilein was famous for creating matchup-tough lineups at West Virginia where the big men were capable of stepping out and making shots and teams constantly had to watch for motion and back cuts. In many ways, his offense was the predecessor to what you see at Iowa State today, though Fred Hoiberg's system is a bit more NBA-like, and Hoiberg's team pushes tempo quite a bit more.

Michigan will run off of misses, but if a team gets back in transition, the Wolverines are happy to run down the clock, move the ball around and look to create good shots. But Beilein's four-out offense this year is a bit more traditional than it was in the past, as the loss of Mitch McGary early this year to injury meant that the lion's share of the minutes at the four have gone to Glenn Robinson III (6-6 220), a player more consistent with a small-ball four, as opposed to a guy like 6-foot-11, 250-pound Kevin Pittsnogle taking threes all over the place.

Robinson is a slasher and mid-range guy, scoring 13.0 points per game while playing power forward almost exclusively. He shoots an excellent 42.3 percent on his mid-range jumpers, and most of those are off the dribble, and an amazing 86.7 percent at the rim. He'd be an even more efficient player if he'd cut down on the number of threes that he takes; almost 30 percent of his shots come from behind the arc, where he shoots just 27.5 percent. He isn't a great rebounder at all, not just for his size, but period, as wing Caris LeVert (14.7 percent) and even point guard Derrick Walton (12.5) have better defensive rebounding rates than Robinson's 11.7.

Most of the rebounding is left up to center Jordan Morgan (6-8 250) and backup center Jon Horford (6-10 250). Morgan grabs 12.6 percent of the available offensive rebounds, ranked 85th in the country. And his 19.5 percent of defensive boards ranks 237th. Morgan is good offensively in that he doesn't try to do too much. He shoots an amazing percentage from the field — he's currently making 69.5 percent of his shots — by taking 55.1 percent of those looks at the rim, with 81.6 percent of those makes coming off a pass. But he also makes an amazing 62.3 percent of his two-point jumpers, something that shows that he's only taking them when he has a great look at it.

Horford is efficient offensively for the same reasons, and he's a better by-rate rebounder and shot-blocker than Morgan is. He also grabs 12.6 percent of the available offensive boards, and his 26.1 percent of the available defensive rebounds would tie for 22nd nationally if he played slightly more minutes.*


* And I mean slightly. The cutoff to be ranked in rebounding rate is to play 40 percent of your team's minutes. Horford was at 35.3.


Horford also blocks 5.8 percent of opponents' shots when he's on the floor, a rate that more than doubles Morgan's block rate.

Zak Irvin (6-6 200) plays some four to relieve Robinson, though he's pretty much all shooter, and doesn't bring much as a rebounder or low post defender at this point.

McGary had a rough start to the year, even before getting hurt, though he ranked as an elite rebounder on both the offensive and defensive ends. His eight-game numbers would have put him just outside of the top-10 as an offensive rebounder. And without McGary's presence, the Wolverines simply concede most boards on that end. It's a good strategy — they lack the overall size to make a difference there, and since the Wolverines are an elite shooting team, there usually aren't a ton of misses to gobble up. It's just more worth it for Michigan to get back to stop transition opportunities.

Studies have shown that when teams go with a "small ball" four, they often increase offensive efficiency while giving up rebounding and defensive efficiency, and it's safe to say that happens with Michigan. The Wolverines rank just 94th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, a mark that would probably be worse except that they are elite at not putting other teams on the free throw line. But they can concede easy buckets — teams are shooting 50.4 percent against them from two — and they're just an OK defensive rebounding team at 54th nationally.

For what it's worth, that latter number is actually better than what Texas does on the defensive glass. But the Longhorns are one of the country's best offensive rebounding teams, and could claim a big advantage in the paint. They'll need to, to win.


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